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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Vintage Unfinished, Unreleased and Unbelievable Shaw Brothers Productions

For this edition of 'Assorted Bits & Pieces, it's another look at some rare, vintage Shaw Brothers imagery. The first bit of news is a spotlight on a film that never got finished. The filming began on two separate occasions by two different directors and a new cast of actors and actresses. The never completed film in question was called THE DRINKING KNIGHT.


Featured below from the October of 1970 issue of Southern Screen magazine, THE DRINKING KNIGHT was to be the directorial debut of former Chang Cheh assistant, Chiu Kang Chien. For whatever reason, Chiu's debut was not to be. He was relegated to being a writer for the remainder of his Shaw Brothers stint having already been a writer on such Chang Cheh movies as the modern day dramatic thrillers THE SINGING THIEF and DEAD END (both 1969) and THE DUEL (1971). He was also a writer on such Wuxia actioners as Ho Meng Hua's THE LONG CHASE (1971) and the classic Chu Yuan film, INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN as well as the unreleased to DVD, NIGHT OF THE DEVIL'S BRIDE (1975) starring Lo Lieh for director Ho again.

Chiao Chiao was initially part of the cast of THE DRINKING KNIGHT. Chiao Chiao was in several of Chang Cheh's classic swordplay films like the seminal ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) and its sequel, the more fantastical, RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1969). She also featured in, and played one of the key roles in Cheh's superb historical drama, THE ASSASSIN in 1967. Chiao married Shaw Brothers actor, Huang Chung Shun (who often played bad guys in his films) in 1963.

Also slated to star in this unfinished production was then heartthrob, Tsung Hua. He played in a lot of Wuxia adventures as well as a handful of adult oriented erotic films. He was also a star in one of the 70's biggest HK hits, THE HOUSE OF THE 72 TENANTS (1973). Some of his swordplay movies include the bloody Chu Yuan film, DUEL FOR GOLD (1970), THE KILLER (1972) and Cheng Kang's sprawling epic, THE 14 AMAZONS (1972). After leaving Shaw's in 1978, Tsung Hua embarked on a prolific career in independent swordplay and kung fu pictures including SILVER HERMIT FROM SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1979), the ambitious MY BLADE, MY LIFE (1982) and MIRACULOUS FLOWER in 1984. He later had a career in television.

From there we jump ahead nearly a year later to the September 1971 issue of Southern Screen where THE DRINKING KNIGHT is again featured among the many movies the Shaw's had on their production slate. Apparently, in a situation similar to that of the Shaw film, CALL TO ARMS (1971), THE DRINKING KNIGHT had started over from scratch. This time, it's a totally new director and cast.

Now, another Chang Cheh acolyte, Pao Hsueh Li, was in the directors chair. A former cinematographer, Pao was an AD on several of Chang's big pictures like THE WATER MARGIN and MAN OF IRON (both 1972). Most all of his directorial work is fairly forgettable, but the man was an excellent DP. His work in this area is truly exceptional. Pao's photographic expertise can be seen in such classics as THE BELLS OF DEATH (1968), the SEVEN SAMURAI styled THE MAGNIFICENT SWORDSMAN (1968) and THE TWELVE GOLD MEDALLIONS (1970).

For the second time THE DRINKING KNIGHT attempts to get made, Yueh Hua replaces Tsung Hua in the title role. By this point, Yueh Hua was already a major star after his featured role in the seminal COME DRINK WITH ME in 1966. Hua was a great screen presence and his career lasted well over 30 years. He even got to co-star in an international co-production in an Italy/HK film entitled THE SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN (???) aka SUPERMEN AGAINST THE AMAZONS directed by exploitation specialist, Alfonso Brescia (see at bottom of page). Joining Yueh Hua in the cast was Tina Chin Fei (TEMPTRESS OF A THOUSAND FACES) and the gorgeous Wang Ping (KING BOXER). I presume since this film was never finished, the negative has since deteriorated and what was shot, no longer exists.

From a shelved production, we go to a film that was finished, but never announced, nor released by Celestial Pictures through IVL. The name of this movie is SHADOW GIRL, a 1971 production also featured in the September 1971 issue of Southern Screen. This one was from Taiwanese director, Hsin Chi, who had an extremely brief directing career.

In this film, Lily Li plays an invisible swordswoman, the 'Shadow Girl' of the title. The revered actress, Lily Li, got her start with Shaw Brothers in 1966 and came to prominence in Chang Cheh's movies such as THE WANDERING SWORDSMAN and THE HEROIC ONES both in 1970. Li would have one of the longest careers of the female stars in Hong Kong cinema with distinguished roles in not only the master, Chang Cheh's films, but also the productions of the famed Liu Chia Liang. Some of her best work for master Liu include EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1976) and SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978). Her films for Chu Yuan such as THE JADE TIGER (1977) and SWORDSMAN & THE ENCHANTRESS (1978) are also notable films. Lily Li also did films outside of the Shaw studio such as Jackie Chan's YOUNG MASTER (1980) among others.

Also featured in this motion picture is the lovely Yue Feng. She had roles in the over the top and gory actioner, THE BLACK TAVERN (1972), Chang Cheh's classic, THE DELIGHTFUL FOREST (1972) and his gruesome ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS (1973). Frankie Wei Hung is also amongst the cast. He was an ace at playing sleazy characters and can be seen in that capacity in such movies as THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974), BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976) and FANGS OF THE COBRA (1977). SHADOW GIRL made HK407,396 at the Hong Kong box office. It was released on VHS by the Asian label, King Video. It is available through various DVD-R outlets such as fareastflix.

Now, as a bonus, we have an additional article on the international Shaw-Italy co-production mentioned above. Co-starring Yueh Hua and also featuring Nick Jordan aka Aldo Canti (SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS, SABATA) and Malisa Longo (THE .44 SPECIALIST, CALIFORNIA). Below is a spread in Shaw's August 1975 issue of Southern Screen for this oddball and obscure picture.

The director of this film, Alfonso Brescia (aka Al Bradley) was a mediocre director of such bad movies as THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR (1964) and KNELL, THE BLOODY AVENGER (1976). Working in all manner of genres, he did turn in some above average westerns with such films as .32 CALIBER KILLER and DAYS OF VIOLENCE, both in 1967.

And then, we have this, the films attractive, comic book flavored artwork for the theatrical poster seen below. Upon its release in Hong Kong, the movie only managed to accumulate HK51,604 dollars. Considering the average HK movie cost roughly $200,000 to make, this particular film lost a lot of money.

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