Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Wild, Wild East: Duel of the Independent Film Companies Part 3

 
ACROSS THE RIVER: THE STORY OF YANG TZE PRODUCTIONS, LIMITED CHAPTER 1
 
One of the most enterprising of the independent movie production companies in Hong Kong was Yang Tze Productions, Ltd. Founded by Yang Man Yi (Yeo Ban Yee) in April of 1971, the overseas Chinese based out of Singapore had lofty ambitions for his new company akin to Run Run Shaw; only Yang didn't have the level of monetary resources at his disposal. Having worked his way up at major studio Cathay (formerly MP&GI, Motion Picture & General Investment) beginning in 1964 at only 27 years of age, he eventually became General Manager of the company till its dissolution in 1971. 
 
 
At Cathay, Yang acted as production manager or associate producer on movies like TRAVEL WITH A SWORD (1968), THE INVISIBLE SABRE (1968), A PEARL IN COMMAND (1969), UNCONQUERED (1970), and the award-winning FROM THE HIGHWAY (1970). With Cathay remaining only in a distribution capacity, the signature 'Cathay Scope' logo was then altered to 'YangTze Scope'.
 
The Cathay Organization's official movie magazine, International Screen, promoted its stars and films all across Asia. When Cathay ceased film production, the magazine's focus switched to the promotion of Yang's small but promising stable of actors for newly formed Yang Tze. The publication also covered the entirety of the HK-Taiwan movie scene. Other than a few exceptions, Yang Tze's output consisted almost entirely of Kung Fu movies; films that entertainment-seeking audiences were hungry for.
 
The first movie produced under the Yang Tze banner was a drama titled OH MY LOVE (1971), starring fast-rising dramatic superstar and Triad Alan Tang and David Chiang's future wife, Maggie Li Lin Lin. There was a lot of drama going on behind the scenes as well. Maggie Li was engaged to actor Chen Ho (Chen Hao; Steve Chan Ho). The two met at Cathay Studio; starred together in movies like THE MAGNIFICENT GUNFIGHTER (1968) and the ghost anthology THE SPIRITS (1969); and lived together for four years before getting engaged. 
 
Then in 1971 while Chen was in Taiwan filming, he eventually became aware of an alleged romance between his fiance and Shaw superstar David Chiang. Chen returned to Hong Kong to save his relationship only for Maggie to break off the engagement to be with David Chiang; himself having been romantically linked to Thai actress Parwana Chanajit since March of '71 after working together on Chang Cheh's DUEL OF FISTS (1971); a massive Shaw Brothers hit about Thai boxing that made HK$1,727,738. (Insert: Steven Chen Ho, Maggie Li Lin Lin, David Chiang)
 
OH MY LOVE was written and directed by first-time director Chang Sum (Cheung Sum). He was asked by the media why he was making a drama when martial arts movies were more popular; he responded, "No matter what kind of movie it is, if it's well-made the movie will sell. Dramas and artistic tragedies are also popular with audiences. If you cut corners and make a bad martial arts movie, audiences won't go to see that either." Chang Sum would also direct many movies for Yang's former Cathay partner, Alex Gouw when he began producing movies for his company, Goldig Films, the same year. We discuss Chang at length later in this article. (Insert: cast and crew for OH MY LOVE, including director Chang Sum, Alan Tang, Maggie Li Lin Lin, and Ku Wen Tsung at a press function)

Alan Tang (Alan Teng; Deng Guang Rong) had another connection to some of Yang Tze's upcoming star roster. In 1968, he was a student in Shaw's Actor Training Class alongside Pai Piao, Chen Kuan Tai and Ti Lung. Primarily an actor in Romance movies, he wasn't viewed as an action film star although he had a 2nd Dan in Karate at that stage of his career. Often paired with wildly popular actress Chen Chen (the highest paid actress in Taiwan in those days), when revered dramatic director Li Hsing was guiding them, it was the equivalent of the Iron Triangle at Shaw Brothers with director Chang Cheh and actors David Chiang and Ti Lung.
 
He did star in a handful of Fist and Kickers in the early part of the 1970s including 1973s IRON BULL and DEATH ON THE DOCKS. Reporters often compared him to Wang Yu; stating things like, "[Deng Guang Rong] is polite and reserved... he can be fierce, but his character has a submissive and accommodating side; he's not violent and impulsive like Wang Yu".
 
Ever since THE CHINESE BOXER (1970) netted over HK$2 million, various producers scrambled to use Wang Yu in their movies in the hopes of recreating that film's big box office. Wang was the highest paid actor in Mandarin movies at that time. Interestingly, in Indonesia, Alan Tang was the most popular actor in a national top ten poll that pushed Wang Yu on down the list. By 1974, Alan would become the highest paid Mandarin movie actor at HK$150,000 per picture. (Insert: Alan Tang in Indonesia promoting OH MY LOVE with his Eurasian co-star, Indonesian actress Widyawati, of Chinese and French ancestry--holding flowers next to her film star mother; between Alan and director Chang Sum is co-star Maggie Li Lin Lin)
 
At the end of April 71, Wang Yu would begin work on THE SWORD (1971) for Yang Tze; the only swordplay movie the company made, and the only one Wang Yu made for the company (You can read more about its production in Part 1).
 
One of the busiest actors working in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Alan Tang had as many as six movies going at once, but preferred only completing scenes for a single picture in a day. During the filming of OH MY LOVE, he was to begin shooting Wu Tien Chi's BLOODY FIGHT (1972) for actor-turned-producer-director Yan Jun and his wife, the famous Shaw actress Li Li Hua. 
 
Around eight months before he was loaned out to Yang Tze, Alan had signed a three-year basic actor contract with the husband and wife team after a recommendation from his friend, filmmaker John Lo Mar (1976s BRUCE LEE & I). Problems arose when Yan and Li's company failed to successfully apply with the Taiwan Registration Authority due to an error on the application. Then there were copyright issues hindering filming. After nearly a year, Alan had shot nothing for Yan and Li and hoped he could get out of his contract a year early in 1972. (Insert: Alan Tang humoring a lady masseuse during the filming of 1971s THE INVINCIBLE IRON PALM)
 
Losing in excess of HK$100,000, Alan did make MARIA (1971) for the Bright Film Company, a romantic drama with Jenny Hu and directed by John Lo Mar. OH MY LOVE would be his second movie for the year. None of these three titles did any business in Hong Kong. Yang Tze's debut feature only managed a dismal HK$112,572. MARIA fared better with HK$565,611. 
 
BLOODY FIGHT was eventually made, but not with Yan Jun or Li Li Hua attached as producers. Yan's health problems caused him to retire, leaving the industry in 1972. The couple moved to the United States, settling in New York. On August 18th, 1980, Yan Jun died from a heart attack at home. In the end, the BLOODY FIGHT was over, throwing in the towel after only HK$244,915 in ticket sales. (Insert: Li Li Hua and Yan Jun in the 1950s and 1960s)

Yang Man Yi would switch gears to doing strictly Kung Fu movies for the rest of the decade; and it was a struggle every step of the way.
 
When Run Run Shaw announced in March of 1973 he was in talks with American and European companies to co-produce movies together, most independent companies had virtually no capital to attract foreign interest; so they hit on the idea of boosting their product appeal by filming in Europe or America instead. Yang Man Yi decided to do the same; only he wasn't simply going to film overseas, but to collaborate with foreign producers wherever possible. 
 
Up to that point in '73, Yang's movies had been shot predominantly in South Korea as it was much cheaper to film there. What stood out about Yang was he had big ideas that, unfortunately, never quite worked out as planned. One possible reason that kept his filmmaking facility from thriving was Boss Yang tried to do too much too soon with only a small selection of actors. An attempt at growing that pool failed to expand the company. By 1975, the number of films slowed down considerably and he'd already lost some of his leading performers. (Insert: magazine ad for 1973s ACTION TAE KWAN DO)
 
Shaw Brothers began co-producing with the Italians on SUPERMEN AGAINST THE ORIENT (1974) and the ink was dry on a contract for two movies with Hammer Films. Yang would quickly jump ahead of them by a couple months with the first Eastern-Western, KUNG FU BROTHERS IN THE WILD WEST (1973), aka DRAGON AND TIGER CONQUER THE WEST in Chinese. Co-producing with Eduard Sarlui, filming for the first melding of Kung Fu and Six-Shooter cinema began in July of 1973 with planned releases in Hong Kong, Italy and the UK by December of that year.

An article in the October 1973 issue of International Screen pointed out this potentially golden opportunity: "The world market is run by large-scale film companies. The first step for our growth is to cooperate with major foreign organizations to make movies. Filming venues will no longer be limited to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, or Malaysia, but expand to Europe and America. We have now entered the international market to make films for audiences all around the world."

Boss Yang pushed the promotion of his company and his new leading actor Pai Piao like a true huckster; claiming that in Britain, 1973s STRANGER FROM CANTON was a top ten hit; and that other than Bruce Lee, the most popular Chinese star in America was Pai Piao. The reality was Pai's movies hadn't done well in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but were doing good business in other Asian territories like the Philippines. That market would be integral in the production of one of the few films in Yang Tze's catalog that made money internationally.
 
With multiple films slated to be shot with foreign producers, Pai Piao was supposed to fly back to Europe and then to the United States in November of '73 to make two additional co-productions.

Known internationally as Jason Pai Piao (real name Liu Guo Rong), he was Yang Tze's primary leading actor. When Pai wasn't appearing in various minor roles, he had bit parts in Chang Cheh movies as a background thug. In those early days, Pai was also a stuntman and a stand-in. Training for a year in assorted styles of boxing and jumping, the day in the life of a stuntman began at 9am and ended at midnight; and the various injuries suffered in those grueling 15 hours.  In those days, if a picture required a jump from two to three stories, there'd only be carpets and tatami mats and or cardboard boxes to break a stuntman's fall. There were no airbags.
 
Martial arts champion Chen Kuan Tai often appeared in the same movies as Pai, and in the same on-screen capacity. When Chang Cheh began filming 'The Story of Punishment' in 1972 (the ultra-gory WATER MARGIN sequel later to be titled ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS), he needed an actor to play Shi Jin, The Tattooed Dragon. With filming to begin the next day, Chang remembered both Pai and Chen from VENGEANCE! (1970). He then discussed with his primary choreographer at that time, Liu Chia Liang, which of the two he preferred. Master Liu couldn't decide either, as both men had similar looks and builds. When it was learned they were both working as minor actors at various indy companies, Liu was instructed to contact them and whichever he was able to speak to first was to get the crucial part in the movie.
 
As fate would have it, Chen Kuan Tai got the role, and became the talk of the town after starring in BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972) released in February of '72; a role that Pai later brought to life on television in 1981s MA YUNG CHEN, lasting twenty episodes. Chang Cheh would try to contact Pai once again in 1972, but he was already in South Korea filming for Yang's company.
 
Both men were assistants to prolific martial arts instructor, Chen Shao Peng (Chan Siu Pang) on independent features like STORY OF 36 KILLERS from Jia Cheng Motion Pictures and THE COMET STRIKES from Golden Harvest (both 1971). He would occasionally play monks and villains in films he worked on. Chen would try his hand at directing at Goldig Films later in the decade on their big Shaolin production, THE BEST OF SHAOLIN KUNG FU (1976) when movies about the famed temple became a hot trend.
 
Since Chen Kuan Tai had moved on to Shaw Brothers, Chen Shao Peng referred Pai to Yang Man Yi who had been looking for a martial arts actor to lead his company. While he wasn't his Kung Fu teacher, Pai was loyal to Chen because he got him into the business. His last collaboration with Chen as his assistant was on 1972s THE ROARING LION.
 

Pai's first movie for the company was Tu Kuang Chi's CRUSH (1972); a CHINESE BOXER knock-off with heavy emphasis on the art of Taekwondo. Since there wasn't a lot of money for advertising, a run of bad weather hindered the promotional campaign in getting the flyers out to the public. As a result, the film fared poorly. Even so, it was an impressive debut for Pai as a lead. One thing was certain--Pai Piao was putting his heart and soul into his work in the hopes of being a popular leading man in action movies. (Top photo R to L: Pai Piao, Tony Lu Chin Ku, Fong Lap Man, Chan Lau enjoying one of the banquets Yang Man Yi put on for his roster of actors, staff and friends)

STRANGER FROM CANTON (1973) was next for Pai and the usual Yang Tze suspects--Tony Lu Chin Ku (then going by Tommy Lu), Thompson Kao Kang, Nancy Sit, and Leung Pasan (Tony Leung; Leung Tung; Liang Tung). Initially beginning production with the English title of 'Stranger From Hong Kong', the time period was the early China Republic. Since it was deemed difficult to find suitable settings in Hong Kong, the crew decided to move the location filming to Macau as the areas there could pass for 60 years earlier. In what was another film featuring a protagonist from another land, Pai Piao's lead hero was an overseas Chinese from America. STRANGER was a typical Fist and Kicker, but it stood out as being possibly the first time the main villain used his queue as a deadly weapon. (Insert: Pai Piao cuts Thompson Kao Kang's hair before filming STRANGER FROM CANTON)

Several years before he worked for Lo Wei's production company and became Jackie Chan's manager, Willie Chan was Yang Tze's General Manager. Every year on Christmas Eve, Chan threw a Christmas party at his home for his industry friends and members of the Silver Rats, a pop group he belonged to founded by Patrick Tse Yin (Hsieh Hsien; Xie Xian). (Insert: Willie Chan surrounded by friends Steven Chen Ho, Charlie Chin Chiang Lin, and Hu Chin)
 
Inspired by the famous Rat Pack in America, the Silver Rats were founded in the 1960s and consisted of six men and one woman. The other members were Willie Chan Zi Qiang (Chan Chi Keung), Paul Chang Chung, Patrick Tse (Xie Xian), Alan Tang, Charlie Chin Chiang Lin (Chin Hsiang Lin; Qin Xiang Lin), Lydia Sum (Sum Tin Ha; Shum Tin Ha; Shen Dian Xia), and Chen Hao (Steven Chen Ho). (Insert L to R: Patrick Tse, Alan Tang, Charlie Chin, Paul Chang Chung, Steven Chen Ho, and Lydia Sum)

Yang needed a hit and since the market was saturated with period Kung Fu flicks, he gambled on a Shaw Brothers-style promotional event to push a new production. On January 4th, 1973, Yang Tze company president Yang Man Yi sponsored a 'He-Man Contest' as part of the publicity for SMUGGLERS (1973), their upcoming modern-day actioner. Held at the Queen Elizabeth II Youth Center in Hong Kong, Yang Tze stars like Jason Pai Piao, Tony Lu Chin Ku (Tommy Loo Chun), and Nancy Sit opened the ceremonies. A reported 3,000+ contestants applied and twenty were selected as participants. Many famous stars and filmmakers were in attendance like actress Jenny Hu, actor-director Chen Hung Lieh, actor-martial artist-Triad Chen Hui Min, actor-director Chu Mu, and actress Lily Li among others. The men came from a variety of jobs--everything from factory workers, to chefs, to technicians and business managers, to beauticians and sales directors. Prizes were TV sets, refrigerators, washing machines, round trip airfare to Taiwan and, in the case of some of the participants, movie contracts. (Insert: winner, Chi Kuan Chun; 1st runner up, Wu Ming Fu; 2nd runner up, Wu Ling Piao)

The event did little to draw patrons to see SMUGGLERS when it was released about two weeks later to only HK$345,798 in seven days of theatrical play. The contest did lead to big things for the winner, Wu Dong Cai (Goh Tung Choi), later to be known famously as Chi Kuan Chun. He was selected to join director Chang Cheh in Taiwan for his Long Bow Company; an independent movie company, but using Run Run Shaw's funds for financing (more on Long Bow in Part 4). Boss Yang's media blitz ended up benefiting Chang Cheh than his own fledgling business.
 
The runner-up, Wu Ming Fu (Wu Che), also signed up with Long Bow, but only did two movies for Chang Cheh--a brief appearance in HEROES TWO and a supporting role in MEN FROM THE MONASTERY (both 1974)--before getting out of his contract and exiting the film business forever. As fun and potentially gratifying as the industry appears, it doesn't always work out for those trying to become a movie star. Yang Tze had its share of potential stars that never made it, and we discuss them later.


On January 12th, 1973 Pai Piao married Liu Hui De, his girlfriend of two years. The wedding date happened to coincide with the theatrical release of SMUGGLERS, that starred Pai along with Yang Tze's other main roster of stars and many others were in attendance. After this happy event, it was back to struggles behind the camera to make successful films, and that one big hit to put Yang Tze on the map. (Top photo top left: Pai Piao toasts directors Sun Jia Wen and Chang Sum; bottom left: Lin Jiao, Ti Lung, Pai Piao, Jin Tong, Chen Shao Peng; top right: Lydia Sum, Charlie Chin, Willie Chan, Steven Chen Ho, Patrick Tse; bottom right: Yang Man Yi, Alan Tang, Paul Chang Chung, Steven Chen Ho)

EAST MEETS WEST: SHOOTING OUTSIDE HONG KONG

One of the things the independent companies did in the hopes of improving lagging box office was to shoot outside of Hong Kong and Asia altogether. Production costs were going up but if indy companies were to attract and or keep audience interest, shooting in unfamiliar locales was the new trend to explore. Bruce Lee shot footage in Rome for his WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972), but now, companies would set much of, if not all, their film in foreign lands. Since Kung Fu flicks were being snatched up left and right by European and American companies, a change of scenery was to make the product more attractive to foreign distributors from the typical, plentiful and cheap Fist & Kicker. (Insert: Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow in Rome)
 
Shaw Brothers got the ball rolling with all the hoopla surrounding the filming of SEXY GIRLS OF DENMARK (1973) starring famous "Baby Queen"  Li Ching, and her alleged shedding of her "good girl" image. Li Ching was very popular in Germany and she enjoyed taking trips there to revel in the adoration. Danish actress Birte Tove was likewise a popular starlet in Europe so it seemed a natural fit to make a movie in Copenhagen with the two actresses co-starring together. 
 
Although she never disrobes on-camera, Chinese-speaking audiences were horrified she would perform in such a movie. Her fans were so offended, they even took issue with the kissing scenes the Queen of Purity did with actor Tsung Hua. After the backlash, Li Ching would state she didn't enjoy making the picture and was further embarrassed after viewing a test screening with the director and others in attendance.
 
 
She reportedly felt insulted she was playing second-fiddle to Birte Tove (who did take it off in the movie) and apparently wasn't keen in doing extended on-screen kissing, either.
 
Birte Tove, though, loved working at Shaw Brothers and returned for the second of three times as part of the international casting of THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS (1973) and THE MINISKIRT GANG (1974). Following this, Shaw's would formally announce a hefty slate of co-productions with foreign companies that would last approximately two years. (Top: Tsung Hua, Li Ching, Birte Tove, director Lu Chi in Germany for the premiere of SEXY GIRLS OF DENMARK; Insert: Birte Tove flanked by Lu Chi and Tsung Hua in Hong Kong)
 
As for Li Ching, after completing SEXY GIRLS OF DENMARK, she was invited to star in a sex comedy film for a German company with an international cast to have begun filming in September of 1973. Her only stipulation was that she not do any scenes that would tarnish her image. Ironically, she would eventually feature in a number of erotica themed dramas and comedies for directors like Li Han Hsiang till the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, after many years of being a top starlet with great success, her star would plummet in the 1980s, leaving her broke and with financial troubles after failed business endeavors. She would be found dead on February 22nd, 2018 in her apartment, having already been dead for some time before her body was discovered. 

As Shaw Brothers embarked on their co-productions with American and European studios (largely shot in Hong Kong), the independent companies gambled on making martial arts actioners on foreign soil.
 
One such indy production filmed outside the confines of Hong Kong was for The Eternal Film Company (Hang Seng Films Limited); easily one of the best of the indy studios in Hong Kong. Director Ng See Yuen (THE BLOODY FISTS; SECRET RIVALS; SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW) took a crew of 20 to Rome to shoot LITTLE GODFATHER FROM HONG KONG (1974) starring Bruce Liang (Leung Siu Lung), Yasuaki Kurata, and Meng Hoi. 
 
In addition to the European setting and participation by Anglo actors like Gordon Mitchell, director Ng got his film briefly into trouble during a sequence that doubled as a publicity stunt. Pope Paul VI was blessing thousands outside St. Peter's Basilica when Ng thought it would be fantastic value for his movie to shoot an action sequence featuring guns and fists while a massive crowd in a religious ceremony looked on in the background. Surrounded by Vatican guards, the guns were confiscated till it was discovered they weren't real. Afterward, negotiations were successful and Ng and his crew were allowed to continue filming the movie. 

Ng had a great time in Europe, and documented his stay there. Here are excerpts from his remarks featured in an issue of The Milky Way Pictorial in 1974: "Ever since my days in elementary school I have heard the saying 'Rome wasn't built in a day'. I recently spent four months there with a crew of twenty to make two films--THE LITTLE GODFATHER OF HONG KONG and KIDNAP IN ROME. Actually, before I settled on Rome as the primary location, I had already scouted other European countries. Paris was breathtaking but didn't suit my film. I went to London and the weather there was terrible. The first time I went there the fog was so bad the plane couldn't land and had to be diverted to Liverpool where I remained for half a day. Amsterdam and Spain are quite scenic and nice, but Rome seemed the best fit. After shooting both movies there it was later I realized my choice was correct.

Continued: In Rome today, there are more independent producers than we have in HK. Their films are distributed around the world and most of the cost is recovered in Italy. They are also given 15% of the Gross National Income for each film as an incentive so they can make larger investments. Italians love movies and particularly foreign ones, all of which are dubbed in Italian. Their dubbing is first-class. Comedy films are very popular here, but there are also audiences for dramas and artistic movies. Rome's movie industry is of a high standard. Actors and actresses from all over the world flock to Rome to seek opportunities. The salary of ordinary actors is higher than that of our actors in Hong Kong. One of the biggest differences is that actors here only work on a single film at once. This makes the higher salary worthwhile. Additionally, the Italians' work ethic is better than ours in HK. They take moviemaking seriously. There's a world of difference between the Italian filming methods and the sloppiness of the Hong Kong style. Due to the trade union regulations, they only film for five days, then a resting period before resuming. 
 
Continued: We had to shoot a sequence of the Pope giving blessings at the Vatican and our only chance was on Sunday, so we did this on our own without the assistance of the Italians. We went to the Vatican every Sunday to shoot footage for around an hour. Since the Pope is only outside for about ten minutes, it took us six weeks to complete the sequence. If you want to film a documentary, you have to get permission through the court. But filming an action movie is totally out of the question. There was no other way but to do it secretly. So we began filming and I knew I only had a limited amount of time to get as much footage as I could before we were surrounded by armed Vatican security. It is said these guards are Mafia recruits from Sicily. As I talked with the guards, our staff quietly removed the negative and managed to keep all our footage from being seized. We were detained at least four times during filming allowing me to become acquainted with the police superintendent. Thankfully, each time we were released without any problems."
 
After all the publicity and near expulsion from Italy, LITTLE GODFATHER made a modest amount in Hong Kong movie theaters. In release for 12 days, it accrued HK$788,238 in ticket sales.
 
 
Formerly an AD at Shaw Brothers, Ng See Yuen founded Seasonal Film Corporation (See Yuen Pictures) in 1973 while still directing films at The Eternal Film Company. One of these was LITTLE SUPERMAN (1975), the lead debut of Bruce Liang (Liang Shao Long; Leung Siu Lung), the movie was completed in 1973, but not released till 1975. During the shoot in the New Territories, Liang was heckled by folks from the countryside over the young newcomer's inability to speak Mandarin. Liang eventually had enough and, after the prodding became more heated, a fight broke out resulting in Liang beating up several of his tormentors. Bruce had no more trouble after that. Unfortunately, when it came out in HK, LITTLE SUPERMAN wasn't a big hit, only making HK$218,497 in seven days. (Top photo L to R standing: Ng Ming Choi, Wong Yuen San, Ng See Yuen, Bruce Liang, Wang Yuan Tai; L to R sitting: Hon Kwok Choi, Hon Kwong Ming, Meng Hoi)
 
 
Ng's second movie, KIDNAP IN ROME (1974), was both the first film for his Seasonal company, and the first Chinese-language movie to be shot in Venice, Italy. The Chinese cast was the same as LITTLE GODFATHER, but mostly made up of Italians. An early lead role for real life martial arts expert Bruce Liang, he had been a stuntman for various companies the previous five years before making his splash as a leading martial arts actor. Both Ng See Yuen and First Film's boss Huang Zhuo Han saw star power in the actor, and they were right. Liang made four films for director Ng. His father was Liang Shao Sung (Leung Siu Chung), a martial arts director and occasional actor. During his time at Shaw Brothers, Liang the elder would prepare some of the non-martial arts performers in how to do basic actions before they would go before the camera.
 
Then there's Lee Tso Nam filming CHINESE KUNG FU AGAINST GODFATHER (1974) in the Netherlands and other European countries such as France and Belgium. It was the first, or one of the first, Chinese-made movies to film there. The Godfather of the title was played by Jan Willem-Stoker, a practitioner of Judo, Karate and the Dutch Taekwondo champion in 1973. Probably the biggest coupe was a starring role by Ine Veen (Ine Van Veen). Promoted as "the top-grossing actress in the Netherlands in 1972", Ine Veen had a prestigious career as a model, dancer and opera singer. Reportedly, the film received a lot of publicity via newspapers, magazines, television and radio. 
 
At one point the filmmakers found themselves in a potentially dangerous situation when they covertly went into Amsterdam's red light district to film Dutch prostitutes soliciting customers. Apparently, an altercation occurred where thugs attempted to destroy the crew's cameras till they were able to run away to safety. The one and only film for Yuan's Film Company (with distro handled by Fu Qiang Film Company), the box office must not have been good enough to fund more. (Insert: Lee Tso Nam shoots on the streets of Amsterdam)
 
If the box office take in Hong Kong of a Kung Fu and Godfather match-up was any indication, audiences weren't taking to the change in scenery. Staying in theaters for 8 days, Lee Tso Nam's Euro-Fu only managed HK$148,579 in ticket sales.
 
Chinese movie industry personalities were in awe of Europe, so it was hoped the flurry of films shot in various European locales would translate to big box office. The year 1974 also saw PARIS KILLERS go into production. Like the others in their respective shooting locations, this was the first time a Mandarin movie was shot in Paris, France. The stars seemed aligned for this one--two directors--one being famous editor Kuo Ting Hung (Guo Ting Hong) and the other, future schlock artist Godfrey Ho (Ho Chi Keung; He Zhi Qiang). The film's producer was a woman, Chen Yun Hong (Chan Wan Hung); although Chinese sources state director Kuo co-financed the picture with her. The main Chinese leads were newcomers: 1973s Southeast Asian martial arts champion Tan Sheng (Tam Sing) and bit actor Liang Shao Hua (Leung Siu Wah). Tan Sheng did four movies (he was the lead in two known titles) before tiring of the industry and teaching Choy Li Fut full time (see insert).
 
In a bold move, the bulk of the cast was French. The stunt crew had reportedly worked on movies starring famous French actor Alain Delon, although if this was Remy Julienne's team it's not specified.
 
The filming lasted a brisk 20 days, even though the two crews had problems other than language barriers. Producer Chen had this to say about the filming: "French film crews have a serious attitude towards work on the set. They make our own crew blush, particularly in punctuality. For example, they were all notified we were going to shoot on location at 9 in the morning. They arrived at 8am and had everything prepared--the cameras, the lights... everything was in order and ready to go at 9am. As for us, we were used to being late and didn't show up till 9:30, making the French crew wait on us. This was the first day, and I apologized to everyone there for the delay."  Chen gave a lot of credit to the French producer, Jacques-Eric Strauss (of 1969s THE SICILIAN CLAN) for the picture being completed so quickly. Yuen Clan brother Yuen Shun Yi designed the action sequences, including a memorable battle on the Eiffel Tower.
 
This short-lived trend would be supplanted by 'Gimmick Kung Fu' pictures with the likes of Chinese Disaster movies in the form of WAR GOD (1976) and THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977); and Chinese 3D epics (more on those in Part 5). There would be more attempts at Chinese movies made in foreign lands that, surprisingly enough--and coming from Shaw Brothers--would never be completed (more on that in Part 4).
 
DIGGING FOR GOLD: GOLDIG FILMS, LIMITED
 
Goldig Films, Limited was, like Yang Tze Company, born out of the ashes of the defunct Cathay Organization. It was founded by Yang Man Yi's Cathay partner Wu Xie Jian (Alex Gouw) in the late 1960s. Wu Xie Jian, along with his producer brother, Wu Xie He (Hendrick Gozali), ran Goldig different from Yang's operation. They began by licensing distribution rights for a variety of movies for small companies and majors Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest. They took a slower approach to the films they handled, usually selling a single title before moving on to another. The Wu brothers were like a much smaller version of the Shaw Brothers. They had several smaller companies they were affiliated with, producing some ten movies a year. When they bought the films from Shaw and Chow, they avoided the higher priced pictures to keep potential losses down and earnings high.
 
Being overseas Chinese in Indonesia, they had a strong operation there. Since both Yang Man Yi and Wu Xie Jian came from Cathay, they remained partners for a time--with Wu maintaining an open channel in Indonesia for Yang's movies to be distributed there, as well as getting talent when needed. At some point, they had a disagreement and this partnership was dissolved.
 
By the early 70s, Goldig began producing their own movies. The first films on their roster were unique and established a tone for the company for the first half of the decade. One was an adult anthology thriller called THE PEEPER, THE MODEL AND THE HYPNOTIST (1972); and the other was a modern crime thriller co-produced with Hip Lee Films titled THE NOTORIOUS ONES (1972). Promoted as being in the vein of a European thriller, the combination of action and sensuality was being hailed as the new audience sensation. Despite this, neither film was a success in Hong Kong; the former making HK$309,705 and the latter amassing HK$283,764.
 
Chang Sum was the director of both films. He'd only been a director for a few years, and had been a novelist prior to becoming a screenwriter. An introvert, he shied away from excessively hyping his works in the newspapers like many other filmmakers. Making his living writing novels under a pseudonym, Yang Man Yi read some of his books and thought he'd make a great writer and eventual director of movies. 
 
Chang had already written some scripts such as THE JADE BOW (1966) for Great Wall Movie Enterprises, Limited (MA choreo by both LKL and Tang Chia); and KISS AND KILL (1967) for Shaw Brothers. The latter title was indicative for Chang's penchant for thrillers. Chang Sum wrote one of the last Cathay productions, THE LIVING SWORD (1971); with distribution handled by the newly formed Yang Tze company.
 
Chang's brother was famous actor Paul Chang Chung (member of the Silver Rats). Chang Sum wrote the script for DEATH COMES IN THREE (1973), a martial arts thriller starring many of the Silver Rats gang, including leading man Alan Tang. It was the inaugural feature of Chang Brothers Movie Company; produced and directed by Paul, and featuring MA choreography by Yang Tze and Goldig's resident action designer, Chan Siu Pang.

"When I became a director, I found it to be much easier than I expected. Anyone can do it... nowadays, audiences are becoming more and more selective; they're constantly asking for something better. And in order to meet the changing times, we must find new ways to satisfy them."--Chang Sum in 1972.

Chang Sum isn't well known outside of Asia and is largely forgotten there as well. Kung Fu fans know his martial arts movies, but not the man himself. A lover of cinema, he viewed the frequency in which he watched them like taking a class. He enjoyed good and bad movies, studying them, learning new ways to shoot and trying to improve areas that didn't work. Chang immersed himself in his works--often both writing and directing his films. While some directors would work from several pages of script being added daily, he refused to begin a project without a completed script from the start. A versatile director, Chang worked in all genres over the course of his dozen years in the business. Comedies seemed to be what audiences best responded to from him. 
 
After directing Yang Tze's inaugural production OH MY LOVE (1971), Chang Sum did his first crime thriller, SECRET OF MY MILLIONAIRE SISTER that same year in 1971. Although the movie only made HK$300,000, critics reportedly liked the film, seeing a lot of talent in the man behind the camera. Asked in an interview if he'd ever want to make films entirely of his own control, Chang replied, "When it comes to films, people only think of the box office. Does anyone truly know the level of energy, of sweat and blood that goes into funding a project, to shooting it, and releasing it? I don't have the courage to do all this by myself. So when I see company bosses making money, it doesn't move me to fits of jealousy; but I do hope others involved can earn something for themselves and the end result is good enough that the producers will ask me back to do another one."

Famous martial arts movie actor Pai Ying enjoyed working with director Chang, starring in several of his films--including SECRET OF MY MILLIONAIRE SISTER and THE BLACK BELT (1973) to name two. The DRAGON INN (1967) actor said of Chang in 1972: "I admire Chang Sum because he is willing to accept other people's opinions, such as the shooting of a fight scene. He places the camera where he wants and asks for our input and we give him our own views. If it is better than what he originally planned, he will accept it and film it without question."
 
When the Shaw Brothers released THE EXORCIST onto Hong Kong in 1974, it netted HK$2,823,025; possessing many filmmakers to try their hand at horror films, and especially ones involving ghosts and demonic forces. THE DEVIL IN HER (1974) was both Goldig's first horror picture and the first directed by Chang Sum. To keep costs low, producer Alex Gouw and his brother decided to invite actors from television to star in the movie since theater ticket sales were decreasing amid a rise in small screen popularity. Only two in the main cast were motion picture actors. (Insert: Director Chang Sum at left, next to his cast for THE DEVIL IN HER)
 
One of director Chang's best known movies was BALD-HEADED BETTY (1975), a crime drama starring Lin Chien Ming (Meg Lam Kin Ming) in her movie debut. She was a popular bathing suit model who won the Miss Beach Pageant that aired on the RTV Network in 1973. Becoming a television actress, it wasn't long before she made the transition to the big screen.

On her first leading role:"I met the director Chang Sum through Yi Lei. We hadn't talked long before he cut to the point that he wanted me for the lead in his new film. Before I could answer him he told me there was one condition. I hadn't agreed yet and there's already a condition. He said, 'I want you to shave your head for the role'. I was stunned for a moment and thought he was joking. Once I realized he was serious I told him no, I couldn't do it. (Insert: Director Chang Sum watches as Meg Lam has her head shaved)
 
Continued: Even so, I was curious as to why the heroine in his story had to have her hair cut off. I asked him if it was possible to change the plot and he said no, it was necessary to the storyline. He said he would tell me the entire story and I could decide if it was worth it or not. I listened to him explain the plot, and he did so in such great detail I couldn't help but be fascinated by it. His film moved me to tears. I like acting and a film like this has never been done before; so I told him 'if I do your movie, I have a small condition of my own'. He asked me what that was and I said, 'buy me the most beautiful wig'. He smiled and said, 'I'll buy you ten!' I laughed and did shave my head for the movie."
 
Towards the end of the decade, Chang Sum would helm some of the most entertaining, and strangest, independently made Kung Fu flicks; like MANTIS FISTS AND TIGER CLAWS OF SHAOLIN (1977), KUNG FU MASTER NAMED DRUNK CAT (1978), TWO WONDROUS TIGERS (1979), SNAKE IN THE MONKEY'S SHADOW (1979), and DAGGERS 8 (1980). He would also be the most prolific director for the Goldig company.
 
After 1975 when many Asian territories put regulations in place to help their own markets survive while impeding Hong Kong's once massive exportation of their films, Goldig managed to thrive. They had switched to mostly producing Kung Fu films and  ended up making more films in a single year than they'd ever done before. And as their business model changed, so did other areas of their operation.
 
Goldig preferred to avoid inviting contract actors from big companies due to higher expenses and deadlines. Since they had no basic contract actors of their own, Wu Xia Jian only had to contend with the occasional high actor salary. He compensated for this by cutting corners on the production itself so he could make a profit. Without revenue you have no business. Alex Gouw (Wu Xia Jian) was reportedly extremely partial to the promotion of his films; the one area where he had no qualms about spending. According to him, publicity accounted for half of the audience while word of mouth took care of the rest.

Gouw may have ran a cheap outfit but he and his brother did attempt something resembling an epic fantasy style movie in 1975 with THE SAVIOUR MONK. Special effects pictures (crude as they were in those days) were far more prominent in Taiwan than they were in Hong Kong. Marketed as being "comparable to the western film THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956)", director Liang Che Fu was familiar with mystical movies, having helmed several of them (and even a Chinese Tarzan flick!). Among the highlights are a cheaply done parting of a river and battles with giant monsters.

Curiously, Goldig were not quick to jump on the Kung Fu bandwagon, preferring to distribute more of them than producing. While Yang Tze put all their money into them, Alex Gouw resisted producing action pictures outside of a few examples--like the 'Hard Fist and Kick' flicks THE BLACK BELT (1973) directed by Chang Sum and starring Pai Ying; and THE INHERITOR OF KUNG FU (1974) directed by actor Chen Hung Lieh and starring MA choreographer Liu Chia Yung (Law Kar Wing). It wouldn't be till the latter part of the decade that the company went full tilt into the genre.
 
Gouw's company preferred playing it safe when it came to funding movies. They had good profits from comedies, whether producing or only distributing them. COUNTRY BUMPKIN (1974), for example, grossed HK$1,876,776. One of the many cameos in that movie was James Yi Lei. The son of HK comedy star Yi Qui Shui, his father got him into movies as a small child. After years of trying to make it in the industry, Yi's first lead role finally came in 1973s ADVENTURE IN DENMARK co-starring with Chen Hui Min. The same year, luck finally shined on him with the 1973 comedy, THE LITTLE MAN, AH FOOK; playing Hong Kong theaters for 13 days and making HK$1,803,485. A sequel, THE STUPID SAILOR, AH FOOK, came in 1975. 
 
Goldig was making good money off of Yi Lei (especially in Indonesia). You could say he was a prototype for Stephen Chow. When the company funded the AH FOOK sequel, the two brothers--Alex Gouw (Wu Xie Jian) and Hendrick Gozali (Wu Xie He)--thought it a good idea to shoot another Yi Lei rib-tickler simultaneously in the similar style comic shenanigans of the FOOK films as THE ADVENTUROUS AIR-STEWARD (1974). (Insert: Yi Lei in Indonesia)
 
Both films would be shot all over the major cities in Southeast Asia so Alex Gouw decided to have the directors of both movies (Chang Sum on the former and Ho Fan on the latter) shoot all the location scenes together and edit the footage as they went along. The schedule was to film city shots for one picture a day and shoot one film during the daytime hours and the other at night. This meant that Yi Lei would be working 24 hour days... the life of an Asian film actor in the 1970s. He was a good sport about it, stating in an interview, "This is the first time I've taken on two films at once in this way. It's cost-effective and I'm earning two salaries."  (Insert: Yi Lei with director Ho Fan during the making of THE AVENTUROUS AIR-STEWARD)
 
In 1974, both Yi Lei and Shaw Brothers superstar Chen Kuan Tai co-founded the Tai Shen Film Company. Chen was the most popular actor of the year and Yi Lei was a rising comic star. Their first film was the comedy THE CRAZY INSTRUCTOR (1974); known here as SNAKE FIST DYNAMO where it was sold as a Kung Fu movie to the disappointment of anyone renting it back in those days. A comedy that only domestic audiences would find humor in, the sole memorable aspect for foreign viewers is a surreal sequence involving a bunch of reptiles. Yi was bitten by a poisonous snake filming this bizarre scene, fell into a coma and spent time recuperating in hospital. In Hong Kong, THE CRAZY INSTRUCTOR had a lukewarm response with HK$570,169 in 8 days of release.
 
By the end of the decade, Yi's career took a downturn. In 1979, Yi Lei was a guarantor for a friend's jewelry business. Debts were accrued that went unpaid and Yi ended up in prison for four months, getting out in April of 1980. He retired from the movie world in 1989 to become a businessman. James Yi Lei died on February 16th, 1999 of heart disease in a HK hospital aged 59.
 
The company was also notable for giving Chow Yun Fat his first starring roles in theatrical features. Chow's first jobs in the industry came at TVB after he passed the actor exam via Shaw's TV training program arm. After a few years on the small screen, Goldig (whom Shaw Brothers collaborated with in the same capacity as Golden Harvest and First Films) debuted him in their ghost movie, THE REINCARNATED (1976). From there, Chow's future gangster movies that skyrocketed him to fame were foreshadowed in crime pictures like MASSAGE GIRLS (1976) and HOT BLOOD (1977).

As for Goldig itself, they're mostly remembered in English-speaking territories for their Kung Fu pictures of the late 70s. Some of the best ones are THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977), STORMING ATTACKS (1978), TWO WONDROUS TIGERS (1979), DUEL OF THE 7 TIGERS (1979), TIGER OVER WALL (1980), and TWO ON THE ROAD (1980). 
 
Among genre fans, one of the most celebrate from the company is THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN. The Bruce clone movies were largely despised in Hong Kong and were marketed with foreign appeal in mind. Director Law Kei (Luo Chi; Law Chi) came up with the idea of Bruce Lee battling an assortment of multi-cultural icons, mummies and skeleton men in Hell in the hopes it would find favor with audiences foreign and domestic. Bruce Liang was cast as Lee and, as Chinese sources put it, "All-European wrestling champion Alexander Grand and Nordic deepthroat actress Jenny also star". Intended as a comical-fantasy tribute to the late martial arts icon, HK audiences weren't amused. In its six days of release, it made HK$423,932. 
 
Internationally, THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN is one of, if not the most beloved of Goldig's Kung Fu titles. No longer active in the industry, the company itself is still around.
 
ACROSS THE RIVER: THE STORY OF YANG TZE PRODUCTIONS, LIMITED CHAPTER 2

In the first half of 1973, and despite no major hits to fall back on, Yang Man Yi increased the salaries of his basic actors and signed four new faces (three men and one woman) to bolster what was hoped to be a promising new slate of movies. Unfortunately, none of the films they'd produced up to that point had performed well at the box office; at least not in Hong Kong. Polished martial arts pictures like CRUSH (1972), starring Pai Piao in his first lead role, made HK$476,528 in 9 days of release; while THE INVASION (1972), aka THE BROTHERS, played theaters for 8 days and only brought in HK$216,507. The modern day boxing movie, BLIND BOXER (1972), got TKO'ed after 7 days and HK$388,812; although it made nearly twice as much as Shaw Brothers similar THE BOXERS (1972) that threw in the towel after 5 days and HK$210,220.
 
Yang pressed on, hiring a sixty-year old Qigong, Neigong, and Iron Shirt expert named Cheng Chun Hu (Cheng Chun Foo) to train Pai Piao in some new techniques to show off in upcoming films. Cheng would also act as martial arts director on the Rome-lensed KUNG FU BROTHERS IN THE WILD WEST and the Thailand-shot FINGERS THAT KILL before calling it a day on movie sets. (Insert: Eric Chow and Fong Lap Man watch Pai Piao train with Cheng Chung Hu)

Pai, Tommy Lu, and Thompson Kao Kang were the indy version of the "Iron Triangle", in that, up to this point, all three had appeared in the same movies together. Pai Piao wanted this to change, fearing audience fatigue and disinterest. Pai requested to Boss Yang that they mix up the cast to keep things fresh and show off some new faces. For the proposed 'San Shou', Tommy Lu was originally cast alongside Pai, but would now be replaced by a newcomer named Eric Chow (more on him below). Similarly, FINGERS THAT KILL (1974), to be shot largely in Thailand, would be a star vehicle for Tommy Lu while Pai would only have a guest appearance.

As for the new faces...
 
From Singapore, the twenty-one year old Joe Chang Fei (real name Chen Zu yi) was potentially the most promising of the four new stars signed with Yang Tze. A quiet and patient young man, Chang was said to have waited for four hours to see Boss Yang at his company's headquarters; coming to Hong Kong alone to seek his fortune in the hopes of becoming a Kung Fu film star. Joe Chang was promising in that many martial artists had seen videos of him demonstrating his skills. They were amazed by his agility and leg work. It was predicted he would be a star to watch out for. 
 
Trained in Qigong by his grandfather at age seven, when the elder died his father took over and carried on the training of his son. It was being reported in Yang's magazine, International Screen, that Chang Fei was heading to Rome to make his debut in 'Fists From Canton', directed by Yang Man Yi. This was likely an early title for the Euro-lensed KUNG FU BROTHERS IN THE WILD WEST (1973). Chang had a small role in the picture and, unfortunately, seemingly nothing else after that.
 
Eric Chow Kim Woo (Chow Ming Wo) was the 1972 Mr. Hong Kong prior to signing a basic contract with Yang Tze at 20 years of age. He was selected out of an audition of ten men. The seventh of a family of eleven brothers and sisters, Eric Chow had been practicing Shaolin Kung Fu since he was thirteen. Boss Yang apparently had high hopes for this new talent, particularly in the way Chow carried himself. Reportedly very humble and quiet, Yang saw international appeal in his company's new acquisition so he paid for him to train in Taekwondo for future productions. He was intended to make his debut in what was billed as a co-starring role with lead Jason Pai Piao titled 'Sanshou' (literally Chinese Boxing). Alas, this movie never materialized; and other than a bit role in FINGERS THAT KILL (1974), nor did Eric Chow's film career.
 
Twenty-four year old martial artist Fong Lap Man (Fang Li Min) was signed the same day as Eric Chow. An enigmatic and outgoing personality, he was the exact opposite of Eric Chow. Possessing a number of skills, Fong was previously a mechanical engineer working on ocean liners. Prior to signing with Yang Tze, Fong had made money as an oil painter, a private driver and a dancer where he appeared in nightclub acts. Something of a Chinese David Copperfield, he counted magic tricks among his hobbies. Fong was promoted as making his debut in the tentatively titled 'The Iron Fists' starring Tommy Lu Chin Ku. It wasn't long before Fong pulled a disappearing act in the film industry.

Singapore fashion model Winnie Pei Nei was a discovery of Yang Tze's boss and immediately signed to a contract. Passing through Hong Kong from Taiwan, she had mentioned to a friend how much she enjoyed Hong Kong movies and was told about this little company that was expanding its reach onto the international market and was looking for new performers. It was reported that Winnie was intending to meet with the Shaw Brothers through a mutual friend, but Yang intercepted with an offer of his own. Like Fong Lap Man, Winnie was making her debut in the Bangkok-lensed 'The Iron Fists'; which later became FINGERS THAT KILL (1974), even though KUNG FU BROTHERS IN THE WILD WEST was released first. 
 
While she was in Rome filming the first Eastern-Western, Winnie did a lot more than appear before the camera. With virtually no one on the crew, the actress stood in as production manager handling everything from actors to plane flights. Stating in an interview, "Mr. Yang likes me because I can do so many things besides acting; but during my time in Rome, my mood was never good and I often lost my temper. Mr. Yang was always very tolerant of me, asking my opinion on everything."  
 
Winnie's mother was strict and, like most Chinese families, if the parents disagreed with something, the son or daughter wouldn't do it. 
 
Playboy magazine wasted no time offering the nineteen-year old beauty a lot of money to do a nude spread in their European version of the publication; naturally, she declined because she knew her mother would never approve of such a thing. Winnie desired to do some dramas, but Boss Yang was focused solely on action pictures because they could secure him worldwide distribution. Winnie Pei Nei would soon quit the industry almost as quickly as she had signed on to it. Ironically, her film career lasted the longest of the new recruits, short-lived as it was.

In October of 1973, Pai and his close colleague Tony Lu wanted to form their own film company together, but had to get the consent of Boss Yang first. After negotiations over money, a somewhat dissatisfied Pai got what he wanted, while Yang would receive a percentage of the profits and distribution rights. The agreed-upon stipulation was that they could make their own movies so long as it didn't interfere with films they were to star in for the boss. Up to now they'd rarely shot in Hong Kong, so in between projects of Yang's ill-fated global expansion, Pai and Lu would make their first film outside the Yang Tze organization. 
 
With the bulk of the financing coming from Pai and his mother-in-law, the sole feature from the Sing Huang Film Company was completed smoothly in 20 days, and with the help of Yang alums like cinematographer Yang Jun. A modern day crime thriller, it was Tony Lu's first time in the director's chair (sharing co-directing credit with fellow actor Chan Lau)
 
Titled TRAIL OF THE DRAGON (1974), director Lu said, "There are no heroes in this movie", going on to promote Pai Piao by stating it was the actor's best performance yet. Noting their long-time friendship, Lu went on, "We worked together at Cathay three years ago. I was a bit actor and he was a martial artist. He has a great smile and a good look in front of the camera. Later on, we all moved over to Yang Tze and we've filmed together ever since, mostly in Korea."  Asked about his future as an actor, Lu replied, "At this point, it's clear I have no future as an actor. I'm simply not popular in front of the camera."  Lu was then asked about a future as a director to which he stated it was too early to say as he was in the trial stages. What would soon become known was that Lu Chin Ku certainly did have a career as a director waiting in the wings.

When Yang Man Yi returned from the United States, plans had changed. The company would no longer be filming a movie in America. Instead, Boss Yang would be collaborating with American Serafim Karalexis, an independent film producer of Greek heritage, on a movie to be shot in the Philippines. Titled TOUGH GUY (1974), the film starred Yang Tze regulars Pai Piao and Thompson Kao Kang. Tony Lu was in the director's chair for the second time. George Estregan (Jesus Jorge Marcelo Ejercito) was a big name in the Philippines and Ron Van Clief was an Army veteran and Karate practitioner in the United States. 
 
While this was most definitely a Chinese martial arts feature, it was full of foreign flavor. Filming took place over the course of eight weeks in the Philippines, and featured a multicultural cast. In America, TOUGH GUY was marketed as THE BLACK DRAGON, to cash in on the black action pictures that were on the wane by the mid-70s. Mixing both genre styles was a fantastic idea and the money THE BLACK DRAGON made was a sign more would come. Van Clief's newfound notoriety and a hit film under his belt meant audiences would see more of the Black Dragon over the next few years. 
 
THE DEATH OF BRUCE LEE (THE BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE) followed in 1975 and was again helmed by Tony Lu Chin Ku and another Yang Tze co-pro with Serafim Karalexis. Exploitation producer/distributor Howard Mahler was on board as a co-producer as well. This was then followed by WAY OF THE BLACK DRAGON (1978), directed by Tony Lu's close friend and co-director, Chan Lau and pairing Van Clief with Carter Wong. Solely financed through Yang Tze, the Black Dragon appeared once more--and only as a supporting villain--in 1979s KUNG FU FEVER; co-financed with a Korean company, and starring Dragon Lee in one of Yang Man Yi's last films for his company.
 
When Pai Piao's contract with Yang Tze Film expired in 1975, he had grown depressed with the film industry and felt his career wasn't going anywhere. After six years, success had eluded him. Pai switched to television that same year, signing with then new broadcasting network CTV (Jiayi TV, or Commercial Television). The fame he'd fought hard for finally hit on the small screen. He became a household name playing Guo Jing on the LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES TV series. 
 
When the station signed off for good in August of 1978, Pai returned to his old stomping ground at Shaw Brothers Studio. In what must have been a twist of fate, both he and Chen Kuan Tai arrived there the same afternoon. For Chen, he was returning after breaking his contract two years earlier (you can read about that story HERE). For Pai, he had grown tired of working in television. The two were pitted against one another in the classic, KILLER CONSTABLE (1980)--Chen Kuan Tai's favorite role as the ruthless Leng Tian Ying. Pai and Chen appeared together again in 1982s GANG MASTER, the only Shaw Brothers movie to feature Bruce Liang in a major role.

In a 1978 Southern Screen interview Pai compared the big and small screens, saying, "Working on television is a lot harder than making movies. I would often work all night and there would be days of overtime with little rest". He continued, "I lost my sense of time filming on TV as it seemed to never stop. I was still working even when spending time with my family". Asked about his new three year, 4-films a year contract, and if he regretted leaving Shaw's years earlier Pai said, "Other TV stations wanted me, but the conditions Shaw Brothers gave me are similar but better, and with more opportunities. I'm quite satisfied. I haven't felt regret, but I can say that if I hadn't left the company back then, I would have achieved more than I have now. To look at Ti Lung's and Chen Kuan Tai's career is a good barometer. However, I have to say that when I left Shaw Brothers to work for companies like Yang Tze, I learned a lot of things I couldn't have learned inside the Shaw Studio; so the experience has been beneficial."
 
Pai's former Yang Tze colleague Tony Lu Chin Ku joined him at Shaw Brothers around the same time. He had appeared in some of their movies throughout the 1970s, but now he was under contract as opposed to being a free agent. It was this period of Lu's career that brought him the most success; and behind the camera as opposed to in front of it. Below are excerpts from a 1980 Southern Screen interview with Tony Lu Chin Ku during the filming of THE MASTER (1980):

Reporter: "You've directed 15 films, so shooting at Shaw's is like a new beginning. Why did you choose a Kung Fu Comedy as your first for the company?"

Director Lu: "I'm already familiar with making them. They're relatively easy to shoot. Right now, they're what the audience wants so the company is sure to support this style. These kinds of Kung Fu movies are typically made by independent companies, and there are differences in shooting them for a small company and one as big as Shaw Brothers. The films are the same but the environment is different. On a low budget independent feature you'll shoot 20-30 days outside. But at Shaw where you're shooting a lot of your movie inside a studio, it's more than 40 days. There's less financial pressure here which makes filmmaking more convenient."  (Insert: Leung Pa San, Tony Lu, Thompson Kao Kang in 1973 riding their motorcycles)

Reporter: "What other types of films would you like to make?"

LCK: "I prefer making serious movies. I'd like to make a drama; not necessarily a romantic picture, but a more literary production, an art film. However, these types of movies aren't easy to sell no matter how good the end product might be. I'd also like to do a musical. It's kind of a dream of mine but nowadays it's difficult to to make those too."

Reporter: "What about films dealing with the Triads?"

LCK: "Despite good box office results, they're complicated to make as well. Sometimes they are too realistic and cause lots of trouble because of the subject matter. For me, it's better not to make them. THE GODFATHER (1972), for example, is a great film, but not an easy picture to make due to the social issues in an environment like Hong Kong."

On directing: "When I first became an actor I paid attention to everyone behind the camera. I was very attentive to those giving me direction so when the opportunity came I would be prepared. Filming is mainly for money, you know? It's like gambling. For a director in HK, luck accounts for 70% of your success. I've always thought luck and chance are very important. I've been an actor for years but never became popular. If not for luck, how could I become a director? I've loved movies since I was a child. Directing is much harder than being an actor, but it takes more skill to be in control of everything. I'm not famous but I can say I've been lucky."

As for Yang Tze Film Company, their output dwindled and the company wasn't the same after Pai Piao's departure. Tony Lu Chin Ku stuck around out of loyalty to Boss Yang. Regrettably, the only movie Yang Tze produced that had any lasting power outside of Asia was Tony Lu's TOUGH GUY (1974), aka THE BLACK DRAGON. It's possible had that film not been a succes internationally, the Yang Tze company may have been shuttered in the mid-1970s.
 
During the company's downturn, Thompson Kao Kang, one of their main actors, took occasional minor roles and worked as an extra in movies for Shaw Brothers and other indy outfits. He was only a headliner at Yang's establishment. Kao's ten year career came to a shocking end on the night of August 4th, 1980. He was on his way to a grocery store after dropping his girlfriend off at her home. Trying to find a parking space, he was blocked by two other cars doing the same. Tensions rose and Kao confronted one of the drivers who turned out to be an off-duty police officer named Cheng Pei Kun. During the altercation, Kao was shot once in the chest by the officer and was pronounced dead upon his arrival at United Christian Hospital in the Kwun Tong District in Hong Kong. This was a big story at the time, not just because a film and TV actor lost his life, but many questioned why off-duty officers still had their pistols on them (apparently in HK at the time, cops were not allowed their weapons in off-hours)
 
By 1976, Kao had kept busier working at TVB than he was in movies. Many of the actors he worked with on television, like Chow Yun Fat, paid their respects upon the finish of their long working day after midnight. The last major role for Kao was STRANGER FROM SHAOLIN (1978), directed by his friend Tony Lu Chin Ku before both left Yang Tze Productions for good. (Insert: Thompson Kao Kang [sitting] and Tony Lu Chin Ku in 1973)
 
Initially charged with murder and facing five years in prison, on March 18th, 1981 the charge was lowered to manslaughter. The officer was later acquitted on December 21st, 1981.
 
Yang Tze produced some entertaining movies that had a unique look to them due to the South Korean locales they frequently filmed in. Some of their titles deserved better than to be forgotten to time. Sadly, on May 16th, 1979, Yang Man Yi, former General Manager of major studio Cathay and founder of independent Yang Tze Productions, would die from liver cancer. The company's last credit was among the co-producers of Chang Cheh's CROSS THE RIVER in 1988. (Insert: Yang Man Yi dressed casually at a company banquet)
 
Independent film production companies often struggled to stay alive in a constantly changing industry; they not only had to contend with vast amounts of competition, but fickle audiences and unstable markets. Filmmakers who started out in the indy circuit would find similar problems working for the majors; and others would discover working outside the comforts of a major studio was as much an adventure as the film you were trying to put up on the Silver Screen. (Insert: Thompson Kao Kang, Ingrid Hu Yin Yin, Pai Piao, and Tony Lu Chun Ku at the start of filming SMUGGLERS in 1973)
 
In Part 4, we take an exhaustive look at Chang Cheh's Long Bow Company based in Taiwan. Many of the films he made in Taiwan are covered in detail, and especially the most problematic ones. In between, there's coverage of Liang Chia Jen's career; a selection of actors who made it in the industry and others who didn't; and the murder of Shan Mao.
 

CONTINUED IN THE WILD, WILD EAST: DUEL OF THE INDEPENDENT FILM COMPANIES PART 4...
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