10 hard-kicking facts about 'Martial Law'

By: H&I Staff    Posted: January 4, 2019, 11:23AM

Image: The Everett Collection

The martial arts craze exploded in America during the 1970s. Kung-fu flicks aired on local television on weekend mornings, as dojos popped up across suburbia. Bruce Lee posters could be found hung in bedrooms and dorms everywhere. The television series Kung Fu capitalized on the trend, but that more meditative show starred David Carradine, a Hollywood son born in Southern California.

It was not until Martial Law that American television audiences got a weekly dose of authentic Hong Kong action. The mix of lightning-quick choreography and stupefying stunts had become a cult hit thanks to the work of Jackie Chan. His influence loomed large over Martial Law, as we shall see. Veterans of the Hong Kong cinema scene — not to mention a hip late night talk show host — gave the action series a unique flavor.

Starring Sammo Hung, Arsenio Hall and Kelly Hu, Martial Law aired for two seasons around the turn of the millennium. Let's take a closer look at a show that packs a real punch — well, hundreds of them.

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Sammo Hung was in 'Enter the Dragon'

Hung fights Bruce Lee in the opening scene of the 1972 martial arts classic. He plays a Shaolin student wearing nothing more than black trunks and black gloves who squares off against Lee as master and students watch. Six years later, Hung would direct and star in a parody of the film called Enter the Fat Dragon.

Image: The Everett Collection


Arsenio Hall made his dramatic acting debut on the series.

The Arsenio Hall Show revolutionized late-night comedy from 1989-94. After the talk show ended and the Dog Pound quieted its whoops, Arsenio turned to acting. He starred in a pilot for CBS called Skip Tracers, an action show about hunting down bail jumpers, but the show was not picked up. Still, the network was enamored with his work, so they added him to Martial Law midway through the first season, in no doubt due in part to the massive success of Rush Hour, which had paired Jackie Chan with Chris Tucker.

Image: The Everett Collection


Kelly Hu was Miss Teen USA 1985 and Miss Hawaii 1993.

Hu co-starred as Grace "Pei Pei" Chen. But she was far more than a beauty queen. Brown earned her brown belt in karate in 1998.

Image: The Everett Collection


Jackie Chan made a tiny cameo on the show.

Kung-fu legend Jackie Chan was offered the lead role in Martial Law, which was inspired by his awesome film Police Story 3: Super Cop. Stanley Tong had directed the movie and pitched Martial Law to CBS. (More on him below.) Though Chan turned down the role, he did help out his old friends and make a tiny cameo. He made a walk-on appearance in episode five, "Cop Out," but the scene was cut. Still, he does turn up in the episode in one way — a billboard for Rush Hour can be seen in one shot.

Image: The Everett Collection


Chan and Hung went way back.

Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan had known each other since they were little kids. Both were members of a troupe known as Seven Little Fortunes in the early 1960s, studying under their master Yu Jim-yuen. At the time, before the two had even turned 10 years old, they were known as Yuen Lau (Chan) and Yuen Lung (Hung), as it was custom to take the name of one's teacher. The two also made their film debut together in the 1962 flick Big and Little Wong Tin Bar, seen here. For decades, the movie was believed to be lost, but it turned up on YouTube a couple years ago.


Hung studied "opera" as a child.

At the age of nine, Hung enrolled in a Peking opera school, where he studied for 12 hours a day, learning acrobatics, martial arts movements and weapons, all traditional theatrical elements in China. 

Image: The Everett Collection


Sammo Hung was not fluent in English.

Martial Law is the rare American television show to star an actor with a loose grip on the English language. In some episodes, he hardly talks at all. Nevertheless, the show was a big hit, raking in more than 11 million viewers in its Saturday night slot. Hung was also the only East Asian actor headlining a primetime network series at the time.

Image: The Everett Collection


You can see several styles of martial arts in a single episode.

The fights are the real draw of the series, as the authentic choreography incorporates loads of martial arts — including Wing Chun, Hung Ga, Muay Thai, karate, judo, Chin Na, taekwondo and kendo.

Image: The Everett Collection


Hong Kong director Stanley Tong helmed a few episodes.

As mentioned above, Tong had directed Jackie Chan through jaw-dropping stunts in Police Story 3: Super Cop. The two collaborated again on Chan's English-language breakthrough Rumble in the Bronx. This led to Tong helming the cinematic reboot of Mr. Magoo, starring Leslie Nielsen. A year later, Tong jumped aboard Martial Law as executive producer and directed the first episode. He returned to the director's chair for two more episodes.

Image: The Everett Collection


The show was canceled due to its budget.

According to a report in a 2000 issue of Black Belt magazine, the network axed the show because each episode was costing about $2 million dollars.

Image: The Everett Collection