Kwan Hoi-san

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Herman Kwan Hoi-San
Chinese name 關海山 (traditional)
Chinese name 关海山 (simplified)
Birth name Kwan Ming-kok (關銘覺)
Origin Hong Kong
Born (1925-10-23)October 23, 1925
Guangzhou, Guangdong
Died September 11, 2006(2006-09-11) (aged 80)
Hong Kong
Other name(s) Uncle Shrimp (蝦叔)
Kwan Ling (關寧)
Occupation TVB Actor
Instrument(s) Acting
Label(s) TVB
Years active 1949 - 2001
Ancestry Nanhai District, Guangdong, China

Herman Kwan Hoi-San (Chinese: 關海山) (October 23, 1925 in Guangzhou, Guangdong — September 11, 2006) was a Hong Kong actor. His English name was Herman Kwan. Kwan started off as a Cantonese opera actor in street theatre before joining New Voice Opera Troupe (新聲劇團). He also started singing for early Hong Kong film soundtracks and moved on to act in films, mostly adaption of opera in Cantonese. He became famous and acted in many lead roles. When Hong Kong films started to move towards Mandarin, Kwan's career faltered and joined TVB and acted in various roles. Directors and filmmakers rediscovered his talent and cast him in many supporting roles in films. In 2001, Kwan suffered a stroke and was left mute and paralysed. He died in 2006.


Kwan at an early age, followed his father Kwan Yiu Fai (關耀輝), studied Cantonese opera. At 11, he started playing in public. At the time, Cantonese opera was mainly street theatre: actors were acting on a stage built in front of a temple or a market. He left Guangzhou for Hong Kong after World War II. Later, Kwan Hoi San will join the greatest troupes of that time, such as the New Voice Opera Troupe (新聲劇團) which featured Yam Kim-fai.

In the 1940s, Kwan started singing for the Hong Kong-produced Cantonese films soundtracks. Cantonese cinema was booming then and stars from the Cantonese opera moved on to act in them. Kwan followed suit and started acting in films soon after. The films were often adaptations from the Cantonese opera repertoire. His first movie is Huet Chai Huet Seung (血债血偿). His fame as a cinema actor quickly goes beyond the one he had built as a theatre actor. He often acts with famous actors such as Cho Tat-wah, Cheung Ying, Lau Hak-suen and Shih Kien. This beautiful era wherein he was the young lead last until the end of the 1960s, when the arrival of the Mandarin language productions from the Shaw Brothers will impose juvenile faces to the public, such as Jimmy Wang Yu, David Chiang Da Wei or Yueh Hua. Kwan Hoi San and his friends had then to accept this change. Some returned to theatre, others continued to do movies in Cantonese while participating in productions shot then in Mandarin in big studios such as Shaw Brothers or Cathay Asia Films. Other also will integrate television, then still on its early stage, where they will meet again some filmmakers that have also turned toward TV.

Kwan Hoi-san's cinema career went downhill until the mid-1970s. In 1976, he joined TVB, which he didn't leave up until the early 2000s. During his television period, he quickly became a great and must-have supporting part in the soaps. Not unlike in cinema, Kwan Hoi San was able to perform all kinds of characters in the small screen without troubling his audience. He was, from one series to another, a good family man, a Kung-fu master, a machiavellian godfather,a minister of the emperor, a Taoist magician, a firm manager, a historical character or also a traitor to the country. The part he was the most often attributed was the one of the patriarch of a rich family in decay, in the long emblematic series of the channel. Other stars from TVB have confronted him more than once in the long series of the channel: Chow Yun Fat, Carol Cheng Yu Ling and Simon Yam Tat Wah in Brothers/Tsan Ching (亲情), Adam Cheng Siu Chow in Clan of Intrigues/Chor Lau Heung (楚留香), Andy Lau Tak Wah and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in The Duke of Mount Deer/Luk Ding Kei (鹿鼎记), Felix Wong Yat Wah and Ray Lui Leung Wai in Kung Fu Master of Fat Shan/Fat San Chan Sin Sang (佛山赞先生), Stephen Chow Sing Chi in The Justice of Life/Ta Loi Chi Kong Woo (他來自江湖) or also Lau Ching Wan in The Battle Among The Clans/Dai Heung Kong (大香港). In 1982, in The Demi-Gods and Demi-Devils/Tin Lung Pa Po (天龙八部), he crossed the path of Leung Kar Yan, but also Kwan Chung (关聪), one of his sons.

In the meantime, Kwan Hoi San kept on working in the cinema industry with more or less outstanding parts. In the 1980s, just like a Bill Tung Biu, Kwan Hoi San found a second fame within cinema thanks to his successful television career. Young filmmakers, including thos who knew him from TV sets, rediscovered him, and offered him interesting supporting parts. When he was well directed, the result was, for an example, Brothers From Walled City, or Hong Kong, Hong Kong. In the latter, he acts an old violent single man who ends up marrying Cherie Chung Chor Hung, an illegal immigrant coming from China and in love with Alex Man Chi Leung.

Kwan Hoi San had also the honour of presiding over the association of Cantonese opera companies of Hong Kong.

In 1991, he won the Hong Kong Film Award and the Taiwanese Golden Horse in the best male supporting role category for his part in Lee Rock by Lawrence Ah Mon. Western viewers can see his part in Project A and Project A II by Jackie Chan, where he plays the superior of the star, hunched up in his third-rate uniform. Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung Kam Bo were enjoying paying tribute to past Cantonese cinema stars by reuniting them in their productions. Kwan Hoi San in Hard Boiled was the old godfather for whom things were much too complicated because of the young generation of gangsters, led by Anthony Wong Chau Sang, and he was “betrayed” by Tony Leung Chiu Wai.

In 2005, TVB (which dropped him after his accident) paid a tribute to Kwan Hoi San during a special show. Kwan Hoi San had participated in more than 300 films and TV soaps.

Personal life[edit]

Kwan liked to drink and smoke. He was also a collector of paintings, Chinese calligraphies and pipes. He had three sons and three daughters from four wives, although his first three marriages were never legally registered. Kwan's first wife was also an actress who came from Guangdong and together they have an adopted daughter. During a tour in south Vietnam, he met his second wife (黃麗). He had two sons (關楚雄) (關聰) and a daughter (關婉清) with her. His third wife (葉娥瑞) is a Malaysian and they have a daughter (關至瑩). Kwan met his fourth wife (曾娣蓉), a Singaporean, in 1969 and they have a son (關可維).

In 2001, he suffered from an apoplexy attack and was left paralysed and mute. His condition improved but relapsed at time. On the morning 11 September 2006, Kwan's fourth wife noticed that he was not feeling well and sent him to Kwong Wah Hospital. Kwan died shortly later from complications arising from high blood pressure and diabetes.[1]