In front and behind the camera, from his native Hong Kong to the United States, Stephen Fung has starred in dozens of iconic films and worn many other hats in the film industry. Collaborating with some of Hong Kong’s most well-known talent like Jackie Chan, Yuen Woo-ping and Ann Hui, his acting credits include Summer Snow (1995), Gorgeous (1999) and All About Women (2008). In the U.S., Fung has also directed episodes of AMC’s Into the Badlands and Netflix’s
Crime thriller Daybreaker, from Chinese video platform iQiyi, marks the 47-year old Fung’s return to acting since 2015, and will be his first television role since 2006. Fung has spent a major part of the last decade focusing on directing. He made his directorial debut, Enter the Phoenix (2004), for Jackie Chan’s JCE Movies and followed up with House of Fury (2005) in collaboration with legendary action director Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill).
On his return to acting
“This whole journey of venturing back into acting is a lot of fun for me because when you’re the director, everything is your concern,” Fung says. “Being an actor again brought back good memories. You can enjoy yourself when you have a day off and just hang out in the hotel or by the pool.” He added that after experiencing the pressure of being behind the camera, he has learned to have fun and “goof around” on set now.
His role in the 24-episode Daybreaker is something both familiar yet new for him. “The genre is something that I’m very comfortable with because it’s a Hong Kong crime story. I have a tendency to like this kind of stuff,” Fung says. Yet, he has also moved into a more senior and mature character. “My facial hair is pretty gray, the way I dress is like a senior inspector. It’s a combination of a lot of things that for the audience who hasn’t seen me for a long time, may be a bit of a surprise.”
However, there are things which he appreciates about directing. “I got to work a lot more intimately with actors,” Fung says. “Being a director, you get to communicate with your actors a lot.” His time spent directing veteran actors like Andy Lau and Jean Reno also allowed him to learn and observe their craft.
“The big leap was to do Into the Badlands with AMC in the US,” shares Fung, who was a fight director, executive producer and director on the show. “It was like the beginning of the golden era of TV in the US, after The Sopranos and then you have Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. All the good stuff starts appearing on TV because you can get into characters better. That jump was was fun and it was a new experience.”
Comparing his time working in Hong Kong and the U.S., Fung said that projects are completed a lot quicker in Hong Kong, but as a result, he receives less preparation and pre-production time. He also pointed out that the various guilds in the U.S. (eg. SAG-AFRTA, DGA, PGA) exert a lot of influence over how productions are run, especially in terms of rest breaks and set rules.
Embracing the industry’s technological shifts
Over his 32 years in film and television, Fung has witnessed some of the industry’s biggest shifts. From the celluloid medium, to digital video, TV series and streaming platforms, Fung stressed that it is important to move with the times. “I understand that some movies are better watched on the big screen. Like I watched Top Gun and I don’t think you can get that kind of experience watching on a phone. But then there are other content that is fine to watch on a phone,” Fung says. “I see everything as a progression. I just can’t look back. Once the invention is invented, there’s no way to go back and un-invent it, so you might as well embrace it.”
“I’m actually quite a tech nerd,” Fung says. Growing up as a big fan of games, Fung shared that he became very interested in the technical specifications and workings of equipment, monitors and phones. “This is maybe something that many people don’t know, but I’m quite an introvert and I like to do these nerdy things.”
After working on so many top-bill projects alongside industry heavyweights, what else does Fung want to do? “Every day there are new inventions. I always like to do new kinds of media, like in different spaces or short content. Obviously, that doesn’t take away from my bread and butter, which is movie-making and filmmaking,” Fung says. “Being in this business for quite some time, you realize that there are things that you can’t be impatient about. Sometimes things just take their time and sometimes a role would just appear in front of you. Even if you’re at home angry, if a role is not coming to me or there are no good projects, it’s not going to help, so you might as well just be patient.”