At 5’1”, Hella Hung is a pretty small guy, but that doesn’t stop him from having big dreams, a big heart, and a big reputation.
Or, for his name’s sake, a big penis.
But the dancer known as Hella Hung actually goes by several names. Some know him as Hella High Energy Hung, figurehead of the Hung Dynasty crew. His family knows him simply as Hung Van Lam. One of his mentors calls him “the man with the thousand suicides.” Another calls him “Godzilla in a box” or “the Hulk” – because, apparently, Hung means no harm but leaves a trail of destruction. Some fans even go as far as to call Hung the b-boy version of Chuck Norris.
But perhaps the best person with whom Hung can be compared is another performer who shares the same last name: William Hung, who became a celebrity after butchering Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” on the third season of American Idol.
They’ve both developed cult followings. They can both seem to lack, for the most part, any technical skill in their hobbies. And most significantly, nobody can seem to tell if they really take themselves seriously or if it’s all just a big joke.
But there’s one crucial difference between the two Hungs: ProfoWon, Rob Nasty, Crazy Legs, and Kid David don’t have William Hung’s back.
And though nobody can really be sure how Hella Hung – a 28-year-old Chiu Chow man who enjoys dressing up like a Ninja Turtle, dropping Lion King references (and his own body), and attempting Mortal Kombat moves in real life – became a b-boy celebrity via viral videos, one fact is certain: the fall of the Hung Dynasty won’t be happening anytime soon.
Like any other legend, the story of Hung begins with his birth.
Born in 1980, Hung lived in Vietnam until he was three, when he and his family moved to the United States.
Growing up as a constant target for bullies, Hung was inspired to learn how to fight, spurring a passion for martial arts that continues to heavily influence his style. Equipped with hapkido and inspired by Bruce Lee and sagas with Chinese people flying around in the air, Hung would eventually decide to commit fully to his goal of going to Hollywood and becoming a performer.
Fully, that is, except for his other passion: dancing.
It’s a fire that Hung says was sparked when he was a sophomore in high school. Jilted at a school dance and sticking out like a stylehead in a power cipher, what Hung calls the “I-don’t-give-a-fuck-attitude” came into play as he began to dance by himself.
“I wasn’t cautious of who was watching me, and I didn’t ever care,” Hung says. “Girls come to you not because you ask them on date, but because you’re doing something good. So here I am, going to a school dance with no girls and ended up dancing with hella girls and doing moves I didn’t even know I had.”
Several dance moves, raves, and years later, Hung’s next dance-related epiphany would take place when he had almost earned a black belt ranking as a martial artist.
While teaching a “stubby, chubby, fat little white kid” – someone with whom Hung felt like he could relate – how to kick in sparring matches, Hung suddenly realized that while he loved the physical challenge of martial arts, he didn’t want to risk hurting anybody – or himself – because of pride or a lack of self control. Drawing motivation from his first cipher experience at a rave, he began to train, seeing it as a way to test his body and try new things.
“I was struggling to do a simple baby freeze,” Hung admits. “It showed me that martial arts doesn’t show me everything.”
In most cases, people who want to learn something will find somebody who can teach them.
Hung, on the other hand, chose a different method. He’d write about it – and then start his own club.
Working at the City College of San Francisco’s student newspaper at the time, Hung was told to write a story about break-dancing. A picture of him doing a freeze was prominently displayed in the issue, which contained information (or misinformation, depending on who’s being asked) about break-dancing and its relationship to people like Debbie Deb and Johnny O.
There was also Hung’s illustration that showed readers how to six-step – incorrectly.
“Everyday, I’d see people complain and have arguments like, ‘School sucked, school sucks.’ So I wondered what can I do that would be fun,” Hung explains. “And you know what the most shocking thing was? You have 50 clubs that are for students. And then what happens is, I’m a student and I’m trying to start a break-dancing club. Instead, what I get is basically the main guy is like, ‘We can’t have it on this college. Well, break-dancing is a risk.’
“And I’m like, ‘Anything is a risk!’” Hung continues. “We can have a basketball team – how is b-boying any different? If we can have a football team, how is break-dancing any different? And I didn’t take no for an answer. If I hadn’t started that club, I wouldn’t have met the b-boys I met. If you know what you want, you go after it and you don’t let nobody get in your way. You become a success.”
And so CCSF Breakin Fridays began to take place, happening as its name implies, at the City College of San Francisco on Fridays from noon until whenever people got tired and wanted to go home.
As fate would have it, Breakin Fridays would help Hung gain exposure with the b-boys he now respectfully refers to as his “teachers.” And, ironically enough, Hung’s mentors wouldn’t just be any b-boys – they’d be some of the West Coast’s most respected OGs.
But first, they’d have to get over hating him.
“Rock Force has been around since 1983,” explains Ronald Creer, better known as ProfoWon.
“We have members basically everywhere. We’ve been around for a long time.”
ProfoWon is explaining how he and his brother Robert, more famously known as Rob Nasty, took it upon themselves to be some of the East Coast’s defenders and teachers of foundation and original style in b-boying.
So Hella Hung didn’t exactly fit into their plan.
“There was this guy, Hung Van Lam, who I felt like was kinda putting out misinformation in the article,” ProfoWon says. “You can’t be misinforming people. Bug Eyed Bandit and Rob – they went to City College – were like, ‘We’ve seen this guy Hung. He carries around linoleum and teaches people how to front tumble and this and that, and he calls it breaking.’
“He would literally just, like, throw himself around,” ProfoWon continues. “I thought he was just a weird guy who was misinformed. I wasn’t really feeling him at first.”
Or, as Hung more bluntly puts it, “They saw me and they hated me. What I knew about breaking was commercial breaking stuff in the ‘80s. They wanted to kill me.”
And despite getting repeatedly roasted, both verbally and on the dance floor, Hung persisted, battling with gymnastics, kung fu, and what he called “sexy dancing.” Realizing that he wasn’t a threat, the b-boys warmed up to Hung, if not his dancing, and the club’s meetings began to look more like sessions.
And to some degree, everyone was able to get on with their lives and goals, and the b-boy balance was restored.
That is, until 2006 – the year of Diamond Studded Bullets in Oakland.
Hung is almost as quick to give credit to the people who’ve helped him out as he is to jump into a cipher – literally – with a Lui Kang-style bicycle kick.
For example, Hung credits Joey Groonz, also known as Groonzmaster of Rat Pack Crew, for encouraging him to enter in battles and for being Hung’s “first hype man.”
Then there’s Rock Bandit – representing Rock So Fresh Crew, Forever We Rock, and the legendary Hound Dog Truckers – who christened Hung with an official b-boy name, bumping out “Freestyle Phoenix,” the name Hung chose for himself.
“I was at Breakin Fridays one day and I just went off, and when I was done, Bug Eyed Bandit, this OG legend, doesn’t say anything. Then he says, ‘When you’re out there dancing, you ain’t b-boying, you straight be hunging. You just be hunging. That is your own thing. B-boy Hella Hung,’” Hung recalls. “Bug Eyed said, ‘Let’s call him Hella Hung. I know you hate Hung, but think of him as a joke. He’s funny.’”
And Hung overflows with never-ending gratitude for whom he calls his “mentors,” ProfoWon and Rob Nasty.
“It’s a blessing that they happen to be my mentors, and they’re doing it for free. And they’re mentoring me because they love me so much,” Hung says.
He pauses to think.
“Or, I don’t know if it’s because they love me so much, or they’re trying to invest in me so I don’t fuck up their scene,” he says.
But it was Milestone of Rock Force Crew, 5150, and Hung Dynasty who first suggested not only tolerating and humoring Hung, but harnessing his abilities and appeal. For the first time, a legitimate b-boy was wanting to battle with Hung, rather than against him.
The story goes that ProfoWon, Rob Nasty, Milestone, and Flexum were trying to find a fifth member for their crew for Diamond Studded Bullets. They needed a powerhead, and Nasty Ray was unavailable.
One moment, ProfoWon was rejecting Milestone’s suggestion to have Hung be the fifth member. The next moment, ProfoWon found that he had been outvoted.
It was settled. Hung would be battling with them against the likes of Flexible Flav, Renegades, Head Hunters, and Illest Villains.
“I don’t care about winning, but I don’t wanna look stupid. It was like, we’ll do regular commandos that we do, and Hung will be like Godzilla in a box,” ProfoWon says. “But we actually got to the semis. Everyone screamed for him. We’d do serious commandos and he’d do whatever it is he does. And it kind of worked.”
But, like Jimmy Castor once sang, it had just begun.
If someone were to try and compile a list of the world’s “legitimate” b-boys, chances are that Hella Hung probably wouldn’t be on that list.
Hung’s okay with that, though. He probably wouldn’t put himself on that list either.
In fact, he doesn’t even consider himself to be a b-boy yet – though he probably knows more about what it means to be a true b-boy than most so-called b-boys today.
It’s the fruit of the labors of ProfoWon and Rob Nasty, who put their reputations on the line and took it upon themselves to take Hung under their wing and teach him the fundamentals of b-boyism – meaning everything from the physical movements to the very history and significance of the culture.
“We take b-boying seriously because it’s our art and craft,” ProfoWon says. “Even for me, b-boying is more like a spiritual type thing than anything else. Ultimately, the zen philosophy of martial arts is to never kill someone. You have to know how to kill without killing him. The only thing I’m doing is killing your ego. No one leaves physically hurt. It builds up character. Battling is like, you might not like the other guy you’re battling, but you’re going to respect the moves. You start to carry rapport with even your enemies.
“So maybe Hung’s attracted because we treat it like a spiritual thing – like a martial art,” ProfoWon continues. “You train, you think, you feel. Everything comes with not hurting anybody physically.”
For Hung, it’s become an exhaustive study of b-boying that seems to potentially take precedence over his classes at CCSF – and definitely over the martial arts classes that he quit once he began his immersion into hip-hop culture.
He says that he’s learned that the difference between a “b-boy” and a “break-dancer” goes far beyond a matter of dancing on beat and having style.
“To be a real b-boy, you gotta, number one, know the history,” Hung says. “A b-boy is like a very educated scholar. If b-boying was like a degree, then the b-boy is like the Ph.D. You understand the feel of it. You know the name of every move, inside and out.”
Hung could probably talk about the nature of b-boying for a long time. He can – and does – talk for hours about keeping b-boying underground, researching the newest graffiti cats, and fighting the trend of poser gangstas.
“Battling Hung is like battling someone who doesn’t know how to lose. It kind of sucks when you battle someone who doesn’t even know they’re losing.”
“He’s really, really trying to be a b-boy,” ProfoWon explains. “We don’t even call him a b-boy. We use the term ‘break-dance entertainment.’ That way, he’s not insulting b-boys. He’s trying to learn about b-boying, but he’s really – he’s really entertainment to watch.”
And it’s Hung’s willingness to ask questions, soak in information, and doggedly persist that has allowed him to associate with respected b-boys who teach him, mentor him, spend time with him, and even battle with him.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
“This guy’s a good guy. He’s got a good heart,” ProfoWon says. “He’s just not all there.”
By “not all there,” ProfoWon means that Hung’s brain works a little differently than those of most other people. Meaning what might take someone else five minutes to learn might take Hung two hours to understand. Meaning it’s a little difficult for Hung to pick up on sarcasm sometimes.
Hung himself admits that it took him over a year to understand and accept that toning down his gut would actually help him with his dancing rather than just making him sexier.
“For me to absorb anything new, you have to sit me down and slowly explain it to me bit by bit and piece by piece and watch everything I do,” Hung says.
But it’s a method of training that seems to be working for Hung, who often misunderstands the motivations of the crowd’s responses to his dancing, clothes, and antics.
“This is the thing,” ProfoWon explains. “He’s not joking around. It’s serious. He thinks, ‘If I dress up like a Ninja Turtle, it’ll be tight, and everyone will think it’ll be tight.’ He doesn’t think he’s misinterpreting it. If that’s someone’s first impression of b-boying, they’re like, ‘Nah.’
“Battling Hung is like battling someone who doesn’t know how to lose,” ProfoWon continues. “It kind of sucks when you battle someone who doesn’t even know they’re losing.”
ProfoWon says he suspects that Hung may suffer from autism or a condition where his brain doesn’t properly inhibit his R-complex – a part of the brain that is said to spur rage, xenophobia, and basic survival fight-or-flight instincts – that may lead Hung to be unpredictable and impulsive.
“Maybe he’s just an idiot,” ProfoWon speculates.
But rather than blowing Hung off and clowning him behind his back, ProfoWon and Rob Nasty have taken him on as their own project of sorts, usually spending time with him at least once every other day. They teach him how to take care of himself – whether it’s turning down opportunities to do free shows when he could be getting paid, not dancing on surfaces where he might hurt himself, finishing the things he starts, or just staying focused while walking down the street.
And the “mentors” say they don’t just want to equip him so that he can perform in a cipher well – they want to teach him how to live well, whether it’s as a performer, a b-boy, or whatever.
“Every movie he watches, he says, ‘That’s the story of my life.’ Everything’s so epic and shit,” ProfoWon says. “Hung Van Lam, the story of your life is that you came from Vietnam and came to American and did crazy shit. It’s hard to compromise with him. We’re doing more than teaching him b-boying. We’re giving him behavioral therapy. We’re friends, but what we’re trying to do is trying to teach him how to behave well.
“It’s like, Hung, you’re like the ocean and we’re like the filters for people to drink you in,” ProfoWon continues. “You speak a different language and we translate for different people. That’s our job right now. It’s kinda crazy.”
Hip-hop has a history of having haters.
Whether it’s from critics, cops, competitors or the corporate media, there always has been and always will be somebody hating.
Hella Hung, of course, is no exception.
And though his story might initially appear to be a sugarcoated b-boy version of a The Miracle Worker-esque charity case narrative, then both he and his “mentors” will quickly let you know that it’s anything but. Lucky as he may be, having respected b-boys mentoring him, spreading his reputation and serving as his manager, that doesn’t exempt Hung from getting smacked around, having stuff thrown at him, and being the target of general shit-talking. His friends and “mentors” are his hardest critics.
“Ness said, ‘Why do you cheer for him? Why don’t you tell him he’s wack?’” ProfoWon recalls. “I said, ‘I tell him he’s wack in his face all the time.’”
It’s true. Hung admits that all the attention can sometimes make him big-headed, but his friends and b-boy colleagues are always there to burst his ego-bubble and bring him down to the real world.
“At first, I was kinda ignorant,” Hung says. “I thought I was the shit. People know me. I’m responsible for all this shit. But my friends said, ‘You ain’t shit. I’ll tell you why you ain’t shit – I’ll smoke you every time.’”
They call his style “happy yam yam.” They tell him he’s not on beat. They tell him he’s a big baby because he spits shit out of his mouth and because he doesn’t realize the harm he’s causing because he’s slightly retarded. They tell him he always looks like he’s listening to techno. They tell him he’s a joke. They tell him that his footwork is sloppy, his technique is shit, and his body is out of shape.
And they for sure let Hung know that many people are laughing at him, rather than cheering for him – giving him “oh”s not because he’s amazing, but because they’re surprised he gets up after crashing.
“They tell me, ‘You got blown up on YouTube by a bunch of idiots,’” Hung says. “‘Now you really want to be a b-boy? Here’s the thing. B-boying isn’t just about the dance. It’s about life. If you can succeed in this dance well, then you will succeed in life. It takes a lot of discipline and mental thought, and you don’t use a lot of your brain. You use a lot of your pelvic region, if anything.’ It got to a point where people wanted to kick my ass because they think I’m mocking the dance.”
But it’s just honesty and tough love, b-boy style, and because of the respected company he keeps, Hung has been able to go get respect at events like Freestyle Session and Might 4 and meet some of bboying’s most respected figures.
ProfoWon and Rob Nasty understand his struggles, Hung says, and know firsthand how b-boying can change lives, so they’re able to explain Hung and amp him up.
“So it’s like a love and hate relationship, me and my boys,” Hung says. “They’ll love me when I’m trying to learn and expand my mind. They hate me when I’m being ignorant and stubborn. The crowd knows me as Hella Hung, a joke, comedy, comic relief, whatever. But my friends are saying, ‘All this hate talk, don’t let it get to you. The more haters you have, the more popular you get.’”
And at the end of the day, Hung often stubbornly accepts the authoritative advice of his peers.
Though, ProfoWon insists, there’s a lot every b-boy and b-girl could learn from Hung as well.
Even the most talented b-boys who freestyle their runs usually have some idea of what moves they might do beforehand.
Hung, on the other hand, thinks about superheroes, wrestlers and video game fighting moves and sometimes ends up calling out other b-boys – on accident.
That was the case with his battle against Nasty Ray, anyway.
“I thought, what if I did the Lui Kang bicycle spin, do some Zulu spins, and somehow end in a freeze when I land,” Hung explains. “Just by chance, it was in front of Nasty Ray. When I freezed, I kinda pointed, and it happened that it was Nasty Ray. And Ray was like, ‘Fuck that, if he called me out, I gotta go out.’ We just went round for round.
“I took it more as a challenge,” Hung continues. “I had this attitude like, fuck this, I can beat any b-boy in the world. I actually thought I won. With technicality, in terms of moves and technique, Ray kicked my ass. In terms of pure energy, I had it. When I was battling him, he gave up a couple times. He walked away and people would push him back. For me, if you battle and walk away, you lost.”
It’s part of the reason why Hung’s friends and fans say he has heart. He literally can’t stop and won’t stop, and he consistently dances with intensity and energy, even if the dances themselves aren’t necessarily the best.
It’s also why Hung prefers ciphers over battles, though he does have an advantage of being able to go over 30 rounds against opponents who might only have four good runs.
“I’ve seen this guy go 40 rounds with someone before,” ProfoWon says. “He went 40 rounds with me, and before he battled me, he battled 40 rounds with someone else. His pain receptors aren’t really that functional. He’ll say, ‘Watch this!’ and throw himself down a hill or something.”
It’s a rare case that demonstrates Hung’s b-boy equivalent of mass production, where quantity takes priority over quality.
Hung says that his lack of b-boying ability forces him to rely on other incomplete dancing styles that make his responses to the music crazier than the typical b-boy’s.
“I’ll flip in the air and I’ll land,” Hung says. “And a lot b-boys, that’s what they call crashing. Maybe you just don’t understand my savage style. My mentors and others call it crashing style.”
It’s his infamous combination of suicides on places like his neck and hip combined with quick transitions into locking and popping segments that have helped solidify his reputation. That, and he straight up dances a lot.
“I just kept putting myself out there,” Hung says. “I did everything backwards. Regular b-boys wouldn’t have the balls to go out until they’re great. I went to a jam not knowing anything and just being straight raw, and I got a lotta love because I was just a raw motherfucker.
“What it is, is I have character,” Hung explains. “If the right music, right mood come out, I’m jiving. Most of the time when I go off, I just really go off. And that’s what I love about dancing. When you go off, shit goes off of you that you don’t really plan. Sometimes a lot of really amazing shit comes out. My intention is just to be a great performer.”
“What makes a person wack is if they’re a wack person, not their moves,” ProfoWon says. “You can’t knock him for trying to learn. I’ll be like, ‘Dude, this is why this is not good.’ Wack guys are like, ‘I don’t need help from anybody.’ I’m not like, ‘Oh, I’ve been breaking this long, so fuck you.’
“This forgotten thing about b-boying is character,” ProfoWon continues. “Hung is like, all character, all heart, and zero technique. That’s the best way I can put it. He has more heart than like anyone I know. As far as having correct form, no. All these reputable OG guys love him because he doesn’t give a fuck. All the people who used to talk shit are like, ‘You were right all along.’ He’s just so honest with himself. He’s not trying to be anyone else – he’s just being himself. Which is just ‘80s television and clichéd movies. That’s what he is.
“I think it’s his heart. You can’t deny that no matter what. His soul is free. His mind and his body aren’t coordinated together. He’s the most giving person I know. If you’re cold, he’ll take off his coat. If you need a place to stay, he’ll say, ‘Stay at my house.’ He’ll help with rent. That’s Hung. Straight up. It’s almost like he could be a living Buddha,” ProfoWon concludes. “He’s a giving person and there’s certain things he’s hung up on. He’ll consider himself a performer before a b-boy and so we’re kind of giving him that dream.”
Legends become legends because their legacy is somehow remembered, and Hung certainly has left his mark on a number of people, places, and media.
There’s his little brother, B-boy Phat, who is already progressing and reaping the benefits of being ingrained in the culture. There’s Breakin Fridays, which continues to host between 15 and 25 people every week. There’s also a slew of Hung Dynasty troops which range in name and status from the Warriors to the All-Stars to the Elite VIP members.
And then there’s Hung’s upcoming DVD, produced by Rob Nasty, which is scheduled to be released sometime this summer.
Hung and ProfoWon are tightlipped about the title, but they do hint at footage of an interview in front of a live audience, as well as other crazy antics – like Hung climbing a tree and falling when the branch breaks, or Hung hanging out with skateboard legend Emerson “Animal” Chin, or Hung rolling down a huge parking lot without a shirt then jumping up and battling four guys (which, according to Hung, took four takes).
“It’s not gonna be just about breaking – it’s gonna be about Hung,” ProfoWon says. “This DVD will be different. B-boy or not, you’re gonna wanna have it. It’ll be one of those things like Bum Fights you just gotta have. We’re trying to make it like a production. It’s definitely something where Hung can have something to live his fantasies through. I’m kind of excited too.”
And Hung has other goals as well. He still wants to learn how to do proper windmills, among other moves. And though he’s still hesitant to commit to b-boying over being a performer, he says he wants to go on tour once the DVD is released. And not just for himself – he wants to be able to inspire people by showing them what he’s been able to accomplish.
“They’ll see me in my beginnings and see me press through,” Hung says. “People identify with me already. How does an ordinary guy with so much difficulty make something out of himself with determination? If you pursue what you want, God’s gonna find a way to give you what you want if you really want it.”
Certainly, people may already be familiar with – and maybe even inspired by – his story. His videos have received tens of thousands of hits worldwide, and ProfoWon says people from all three of the countries he visited last year were familiar with Hung.
“I never knew I’d be such a big name in the b-boy world,” Hung says. “I do it because I love it. Basically, everything in my life has been a blessing. It’s like a stepping stone on everything. Basically, everybody pretty much has a destiny. I can kill somebody on the dance floor and get up and shake their hand and I didn’t have to break a single bone, and I don’t injure anybody. B-boying is my niche. What I want is to be a great performer and to be a great performer is to be great at what you do.”
And again, the Hung Dynasty is still only getting started, and Hung has plenty of places to go and people to meet and battle in order to meet – and maybe surpass – his many names and reputations, whether it be Hung Van Lam or King Kong in a box.
“I think this will be the year that Hung Dynasty will blow up,” Hung says. “I want to do it like until I’m 80. I’m like a true master. I’m a raw motherfucker. I’m like Bruce Lee – I’ll never die.”