Children who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, who were abandoned by their parents at home, will no doubt have caught countless reruns of 60’s television shows including but not limited to: Batman, I Love Lucy, Hogan’s Heroes and of course, The Green Hornet.
What was significant about 1966’s The Green Hornet was that it featured the first recurring heroic Asian character on American Television: Kato - the Hornet’s sidekick, played none other than Bruce Lee.
Even as children we knew that Kato was where it was at; the Green Hornet was a glorified buffoon who could barely threw a punch. Kato was the originally over-achieving Asian import, and could have kicked everyone’s butt on his own, with one arm tied behind his back.
Even though the show lasted only a year, Kato left such a strong impression that apparently in Hong Kong they knew The Green Hornet as “The Kato Show”. Even the less than stellar movie remake of the Green Hornet knew to portray this superior sidekick dynamic.
Just wished they could have found a better actor than Jay Chou.
Singapore had its own go at creating a superhero for TV… unfortunately, the result was VR Man.
Back when the layman’s understanding of computers and technology was limited to mobile phones the size of your lunch box, a superhero with the powers(?) of virtual reality really seemed like a viable pitch for a TV series.
With other loosely defined powers such as running really fast and jumping really high, you can more or less imagine how audiences took to VR Man. Even the star power of then heartthrob James Lye was not enough to rescue the show from its cheesy story and terrible effects. The cheap looking production ended in ridicule and remains notorious as Singapore’s one and only serious foray into superhero fiction.
It’s hard to have a successful show when your hero looks like he’s dressed in Batman’s pyjamas. Well, he sucked, but he was ours.
Wong Fei Hung
The character that made Jackie Chan and Jet Li bonafide movie stars, Wong Fei Hung was based on an actual epic Chinese hero, who was - like the character - a kung fu fighting doctor. An expert of the Hung Gar style of martial arts, he also made famous the “shadowless kick” - a kick faster than the human mind could fathom, probably faster than light.
Tsui Hark’s stylish “Once Upon A Time in China” solidified Wong Fei Hung as a cinematic legend, and was followed by five sequels. Almost all of which had heavy social and political commentary upon western colonialism and its effect on China. Heavy stuff for a martial arts movie.
But its sometimes schizo blend of comedy, action, romance, drama and historical fiction proved to be endearing to audiences of all ages. They were, of course, no doubt disappointed to find that it is physically impossible to fly through the air while machine-gun kicking an opponent.
The Taoist Maoshan Priest is the most prolific ghost buster bar none. Lam Ching Ying, previously Bruce Lee’s assistant and co-action director when he was 19, laid his claim to fame as the serious but kind-hearted Taoist Master in the 1985 film Mr. Vampire (that you can read more about here).
Whether hopping vampire, vengeful ghost or evil sorcerer, you could always count on our sometimes monobrowed Taoist Magician to save the day, with the help of his naughty students. Lam Ching Ying’s great athleticism and stoic performance charmed audiences so much that he was typecast in the role all the way until his death, when he passed away from liver cancer.
Perhaps a case of life reflecting art, his final wish was to die in seclusion, so his loved ones wouldn’t see him waste away. *sob*