When I asked Man-Ching Chan why he swapped his 30-year career working in film (of which 18 of those years were spent working with Jackie Chan) to work in a small film production company in Brunei, I didn’t expect that this casual question would turn into a source of real inspiration.
Man-Ching, at 51, is very conscious of his age. He mentioned his age at least three times in our short conversation. Age is perhaps a reminder to him of his own mortality and the urgent need to pass on to others the invaluable knowledge and experience that he has gained in the entertainment industry. “If I was gone tomorrow, all the experiences would go with me into the ground, wasted. Unless I pass on everything I learn. I am 51. How many more times am I going to wake up tomorrow?” he spoke with conviction.
“If I was gone tomorrow, all the experiences would go with me into the ground, wasted.”
Man-Ching could have chosen to pass on his knowledge anywhere in the world, but why Brunei? This was the main question that puzzled me.
He humbly explained that, “Back in Hong Kong and China, where the entertainment industry is mature, there are many people who possess my skillset. But when I arrived in Brunei seven years ago, I realised the sense of hunger in the young people’s eyes. They are willing to learn. It was unlike anything I had experienced in a long time. What surprised me the most was how talented and determined some of the people here are! All they lack is the right exposure and opportunities.”
While Man-Ching has a mild, respectful and humble demeanor in most social settings when you meet him, he is anything but mild when it comes to work. His demand for exceptional standards of discipline and commitment is just one of the practices he brings with him to Brunei gained from decades of experience working in Hong Kong.
Origin Films raised the bar to a point that was unprecedented in this country. Aside from joining the production of the film, Yasmine as an Action Director, Man-Ching and his business partner, Siti Kamaluddin have also produced a series of high quality short films and commercials for large corporations in Brunei and internationally.
Man-Ching has witnessed many Bruneians learn the craft of filmmaking throughout the last seven years. Unsurprisingly, not many were able to meet his high expectations; some lasted an hour, a day or a week. But on the other hand, there were others who went on to excel in this career. He was most proud of these young achievers, as he believes it is his calling to pass on everything he knows to those Bruneians who are interested in learning.
Off set, Man-Ching treats everyone as a friend. “That is one of the most important lessons that I learned from Jackie Chan,” he said. When Jackie worked, he was the most hardworking person in the group. But when he finished working, he’d make sure all his crew were well taken care of. There was no hierarchy whatsoever, and everyone was treated as equals. This is how he could command respect and loyalty and get the best out of everyone working with him.
Coming to Brunei
How did Man-Ching end up in Brunei?
About eight years ago, he met Siti Kamaluddin on a set in Kuala Lumpur. He remembers vividly the tiny hardworking Malay girl from Brunei who was always hustling and asking questions. “Siti was different from many people I met in Malaysia. She had good fundamentals and she knew what she was talking about, perhaps because she started at the bottom. Not only that, she was extremely intelligent and was as driven as anyone I’ve met in Hong Kong,” he recalls. Their friendship grew when Man-Ching mentored and shared his experience with Siti on different aspects of filmmaking. Later on, Siti was able to convince him to join her team as an Action Director for her first feature film.
Leaving a Legacy
The third time that Man-Ching mentioned his age to me, he was referring to leaving his name in Brunei’s history books. “Being an Action Director for the film, Yasmine, has permanently stamped my name in Brunei’s history. Yasmine, as you know, was the first Brunei International Feature Film. That is something money can’t buy.” While the budget was smaller than a tiny fraction of his usual movie budgets, the amount of fulfillment in completing this project was unmatched.
Man-Ching remembered the uphill battle he fought together with Siti Kamaluddin, knocking on different government department’s doors to get clearance to make the film. He also reminisced about the hardship of trying to find sponsors for the film. “Filming was virtually unheard of during that time, we had a lot of explaining to do back then. But look at today, the number of local productions that have surfaced since Yasmine has been extremely encouraging,” he said.
Another highlight of his career in Brunei was choreographing His Majesty’s Bersama Rakyat event in conjunction with His Majesty’s 69th Birthday Celebration. Man-Ching recalled, the team worked hard for months to make the event a success. It was all worth it in the end, when he saw the smile and nod of approval from His Majesty from backstage. “How many people can say they have put on a show for the King of a country?” he said fondly.
Do something for your Country
Whenever he is asked, “What are you doing in Brunei?” Man-Ching would use the opportunity to tell the people that he is here to “give to your community.” “I love your country and I want to contribute to it.” Often, such a remark is met with an initial silence, followed by a warm embrace of appreciation for his efforts. And Man-Ching never fails to challenge local people to join in the movement “to do something, anything for their country.”
Man-Ching Chan entered the entertainment industry at the tender age of 14 as a stuntman because of the gymnastic skills which he acquired during his childhood. Little did he realise that this skill would have such a profound impact on his life. He was selected as a stuntman at the age of 14 because as a gymnast, he knew “how to fall gracefully” without hurting himself. His knowledge in gymnastics also prepared him to choreograph some of the biggest fighting scenes in Kung Fu drama history such as Rush Hour, Who Am I and Drunken Master Part 2, to name a few. Man-Ching has worked on over 100 films in his career and even choreographed the action for Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II. He was also a stunt double for Michelle Yeoh in Police Story when she was just starting her career in Hong Kong’s entertainment industry. His ambition is to pass on his knowledge in filmmaking to fellow Bruneians.