King Hu was born in Beijing in 1932, his grandfather an official of the Qing Dynasty. He studied art in Beijing before leaving to Hong Kong by himself in 1949, making a living as proofreader and assistant accountant. He then switched to painting advertisement and film posters, later joining Great Wall Movie Enterprises, working with the brothers Wan Lai-ming and Wan Ku-chan, who were key figures in Chinese animation. Hu then went to Yung Hwa Motion Picture, working in various departments, such as serving as art director and also appearing on screen for the first time in Humiliation for Sale (1958).
In 1958, Hu, on the recommendation of director Li Han-hsiang, signed with Shaw Brothers as an actor, appearing in such films as Li’s blockbuster The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959) and playing the lead in The Deformed (1960). He went on to write the script for The Bride Napping (1962) and, serving as assistant director, shared directing responsibilities with Li on the huangmei classic The Love Eterne (1963) and credited as Executive Director.
He took over the director’s reign with The Story of Sue San, another huangmei musical, though, under Li’s supervision, he was again credited as Executive Director. With Sons of Good Earth (1965), Hu received full director-writer credit but the film was censored in Southeast Asia due to its WWII topic, resulting in poor box office.
His sophomore effort, Come Drink with Me (1965), enjoyed a remarkable reversal of fortune, becoming a commercial and critical hit. The film is now considered an important work in the development of the martial arts genre.
In 1967, Hu left Shaw Brothers and moved to Taiwan, joining Union Film there to make the martial arts film Dragon’s Gate Inn (1967), which was an even bigger commercial and critical hit. He then embarked on an ambitious project, which took three years to complete. A Touch of Zen (1971) turned out to be a monumental milestone of Chinese cinema, shown and winning an unprecedented award at the Cannes Film Festival, firmly establishing an international reputation for Hu. In 1978, he was named by the International Film Guide as one of the year’s five important directors of the world.
Following A Touch of Zen, Hu worked laboriously but steadily, making several martial arts films in the 1970’s, shown around the world in film festivals and consolidating his status as a cinematic master. Of special note are Raining in the Mountain (1979) and Legend of the Mountain (1979), which he directed simultaneously in South Korea.
In the 1980s, Hu shuttled between Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States, trying to put together several cherished projects that eventually didn’t materialize. He managed to make the comedy The Junvenizer (1981) and the historical drama All the King’s Men (1982). In 1989, he was invited by Tsui Hark to direct The Swordsman (1991), but disagreements resulted in Tsui finishing the picture with other directors.
Hu was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hong Kong Fim Directors’ Guild in 1992.
In 1997, he was about to embark on one of his heartfelt project The Battle of Ono, a story about Chinese workers who built the railroads of America, but died suddenly while undergoing a minor surgery.
Hu was also a renowned scholar of Chinese literature and had published a book on the novelist Lao She.
|Year||Chinese name||English name||Directors|
||The Wheel of Life|
||All the King's Men|
||Raining in the Mountain|
||Legend of the Mountain|
||The Fate of Lee Khan|
||A Touch of Zen|
||Four Moods||LI Han Hsiang|
||Dragon Gate Inn|
||Come Drink With Me|
||Sons of Good Earth|
||The Story of Sue San|