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Monday, February 28, 2011

Shaw Brothers Cinema: The Gorgeous Ladies of Shaw--Cheng Pei pei

This entry of Shaw Brothers Cinema is a bit different. Similar to the three part Fu Sheng article, this one focuses on the fighting females or voluptuous vixens of Shaw Studio. This first one is all about the then 'Queen of Swordplay', Cheng Pei pei. You'll find a lot of behind the scenes photos, some posters and some pictorials of this pioneering and lovely lady. Double click a pic to see a larger image and read English text where applicable.

Born in Shanghai on December 4th, 1946, the future supreme Shaw swordswoman joined the company in 1963. She was an avid dancer and dance instructor. Amidst her busy and hectic schedule, the pretty young actress enjoyed her time working in movies. Pei pei shot to stardom in the film LOVER'S ROCK in 1964.

The same year she took home the Golden Accolade Award for 'Most Promising Newcomer'. She also later took home an award for most popular Mandarin Movie Star alongside other luminaries including Li Ching and Jimmy Wang Yu. She started out appearing in dramas and light hearted fare before embarking on the Wuxia extravaganza that would make her an international sensation.

King Hu's COME DRINK WITH ME (1966), completed in late 1965, was a new approach when compared with the handful of swordplay films that were starting to crop up in growing numbers. King Hu was a respected filmmaker, but his production bumped heads with the vision of studio head, Run Run Shaw. When viewing the film, it would appear to be two different movies at times.

Cheng Pei pei behind the scenes with King Hu (right) on the set of COME DRINK WITH ME.

Having directed SONS OF THE GOOD EARTH (1965), the good notices received King Hu's all new swordplay spectacular wasn't enough to keep him at Shaw Brothers. He packed up and sought directorial ventures elsewhere free of studio constraints. Meanwhile, Cheng Pei pei's star continued to grow.

Promo for THAT FIERY GIRL (1968)

Chang Cheh had scored two huge hits back to back with both THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN and THE ASSASSIN (1967), both starring Jimmy Wang Yu. A sequel to COME DRINK WITH ME was decided upon and Chang Cheh was the director to do it. Cheng Pei pei played Golden Swallow in the King Hu classic and that would be the title of the sequel. Despite her character being the main focal point of the film, the bulk of the screen time is payed to Wang Yu's Silver Roc character.

Promo for THE JADE RAKSHA (1969)

Incidentally, Pei pei spent six months in Japan advancing her dance and ballet skills. While there, she participated in location work for both Cheh's GOLDEN SWALLOW and another picture, THE FLYING DAGGER. Both these films were shot in 1967 and released over the course of the next two years.

Behind the scenes on DRAGON SWAMP (1969)

After finishing up with Chang Cheh, the enterprising young actress went on to work for a number of different directors between 1968 and 1970. During this time, she managed to take a month off to head to America in August of 1969 to visit her then fiance, Yuan Wen tung. A little over six months later, Pei pei would leave Shaws to get married. During her brief, but prosperous stint at what was at one time the largest privately owned film studio in the world, Cheng appeared in over 20 films with most of them being lead roles.

Promo for THE SHADOW WHIP (1971)

Cast photo for BROTHERS FIVE (1970), director Lo Wei at far left

Aside from working with directors such as Yueh Feng, Tsu Tseng Hung, Inoue Umetsugu, Pan Lei and Yen Chuan, the actress had a good rapport with Lo Wei, a prolific director who would soon find success with his association with Bruce Lee. Pei pei starred in five films for Lo Wei--THE GOLDEN SWORD (1969), RAW COURAGE (1969), DRAGON SWAMP (1969), BROTHERS FIVE (1970) and THE SHADOW WHIP (1971).

Party after DRAGON SWAMP broke the million dollar mark; right photo is Pei pei with Huang Chun Sun and Chiao Chiao. The two were married, but separated at this time.

Cast photo for SHADOW WHIP


Cheng also found time to star in three films for Ho Meng Hua, another of Shaw's best directors and most prolific. Her Ho films are some of the most recognizable entries of Wuxia excellence, these being THE JADE RAKSHA (1969), LADY OF STEEL (1970) and THE LADY HERMIT (1971). The latter title is of special interest to most fans of Shaw Brothers motion pictures. It was the last film Cheng Pei pei worked on for Shaw Brothers, but wasn't the last to wrap. Almost immediately after finishing work on THE SHADOW WHIP in March of 1970, Cheng Pei pei was on a plane headed for Los Angeles to marry her college student sweetheart.

A little over a year later, the former actress was lured back into showbusiness by Golden Harvest ambassador, Lau Leung hua who also managed to sign Bruce Lee to a lucrative deal after Shaw Brothers failed to secure the services of the soon to be hot commodity, formerly of the GREEN HORNET television show in America. The acquisition of both Lee and Pei was quite a big deal for Shaws floundering competitor.

Above and below: shooting of THE LADY HERMIT (1971)

Cheng Pei pei didn't make the level of productions she did during her Shaw Brothers days but did appear frequently on screen till she was thrust back into the public eye with a large villainous role in Ang Lee's award winning CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON in 2000. Since the Shaw Brothers restorations in the early part of the new millennium, a renewed interest in her past glories has maintained her status as the premier swordplay Queen of Hong Kong Action Cinema.


Andrew Green said...

You're damn right, they're gorgeous....
Thanks for an excellent post.

Fazeo said...

Beautiful pics, I can't wait to see The Lady Hermit which just got released on dvd.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Great photos! Thanks for these!

Jaccstev said...

Her performances in Golden Swallow, Come Drink With Me, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were the most memorable for me.

venoms5 said...

@ Andrew: Oh, wait till you see some of the other lovely ladies I got lined up!

@ Fazeo: LADY HERMIT is a really good movie as is the pseudo sequel, THE BLACK TAVERN from 1972. I haven't gotten the new US DVD for HERMIT yet, though.

@ Glenn: I'm glad you enjoyed these, Glenn, as I know you're partial to the HK actresses of this particular time. The next one will either be all Chen Ping, or a mixture of Angela Yu Chien, Lily Ho and Tina Chin Fei.

@ Jaccstev: I agree, good movies all, but it's hard for me to pick a favorite.

Movies on my Mind said...


Fang Shih-yu said...

Well-assembled collection of rare pictures (and a good partial history) of the early Cheng Pei-pei, venoms5!

I hope her Shaws are included with those new HK/Taiwan Blu-rays; I'll settle for Come Drink with Me getting the treatment, if no others!

I've just The Shadow Whip and Brothers Five of the ones she did with Lo Wei; have you seen the others? Which one do you consider the best of those she did for him?

venoms5 said...

I've got them all. DRAGON SWAMP is quite good and has a high fantasy element including some "dragons" in the swamp of the title. BROTHERS FIVE is really good. RAW COURAGE is as well, but not up to those two above titles and SHADOW WHIP, which isn't all that great, but does have a great setting and plentiful action. THE GOLDEN SWORD is good, but kind of boring. It doesn't even end with a fight scene. I'd say you already have the best, but DRAGON SWAMP is well worth seeking out as I'd recommend that one, too.

duriandave said...

Thanks for sharing the lovely Pei-pei pics, venoms5! I especially like that first one. Most of the pinups are from Hong Kong Movie News, right? I've only got a couple of issues, but it had a distinctive, more modern look than Southern Screen.

Looking forward to your Chen Ping post! :D

venoms5 said...

Thanks for stopping by, Dave! Actually, the bulk of these came from Southern Screen magazine. Maybe four in total came from HKMN magazine. I did scan some additional images of Lily Ho and Tina Chin Fei from a couple HKMN mags. The LADY OF STEEL and FLYING DAGGER posters came from HKMN.

I hope you were able to see them all decently as I've been tinkering with blog templates the last couple of hours.

duriandave said...

Yes, I always click on pictures for the full effect. The large scans are much appreciated!

I'm not that familiar with the later issues of Southern Screen, focusing instead on trying to get the first 50. I sure wish somebody would publish a slick coffee table book of reproductions (pinups and select articles) from SS and HKMN. I'm sure a lot of Shaw fans would plunk down the bucks for that.

venoms5 said...

I do, too. I know I'd drop the cash for it.

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