Thursday, May 19, 2011

Neglected Directors of Shaw: Sun Chung Part 3




The impassioned filmmaker gave tragic swordsmen a break for a brief period to focus on a straight ahead kung fu adventure with comical overtones. While kung fu comedy had become the rage at the time (thanks to Jackie Chan and his SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW), Sun Chung maintains a modicum of seriousness here in THE KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR while never letting the comedy completely overrun the proceedings. It began shooting in July of 1978 after THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD and was finished and released before it. Touted as 'The Chief Instructor', then as 'The Kung Fu Master', this entertaining movie would be standard fare if not for Ti Lung's stoic portrayal as Wang Yang, a righteous martial arts instructor who enters a town torn apart by two feuding families.


This is a slightly lesser effort compared to Sun Chung's two previous swordplay extravaganzas. Wong Yu co-stars as a dedicated young man determined to study under the new master in town. Ku Feng is on hand as the main antagonist, Meng, who tries various methods of either buying off the new teacher in town, or framing him. When none of these work, he pays hired killers to simply end the man's life. When that, too, fails, the villainous Meng must eradicate teacher Wang on his own. The whole film is a worthwhile viewing experience, but one can't help but feel Sun Chung was being pushed into doing commercial product once more in order to bow to fickle audience tastes.

Sun Chung instructs THE KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR

Still, Sun Chung's cinematographic touches were in abundance here and THE KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR was a successful production for Shaw Brothers in the end. Kung fu comedies were multiplying left and right and would continue to garner strong box office receipts. This style of HK action film would reach an apex in Sun's career with the release of his next movie--a film that abandoned bloody violence. The dramatic presentation of heroism was all but non existent unlike the directors vibrant swordplay features he excelled at. This time, neither Ti Lung, nor Fu Sheng were anywhere around.

Sun Chung followed up his enjoyable, if generic kung fu opus with another similar movie, but with a heavier accent on comedy and relatively little seriousness. KID WITH A TATTOO began production as THE RESTLESS KID and THE DAUNTLESS YOUNGSTER--two titles that are anything but solemn. The directors other films in production at the same time were THE SEVEN EVILS (TO KILL A MASTERMIND) and KUNG FU GENERATION (aka RAGING TIGER, MY REBELLIOUS SON, TWO GENERATIONS OF KUNG FU). Sun's new kung fu comedy was hyped for its lack of any female roles (unusual in a Sun Chung movie) and that because of its all male cast, this was a movie for guys. Curiously, some would take such ballyhoo as bearing homoerotic tendencies, but this type of hoopla is no different than women dominated pictures being labeled as 'Chick Flicks'.

Sun Chung (right) goes over a fight scene with Yuen Wah (left) in KID WITH A TATTOO

Sun Chung could do above average kung fu flicks, but his strength was most prominent in swordplay productions. TATTOO was an unusual script and production and the epitome of the Xiaozi (Boxing Punk) style of HK action film, itself an offshoot of the Yanggang vernacular. Both were terms derived from the masculine cinema of Chang Cheh. This Sun Chung picture juxtaposes both creating one of the strangest kung fu comedies to ever emerge from Hong Kong's once unusually prosperous film industry.

This comical caper about Li Pao Tung, a brash young man, the son of a cotton mill owner, learns kung fu from a mysterious beggar named Chen Ying Kan. In actuality, this beggar is an undercover policeman attempting to bring down a drug and ammunition smuggling ring. His identity discovered, an assassin tracks him down and engages the beggar in a duel. Li is nearby and overhears Chen's last words. Learning that the head of the gang is known as the 'Dagger In the Cotton', Li believes that his dad has secretly been the head of this criminal organization all these years. The killers discover Li and go after him while Captain Fang searches for the now dead Chen's whereabouts. Kung Fu movie fans may be disappointed as Wong Yu spends the bulk of the film either avoiding or pranking on his father, or running from the killers. He fights occasionally, but mostly evades their attacks. Granted, comedy was extremely popular at the time and Sun Chung delivers some genuinely funny moments. Shaw's best example of kung fu comedy, THE TREASURE HUNTERS (1981), also featured bumbling heroes that were lacking in kung fu skills, but made up for it with cunning. Wong Yu is that kind of character here. He defeats perennial bad guy, Wang Lung Wei by attrition as opposed to his kung fu skill. The best fights are reserved for Yuen Wah and Dick Wei. Sun Chung's kung fu endeavors may not be as dramatically focused as his swordplay spectaculars, but they are certainly a lot of fun.


Various behind the scenes shots during the production of RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH

RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH is an exceptional example of Wuxia excellence. It's one of the most strikingly gorgeous Shaw Brothers productions showcasing a menagerie of colorfully ornate set pieces. Once more Sun puts Wong Yu in the lead role, but he's less childish here than in some of his other movies, particularly KID WITH A TATTOO. Wong Yu periodically does his imitation of Fu Sheng, but maintains a serious demeanor throughout. Wong Yu plays a strong willed and highly skilled swordsman who accepts a mission by a mysterious prince to escort a box whose contents are confidential. What's inside is coveted by a menagerie of warriors including two supreme swordsmen--Beggar Yang and Golden Rod Gu Fei Tian. From here on out, Sun Chung keeps the twists and turns coming at a fast pace, but never to the point where confusion sets in.

Sun Chung (right) demonstrates an action while Tang Chia (left) and Wong Yu (middle) watch on.

Tang Chia goes it alone here without the aid of Huang Pei Chi in the action department and doesn't disappoint in the various martial arts sequences; a special mention of the opening fight and Chen Kuan Tai's battle at the inn are among other highlights. Nothing in this movie fails to impress. Sun Chung is once more in top form and why shouldn't he be? The exploits of the martial world were his comfort zone. He could handle virtually any genre styling, but his work was doubtlessly best among the company of honorable swordsmen and their deceptive enemies. Sun's RENDEZVOUS with Wuxia also contains some of the most stunning sets and art decor of his illustrious career. Even if nothing else worked, the dazzling visual palette is immensely satisfying. After this brilliant return to form, Sun Chung would transplant martial arts movie conventions to the modern day tropes of the gambling action sub genre, a style of film that would gain incredible momentum by the close of the decade.


Gatefold poster for THE NOTORIOUS EIGHT (1981)

In 1972, award winning director, Cheng Tseng Chai delivered the first film to focus on the ever popular practice of gambling. Loved by the Chinese and a favorite hobby to many, the art of gambling was introduced in THE CASINO (1972). And while that film was a wild, gore drenched action picture revolving around the title establishment, Sun Chung followed suit with his own gambling adventure almost a decade later, only this one was more of a drama-thriller than an action film. The script bears some resemblance to a kung fu/Wuxia movie featuring a young gambling upstart named Chen who brazenly challenges the 'Gambling Devil', Hu Guan Tian. Losing a great deal of money to 'the Devil', Chen learns that Hu preordained the match to get even with Chen's father who had disrupted Hu's finances some years before. Chen then seeks out an elder gambler named Zhou and the remaining 'Eight Gambling Generals of Trickery Hall' to aid in his own brand of vengeance. If you have little to no interest in gambling, then NOTORIOUS EIGHT is likely to not catch your attention the first time around. Sun Chung captures some suitably tense moments and the ending is a bit downbeat, but most will feel like Sun Chung wasn't playing with a full deck here. This was the directors first and only foray into the world of casino's and gambling halls leaving the dens of iniquity to Cheng Kang and Wong Jing, the latter of which made the gambling movie a profitable sub genre in Hong Kong that is still popular today.



With the Fu Sheng flick, RAGING TIGER still in production (soon to settle on the title of MY REBELLIOUS SON), Sun Chung tried his hand at horror. In his debut Shaw production, THE DEVIL'S MIRROR (1972), Sun flirted with horror conventions married to a swordplay setting, but while the results then were more fun than frightening, things were a bit different ten years later.

Sun Chung (left) and Tang Chia (right) go over an action scene from REVENGE OF THE CORPSE.

RETURN OF THE SWORDSMAN starred Pai Piao as a righteous constable at war with a vicious underworld gang. Failing to kill him, the officer is poisoned by his scheming wife who is having an affair with one of the members of the gang. Later, a group of grave robbers unleash the vengeful spirit of the constable who kills those that wronged him in gruesome fashion. Arguably Sun Chung's rarest title on his resume, it hit HK theaters as REVENGE OF THE CORPSE (1981) and was also known in some quarters as THE BLOODTHIRSTY DEAD. It should be noted that this Wuxia horror hybrid was also the directors biggest hit in Hong Kong theaters.

HUMAN LANTERNS (1982) cast spread

Sun Chung followed up his martial arts zombie tale with an even more grotesque item entitled LANTERN SCARE that later settled on the more nasty sounding title of HUMAN LANTERNS. Sun's propensity for martial tragedy reaches its zenith here with nary a likable character in sight. The few innocents in the script die horribly and suffer for the misdeeds of others who learn far too late the err of their past ways. Liu Yung (Lung) and Chen Kuan Tai bluster and mock their way through the film laying blame at one another for kidnappings and murders occurring within their families. Meanwhile, the real culprit sits back and watches the cookie crumble all around them. Lo Lieh totally steals the show away from everyone else as Chao Fang, a man whose good soul was crushed by swordsman Lung some years earlier. Pondering his revenge on the boisterous Lung, Chao is merciless in his vendetta which includes some Ilsa Koch an Ed Gein favorite past times--making ornaments out of human skin--in this case, it's ornately designed (human) lanterns.

Sun Chung (right) demonstrates a shot between Liu Yung (middle) and Chen Kuan Tai (left) from HUMAN LANTERNS.

Even with its grim subject matter, Sun Chung's picture never gets too overly sleazy. The scenes with nudity are "tastefully" accomplished. Only one sequence is truly disturbing and the remaining death scenes are made more vicious by what is implied instead of what is actually shown. In typical Shaw Brothers fashion, some characters come to bad ends that you don't necessarily expect. The finale is gruesomely accomplished with some exciting tracking shots, furious fighting, thunder and lightning and lighting schemes that will delight fans of Mario Bava.

HUMAN LANTERNS cast photo; Sun Chung in the middle

This horror tinged take on YOJIMBO (1961) is one of Sun Chung's most well known and popular films of his career. The general somber tone of Sun Chung's other swordplay pictures is amplified here with its motley crew of callous and despicable characters; the few decent individuals suffering greatly for the selfish deeds of others. The coda shows this horror thriller (like many of Shaw's horror films) to be a morality tale--a lesson learned far too late by the one surviving cast member.


Sun Chung (right) demonstrates how he wants a scene to play out with Tang Chia at left.

Sun Chung was often accused of being a fastidious, if dedicated director to his craft. His classmate and colleague Kuei Chi Hung was also branded as being particularly tyrannical. Director Sun was never as prolific as his contemporaries, taking an approach to filmmaking akin to the highly respected director, Cheng Kang. You wouldn't find Sun Chung working on four or more films at once (he infrequently had three) as some of his more prolific fellow filmmakers, but his career definitely slowed down in 1982 after the release of MY REBELLIOUS SON--a film, as derivative as it may be, touched on change--something the Shaw Brothers struggled with in the 1980s amidst a new crop of filmmakers and filmmaking styles working for other companies.

One of a ten lobby still set from RAGING TIGER before the title was suddenly changed to MY REBELLIOUS SON (1982)

This troubled production began back in 1979, but was derailed by a severe injury suffered by its star, Fu Sheng while shooting THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD and again while shooting HEROES SHED NO TEARS (1980). The script (already a derivative affair of Liu Chia Liang's HEROES OF THE EAST [1978] and MY YOUNG AUNTIE [1980]) appears to have suffered by the lapse as two plotlines are aborted halfway through settling on a string of fight sequences between Fu Sheng's Xiaozi character and various foreigners. What little plot there is isn't the strongest material Sun Chung has ever had to work with. Once more, the director seems somewhat lost when not immersed in the martial world settings of grieving and vendetta fueled swordsmen.

Behind the scenes shots from MY REBELLIOUS SON

Fu Sheng again essays the type of role he made popular--that of a buffoonic adolescent with a righteous heart. His father runs a well known and respected pharmacy, a business which Chang Siu Tai's dad wishes he'd show more interest in. A group of foreign dignitaries aligned with some greedy locals have their sights set on some valuable Chinese treasures kept in the village temple. Refusing to allow them to steal the relic, the foreigners invite a band of Japanese martial artists to aid in eliminating the young upstart. Sun Chung directs some marvelous sequences here, but they're few and far between, sadly. The intriguing idea of foreign imperialism invading Chinese culture as well as the culture clash between the young and old ideals isn't expanded upon and is summarily dropped later in the film. Also a romantic subplot between Siu Tai and a beautiful westernized Asian lass is likewise erased from the narrative.

Lobby card for MY REBELLIOUS SON. A sticker with the new title covers the RAGING TIGER title, the name the film was going to hit theaters with initially.

Sun Chung's signature directorial flourishes are mostly absent here, too. Fu Sheng's offscreen wife, Jenny Tseng, was originally cast as his love interest, but reports of Fu Sheng's alleged infidelity caused the couple to separate amidst allegations of an impending divorce. Early photos from the film show her in the role that was later taken over by Cecilia Wong. Regardless of some serious flaws, Sun Chung manages to pull off a movie that is highly entertaining and a lot of fun that is mostly due to Fu Sheng's lively and spirited performance. Wong Yu attempted the Fu Sheng shtick in KID WITH A TATTOO, but no one could do the playfully defiant brat like Fu Sheng. The action choreography is also a curious blend of old fashioned kung fu and the New Wave approach that was overtaking HK action movies at the time. Fans of Chang Cheh's FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS (1982) will spill their noodles when the intimidating Chen Hui Min appears onscreen (playing a ninja!) as the chief nemesis. While it's very entertaining, this is also somewhat disappointing in that the picture is Sun Chung imitating Liu Chia Liang with little to none of Sun's patented ingenuity visible.


Director Sun briefly left Shaw Brothers to tackle two independently produced martial arts films--one a period piece (A FISTFUL OF TALONS) and the other a modern day kickboxing movie (DESTINY'S CHAMPION). A FISTFUL OF TALONS (1983) is the most interesting of the two and the closest Sun Chung came to recapturing his glory days of Wuxia excellence. He also managed to parlay his influential distinctions which signified his best movies, but were largely missing from his last Shaw production released in the latter part of 1982. A FISTFUL OF TALONS starred cult fave, Billy Chong, an Indonesian actor who enjoyed a brief popularity before retreating from the industry after this movie was completed. It's essentially another variation on the tired theme of the Qing regime, this time taking place during the Manchu's dying days and the early Republican Era. Surprisingly, Sun Chung implements his sweeping camera moves and his stylistic use of slow motion that were lacking in MY REBELLIOUS SON (1982).

Sun Chung on the set of THE KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR

The directors other indy movie was the curious and obscure anomaly, DESTINY'S CHAMPION (1984). The ending title card bears a 1998 copyright, but this film screams 80s like a heavy metal headbanger. Unlike his previous period martial arts film, there's virtually nothing on display here that would let you know you were witnessing the work of master movie maker, Sun Chung. DESTINY'S CHAMPION, as meandering and un-involving as it is, could have been directed by anyone. Essentially a Chinese version of ROCKY and THE KARATE KID, it's about a vapid youth named Tang who tries to win over a spunky and fiery girl who happens to be dating an obnoxious kickboxer who has money and drives a fancy car. The two have a run in that results in a novel twist wherein Tang later gives his nemesis a concussion, hitting him from behind with a pipe. As the bad guy recuperates, an old man named Benson Zhang (played by Ti Lung), a former fighter, trains Tang for his big challenge match with the self absorbed and easily irritated Dickson. A pretty lifeless, flaccid affair, viewers will at least get a kick out of seeing Ti Lung as an old man and spotting numerous Shaw bit players that frequented Sun Chung's Shaw Brothers days.


Sun Chung on his vacation in the USA

Returning to the once glorious Shaw Studio, a filmmaking giant that had been reduced to the equivalent of an upscale independent by the mid 1980s, Sun Chung turned in one last picture--and one that was a return to form for the enigmatic and inspired movie maker. THE MASTER STRIKES BACK (also known as HONG KONG 1841) bore a title that acted as a metaphor for its director. Sun Chung was seemingly invigorated here, bringing back all his breakthrough techniques one last time and even shooting some scenes in a new and impressive fashion. The release title is a bit of a misnomer and gives the impression of an action film. While there is action, this picture is more of a dramatic feature that concludes with an exciting duel between the protagonist and antagonist.

The script offers up numerous instances for kung fu set pieces, but Sun Chung ignores them instead concentrating on the characters and exploring the various avenues less traveled. Ti Lung plays a stoic military coach sent to this out of the way village to straighten up a flagging and lazy police force who spend the bulk of their time whoring and cavorting all the while siring bastard children they could care less about. The new coach, Tong Tie Zheng, arrives with his son and almost instantly stirs the ire of the corrupt chief constable, Jin Bu Huan. Events escalate to a deadly serious level when Tong finally turns the languid officers around, now preferring to train instead of spending their time and money in the brothels. It's a strong show supported by a powerfully melodramatic performance by Ti Lung and a deliciously vile villain role by the always reliable Chen Hui Min. Sun Chung successfully creates a flurry of emotions in this modest twilight production of the Shaw Brothers Era and even manages to design a nightmarish sequence of pure terror that is far more intense than some horror films.

When the Shaw Brothers shut their moviemaking empire in 1986, renting the facilities out to local and foreign production houses, they focused on television shows becoming the largest provider of televised entertainment in Asia. Sun Chung, a director of much promise and prominence in the 1970s, continued directing into the early 1990s helming at least three additional films with varying degrees of success with titles like LADY IN BLACK (1987), CITY WAR (1988) and ANGEL HUNTER (1992) .

While his ingenuity may have waned in his later years, the spark of those dynamically impassioned classics of his best days at Shaw Brothers remain. It took him nearly a decade to define his unique celluloid persona to which he leaves behind a collage of classic films that assure Sun Chung as not only one of the great unsung, untapped talents outside of Asia, but one of Hong Kong cinemas brightest and esteemed filmmakers.

Neglected Directors of Shaw: Sun Chung Part 2



The gritty modern world of of Sun Chung and his more comfortable era of the Martial World

Towards the end of 1977, Sun Chung's JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN was released to theaters in Asia. While it was a minor success for the aspiring director, this film was special in that Sun Chung's style was cemented here and would only become more conspicuous with each succeeding film. The year prior, the prolific and highly respected director, Chu Yuan had redefined the Wuxia genre with a picture entitled KILLER CLANS (1976). Possessing a more operatic fairy tale quality rife with articulately constructed studio bound sets and intricately convoluted story lines, this new approach to swordplay became the order of the day once again. Sun Chung followed suit, returning to the Wuxia genre, it being the type of film with which he made his debut back in 1972.

Director Sun rehearses with Tang Chia while making THE AVENGING EAGLE

Sun Chung's swordplay films were quite different from Chu Yuan's perplexing 'Romantic Swordsman' productions. Chu's films were mostly based on massive and popular novels from famous authors like Jin Yong and Gu Long. While Sun was far less prolific, his Wuxia adventures were mostly original scripts from genre workhorse, I Kuang. Sun Chung's approach to Wuxia was original, too. His version of swordplay was also noticeably more violent than Chu's interpretations. Sun made good use of slow motion techniques utilizing this practice during crucial moments of action both in close up and in master shots. Sometimes a few frames of film would be removed to lend the slow motion sequences a jagged effect. This particular nuance is most notable in AVENGING EAGLE (1978), TO KILL A MASTERMIND (1979) and THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD (1979). Sun's use of slow motion is also noteworthy during close quarters combat wherein two fighters attempt to stab, or slice one another. The camera cuts in close as each strike narrowly misses its target, the camera slowed down so the viewer can appreciate the tense evocation of these shots.

Shooting the finale of THE AVENGING EAGLE

Sun Chung also employed the vastness of a space, generally shooting from afar capturing a number of participants surrounded by expansive exteriors, or encroached within meticulously crafted interior sets. He also held onto a camera technique seen in many of Chang Cheh's movies. During fight sequences, the camera frequently follows the sword strikes and forceful blows moving with the motion of the main participant enhancing the illusion of power. Sun Chung's fascination with the moving camera was heightened when the Shaw's paid a reported US$60,000 to import a Steadicam in 1977. The studious filmmaker was the first to implement this new piece of equipment in a Hong Kong production. Its usage is briefly seen in THE PROUD YOUTH (1978) and in THE KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR (1979).


The enormous and ornate outdoor sets from JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN

JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN was an auspicious "debut" for Sun Chung upon his return to the genre--his last excursion into swordplay territory having been five years prior. The film concerns the search for the killer responsible for 21 deaths of the Golden Axe Clan. Controversy arises between both the Sin Ha and Bai Du clans as to who is responsible for the heinous act. A famous roving swordsman is hired to learn the truth and meets with a captured man linked to the massacre. Refusing to divulge any information till the Grand Hearing, a feared adversary thought dead for two decades makes his presence known.

Sun Chung (left) and Chen Hui Min (right)

This film began production under the working title of THE CRIME BUSTER (it was also called THE OUTSTANDING BOXER at one point) with Ti Lung, Tsung Hua and Ching Li among the cast. For reasons unknown, Ti Lung was unable to participate and his long time co-star, David Chiang took the role. Wearing a wig akin to the one he sported in Chang Cheh's horrid THE MAGNIFICENT WANDERERS (1977), Chiang does what he can with the role, but is repeatedly outclassed by a ferocious performance from Chen Hui Min as the Bloody Devil. The fights are bloody and possess a raw power in Tang Chia and Huang Pei Chi's choreography. Sun Chung manages some gloriously impressive shots in this engrossing and Gothic swordplay suspenser.


Carrying on with Chu Yuan's policy of adapting novels to the silver screen, Sun Chung follows suit with his version of a Jin Yong (Chin Yung) novel written by the over worked I Kuang. THE PROUD YOUTH (1978) was the directors first movie of a six film working relationship with actor Wong Yu. Even though it's not a bad picture by any stretch, THE PROUD YOUTH is Sun Chung imitating Chu Yuan (not to mention Chu was working on a similarly titled movie--THE PROUD TWINS).

Sun Chung attempts to get the proper response from Tien Ching while shooting THE PROUD YOUTH

Outside of some magnificent shots (the opening waterfall sequence is especially beautiful), hypnotically colorful sets and some bloody action moments, the results are less than satisfying. The plot is epic, but hampered by a 92 minute running time. These 'novel to film' adaptations are easier to follow for Asian audiences, or those familiar with the source material. All others will be confused. Thankfully, Sun Chung would return to more compact, but riveting swordplay thrillers after this, but would also direct a modern day crime thriller dealing with Hong Kong's modern day criminal underworld.


Sun Chung giving Cheng Kei Ying a shave for GODFATHER'S FURY

Early in Sun's Shaw career, he was also doing films for independent companies under a pseudonym. He continued to do this, but retained his real name for these sporadic non Shaw Brothers features. One of them was a Triad gangster production for producer Chung Kuo jen. Entitled GODFATHER'S FURY (1978), this obscure and rarely seen film concerns an aging underworld boss who retires and hands over operations to one of his underlings. Other members disagree with this arrangement and take action through assassinations within the organization. The retired elder then returns to settle the matter. Things are complicated when a police officer is discovered to be the son in law of the former gang leader. Ku Feng, Chen Hui Min and Cheng Kei Ying are among the cast.

A portion of a gatefold spread promoting GODFATHER'S FURY

Sun Chung frequently dabbled in modern crime opuses and even married the underworld themes of the concrete jungle to period swordplay pictures such as THE AVENGING EAGLE (1978) and TO KILL A MASTERMIND (1979). The original title for GODFATHER'S FURY is 489, a coded title for the leader of the crime syndicate. This numerical use of film titles was also adopted by notable crime specialist, Hua Shan who rose to prominence with such modern day Triad films like BROTHERHOOD (1976), 438 (1978), independent films like GANG OF FOUR (1978) and its sequel 108 aka ISLAND OF VIRGINS (1978) and also THE BROTHERS (1979). But where Hua Shan took a far more rough, raw and occasionally gruesome approach to this material, Sun Chung turned this kind of violent subject matter into a more artistic endeavor.


A spread about the late night HK adult show, HELLO LATE HOMECOMERS

With changing audience trends and the rise of independent film studios taking a big piece of the theatrical pie, the Shaw's occasionally became incensed at some of their production slates box office potential being "raped" by quick flicks cashing in at the last minute. This had been going on for years, but by this point in the decade, the Shaw's were losing their grip on the HK audience. This led to Shaw Bros. cutting down on bigger budgeted movies and urging their stable of directors to keep costs low and quantity levels high.

Sun Chung with Linda Chu shooting the movie version, HELLO SEXY LATE HOME COMERS

On at least two occasions, the "Shaw Directors Group" was brought together to crank out the mighty moguls own fast cash quick fix. The rare production of HELLO SEXY LATE HOMECOMERS (1978) brought together the team of Huang Feng, Chu Mu, Hua Shan, Li Han Hsiang, Ho Fan, Hsia Tsu Hui and Sun Chung to produce this terribly obscure adult movie. It was based on a popular late night HK adult talk show, itself modeled on a Japanese program of the same style. One of the shows hosts, Angel Chen Wai-yeng also stars in the movie. This quickly compiled Shaw film was in direct competition with Golden Harvest's own version of this hit TV show. The Shaw Brothers release also beat his competitors film to theaters by a few months. Incidentally, John Woo was involved in the production of Harvest's version.


THE AVENGING EAGLE promotional spread

Returning to the comfort zone of swordplay cinema, Sun Chung got back to work on what would become his most famous motion picture and one of the greatest martial arts features of all time. THE AVENGING EAGLE was truly something special. Shot concurrently with THE PROUD YOUTH, director Sun no doubt focused the bulk of his attention on this passionately crafted tale of revenge and redemption starring the powerhouse team up of Ti Lung and Fu Sheng with a deliciously evil performance by Ku Feng as the nasty villain. In addition to his sweeping use of tracking shots and slow motion, Sun Chung experimented with a unique editing technique that utilized freeze frame shots at specific points in the movie. Critics apparently took notice as the film won an award for 'Best Editing' at the 16th Annual Golden Horse awards.

Sun Chung rehearses with Ku Feng during the making of THE AVENGING EAGLE

Sun Chung fully embraced his cinematic style in this production and his efforts (as well as everyone else involved) were well rewarded. AVENGING EAGLE was one of four films entered into the 25th Annual Asian Film Festival--The others being Chang Cheh's superlative SHAOLIN RESCUERS (1979), Chu Yuan's lovely SWORDSMAN & THE ENCHANTRESS (1978) and Liu Chia Liang's humanistic kung fu epic HEROES OF THE EAST (1978). The four day festival saw two actors win for their roles in AVENGING EAGLE--Ti Lung won the 'Most Outstanding Actor' award for his role of Chi Min Sing. Fu Sheng also took an award for the 'Highest Achievement For An Actor In An Action Film' for his role as Cho Yi Fan, the vengeance seeking, but remorseful man trailing Chi Min Sing aiding him against the Iron Boat gang. Unfortunately, Fu Sheng was not present at this event possibly due to injuries sustained during filming another picture and his award was accepted by Esther Niu Niu on his behalf.

Sun Chung goes over lines with Shih Szu from THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD

Hitting a home run with a winning formula, Sun Chung was equally successful with yet another strong, overly emotional Wuxia dramatic production. THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD (1979) which again re-teamed Ti Lung and Fu Sheng. Ku Feng returned as well, but played a non martial arts character, but no less sadistic. Chen Hui Min, who played villains in Sun Chung's JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN, THE PROUD YOUTH and GODFATHER'S FURY, essayed an antagonist that was on par with his turn as the Bloody Devil in Sun's return foray into the Wuxia arena.

One of a ten card set for THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD

Shot under the working titles of THE ROMANTIC DAGGER and THE LITTLE DAGGER, the plot concerns a regal prostitute who uses a brash young man and an arrogant swordsman to bring an evil doctor to justice for betraying and killing her brother years before. All the performances are exemplary. Fu Sheng is a bit over the top, but it fits the role. This picture is also notable for being one of two times Fu Sheng had a serious accident on the set. His injury here put another Sun Chung production he was starring in on the back burner, not to be completed and released until 1982. Director Sun again expands on his cinematic techniques he brilliantly showcased in THE AVENGING EAGLE to equally great effect here. The original score is also a highlight with a somber, yet strong main theme sung by Fu Sheng's wife, Jenny Tseng, an actress and popular singer. THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD would end up as one of the directors most successful films at the HK box office.

In the late 1970s, Sun Chung had become one of Hong Kong's hottest directors. He had two major hits on his hands--both starred the dynamic star power of Ti Lung and Fu Sheng, two men who worked incredibly well together and who were close friends off camera. For the directors next venture into Wuxia territory, the cinematic landscape would be a decidedly different affair altogether. The plot concerned a vicious, secretive and ever growing criminal syndicate known as the Chi Sha. Government spies infiltrate the gang and disrupt their operations from within resulting in the gangs members suspecting one another of treachery. One by one, the gangs leaders are snuffed out, but the mastermind behind the organization remains unknown. TO KILL A MASTERMIND utilized most all of Sun Chung's innovations and added one--virtually none of the main cast members were known commodities. In interviews at the time, comparisons were made between Sun Chung's cast of unknowns and Chang Cheh's new crew, the Venoms, which apparently didn't sit well with Sun Chung for whatever reason. Famed screen villain, Wang Lung Wei was the one recognizable face of some repute. Whereas Sun's more recent films accentuated characterization, this new production abandoned it focusing more attention on the brute force of the fight scenes.

Tang Chia goes solo here in the fight choreography and fashions some stellar duels. The likable, reliable and overly friendly action designer was as important to Sun Chung as Liu Chia Liang was to Chang Cheh. Like the elder Liu, Tang Chia eventually pursued his own career in directing, but only when Sun Chung embarked on a few independent action pictures outside the walls of Shaw. Sun's new movie (which went under the working titles of THE SEVEN UNTOUCHABLES and THE SEVEN EVILS) was heavily promoted with a good deal of ballyhoo pushing this new cast of up and coming stars-to-be. Their youth and martial arts backgrounds were promoted as well. Among the cast were several prominent stuntmen who were getting a major push. The most successful of these was Yuen Wah. After nearly two decades in the business, he was finally getting a shot at the limelight. Despite the major marketing and ambitiousness of the production, TKAM failed to ignite at the HK box office and died quickly. Undaunted, Sun Chung moved on, but decided to take a leave of absence from the martial world for more comedic pastures.

*A huge thanks to Kenny for taking time to impart some additional details on HELLO SEXY LATE HOMECOMERS and TO KILL A MASTERMIND for this article.

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