HONG KONG • Actor and producer Raymond Wong has told the rip-roaring story of how a last-minute replacement, Stephen Chow, asked for a 300 per cent pay rise to star in the now-classic Chinese New Year comedy All's Well Ends Well.
In an interview with Apple Daily that was published yesterday, Wong revealed that Chow had been the third choice for a role in the 1992 all-star romp about the love lives of three brothers.
"At first, the three brothers' roles were to be played by George Lam as the big brother, Leslie Cheung and me," said Wong.
"I was playing the campy brother opposite Sandra Ng as the tomboy and Leslie Cheung was playing the Stephen Chow character opposite Maggie Cheung."
But Lam failed to return to Hong Kong for the shoot, after his house in the United States caught fire, said Wong.
The producer called another household name, Chow Yun Fat, right away, but the actor said he had committed to a rival festive comedy, Now You See It, Now You Don't, with actress Carol Cheng.
"I was searching left and right and, hey, Stephen Chow was just up-and-coming, so I talked to him," said Wong.
A superstar now, Chow was then rising to fame with hits such as God Of Gamblers II (1990) and Fight Back To School (1991), and he asked Wong for a fee of HK$8 million - four times his usual HK$2 million. But the producer agreed to it because "I was rushing to start shooting" and the actor "spat out his rice to say yes".
But Chow had more demands after he read the screenplay. He asked if he could play Shang Foon, the playboy brother who would share scenes with Maggie Cheung's movie-mad character, Holliyuk.
But Wong said: "I told him, 'You're getting all the money you want. That character is Leslie Cheung's. You have two roles to pick from, the unfaithful husband or the campy brother.'
"He said, 'I'd rather die than play the campy brother, I'd rather play the unfaithful husband.'"
At the time, Cheung had retired from Cantopop and settled down in Canada, but Wong sent director Clifton Ko to talk the star into making a comeback with the film.
The day Cheung returned to Hong Kong, he invited Wong for tea immediately.
The producer said: "He sat down and said, 'So, I read the whole script. Don't fight with me. I want to play the campy brother and it has to be opposite Teresa Mo because the two of us are a sure win."
Wong had not expected Cheung to volunteer for the role of the flamboyant Shang So, but he quickly agreed to the actor's request and gave himself the role of the unfaithful Shang Moon instead.
He recalled ringing up Chow and saying: "Hey, kiddo, you got what you wished for. Now you're really playing opposite Maggie Cheung."
After the leading men played musical chairs, it became comedienne Ng's turn to complain, Wong told Apple Daily.
Ng told him she had done her homework for the role of the Shang brothers' mannish cousin, Mo Shang, and had no idea how to play Shang Moon's doormat wife Ching.
So Wong gave Ching a furry upper lip to help Ng play the long-suffering daughter-in-law as a comical character.
The movie was such a hit that it spawned six sequels. But the first film, with its unbeatable combination of big stars and inspired lunacy, remains a classic.