When he was a teenager growing up in Warwickshire, England, in the 1970s, taking off for Hong Kong to learn Chinese gongfu was a remote dream for Mark Houghton.
He had watched the movie Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979) when he was 17 and decided that he wanted to learn the Hung Gar style of martial arts of its director, Lau Kar Leung.
Hong Kong martial artist-turned-film-maker Lau, who died at the age of 76 in June, was a fourth-generation disciple of Chinese martial arts legend Wong Fei Hong. His directorial resume includes The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (1978) and Drunken Master II (1994). Houghton, now 51 and the owner of Lau Family Hung Gar Kung Fu School in Hong Kong, was in town recently to promote the opening of a branch here.
Dressed in a black gongfu-style tunic and sporting Chinese tattoos and a necklace with a jade brooch, he looked like he would fit right into the busy milieu of Hong Kong, where he has been living for more than 30 years.
Actually, he looked like he had just stepped out of a Hong Kong gongfu flick - he was involved in many of those after being rejected by the Hong Kong police force.
Recalling the early years of his love of gongfu, he said in a thick Cantonese accent: "I was so crazy about Chinese martial arts, I even applied to join the Hong Kong police force."
The application was rejected because he lacked university qualifications, but he ended up doing the thing he really wanted anyway.
"I was working as a bodyguard in England, having picked up martial arts in Malaysia, and I got to know a Hong Kong businessman who told me that he knew Lau and could introduce me to him.
"It was a dream come true for me to even have a meal with him, let alone become his disciple," said Houghton, who also goes by the Chinese name Ho Mak.
Subsequently, Lau offered him a role as a stuntman in the movie Aces Go Places 5: The Terracotta Hit (1989) as well as took him under his wing.
Following that, Houghton, who is divorced and has a 23-year-old daughter, served as a stuntman, actor and martial arts director in more than 60 Hong Kong films from 1989 to 1998. He retired from the industry due to injuries suffered from his stuntwork.