Friday, October 22, 2010
Shaw Brothers Cinema: The Life & Death of the Great Alexander Fu Sheng Part 3
This is the concluding chapter in this special edition of 'Shaw Brothers Cinema: Behind the Scenes'. This entry features 53 pictures of various behind the scenes, promotional materials and a handful of images from the funeral of one of Hong Kong's best loved actors--Alexander Fu Sheng.
***CLICK A PIC TO SEE A LARGER IMAGE & READ ENGLISH TEXT WHERE APPLICABLE***
As the 1970's came to an end and the 1980's began, Fu Sheng and his wife seemed to drift apart. Focusing on her singing career, rumors of infidelity and divorce persisted much to the stern rebuttal of the once inseparable couple. He was still popular in film circles and continued on with numerous Wuxia pictures and comedic kung fu capers.
He became a student of Liu Chia Liang (now popularly known under his Cantonese name of Lau Kar Leung) and became part of the camp that included Liu Chia Hui, Hsiao Hou, Wong Yu, Mai Te Lo, Hui Ying Hung and Liu Chia Yung. Oddly enough, many of these movies were only supporting roles for the whimsical actor.
Amidst all this, Fu Sheng took the time to appear in two more movies for his "father", Chang Cheh for the last two installments of his BRAVE ARCHER series, BRAVE ARCHER 3 (1981) and BRAVE ARCHER & HIS MATE (1982). Both films have plentiful action, but the third installment is possibly the best in that respect. Ti Lung, seen in the credits of the first movie, finally makes his entrance here.
For the fourth picture, Fu Sheng doesn't even play the same character he played in the other three productions. Most likely he was too busy with other films, so his role was switched out with Kuo Chui taking Fu's old role of Kuo Tsing. This looks like a seriously compromised production with a painfully low budget and quick schedule. After this, Fu mainly worked under the guidance of the Liu Brothers.
TREASURE HUNTERS (1981) was Liu Chia Yung's directorial debut with Shaw Brothers and the double team of Fu Sheng and his real life younger brother, Chang Chan Peng was a match made in kung fu heaven. Both worked incredibly well off of each other. Arguably the Shaw's best example of kung fu comedy, it's one of relatively few Shaw comedy kung fu pictures that doesn't attempt to copy the indy style that was woefully popular at the time. The whole movie is uniquely Shaw Brothers.
Fu Sheng's penchant for comic timing is brilliant here resulting in possibly his most amusing comedic role. His brother is the better acrobat, but both combine their strengths to create an unforgettable combo that recalls a lighter version of David Chiang and Ti Lung from the decade prior.
Around this time, Fu was working on his own directorial debut, a film to be titled WITS OF THE BRATS (1984). Helping Fu on his directing gig were soon to me mega famous director, Wong Jing and Liu Chia Yung.
Chang Chan Peng is the main character playing a wealthy and cunning brat who is good at kung fu and equally adept at being a con artist. His uncle secretly tries to get rid of him to take the family fortune. He ends up meeting three like-minded individuals and befriends them all through a series of low brow humor rife with innuendo. He later learns the plans of his uncle and returns to tackle him with the help of his new-found trickster buddies.
Fu Sheng's directorial debut is occasionally funny in a childishly silly way and the action scenes are good when they're on screen. There's a lot of similarities between this picture and TREASURE HUNTERS (1981). The main leads and supporting cast are all the same and Fu Sheng and his brothers scenes together recall the earlier film. If only Fu Sheng had lived to finish this picture.
THE FAKE GHOST CATCHERS (1982) was another picture Fu Sheng did with his brother and directed by Liu Chia Yung. Taking a major cue from SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS (1980), it combines giggles and ghouls, a combination that would prove wildly popular a few years later with MR. VAMPIRE in 1985.
Comedy was the order of the day and Wong Jing's script guarantees lots of it in yet another tale of con artists this time in a spooky setting. Two screwball, bungling con men masquerade as necromancers attempt to exorcise a vengeful spirit trying to kill twin sisters. A villainous Manchu officer also figures into the plot. There's possession and spooky special effects mixed with a handful of fight scenes. Fu Sheng has little to do in his supporting role, which isn't a patch on his bravura comedy performance in TREASURE HUNTERS.
Wedged in between these comical con man kung fu comedies was another funny picture set in modern times from director Wong Jing. That film was HONG KONG PLAYBOYS (1983), a charmingly farcical fable about a young Don Juan who delights in making women swoon. Fu plays a character named Sheng whose mother tries to find him a good woman in between his lady killing frolics. Meanwhile, two other Casanova's issue a challenge to Sheng to see who is the ultimate ladies man. It's basically a kung fu comedy substituting pick up lines for fists and feet.
MY REBELLIOUS SON (1982) was a movie that began back in 1979 and was put on hold for a time likely due to Fu breaking his leg. It was another Sun Chung production and apparenty was supposed to have been another double act with his wife, Jenny Tseng. Cecilia Wong took the lead female role and the movie went through several title changes before its late 1982 release.
It's one of Fu Sheng's best roles dealing with culture clash of western influence and Fu's clash with his cranky father played by Ku Feng. It was roles like this that were designed for the comic talents of its star. Chen Hui Min plays an intimidating ninja out to put a stop to Fu Sheng who stands in the way of foreigners wishing to get their hands on a valuable and priceless statue.
LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA (1982) became one of Liu Chia Liang's biggest cinematic achievements making millions and becoming a kung fu classic in the process. Fu Sheng again essays a supporting role, playing yet another conman, this one a fake spiritual boxer who gets mixed up with a group of assassins emboldened with all to real supernatural powers.
As per several other Liu productions, the comedy is painfully strained at times, but the blisteringly creative fight sequences make up for any shortcomings. Fu gets to show off in two sequences, but the movie belongs to other actors.
CAT VS. RAT (1982) put Fu in the lead alongside on screen rival, Adam Cheng in a painfully bad kung fu comedy from Liu Chia Liang. The plot concerns two young students with the same teacher. Both constantly do battle with one another to see who's better. This plot device was used in other movies, too, like DANCE OF DEATH (1976) and THE ODD COUPLE (1979). This didn't stop the film from being a hit with audiences.
Much more popular with kung fu fans was Liu's dark epic of betrayal and redemption. It was a film that began midway through 1981 and, like WITS OF THE BRATS (1984), suffered due to Fu Sheng's untimely death. The film in question is the superior 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (1984).
Gordon Liu and Fu Sheng play the only two surviving brothers of the Yang family betrayed by the very allies that once revered them as heroes. Fu's character, Yang six, loses mind while fifth Yang (Gordon Liu) gets separated during the skirmish. It's difficult to ascertain just how the film would have been had Fu Sheng lived to finish whatever amount of scenes remained. The last you see of him is his character begging his mother to let him go to court and testify against the traitors.
Regardless, the picture moves along fine in spite of Fu's character not being seen again. It's safe to assume he was originally to have participated in the final battle. His tragic end looms large over the already gloomy atmosphere present in Liu's movie, a director prone to far more light-hearted family oriented pictures.
Less than a month after the release of Fu Sheng's box office hit, HONG KONG PLAYBOYS (1983), tragedy was about to strike. It was an incident that would shake up Hong Kong cinema in a fashion that hadn't been experienced since the death of Bruce Lee a decade prior.
On Wednesday night, July 7th, 1983, Alexander Fu Sheng was traveling on the passenger side of his Porsche 911 driven by his third brother, Chang Zheng Sheng. Behind them in a Honda Civic was Fu Sheng's younger brother, Chang Chan Peng who was accompanied by close friend and fellow actor, Wong Yu. The four had just left Shaw's Clearwater Bay Country Club shortly after 10pm and were traveling along Clearwater Bay Road. At approximately 10:30pm Chang Zheng Sheng, the driver of the car, crashed into a concrete wall after taking the sharp turn too quickly. Reportedly, there was a group of people nearby that witnessed the accident.
According to reports, it was raining on this section of street at the point of impact, but nowhere else. The driver managed to exit the crumpled, bent and twisted metal of what remained of Fu Sheng's car. Fu's younger brother rushed to his elders aid who was alive and speaking at the time. He asked Chang if his face had scars from the crash. He then asked his brother to get him to the hospital as Fu's face began to turn black. An unconscious Fu Sheng was rushed to the hospital and his personal physician was called. Mona Fong was one of the many of Shaw's staff waiting nervously in the lobby in the hopes that Fu Sheng was going to be alright.
The seriously wounded actor was given an emergency blood transfusion in the hopes of reviving him. Doctors ultimately went through four pounds of blood. His internal injuries were so severe, he was losing blood more rapidly than they could get it into his system. Fu Sheng had a broken back and the horrible realization was that surgery was going to be impossible. He could not be saved. Into the early morning hours, Mona Fong and others heard a terrible, loud scream in Fu Sheng's hospital room. At 3:43am, one of the cinemas most treasured personalities had left this world. The man born Cheung Fu Sing was dead at 29 years of age.
When questioned by police, Chang Zheng Sheng stated he felt what seemed like Fu Sheng pushing his leg down onto the accelerator. Reportedly, the two cars were racing down the street despite their statements of not speeding. Chang also later said that once he had crawled from the wreckage, he could see Fu Sheng standing a distance away from the car as if his soul had left his body. In a bizarre occurrence, the Shaw Brothers production, HONG KONG '83, shooting at the time, featured a sequence of a car crash on the same stretch of road. In a cruel twist of fate, Fu's lucky number was '7'. The sad and shocking irony of all this is that the license plate on one of his car was '7717' and that he died on the seventh day of the seventh month in 1983.
Unfortunately, Fu's estranged wife, Jenny Tseng, was in Tokyo, Japan at the time on a concert tour. She was on her way back to Taiwan when she got the news. Throughout their marriage, the once lively couple had been persecuted by tabloids looking for angles to ignite their divorce with so-called allegations of infidelity. The paparazzi aiding in the destruction of personal lives is just as problematic in Hong Kong as it is in other parts of the world.
Over the years, rumors pointed to Jenny as being out for herself, only being with Fu because of his money. As already mentioned, Fu Sheng came from a wealthy family, but was adamant in making his own way and these unfounded stories were nothing more than malicious tabloid trash. All the troubles throughout Fu Sheng's career both on set and off seemingly took a toll on his once vibrant marriage. It was reported that the two were in fact separated at the time of Fu Sheng's tragic accident. It was widely stated that the two were in the process of a divorce, but Jenny denounced these rumors.
Wang Lung Wei (middle); I am guessing the man with the crutches is possibly Fu's brother Chang Zheng Sheng.
Fu Sheng was the ninth sibling in his family, a playfully mischievous personality that mimicked his later on screen persona. He was a laid back, carefree individual personified by the numerous country bumpkins he portrayed countless times in dozens of movies.
The funeral took place on Thursday, July 14th. It was a grand, if somber affair. The amount of attenders and spectators rivaled that of Bruce Lee's funeral a decade earlier. Dozens of Shaw's actors were also in attendance as was Chen Wei I, the woman tagged as the late actors mistress.
Later when she left the funeral, she was escorted out a back exit so as to avoid the mob of reporters waiting for her. Fu Sheng was cremated early in the afternoon. His ashes were gathered by his family members and their location was never revealed. It was surmised that Fu Sheng's remains were kept at his grandmother's home in Tai Po.
Taken far too soon, Fu Sheng lived and died much in the same fashion as one of his mentor, Chang Cheh's cinematic heroes. He seemed an exuberant youngster at heart whose on screen persona was a mere reflection of the real man himself.
His many fans around the world will never forget all the enjoyment he provided. He leaves a wealth of entertainment for those new fans curious to discover the numerous charms of Alexander Fu Sheng.