This burly fighter is certainly one of the most recognizable gweilos in Hong Kong cinema, having appeared as the main villain in not just one, but two, Jackie Chan films. Norton began training early, and by his teens had already attained black belts in several forms of martial arts. After graduating from high school, he found work as a bodyguard, and eventually began working for top celebrities such as Rod Stewart. While encompanying one of his employers on a job, he met up with American martial arts star Chuck Norris, who was impressed with Norton's physical presence. He was cast as a villain in Norris' The Octagon (1980) and quickly found other work as the popularity of the martial arts film began to grow in the US.
During the mid-1980's, there was a trend of including fighters of all different styles and looks into Hong Kong action movies in order to increase the international audience, and Norton's tough persona and background in stuntwork (which he had learned on the sets of his US movies) made him a perfect fit into this mold. Norton made his Hong Kong debut with the all-star Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung collaboration Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985) and appeared in a few other Hong Kong movies, including Magic Crystal (1986) and Millionaire's Express (1986) (both of which also featured another popular gweilo, Cynthia Rothrock), before the fad fizzled out.
Norton then returned to the United States, where the rise in popularity of home video had created a need for product to fill the shelves of video stores, and martial arts movies were quickly becoming a favorite of renters. He appeared in a string of films, most of which were not very successful, but had generated cult interest and steady paycheck for Norton. Most of his notable movies from this period (such as the China O'Brien series) re-teamed him with Cynthia Rothrock, though he occasionally stepped out on his own.
In 1992, he returned to Hong Kong to take a dream job -- playing the villain in Jackie Chan's City Hunter. The proceeds from the movie allowed Norton to step into the realm of producer with Honor and Glory (which, perhaps not coincidentally, starred Cynthia Rothrock). While the movie failed to make a splash, it has become almost notorious among Hong Kong film fans as it became part of cut-and-paste "director" Godfrey Ho's Angel the Kickboxer, widely regarded as one of the worst martial arts movies ever. Stepping away from films for a while, Norton turned his attention to television; in 1993, he began working as a fight coordinator for his old friend Chuck Norris on his show "Walker, Texas Ranger," where he also sometimes appeared in guest roles. He also appeared in one of the first interactive movies, Shadow Warrior, which filmed its footage at the famous Shaw Bros. studio's "Shaw Town" backlot.
During recent years, Norton has been dividing his time between working on American projects, as well as those in Australia, where a booming film industry has created a gap for local action movies, which Norton is only too happy to fill. Of course, his most visible role for Hong Kong film fans has been as the villain in another Jackie Chan movie, 1997's Mr. Nice Guy. However, Norton was not able to engage in a climatic fight with Chan because Chan suffered an injury during a stunt. Though Richard Norton will most likely never be a star on the caliber on Van Damme or Segal, he has been working steadily in films for twenty years and continues to be a solid worker -- something which many of the now washed-up stars of the 1980's can only dream about.
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