Hongkongers are comedy lovers. This much is obvious from the outstanding box office figures for comedy films over the years. According to the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association (MPIA), more than half of the highest-grossing local films in the past 50 years (1971 to 2020) were comedies. Many people may already know Hong Kong’s “King of Comedy” Stephen Chow , but there are many other names that lent important impetus to the evolution of the local scene. Let’s take a look at those comedy actors and actresses who once brought us much-needed laughter on the silver screen. How Hong Kong’s film industry got so big – and why it fell into decline 1. Lydia Shum With her signature dark-rimmed glasses and wig, Lydia Sum Tin-ha – better known as Lydia S h um, dubbed the “Happy Fruit” of Hong Kong and the late mother of the popular singer Joyce Cheng – is inevitably one of the names that needs mentioning. The Shanghai-born actress’ career took off in 1967 when the popular variety show Enjoy Yourself Tonight (EYT) on TVB Jade was first aired. Later, in 1973, Shum played a “Shanghai woman” who ironed clothes in a dilapidated tenement in the famous Cantonese film The House of 72 Tenants . It topped the movie box office that year, surpassing Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon . Her realistic portrayal of “Shanghai woman” resonated with the general public, leading to besides her leading role in Shanghai Woman , a comedy sketch aired on EYT in 1979. She also took the role of a Shanghai woman living in a public housing estate in the four-film series It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World, a Lunar New Year favourite that started in the late 1980s. The role was an extension of her earlier portrayal, a woman fiercely protective of her family, demanding of her husband and children, and longing for a quick fortune. Canto-pop singer Joyce Cheng on Hong Kong’s evolving beauty standards Whenever the phrase “Shanghai woman” is heard, the first association people make now is with the rapid-fire chatterbox, Shum. Sadly, “Happy Fruit” left us in 2008 at the age of 62. 2. The Hui brothers Crazy rich Asian pets: Hong Kong stars who spoil their cats and dogs rotten The mid-1970s brought transformation to Hong Kong cinema as it underwent a significant linguistic shift. The Cantonese dialect made a comeback, as opposed to the Mandarin that had predominated at the cinema during much of the 1960s and early 1970s, giving local idioms, culture and humour their time in the sun. The House of 72 Tenants was the first spark in the Cantonese cinema resurgence, but it was the Hui brothers – actor-director-screenwriter Michael Hui, actor Ricky Hui and actor-singer Sam Hui – who deserve the most credit for raising the bar of Cantonese humour of the period. Their movies – such as Games Gamblers Play (1974), The Last Message (1975), The Private Eyes (1976), The Contract (1978) and Security Unlimited (1981) – were all the highest-grossing films of those years, helping to solidify the Hui brothers’ place at the top of Hong Kong’s entertainment world. Thanks go in particular to Michael Hui, who broke new ground by satirising the cash-mad Hong Kong society of the time. His portrayal of the archetypal ne’er-do-well and his reflection of life among the grass roots of society reached deep into people’s hearts. Besides those, action comedy series Aces Go Places (six parodies of Bond films) also appeared in the early 1980s. The first five films all featured the iconic roles “King Kong” and “Baldy”, played by Sam Hui and Maka, who became household names of the era. 3. Ng Man-tat It takes two to tango. Some swear that Stephen Chow’s films wouldn’t have been so successful without his trusty sidekick, Ng Man-tat. Ng was a graduate of the TVB television training programme in 1974, together with future genre-defining superstar Chow Yun-fat , according to Hong Kong Economic Journal . But it was not until 1990 that he magnified his stature on the big screen in being paired with Stephen Chow in the blockbuster comedy, All for the Winner . From then on, the duo co-starred in numerous popular movies such as Fight Back to School (1991), Justice, My Foot! (1992), Hail the Judge (1994), King of Comedy (1999) and Shaolin Soccer (2001), in the highest-grossing films of their respective years. Although Ng was the supporting actor for most of the time in his career – he won the best supporting actor award at the 10th Hong Kong Film Awards for his role in A Moment of Romance – nobody would deny his performances were often irreplaceable. Remembering Ng Man-tat: the Hong Kong legend’s 8 most memorable roles Ng died of liver cancer on February 27, 2021 at the age of 69. 4. Sandra Ng No matter how old you are, you must know Sandra Ng Kwan-yue as she appears almost every year in a Lunar New Year comedy , often poking fun at her plain looks. With over a hundred films to her credit, including several collaborations with the Stephen Chow, Ng has been crowned “Queen of Comedy” by many. Her most remarkable role was the devoted housewife Ching in the comic romance All’s Well, Ends Well (1992). The character was so iconic that some of her lines in the film have become internet memes today. Another big role came in the early 2000s with Kam, an underdog and prostitute in the movie series Golden Chicken , for which she won best actress at the 2003 Golden Horde Awards. In more recent years, Ng has starred in various mainland China movies such as Monster Hunt (2015) and Jian Bing Man (2015). Her career has also expanded into producing and directing, proving she is an artist of many hats. 5 top Sandra Ng movies: Golden Chicken to voicing McDull’s mum Hopefully her latest Lunar New Year comedy, this year’s Chilli Laugh Story , co-starring Gigi Leung, Ronald Cheng and Edan Lui, will bring the city as much cheer as her films have in the past. 5. Ronald Cheng Though starting his career as a singer, Ronald Cheng – backing vocalist to Canto crooner Alan Tam when he was young – is now regarded as part of Hong Kong’s comedy heritage thanks to his various impressive film roles. His first successful comic role was Crab Duen in the movie My Lucky Star (2003), co-starring the ever-cool Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Miriam Yeung. It earned Cheng his first supporting actor nomination at the 23rd Hong Kong Film Awards. Hong Kong’s best LGBTQ+ films, from light romcoms to emotional dramas In the following years, Cheng’s hilarious sense of humour brought him leading roles in comedy films such as Dragon Loaded 2003 (2003), Himalaya Singh (2005) and Dragon Reloaded (2005). But director Pang Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria (2012) took Cheng to the next level, his role of Brother Tyrannosaurus winning him best supporting actor at the 32nd Hong Kong Film Awards. Before we go, we must mention a few other notables who’ve brought us years of cheer – not least Eric Tsang, Alfred Cheung, Dayo Wong and Wong Cho-lam. Without these names, Hong Kong comedy would not have shone as it has through the decades. Want more stories like this? Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .