A troubled escapee from the People’s Liberation Army was smuggled to Hong Kong and eventually became a celebrated author
WRITER NI KUANG is being mourned in Hong Kong and across much of the Chinese-speaking world. To readers of Chinese, he was the bestselling author of huge numbers of genre books with sci-fi, martial arts and mystery themes. To non-Chinese people, he was the screenwriter for hit Bruce Lee movies such as Fist of Fury and The Big Boss.
Ni died in Hong Kong this past Sunday (July 3, 2022) at the age of 87. He had been suffering from skin cancer for four years.
He is considered one of the four great creative minds of Hong Kong, together with late lyricist James Wong Jum-sum (widely known as James Wong Jim), late Chinese martial arts novelist Louis Cha Leung-yung, and renowned food lover and critic Chua Lam.
SMUGGLED TO HONG KONG
Born in Shanghai in 1937, Ni was in and out of trouble in China, where he was a soldier in the army. Facing a jail sentence in 1956, his family eventually paid a people-smuggler to get him to Hong Kong, where he arrived in July of 1957.
He started off writing short pieces of fiction in the Ming Pao newspaper, which was then run by Louis Cha, who was also a fiction writer. The first in the series which would make him famous was printed in 1963, and the segments were popular, running for ten years. After a break of five years, the fiction series was revived in 1978 and ran until 1992.
As Ni’s stories became widely celebrated in the 1980s, he realized that they should be reissued as books, but neither he nor the newspaper had kept copies of all the work. A reader who had kept cuttings of every piece came to the rescue. The first book featuring one of his most famous characters, called the Wisely series, was published in 1986.
This series of stories has a set up similar to Batman, and runs through a wide range of hyper-imaginative plots, similar to comic books. A wealthy businessman named Wisely (sometimes spent Wesley) lets his manager run his company while he spends his time having adventures – which range from solving mysteries to encountering aliens to dealing with ghosts.
Ni wrote another famous series was based on a character named Dr Yuen (Yuen Chun-hap 原振俠), a surgeon-detective, reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Ni became a writing machine, eventually churning out more than 450 film scripts and 300 books, and was said to earn HK$2 million a year in the 1980s, a large salary in those days.
LEAVING HONG KONG
Ni lived and worked in Hong Kong until 1992, when he moved to San Francisco, although he continued to write from there.
In 2006, his wife’s dislike of life in the United States caused him to return to Hong Kong, where he has lived ever since.
The author was not unhappy to return – especially since he was a fan of Chinese food and in particular the Hong Kong classic dish of char siu faan.
In the 1980s, “father of Canto-pop” Sam Hui starred as the main character in a movie called The Legend of Wisely.
Another local star, singer singer Leon Lai, got the central role of surgeon-detective Yuen Chun-hap in a locally popular TV drama, The Legendary Ranger, in the 1990s. The dramas are now being replayed on TVB in memory of Ni.
In the early 2000s, superstar Andy Lau also starred in a movie based on the Wisely character.
MARTIAL ARTS MOVIES
As a screenwriter, Ni wrote numerous influential martial arts films, including The One-Armed Swordsman, starring Taiwanese actor Jimmy Wang Yu in 1967, the first Hong Kong movie to reach more than HK$1 million at the box office. Bruce Lee starred The Big Boss (唐山大兄) written by Ni in 1970s.
Ni was the elder brother of renowned Hong Kong writer Isabel Yeh-su, commonly known as Yi Shu.
Image at the top of Ni Kuang is by Yuyu/ Wikimedia Commons