Sunday, August 5, 2012
Tough Guys Files #3: Hwang Jang Lee Part 3
"Failure means death."--CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER (1980)
In continuing where we left off in Part 2 dealing with the various actors our subject has worked with, Hwang did a few films starring alongside, or under the direction of Bruce Le aka Huang Chien Lung aka Bruce Lee Clone with the Over-Inflated Ego. These films include the modern day efforts CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER (1980) and BRUCE STRIKES BACK (1982). The former is of immense interest.
This sleazy example of Kitsch Fu written and directed by Bruce Le has the major distinction of being the only time you'll ever see Morgan Fairchild, Jack Klugman and Jane Seymour together in a kung fu movie. These three Hollywood stars (and possibly others) converged on some special event in Macau and Bruce and his crew managed to get them on camera and he even shook the hands of Klugman and Seymour!
This bizarre flick sees Le and Mr. Sleepy Eyes himself, Richard Harrison as two "secret agents" out to snatch some secret formula. It's so secret, we never find out what it is or why every villain in Asia and Europe are out to get it. Hwang Jang Lee comes into this mess late, beats up a lot of people (including easily disposing of Bolo Yeung) till a pretty decent fight with Le at the end.
The sheer volume of nudity redefines gratuitous and all the globetrotting gives a lot of production value to what is otherwise a lame attempt at a hard 'R' kung fu spy picture. Thankfully, Bruce Le doesn't showboat near as bad as he does in some of his other movies, but Hwang, for what little time he is given in this picture, is a rather mean bastard.
Another Bruce Lee clone who was just as prolific was the musclebound Dragon Lee. Hwang worked with him on at least three occasions in the 1980s. These include SECRET NINJA, ROARING TIGER (1982), 5 PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS (1983) and MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1983). Of these three, 5 PATTERN is arguably among the best work Hwang Jang Lee has ever done. He's something of a dark haired Pai Mei in this one. At one point, he grabs two men in their upper region using a claw form. The two fighters then piss all over themselves and die! Hwang also does an array of kicks with his hands behind his back. His character is incredibly arrogant and some of his kicks even set people's clothes on fire!
7. 'Piercing Shadow Breaks the Formation' uses a single leg to break through a block by an opponents hands or arms opening them up to a forceful straight kick to the upper body. This kick has some variance, too. Sometimes Hwang will leap into the air and use his opposing leg to instill damage before he even touches the ground.
This kick is most often shown in slow motion. It appears to be a simple enough strategy, but at full speed, it's rather impressive seeing Hwang kick, then twist his foot and break through a block and straight into an adversaries chest, or sternum.
"The famous technique of the knaves... is that all?"--TWO FISTS AGAINST THE LAW (1980)
Hwang had a good rapport with Meng Hoi and shared the screen with him on both the fan favorite THE DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS (1979) aka HELL'S WIND STAFF and the Qing Era BUDDHA ASSASSINATOR (1980), one of Hwang's least successful movies in Hong Kong theaters.
Meng would later contribute to the choreography and as a stand-in in Hwang's directorial debut, the lively and well paced HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA (1981).
Tino Wong is another HK actor who is seen regularly working with Hwang Jang Lee in his movies. This actor was in dozens of Shaw Brothers productions in various bit player roles. He got some decent screen time as an ill fated Shaolin fighter in Chang Cheh's superb SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS in 1974.
It wasn't until working at Seasonal did Tino Wong finally get a role of substance; that being the HJL movie, SECRET RIVALS 2 (1977). INVINCIBLE ARMOR was another from the same year. In the former, Tino took the role vacated by Don Wong Tao. For the latter, he played a righteous constable trying to solve a frame up involving John Liu's character while Hwang's white haired villain waits in the wings.
Speaking again of white haired martial arts masters, Philip Ko Fei co-stars as a white haired character, too. Tino Wong also briefly fought Hwang Jang Lee in a flashback sequence in the little discussed THE FEARLESS DUO (1978). In addition, he took sizable supporting roles in SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW, DRUNKEN MASTER, YOUNG HERO (1980) and in Hwang Jang Lee's auspicious debut behind the camera, HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA.
"One of us will die. Care to make bets on who?!"--HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA
HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA is a special picture in the actors career as he both produced and directed it in addition to starring in it as the hero; something he didn't do very often. This was also his first, and apparently only movie he did for his own production company.
HITMAN showed Hwang to be quite an accomplished filmmaker; surprisingly better than some non martial artist directors in Asian cinema.
The picture is structured like a real movie, unlike so many other independently produced actioners. There was no setting up a finale in the opening five minutes followed by an hours worth of inconsequential filler. The characters were built and expanded upon making for a much better viewing experience. Unlike many of his other movies, Hwang gets to show off his fabulous kicking skills here on numerous occasions. There was also an alternate version made for the Korean market, a practice that wasn't unusual for Asian cinema.
Hwang enjoyed his first directing gig and wanted to do it again. He would get the chance to do so upon signing with the Shaw Brothers (although this grand opportunity didn't pan out as expected), but we'll get to that later.
8. 'Talons Crushing the Rock' is a variation on 'Piercing Shadow Breaks the Formation'. Only instead of using his legs to pierce a block, Master Hwang simply leaps into the air and uses both of his feet like pincers, or claws to smash the other fighter on both sides of his head.
The distinction of this particular maneuver is that it is painful even if blocked. While a fighters equilibrium is temporarily disrupted, it leaves them open to another attack.
Hwang Jang Lee was most famous for playing villains and played them extremely well in several dozen movies of Hong Kong and Korean origin. He was such a formidable presence onscreen, and his kicking abilities so spectacularly effective, that it was near impossible to believe the films hero, or heroes, could take him down.
What's disconcerting about this is that in quite a few of Hwang's movies, he's abruptly defeated in some laughable fashion, or the good guy essentially cheats to get the upper hand! The skills the myriad number of protagonists had to learn generally proved ineffectual in defeating Hwang's characters.
"You've got guts! Ha! It's good you're here... I'm expecting you!"--TIGER OVER WALL (1981)
One of the most questionable instances being the blistering finale of Lu Chin Ku's highly recommended TIGER OVER WALL (1981). This is one of those kung fu flicks (based on a true story no less!) where it was obvious there was no script, or at the very least the one used likely changed on the fly.
The bulk of the storyline concerns incredible violence spurred on by a mere missing dog belonging to a wealthy foreigner! Being framed for dog-napping by corrupt lawmen will get your balls branded in this movie. Talk about extreme. The villains (not just Hwang) are some of the most sadistic ever seen in these movies. The opening shot tries to remind viewers of Bruce Lee's FIST OF FURY (1971) with a sign that reads "Warning: Chinese and dogs not allowed"!
Philip Ko, who likewise specialized in dirty villain roles, plays the hero for a change. He has an incredible final battle with Hwang Jang Lee. Master Hwang has the upper hand throughout and really unleashes his Fists and Feet of Fury on Ko during the closing moments of this fight.
The end result is very un-hero like, but appeared necessary considering Ko's ass was being fed to him with a big spoon. That big spoon being Hwang Jang Lee's right leg.
Below is a sampling of 11 other "notable" examples of Hwang Jang Lee being too damn formidable onscreen resulting in the good guy abandoning those wholesome values and training of those films previous thirty minutes. In short, they resort to cheap tactics to take out the best and baddest bad guy on the Asian continent:
***WARNING! There are spoilers for the following 11 films. You may want to skip this section if you haven't already seen the movies***
1. SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION--After a spectacular battle against John Liu and Yip Fei Yeung where Hwang unleashes a flurry of his cache of kicks, he's unceremoniously stabbed in the back(!) allowing John Liu to easily defeat him.
2. THE INSTANT KUNG FU MAN--For about 10 minutes, Hwang Jang Lee unleashes his leg fury on Yip Fei Yeung (encoring from SNUFF BOTTLE), who played his treacherous partner. Turning his attention to Yip's twin brother, the clown prince who knows no kung fu, Hwang makes a fatal error. A magnetic ring concealed in a hat keeps Hwang from using his leg (his boot contained a retractable blade). A hidden poisonous snake ticks Hwang's clock closer to death till John Liu suddenly arrives and gets in a few kicks before Hwang expires.
3. THE FEARLESS DUO--During the finale of this bizarre obscurity, Hwang Jang Lee wipes the floor with the remaining hero and heroine till the hero (played by Jimmy Liu) pleads insanity and defeats Hwang rather abruptly and confusingly.
It's one of a few times the protagonists in Hwang's movies lose all touch with reality since the filmmakers couldn't come up with anything better to satisfyingly show Hwang being defeated in a believable fashion.
Also, it's the first and only time I can recall seeing a good guy's penis erupt in a geyser of piss as his mental faculties dissipate. But then this movie was apparently made by a crew who were a bit insane in the membrane themselves. The scene of Jimmy Liu being ass raped by a male kung fu fighting ghost still haunts me.
4. THE DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS--Hwang Jang Lee dominates the entire fight for around 15 minutes till Meng Hoi literally goes ape shit and vanquishes Hwang in a spectacularly gruesome fashion. It's about as plausible as the identical finale of DREADNAUGHT (1981) where Yuen Biao has to go insane to defeat Yuen Shun Yi, a psychotic kung fu master.
5. BUDDHA ASSASSINATOR--Meng Hoi again. This time he has to throw dirt in Hwang's face to gain the upper hand while his teacher holds Hwang's leg. This sort of antic would crop up in a lot of indy kung fu movies; the good guys, thoroughly exhausted, resorting to alternative means to pull out a win.
6. CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER--Hwang loses control of a car while running off with "the formula" to get away from Bruce Le. His vehicle topples over a mountain then explodes with Hwang still in it.
7. LACKEY & THE LADY TIGER--This all around lackluster movie sees Hwang, in the closing seconds of the film, distracted by a projectile thrown by an old man that seemingly hypnotizes Our Man From Korea long enough for the beyond bland Mars to leap on top of him and finish him off in undignified fashion.
8. EAGLE'S KILLER--Hwang obliterates John Chang, showing him who's boss for around ten minutes till he grabs a conveniently placed large rock slab to incapacitate Hwang's lethal leg. After this, the fight is over rather quickly.
9. NINJA IN THE DRAGON'S DEN--The power of naked breasts defeats Hwang, here playing a black magic boxer. A girl's kimono is opened by our two filthy mouthed heroes and bad optical effects shoot out and zap the shit out of him.
10. DUEL OF ULTIMATE WEAPONS--Good guy suddenly gains the power to kick ass after tossing leaves into Hwang's face. Yes, leaves. Strewn judiciously among the wintery grass. Apparently this films hero did his homework and previously watched BUDDHA ASSASSINATOR.
11. MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE--Dragon Lee studies hard to defeat the evil Wu Tang fighter played by Hwang Jang Lee. Hwang's Panther Fists are talked about, but his kicks do the bulk of the talking for him.
Anyways, Dragon Lee is unable to beat Hwang till some monk jumps into the fight and holds Hwang's legs so Dragon Lee can quickly pound him into pulp. Hwang dies rather quickly, most probably because his presence was required for another Filmark production.
The overtly lackadaisical final moments leading up to the expiration of Hwang's villain characters leave one with the impression that the actor didn't like the way he was exiting his pictures.
Considering how much gusto he puts into his fights, his death scenes are lazy by comparison. Who could blame him, though, especially when the good guys, who have trained in some special style to beat him, are unable to do so. I do not think the Asian action film genre has ever had a more fearsome villain. Producers were likely cognizant of this which is possibly why some of Hwang's end fights finish up on an anti-climactic note. More Hwang Jang Lee to come in part 4!
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 4.