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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.