A former student of the great “Sam Seed” AKA Simon Yuen, father of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, Kong has been involved with martial arts and movie making on various levels for the majority of his life. His film credits might not be as numerous as some martial arts actors, but they include many a Kung Fu classic as well as a major international hit. He’s also been a personal trainer and sports therapist to various action performers including Japanese action actress Michiko Nichiwaki, Taiwanese action actress Cynthia Khan, Wushu maestro Jeff Falcon and a certain Jean-Claude Van Damme with whom he worked on Bloodsport and Kickboxer. FOG! takes a look at the life and times of a true unsung hero in both the martial arts and martial arts movie world.
Rambo K.K. Kong
I was introduced to “Kong” shortly after my arrival in Hong Kong in 1990, when American Wushu maestro Jeff Falcon of Outlaw Brothers and Six String Samurai fame invited me to meet his Kung Fu brother, the wonderfully named “Rambo Kong.” He’s one of the few people I've met named Rambo, who can carry the name off, and he warmly welcomed me when we met, and proceeded to try and advise me on martial arts, life, movies and many other subject matters that should not be discussed. A friendship was formed that night and 23 years later, I still have nothing but the highest respect for the man and his abilities, so I thought it might be a good time to talk to Kong and get the rundown on his life and times in movies and martial arts.
Kong was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents but returned to China with his mother and other siblings before his first birthday. His father continued to live in Vietnam which might explain why Kong felt it necessary to take up Chinese martial arts at an early age, to protect himself and his family.
“No, I wanted to fight people! That’s why I started learning martial arts,” he laughs.
Choy Li Fut and Hung Gar, which explains his impressive conditioning and foundation skills, and began dabbling with gymnastics and working on kicking just because he liked to.
Shortly after his tenth birthday when the political situation in China wasn't at its most stable, Kong like many others made the dangerous journey to Hong Kong as a refugee. “I swam to Hong Kong, with a group of other people. It took about ten hours but we were very lucky, as we arrived just before a typhoon came, some of the other people who were following us weren't so lucky.” Kong started working shortly after arrival, child labour laws not being enforced but continued to train in martial arts and gymnastics, and attended evening classes to give himself an education.
While his introduction to movies came with roles as a background player and stuntman in the old black and white Wong Fei-hung movies starring Kwan Tak-hing and Shek Kin.
Kong recalled, “A friend of mine was working in movies as a stuntman, and asked me if I wanted to work on some films. I was very foolish then, I didn't really understand the difference between real martial arts and movie martial arts back then. I just thought fighting was fighting, so on my first films I wouldn't hold back if I was blocking a kick or a punch, or when I was throwing one. I was very bad for the actors and directors doing this, so they would tell me off.”
That teacher was the legendary Simon Yuen (Yuen Siu-tien), father of Yuen Woo-ping and best known for his memorable roles as Jackie Chan’s teacher in the classic Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master.
But while he had the desire to learn from Master Yuen from the first time they met, first he had to prove himself. "I wanted to be Yuen Siu-tien’s student, but he wouldn't take me as one at first! (Laughing) He didn't think I was serious enough about it. But I knew that when they weren't making movies, he would take the Yuen family, Yuen Woo-ping, Yuen Yat-chor and the other brothers and sister to Kowloon Tsai Park and they would train in gymnastics and martial arts at the park from about 10 in the morning until lunchtime. So I went there and the first few days, he ignored me but I kept coming back and after a few days he accepted me as a student. I was very happy, he taught me a lot, not only about gymnastics, martial arts and movie making, but also about life. I really consider him as a father figure, and Woo-ping and his other children as my brothers and sisters. He would help get me work, and was very straight forward about the way we’d split the money so both sides were happy. He was working on so many projects playing the Master and he passed away quite suddenly. I was very upset. He was a true master in every sense of the word. I was very lucky to be his student.”
Kong would work with another legend of martial arts cinema, the great Bolo Yeung from Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport, on two lesser known projects, Writing Kung Fu (which was directed by Bolo himself, shot in Thailand and starring Snake in the Monkey's Shadow star John Cheung) and Kong as one of two blind brothers who are seeking revenge on Bolo for his past misdeeds,
The second film was the great The Fists, The Kicks and The Evils, starring Bruce Leung from Kung Fu Hustle, Bolo as his nemesis and Kong playing the mischievous master who helps Bruce bring his skills up to scratch.
“It's funny, I had actually worked with Bruce Leung before, and I used to double for him for gymnastics and some scenes where he had to stretch. He’s always been an incredible kicker, but he wasn’t very good at gymnastics or stretching, so I doubled him a few times for action beats when he had to do that. On Fists, I play the old Master. I often played the older characters, (laughing) I never played the young hero!”
Now while Bolo Yeung is very much known for his menacing presence and physique, how would Kong rate the “Beast from the East” and his martial arts skills?
"No, I tell you this! Bolo is a very good martial artist. Lots of people think he’s just a bodybuilder, and learnt a bit of action for the movies, they don’t realise he has always been a very serious Tai Chi student and his skill level is very good. He used to be high demand as a bodyguard for a lot of people back then, because of his skill level."
As one of the 10 Magnificent Killers, Kong has a small but fun role as a seemingly deranged drunk monk who turns up to challenge the films heroes. It’s a small scene but gives Kong a chance to show off his ever impressive flexibility and gymnastics. Kong would also go on to work on Chen Chi-hwa’s 36 Crazy Fists, starring Tony Leung Siu-hung & Lau Chia-yung.
The film has always been heavily promoted as being action choreographed by Chen’s long-time friend Jackie Chan, and there is footage of Chan choreographing the film’s opening sequence against the red backdrop.
Behind the scenes with Kong making a brief appearance:
“On 36 Crazy Fists, Jackie didn’t really choreograph the whole movie,” setting the myth straight.
Kong had previously been asked to double Jackie Chan for a sequence cut from Drunken Master, “I only doubled him for a scene where they wanted to show his character doing a lot of very extreme stretching, it wasn’t something dangerous. It’s just I had the flexibility they wanted. And the scene ended up being cut from the film in the end anyway. A lot of people don’t like to be doubled, but sometimes it’s just easier or more practical. There are so many things Jackie Chan can do that I can’t, he can be a director, a leading man, a producer, me doubling for him doesn’t detract from that does it?”
Kong would also work at Shaw Brothers on various projects most notably, Boxer From The Temple, and Monkey Kung Fu.
While Kong performed as both an actor and a stuntman, he admits to not having any interest in being a choreographer himself. “I like movie martial arts, and I like real Kung Fu! If you ask me to perform real martial arts or movie martial arts, I can do it. But I can’t make up martial arts action, I don’t know why, but it feels strange to me to be trying to use techniques that wouldn’t really work, so I can never really choreograph action, I just can perform it.”
In the mid 1980’s, Kong would become closely associated with a young martial arts actor from the West.
"I had pretty much stepped back from the film industry as a performer for a few reasons. I felt I had more to offer as a teacher and sports therapist, I did a lot of sports massage and therapy. There was an American film in Hong Kong, and they called me to come in and massage and offer therapy for the leading actor, who was really working hard on the film, he s not only the leading actor but also working on the choreography and training a lot of the actors. He had some muscle pain and sore ligaments, so they asked me to come in and treat him. The movie was Bloodsport and he was a very nice guy called Jean-Claude Van Damme. He was very friendly and we seemed to hit it off, and we became quite close on the film. I ended up as his personal masseuse and therapist for the movie. And we kept in touch after the film was finished."
Kong then revealed that there was very nearly a different actor playing the role of Master Xian in Kickboxer, a few years later. “Yes, Jean-Claude had told me he wanted me to play that role, and he kept telling to get into shape for it. So I lost some weight for the project and was quite excited about the thought of playing that role. In the end the producers decided that Dennis Chan would make a better choice for that role, and I agree with them. He played that character much better than I could have done, his acting and the personality he gave Xian was excellent.”
Kong would still work behind the scenes on the movie, as a massage therapist for Jean-Claude, Dennis Alexio and some of the other key cast members. And while we’re great fans of Dennis Chan and he certainly made the role of Xian his own, it does offer some interesting possibilities of what Kong could have brought to the role, probably a lot more mischief.
“I have a lot of respect for Jean-Claude, we lost contact in the last few years but he was like a brother to me back then, he helped me in many ways and I wish him my very best regards. If he’s reading this, Jean-Claude I miss you my friend. Hope we have a chance to meet again soon.”
In 1992, Kong was called upon by fight choreographer John Cheung to join his action team for Rob Cohen’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.
Bruce Lee (Jason Scott Lee) over their mutual interest for a pretty girl. The sequence was set in the States, while the interior kitchen scene was shot in Los Angeles; the exteriors were shot in Hong Kong as Kong along with long-time Jackie Chan stunt-teamers Anthony Carpio, Chan Tat-kwong and Johnny Cheung do battle with Lee in and above an alleyway. While Lee of course wins, Kong does get to show some very slick moves including a very nice jumping scissor kick take down.
“Dragon was very enjoyable, I still get residuals from this film even now, I wish Hong Kong movies paid them! It was good to work with John and his team again on the film, Jason Scott Lee tried very hard with his acting and action, he wasn’t really a martial artist but he tried his best. (Laughing) There is one sequence when he is meant to kick me in the shoulder and BANG he smacked me straight in the nose, it hurt and was bleeding and everybody on the crew wanted me to go to the hospital and see if it was broken, but I knew it was ok. Jason was very apologetic, but it was just an accident. “
Despite strong positive response to his appearance in Dragon, Kong felt he had more to offer off camera. “I like making movies, but I also like to be a trainer, and a sports therapist. I got to work with a lot of people in the industry off screen, working with them on their skill sets, treating their injuries and much more.”
Kong has continued to provide sports massage and therapy, as well as training while developing his own blended martial arts style which he calls the “Circle Propeller” style, which draws from his lifetime’s involvement with various martial arts styles. (To describe the style properly would require an article in its own right, and the style is featured in an upcoming documentary on Kong and his life in martial arts and the movies, directed by Australian actor and film maker Daniel Whyte)
But the summer of 2008 saw Kong making a welcome return in front of the camera, when the infamous Digger T. Mesch of Art Asylum fame, (who can be seen onscreen in Twins Effect and a brief, but memorable role in Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet) asked him to appear in the music video, Blind Generation.
Kong turns up in the video clip playing an Asian gang boss facing off against a certain FOG! writer and Colonel Kurtz wanna-be at a high stakes poker game in this music video for the song "Blind Generation" by Gregory Moore.
Kong would also appear in a second music video directed by Digger T Mesch, "Lut-A-Lov? for New Zealand rapper Matrieya. Mesch is the man behind the upcoming Agent 88 project which gathered a lot of attention with its Kickstarter campaign last year.
Warning this video contains scantily clad women, Rambo Kong & M’elvis!
Kong’s appearance in both videos has garnered some very good response and who knows perhaps he’ll now have the career resurgence he deserves.
According to Kong himself, if it happens it happens, and for now he’s more than happy to be able to continue with his training and exchange of knowledge and skills with those he encounters. Kong also makes an appearance in The Blood Bond, the directorial debut of The Terminator actor Michael Biehn, which shot in China in 2009. The movie is an action thriller which pays homage to the plot and set up of Wong Jing’s The Last Blood, features Kong playing a small but memorable role as a gunrunner who helps Michael Biehn and the film's female lead Phoenix Chou battle the bad guys.
Kong’s latest role was for director Antony Szeto in the Roger Corman produced Fist of the Dragon, which recently completed shooting in Southern China, starring MMA champion Josh Thompson and actress JuJu Chan. Kong plays a kitchen based assassin, possibly related to his Dragon character who along with his real life student Daniel Whyte tries to introduce the Circle Propellor style to the films hero.
Rambo K.K. Kong selected filmography:
10 Magnificent Killers. 36 Crazy Fist. The Fists, The Kicks & The Evils. Writing Kung Fu. Monkey Kung Fu. The Boxer from the Temple. Dragon The Bruce Lee Story. Blind Generation. The Blood Bond. Fists of the Dragon.
For further information on Rambo K.K.Kong, his life and both his philosophy and approach to martial art, visit www.circlepropellerkungfu.com