IRON FISTS OF SHAW VS. WANG YU & BRUCE LEE
Raymond Chow would produce his own version of both THE CHINESE BOXER (1969) and THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967). This film was called THE ONE ARMED BOXER (1971) and starred Wang Yu. This production probably annoyed his former boss to no end. Shaw's would counter attack with both a law suit and with NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN in 1971 starring David Chiang and again directed by Chang Cheh. Wang Yu gained a great deal of animosity towards his former employer as many of his films mirrored a number of Shaw Brothers productions. Often these were blatant copies in what would seem an effort to steal some of the box office pie from the enterprising Shaw's. Because he jumped ship to the competition before his contract had expired, Wang Yu was not allowed to shoot movies in Hong Kong until his Shaw contract expired in early 1973.
Before going to Golden Harvest, (and subsequently, out on his own) Wang Yu would act in several Chang classics such as GOLDEN SWALLOW (1968), RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1968), THE ASSASSIN (1967) and TRAIL OF THE BROKEN BLADE, also 1967. Jimmy eventually went the independent route starring in such films as FURIOUS SLAUGHTER (1972), a film that was meant to steal the thunder of Chang Cheh's BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972). Jimmy also starred in KNIGHT ERRANT (1973), a movie that more or less mirrored Wang Yu's off screen personality; that of a man with a short fuse and a penchant for fighting. Wang Yu would eventually have very powerful ties with the Triads (Chinese mafia). Near the close of the 1970's, Wang Yu would be called upon to help Jackie Chan out of a life-threatening situation when it was reported that filmmaker Lo Wei had taken a contract out on the young rising star.
In 1969, Shaw's personally financed the beginning of a new genre--the Guo Shu Pian, or the "New Hero Genre". The film was VENGEANCE! starring David Chiang and Ti Lung with direction by Chang Cheh. The film won Best Actor for David Chiang and Best Director for Chang Cheh. It was a new style of action film foregoing the tired swordplay genre replacing it with a more modern setting. The result is one of the most respected action thrillers ever to come out of Hong Kong. It was also very instrumental on the career of a young John Woo, who was Chang Cheh's assistant at the time.
David Chiang and Ti Lung, along with director Cheh were called 'The Iron Triangle' in Hong Kong because their films were so successful. VENGEANCE! (filmed in 1969 and released in 1970) and THE CHINESE BOXER (1969) ushered in a new era of screen fighting and action thriller that would take hold of the HK box office. By decades end, this style would morph into an amalgamation of styles producing new innovations for audiences to enjoy.
Shaw Brothers also collaborated on a number of US and international productions. Wishing to increase the quality of their homegrown product, filmmakers and technicians from Korea (and most notably from Japan) were brought over to improve Hong Kong's cinematic output. This joining of different filmmaking techniques was a mutual exchange with both sides learning a great deal from the collaboration. A fair number of Shaw Brothers movies were co-productions with Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
Often times these cooperative deals would have differences in release versions for there respected territories. Shaw's movies were patterned after old Hollywood style productions. The bulk of their films were shot on studio sets with little or no location shots. This gave the films an otherworldly, operatic quality. The set design and attention to detail was impeccable and couldn't be matched from any other studio at the time. The Shaw's also followed the old Hollywood method of keeping their talent under tight contracts.
For years, it has been said actors were paid very little money but since then, it has become known that if an actors films were popular, then they would receive a bonus that was often enough for a house. However, it isn't known if this bonus system applied to everybody. Whatever the case may be, judging from pictures from magazine articles of the time, all the big names were not lacking for anything. Despite Shaw's iron fisted ways, the brothers were known for regularly contributing to the public by holding charity events for the needy; giving back to the people in a similar fashion the way their father had done decades earlier.
Because of Sir Run Run Shaw's refusal to relent to prima donna demands, the studio would miss out on one actor who could have cemented their dominance forever. It ultimately proved that they, too, could be beaten at the box office. If they had been able to have acquired this actor, the future landscape of the HK film industry might have become a very different place. Upon his return to Hong Kong, Bruce Lee (who admired the Shaw style of filmmaking) went to Shaw's first, the studio being the biggest, and most dominant in Asia at the time. Offered one of their standard contracts, Lee rejected it in contempt.
Lee wanted an exorbitant amount of money (by HK standards) plus a percentage of the gross. No doubt his time in Hollywood had rubbed off on him as the days of the contract player had ceased to exist in America. If Shaw gave in to Lee's demands, he would have had to do likewise for his other contracted talent. Chow saw opportunity and a chance to pull his company out of the financial mire it had been placed in. Chow made Lee an offer he couldn't refuse. He was willing to give Lee everything Shaw would not and the gamble paid off. Shaw Brothers loss became an incredible gain for their former executive. Shaw would also lose another great talent to Raymond Chow's attractive financial offers and benefits-- famous comedian, Michael Hui.
Bruce was the first Asian actor to get some kind of exposure in the US with the GREEN HORNET tv show as well as several other television programs. He was already a proven commodity when he came back to HK to make movies. His popularity with the Chinese audience had greatly increased because of his tenacity and his ability to break into the theatrical cognoscenti in America. Before Bruce Lee, Asian roles in Hollywood were always portrayed by Occidental actors made up to look Asian. This racist thinking (not just the industry itself, but the audience as well) would remain for some years.
DVD Availability: Celestial Pictures has released over 500 of the Shaw Brothers movies on DVD through the Hong Kong based, IVL label-- IVL (R3); Dragon Dynasty (R1); Image Entertainment (R1); Well Go USA (R1); BCI/Ronin Entertainment (R1)
CONTINUED IN PART 3...