If you are a fan of Hong Kong cinema, especially from the late 1980s to mid 1990s, chances are you have seen Mark Houghton. An exponent of the Lau Family Hung Gar style, Mark got his start in films under his future sifu, the late great Lau Kar-Leung (1934-2013), when he appeared in Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit. He continued in films until 1998 and retired only to make a return behind the scenes as a stunt coordinator with the formation of his stunt team as well as run the Lau Family Hung Gar school in Hong Kong. Mark is the subject of the documentary I Am the White Tiger, which makes its DVD, VOD, and Digital release on June 18 from Random Media.
World Film Geek had the opportunity and honor to speak with Houghton about his work in films and what he’s up to these days.
Mark, I have to say, it is an honor to be talking to you. I’ve been a fan of Hong Kong films for many years so to be here speaking with you and talking about your work over the years, it is nothing short of exciting.
Thank you so much!
I got to see your documentary, I am the White Tiger, and it was a great film about your past, present, and perhaps future. Whose idea was it to make a documentary about you?
Well, a former student of mine came from Los Angeles. He wanted to make a documentary about my life and I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to do it. But, I decided to let him go ahead. Well, during filming, I pretty much had to let him go. He was beginning to have an ego and started shouting so much that I felt I had to fire him. So, I ended up directing most of it. However, I didn’t want the credit because I was already producing and doing some of the action directing. I felt I couldn’t take the credit.
I contacted a friend of mine, Lei Chiu, who got his start at the Shaw Brothers. I asked him, can you help me direct the film and he agreed. He shot about 20% of the film and I did the rest. However, I felt that he should get the credit, so I gave it to him.
It is clear that you are very loyal to the art of Lau Family Hung Gar. Are there any other martial arts styles you have studied?
Yes. I trained in Judo, Karate, and Taekwondo. When I went to Malaysia, I began to study Hung Gar. However, when I went to Hong Kong to do my first film, Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit, where I met Sifu, I was so into Hung Gar and when Sifu asked me to become his student, then I stuck with Hung Gar. I had a martial arts school in England and after making Aces Go Places V, I made a phone call and told them to close the school. (laughs)
Out of all the movies you made, what would you consider your favorite or favorites and why?
That’s a very good question! Of course, my first film, Aces Go Places V because it wasn’t just my first film, but it was where I met Sifu and my life changed because of him. So I will be forever grateful for that.
I really enjoyed Fury in Red (1991). It was originally to have been directed by Wang Lung-Wei, who played many villains in the old Shaw Brothers films, but it was produced by Philip Ko. The reason why I enjoyed this film is because I got to play a good guy for the first time. In Hong Kong, a lot of Westerners usually played bad guys and we’re designed to overact and basically become “human props”. I also got involved in the final fight because originally, it was supposed to be Conan Lee. However, there was a huge falling out between Conan and Philip, so they fired Conan. They decided to kill him off by putting him in a car and then the car just explodes. So that led me to be involved in the final fight of the film.
I also enjoyed making Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon (1990) with Sammo Hung. Sammo is an amazing director. He told me on the set that he wanted to re-enact the Coliseum Fight from Way of the Dragon, but of course add more to it. So we shot the film and Sammo was to hit me in the stomach and I was to put my face to the camera. Sammo was then going to kick me in the face and I had to flip backwards. Sammo told me he was going to add some padding to his shoe so the impact wouldn’t be as bad. I said okay. So he hits me in the stomach and I grimace to the camera lens, then Sammo kicked me in the face and I flip backwards. I was knocked out for 10 minutes. Sammo woke me up and said ‘Okay Mark, you’re done shooting your scenes. Thank you so much!’
The next day, Sammo called me and said ‘Mark, you need to come on the set at 7am.’ I said, ‘Sammo, you already said I was done shooting’. Sammo told me, ‘Mark, just change your clothes and come to the set. You don’t have to do anything. Just come to the set then you can go back and change your clothes after the day is done.’ He did this for seven days. I think it was because he felt bad that he knocked me out. So, I got paid an extra week on set for basically doing nothing (laughs).
Aside from Sifu Lau Kar-Leung, who were your favorite actors and directors to work with throughout your career?
I really enjoyed working with Sammo Hung (top left). He is the type of director who will look at your skills and then find a way to incorporate them in his fight choreography. He thinks anyone who is a martial artist should be able to employ those skills for films.
I do notice that. He has made such good use of kicking stylists like Casanova Wong and the late Kim Tae-Jeong.
Exactly. He believes in using the fighters’ talents on screen without wasting them. That’s why I enjoyed making Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon.
Another director I enjoyed working with was Philip Ko (middle). I did many films with him. Every time, he would let me choreograph my own fight scenes and they ended up coming out good. I also enjoyed working with Frankie Chan (top right). Frankie Chan liked using Westerners who know martial arts. I did two, three movies with him and he really makes you look good. I did Outlaw Brothers (1990) and then Oh Yes Sir (1994). Each time, he made you look good.
It is great to see you are bringing in a new generation of kung fu stars, including your daughter Charlene, who looks great in the short fight scenes she is involved in as seen in the documentary. I know she appeared in The Empty Hands, but does she want to continue a career in films?
That’s the plan! She actually shot her first lead role in an upcoming film called Dragon Gate. This was shot in China and over there, a lot of their action films go straight to streaming. I mean if a film costs maybe 100,000 dollars and you have Chinese people paying 3 dollars a view to see that film, it has a high chance of being profitable. The main issue though is that in China, there are restrictions about the content of the film. There is to be no gangsters, people with tattoos, basically nothing illegal. And Dragon Gate is about illegal underground fighting, so right now, it is shelved. Hopefully, we will be able to somehow get the movie released. However, you can view clips from the fights on my Facebook page.
With the action genre in Hong Kong today, do you think kung fu films needs a resurgence or are you happy with the way the genre is today?
Well, let’s face it. The 80’s and 90’s style is gone. Even Sammo Hung had said it at one point. The problem today is that there is no power behind the action. Back even when there were the Shaw Brothers, real martial artists were cast, and they had that power in their fights. I mean, you can even feel that power. Nowadays, actors, singers, and dancers train in martial arts for films. There is that grace and fluidity, but it lacks power.
What I am currently working on a few scripts with my friend, producer Brian Chumney, with the potential that they will be a throwback to the old days, but it will not be like the old days. One script that we actually have is the final script of my Sifu, Lau Kar-Leung, entitled The Burning of Shaolin Temple: The Luk Ah Choy Story. This is the film I really want to get made. So, I am hoping to find investors who would be interested in helping make this film. This would have real Hung Gar Kung Fu in it and it would be a tribute to my Sifu as this was his final script before his passing. This is what I would consider my ultimate dream. I also need a reliable crew to help bring this film to life. I’ve had so many issues with the documentary that I need a crew that I can rely on. And I definitely would need a good director.
So you wouldn’t direct the film yourself?
(Laughs) No! I’m not capable of directing the film myself. I would work as action director, but I couldn’t go full director. I would need someone capable of doing it.
It looks like you are truly happy in what you are doing these days. I am the White Tiger comes to DVD, VOD, and Digital on June 18. This is a great look at a man who remained loyal to his master and gained a reputation as a well-known Hong Kong film actor to fans all over. Mark, it has been an honor to talk to you. I hope you continue your success and I hope that Sifu Lau’s final script will be brought to life.
Thank you so much! It has been a pleasure to talk to you!
A Special Thank You goes out to Liz Rodriguez of EMR Media and Mark Houghton for making this interview possible.