‘Every day I’m striving’: Hong Kong filmmaker Sandra Ng’s evolution from playing the ‘funny hag’ to lauded producer

Her part in the 1988 action comedy The Inspector Wears Skirts earned Ng a best new performer nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards the following year. Her first leading role arrived soon afterwards, alongside Stephen Chow Sing-chi in Jeffrey Lau Chun-wai’s Thunder Cops II (1989).

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She went on to play more memorable roles in the early 1990s; many of the films she featured in during this period, such as All for the Winner (1990), Gamblers Part III: Back to Shanghai (1991) and All’s Well, Ends Well (1992), are considered comedy classics today.

By the mid-1990s, Ng was a successful comedian who at one point “shot six films in a year” and “once had to get to three different sets in 24 hours”, as she later recalled.

However, she was typecast as, in her words, “the funny hag”. Possibly feeling a bit jaded and pigeonholed, Ng decided to step up her game.

Ng and Wyman Wong hosting the late night talk show The Show Must Go on Harassing at a Commercial Radio studio in 1994. Photo: SCMP

Aside from her foray into singing, at which she was moderately successful, and hosting radio shows – so well received that it has become a significant part of her career – Ng reached a turning point with the 1996 film 4 Faces of Eve, an experimental drama she produced and funded and in which she played the leading role.

Comprising four short stories, respectively about a lonely sex worker, a cheated wife, a murderous lesbian and a woman seeking a new life, the anthology feature was co-directed by Eric Kot Man-fai, Jan Lam Hoi-fung and Kam Kwok-leung, with Christopher Doyle as cinematographer.

While the project got Ng into debt, it also led to her first best leading actress nominations at the 1996 Golden Horse Awards in Taipei and the 1997 Hong Kong Film Awards – and the industry finally began to take her seriously.

Ng in a still from All’s Well, Ends Well (1992).

Ng again received best actress nominations from both for her dramatic role in the crime drama Portland Street Blues (1998), and won the prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

“I always ask the director to consider me a newcomer,” Ng said of her approach in an interview with the Post in 2010. “Some directors might be worried about pointing out problems in people’s work. When I’m on the set, I put my ego aside. I talk to the director about anything I’m not comfortable with before filming starts.”

Ng’s biggest break arguably came in 2002 when she played the title role in Samson Chiu Leung-chun’s Golden Chicken, a comedy drama depicting Hong Kong’s societal shifts between the 1970s and the 2000s through the eyes of an optimistic sex worker.

Ng (left) with Anthony Wong after she won the best actress prize at the 1999 Hong Kong Film Awards for her part in Portland Street Blues. Photo: SCMP

The film received five nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including best picture and best actress, and won in all three of the categories in which it was nominated at the Golden Horse Awards, including best actress for Ng.

The first sequel, Golden Chicken 2, arrived the next year, and was duly nominated in four categories at the Hong Kong Film Awards, again including best actress for Ng.

Ng and Peter Chan attend the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2006. Photo: SCMP

In 2006, Ng gave birth to their daughter, Jilian. To this day, the couple remain happily unmarried and often make public appearances together at awards ceremonies and media events. Ng is said to have rejected Chan’s marriage proposal as she did not deem marriage a necessary commitment.

“I am not an appendage to anyone and I certainly do not need to deliver a baby in exchange for marriage,” Ng told the Post in 2009. “Besides, in this industry, it is so cool if you are remembered as an individual.

“I am not Mrs Chan; I don’t care about the title. And I am very comfortable with our relationship now.”

The second peak of her film career came in 2010 when Alex Law Kai-yui’s Echoes of the Rainbow was released to both critical and commercial acclaim. Ng’s role in the film again earned her a nomination for best actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Ng and fellow cast member Buzz Chung with the Crystal Bear, the youth audience award, given to Echoes of the Rainbow at the Berlin International Film Festival. Photo: SCMP

The Golden Chicken franchise was brought back a third time in 2014 with Golden Chickensss – directed by Matt Chow Hoi-kwong, who had co-hosted a show with Ng at Commercial Radio Hong Kong in the mid-2000s. Ng, who also produced the film, was again nominated for best actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Ng once told an interviewer that comedic acting “has never been an easy task”, since the genre is often neglected at major film awards. Even so, she not only made a name for herself as a comic actress, but has helped put comedy back on the map.

In recent years, Ng has honed her craft in other positions on set. She made her directorial debut in 2017 with Goldbuster, and has been active as a producer.
Ng and Leung Chung-hang in a still from Zero to Hero (2021). Photo: Edko Films
She produced and starred in the 2021 sports drama Zero to Hero, which received eight nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
She again did double duty in the 2022 comedy Chilli Laugh Story, the fifth-highest grossing Hong Kong film of that year.

One of Ng’s most recent public appearances was for the premiere of her latest film, Love Lies, at the 2024 Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 29, where her partner Chan and their daughter accompanied her on the red carpet.

Ng at the world premiere of Love Lies at the Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 29, 2024. Photo: HKIFF

“I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family,” Ng told the Post’s Edmund Lee in a 2014 interview. “My father worked very hard to bring us up. I’ve always been fighting an uphill battle.

“Every time I fall into a hole and have to climb up again, I wipe my tears and keep working. I just do my best.

“So when people are having fun, I’m hitting the gym – in all honesty I could just give up because nobody has asked anything of me. When people are feasting, I’m eating vegetables. I find it worthwhile, even though I have to continue with my suffering.

“Every day I’m striving to maintain the value of Ng Kwan-yu for another year or three months – and this applies as much to my career as it does my family.”

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