HONG KONG • Willie Chan, the powerful film producer and manager who represented stars such as Cherie Chung, Maggie Cheung and, most significantly, Jackie Chan, died on Monday night, said reports. He was 76.
He died in his sleep, said Ming Pao Daily News, citing a report on radio. The death was confirmed by director Stanley Kwan, who said he got a call from Willie Chan's family. He was found unresponsive on Tuesday morning and taken to hospital, where his death was confirmed, said Kwan.
Jackie Chan posted a tribute to his "senior, brother" on Weibo, saying: "Willie Chan is gone. Another of the most important people in my life has left. Many people know I wouldn't be what I am now without you, but no one knows what we really experienced together. So long as we both know and understand."
In the 1980s and 1990s, when the Hong Kong movie market was booming, Willie Chan managed a galaxy of stars, including Jacky Cheung, Carol Cheng, Joey Wong, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Carina Lau, Simon Yam and Joan Chen, said Ming Pao. In his heyday, he represented more than 40 stars and each of them shot 12 to 13 films a year.
A native Malaysian, he studied agriculture before he did a master's degree in economics in Hawaii, said Ming Pao. His first job was in a rubber research institute, but he had friends in the hotel industry and found he had great people skills.
He turned to hotel management and ended up running a film department in Hong Kong. When he joined director Lo Wei's company in the 1970s, he was tasked with finding a new Bruce Lee. He recommended Jackie Chan after meeting him through actor Charlie Chin, but the ensuing 1976 flick, New Fists Of Fury - for which Chan went by the name Chan Yuen Lung - was a flop.
After Chan shot to stardom with action comedies, starting with 1978's Snake In The Eagle's Shadow, which was shot while he was on loan to another company, Willie Chan resigned from Lo's company to manage him.
In an interview with Commercial Radio in 2014, the manager said of his relationship with the star: "He called me 'brother', he said he was illiterate and told me to help him read documents and scripts, and to help analyse things for him. He said then, 'I won't neglect you, I won't ignore you.'"
The two never signed a management contract. Nor did Chan enter contracts with Maggie Cheung, Chung and Jacky Cheung; the first he signed was with Cheng.
He closed his management company in 1992 because triads were moving in on show business and his job was no longer fun, he said.
Subsequently, he focused on managing Jackie Chan and helping him break into Hollywood. But the two parted professionally in 2008 and the star's wife, former actress Lin Feng-jiao, took over as manager.
Still, the producer stayed friendly enough with the star to attend his 60th birthday party in 2014.
In 1974, he married his former secretary in Singapore, but they divorced after two years. He said he had wanted to have a family and had worked hard on the marriage, but "realised I had to face my own orientation honestly".