Hong Kong cinema has lost one of its greatest managers with the passing of Willie Chan, who passed away in his sleep at the age of 76.

For nearly three decades, Chan was the manager of Hong Kong action icon Jackie Chan, with Jackie crediting Willie for his meteoric rise to superstardom. Chan would go on to manage many Hong Kong talents and despite shutting down his management company in the wake of the Triads’ attempt to take over Hong Kong entertainment, he stayed on with Jackie Chan as both manager and producing partner until 2008.

Born on May 22, 1941 in Malaysia, Chan Chi-Keung earned his master’s degree in marketing from the East-West Center in Hawaii. Chan started out working out in hotel management but in 1970, decided to move to Hong Kong in order to pursue a film career. Starting out at Cathay Film Company, Willie met a young 17-year old stuntman named Chan Yuen-Lung and it would be the beginning a long friendship that stood the tests of time.

In 1976, Willie Chan left Cathay to work for filmmaker Lo Wei, who had left Golden Harvest to set up his namesake production company. When Lo Wei decided to make New Fist of Fury, he was looking for a new Bruce Lee and Willie Chan recommended Chan Yuen-Lung. Willie renamed Chan Yuen-Lung with the name he would be forever known as today: Jackie Chan.

While Chan’s films with Lo Wei flopped, it was at Willie’s suggestion that Chan be loaned out to Seasonal Films when director Yuen Woo-Ping recommended Chan to star in the kung fu comedy Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. The film made Jackie Chan an instant superstar and its follow-up, Drunken Master, proved that this was no fluke. Upon returning to Lo Wei, Jackie Chan would direct his final film for the company, The Fearless Hyena before leaving for his long relationship with Golden Harvest.

The two Chans would soon form the JC Group and Willie served as producer as well as manager for icons such as Maggie Cheung, Carol Cheng, Joey Wong, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Carina Lau, Angie Chiu, Simon Yam, Sylvia ChangDaniel Wu and Joan Chen.

However, in 2008, Willie and Jackie ended their long business partnership but remained best friends and “brothers”. Jackie Chan is now managed by his wife, former actress Joan Lin.

Upon learning of Willie Chan’s passing, Jackie Chan had this to say:

“Willie Chan is gone. Another of the most important people in my life has left. Many people know I wouldn’t be what I am now without you, but no one knows what we really experienced together. So long as we both know and understand.”

World Film Geek sends it condolences to the family of Willie Chan, a true Hong Kong film icon in his own right.

H/T: The Straits Times