• 6 August 1952
  •  Shanghai, China

Danny Lee


Danny Lee Sau-Yin, was born in 1952 in Shanghai. Lee did not do so well in school and sometimes dropped out to help support his family by working. While growing up, he held policemen in high regard and so, upon graduating high school, he tried entering the police academy, but could not complete the courses. He entered the TVB acting school in 1970, and got his first big film role in the 1972 film Water Margin. The following year, Lee made his starring debut with River of Fury. He then went on to star in Shaw Brothers' 1975 Hong Kong Tokusatsu-style superhero movie and camp classic The Super Inframan playing the Chinese superhero himself. After superstar Bruce Lee's death in the same year, almost every star in Hong Kong was pushed in to fill "The Dragon's" shoes, and Lee was no exception, even going as far as to actually portray the legend himself in Bruce Lee and I. By the late 1970s, Lee had begun to tire of Kung Fu movies and thus tried his hand at different fare, such as 1977's The Mighty Peking Man (a King Kong ripoff now considered a camp classic). Still being offered roles in Kung Fu movies, in 1978 he decided to form his own production company. One of the earliest products from his company, 1981's The Executor (aka Heroic Cops) was largely nondescript, except for the fact that it was the first on-screen pairing with Lee and future superstar Yun-Fat Chow. In 1982, Lee directed his first movie, Funny Boys, and then followed it up in 1984 with the movie that would cement his image in the consciousness of Hong Kong, Law With Two Phases. The violent movie (for which Lee won both the Hong Kong Film Award and Taiwanese Golden Horse for his acting) featured Lee as a hot-headed but just policeman, a role that he reprises to this day. Law With Two Phases also inspired other directors. Some of the elements used in the shootouts were used by John Woo in his breakthrough 1986 film A Better Tomorrow, and Law's documentary-like look inspired Kirk Wong to continue with a similar style (which he was also developing at the time). Both directors subsequently asked Lee to work with them. Lee appeared with Yun-Fat Chow in Ringo Lam's 1987 gangster classic City on Fire (where he plays a rare role as a criminal), and then appeared in John Woo's benefit project for Chang Cheh, Just Heroes (1987, which Lee also co-directed). Lee's next project with Woo was, of course, his most famous, 1989's The Killer. Originally, the studio did not want Lee in the role of a cop once again, but both Woo and Yun-Fat Chow insisted on putting Lee in the film, since he was so much in the public's minds as being an upstanding police officer, which they thought was crucial for the role. The movie was an international cult hit, and Lee became forever associated with being a cop in Western minds. In 1987, Lee formed his second production company, Magnum Films, and had become a fairly powerful producer in Hong Kong. As fitting for a company named after Dirty Harry's favorite gun, many of Magnum's films are ultra-violent "Category III" (Hong Kong's equivalent of "NC-17," where no children are allowed to watch) films which have become classics in their own right. Movies like The Untold Story, Dr. Lamb and Twist scared local audiences and entranced foreigners with their over-the-top attitude. In the late 1980s, Lee was also one of the first producers to back Stephen Chow (and is sometimes credited for "discovering" him), who was at the time a small-time dramatic actor, but who would then go on to be Asia's biggest star after appearing in a series of "Mo Lei Tai" (nonsense) comedies. Lee even directed Chow in one of his first comedies, 1991's Legend of the Dragon, the first film in which Lee does not appear, while on the director and producer's chairs. He later produced, co-directed (with Herman Yau) and co-starred in The Untold Story, the controversial Category III thriller, which brought Anthony Chau-Sang Wong to stardom. The two actors later starred in Kirk Wong's action flick Organized Crime & Triad Bureau, which Lee produced. Though his on-screen output has slowed down in recent years, reduced to mostly cameo appearances in movies like Young and Dangerous V, Lee (and his company) are still pretty busy with behind-the-scenes work, and it seems a given that as long as there will be a Hong Kong movie industry, Danny Lee will be there --especially if a movie needs to have a cop in it.