Willie Chan, the Malaysian-born film producer and talent manager who made Jackie Chan a star and gave Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh her first acting job, has died. He was 76.
Variety reported that Chan died in his sleep on Tuesday (Oct 24).
Born Chan Chi Keung in 1941, Willie moved to Hong Kong in 1970. There, he worked as a film producer, and met Jackie Chan who was still working as a stunt man at the time.
With the Hong Kong entertainment industry looking for a new martial arts star after Bruce Lee’s death in 1973, Willie earmarked Jackie as a future star, and got him his first leading role in 1976 film New Fist Of Fury.
Willie would go on to be the superstar’s manager for 38 years, until 2009, when Jackie’s fame grew to the point where Willie could not help him any longer.
“Gradually he became so popular that fame went to his head a little, he didn’t need my help anymore and I couldn’t help him with much,” he said in a 2014 interview with Hong Kong’s Commercial Radio. “There would be many high-ranking officials at the same table, or rich men and yes men. My words fell on deaf ears.”
Besides his work with Jackie, Willie was also instrumental in kickstarting Yeoh’s career in entertainment.
In an interview with The Star in 1998, Chan recalled how he met Yeoh for the very first time in 1983 at their hometown of Ipoh. It was just after the former Miss Malaysia had returned from the Miss World pageant in London.
“I first met Michelle at a friend’s party in Ipoh,” recalled Chan in the interview. “She looked very attractive then but I did not approach her as I thought she was someone’s girlfriend at the party, and it wouldn’t be nice of me to ask her if she wanted to become a star.”
However, Yeoh had made such an impression on Willie that when he was looking for a fresh face for a commercial later, he decided to approach her for the role.
After the commercial stint, Yeoh decided join the entertainment industry full-time, and consulted Willie to see if she should sign up with Dickson Poon’s D&B Films, Golden Harvest or Jackie Chan’s company.
“I told her she should join D&B Films. We did not think a frail-looking girl like Michelle could fight the way she does now!” Willie recalled.
Yeoh would go on to achieve stardom with the 1992 Jackie Chan film Police Story 3: Super Cop, which was also co-produced by Willie.
Willie also produced Stanley Kwan’s acclaimed drama Centre Stage in 1991, and got his only Hong Kong Film Awards nomination as a producer in 2010 when Jackie’s Shinjuku Incident was nominated in the Best Film category.