Hit Maker: Yam Wu-fa (任護花) and his Novels, Newspapers and Movies

York Lo: Hit Maker: Yam Wu-fa (任護花) and his Novels, Newspapers and Movies

Hit Maker Yam Wu Fa Image 1 York Lo

Yam Wu-fa (second from right) with his family in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-8-21)

When it comes to a novelist whose works were adopted into movies who was also a newspaper publisher in the Chinese world, the first name that comes to most people’s mind is probably Louis Cha, the founder of Ming Pao who was also a famous martial arts novelist under the penname Jin Rong. Before Cha, there was Yam Wu-fa whose serial novels under his pen name of Chow Pak-ping (周白蘋) were popular in the 1940s and 1950s, some of which were turned into movies and he was also a marketing genius who found success as the publisher of “Hung Look Daily” after the War.

“King of Killers”(中國殺人王) and  “Hot Tempered Leung”(牛精)

Hit Maker Yam Wu Fa Image 2 York Lo

Left: cover of “Battle with the Natives” from the “King of Killers” series; Right: cover of “Chaos in Kennedy Town” from the“Hot-Tempered Leung” series

A native of Heshan in Guangdong province (which many in the HK printing industry came from, see article on Lee Yat-ngok and Local Printing Press), Yam started his career working for “Public Opinion” (公評報), a top-selling newspaper in Canton in the 1930s which was founded by the Chung family in 1924. When Canton came under attack by the Japanese in 1937-38, Yam moved to Hong Kong where he took over a small tabloid by the name of “Vanguard” (先導), in March 1938. After he took over, he immediately changed the layout and content of the publication (which was published three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and started writing satirical op-eds under the pen name of “Golden Tooth Two” (金牙二). But what took off was a series he wrote for the paper called “King of Killers”under the name ofChow Pak-ping. The story was inspired by the discrimination he saw faced by Chinese Americans and the main character – the “King of Killers” Charlie Wong was a James Bond-like figure who was good in martial arts and riflery and helped different local Chinese communities across the globe ranging from New York to Chicago to San Francisco and the Wild West. The series was syndicated overseas in a Chinese newspaper in the US called “Voice of the Chinese” (漢聲) and Yam also published at least eight books based on the series which sold extremely well. When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, Yam moved to Shiu Kwan in Kwangsi Province where he started the newspaper “Yuet Wah Po” (粵華報) which featured a serial story he wrote about a truck driver transporting much needed supplies on the Burma Road.

Hung Look Daily News (紅綠日報)

Hit Maker Yam Wu Fa Image 3 York Lo

Left: May 23, 1978 edition of “Hung Look Daily”.Yam Chung-cheung was listed as publisher in the masthead; Right: “Hung Look Daily News” on the right (sign with the first character in red) at Gough Street in Central

After the War, he returned to Hong Kong and in March 1946, helaunchedHung Look Daily News, which became one of the most popular tabloids.In directories from the 1980s, the inception of “Hung Look” was listed as 1939 which might be referring to “Vanguard”. The paper’s office was located at 37 Gough Street in Central. (The Asian Press, 1970).

In terms of content of the paper, the first couple of pages included regular news, commentaries and entertainment news. It also featured another popular series created by Yam featuring the fictional character “Hot Tempered Leung”, a leader of the coolies in the Western district pier who fought the Japanese invaders and their collaborators during World War II. The series achieved equal level of popularity as the “King of Killers” series and resulted in a dozen books. As Hung Look did not carry movie advertisements and with his background as a movie director and producer (see below section), Yam wrote unbiased and insightful movie reviews in his paper that were straight to the point. He also continued to write satirical op-eds under the pen name of “Gold Tooth Two” and hired other columnists such as Lam Sham.

Since most of the readers of the paper came from the lower and middle class, most big advertisers shunned Hung Look but Yam managed to find smaller advertisers such as kung fu studios (with the assistance of editor Lung Kwok-wan 龍國雲 who was a student of the famous martial arts master Ip Man) and Chinese doctors (by having salespeople crowdfund from smaller Chinese doctors).

Movies

Hit Maker Yam Wu Fa Image 4 York Lo

The seven football stars in 1955 “Seven Heroes vs the Shrew”; right: Yam Wu-fa’s wife

Yam Wu-fa realized early on the potential of movies early on and the first film he was involved in was the 1940 film “Searching for My Husband” he wrote starring the famous Cantonese opera actor Liang Tsi Pak. He then wrote and directed three films in 1941 for the New China Film Co (新中影片公司) – the “Mysterious Woman” and the “Road Ahead” both of which starring Cheung Ying and “Snow White and her Seven Friends” starring Yung Siu-yi (1921-1974).

After the war from 1947 to 1959, Yam wrote and directed 19 films, 16 of which in partnership with FohHok-lui (霍鶴侶), film producer and co-owner of the Globe Theatre in Wanchai with the family of Shiu Kai-yan (see article on Lock Hing). In 1949, Yam and Fohbought the script “Crime Doesn’t Pay” (蕭月白) written by popular radio broadcaster Lee Ngo (李我) and hired Cheung Wood-yau (張活游) to play the title role of Siu Yuet-pak and co-starring Cheung’s screen partner Pak Yin (白燕). The movie like the radio show before it was a huge hit.

Many of Yam’s movies including “Crime Doesn’t Pay” also starred his wife Tsi Po-to (紫葡萄), whose original name was Fung Tsui-wah (馮翠華)and she had starred in over 30 films from 1947 to 1955. In 1955, Yam wrote and directed “Seven Heroes Vs. The Shrew” (蠻女鬥七雄) starring his wife and seven football stars – Hau Ching-to (侯澄滔), Chu Wing-keung(朱永強), Yiu Chik-yin (姚直然), Lau Yee (劉儀), Chan Fai-hung (陳輝洪), Szeto Man (司文) and Szeto Yiu (司徒堯). After 1959, Yam was not involved in the production and direction of any movies but in 1961, Loke Wan-tho’s Motion Picture & General Investments produced “Man Killer Versus Tricky Man” based on his “King of Killers” series and the movie was directed by Wong Tin-lam and starring Walter Tso (see article on YauKiu Studio).

Final Years and Family

In May 1966, Yam Wu-fa started traveling the world and visited over 20 cities with his wife. Afterwards, he wrote a three-volume series called “Yam Wu-fa Traveled the World” (任護花遊世界, arranged by North America, Asia and Europe) which were very popular and when he discovered pirated copies in the market, he lowered the price of the original from $1.50 to $0.60 to squeeze out all the pirates. (KSDN, 1966-5-26, 1967-3-8)

In July 1976, Yam died at the HK Sanatorium in Hong Kong at the age of 73. (WKYP, 1976-7-28) The next month, Rediffusion began production of television show for “King of Killers” and “Hot Tempered Leung” (WKYP, 1976-8-25)

Hit Maker Yam Wu Fa Image 5 York Lo

Right: Wedding picture of Yam Chung-cheung and his wife in 1969 (KSDN, 1969-4-17)

Yam and his wife have two sons and a daughter. Their eldest son Lloyd Yam Chung-pong (任忠邦) graduated from HKU and received a Li Po Chun Scholarship to study in the UK in 1961 where he received his doctorate (KSDN, 1961-11-3). Married to Tsang Kuk-wah (曾菊華), Lloyd worked in public works in the UK where he was Head of Structural Design at the Building Redevelopment Establishment before returning to Hong Kong where he started Yam Educational Software (YES). Yam’s second son Yam Chung-cheung (任忠章)acted as a child star in his father’s film “Crime Doesn’t Pay” in 1949 and succeeded his father atHung Look Daily and he married Irene Chau Wai-chu, the fourth daughter of architect Chau Po-cheung (周寶璋) in 1969 and afterwards embarked on a extended honeymoon by land from India through the Middle East to Europe, perhaps inspired by his parents’ round the world trip several years before. Irene later started OOH Holdings, the largest minibus advertising company in HK which went public in 2017. Yam’s daughter Chiu-lai at the time of his death was involved in entertainment, real estate and import/export in San Francisco.

In the early 1980s, Hung Look Daily was acquired by the real estate tycoon Kong Tak-yan (see article) and its address was listed as 10th floor of Tak Yan Commercial Building in Lan Kwai Fong (Benn’s Press Directory, 1984) The circulation of Hung Look was listed as 50000 and Yam Tat-nin (任達年) was listed as its publisher. The newspaper was merged with Kong’s Far East Economic News but the combined publication struggled and was eventually closed down.

Sources (other than those cited above):

http://naichailau.blogspot.com/2007/02/blog-post_2580.html

https://hongkongcultures.blogspot.com/2015/07/blog-post_7.html

http://paper.wenweipo.com/2017/12/05/WH1712050002.htm

http://paper.wenweipo.com/2018/02/27/WH1802270002.htm

http://paper.wenweipo.com/2014/12/02/OT1412020005.htm

Filmography of Tsi Po-to:

http://hkmdb.com/db/people/view.mhtml?id=1386&display_set=big5

Filmography of Yam Wu-fa:

http://hkmdb.com/db/people/view.mhtml?id=987&display_set=eng

This article was first posted on 13th August 2021.

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