Sunday, August 5, 2012
Tough Guys Files #3: Hwang Jang Lee Part 2
***A Special Thanks to Achillesgirl for translations that helped to make this installment a satisfying piece***
DRUNK MONKEY IN THE TIGER'S EYE was such a resounding success, the monetary floodgates were obliterated with hundreds of similar movies that were more or less remakes, even down to the films titles--DIRTY TIGER, CRAZY FROG (1978), CRAZY HORSE, INTELLIGENT MONKEY (1982), MONKEY FIST, FLOATING SNAKE (1979) and even a SNAKE IN THE MONKEY'S SHADOW (1979).
"This is where your graves are gonna be!"--YOUNG HERO (1980)
But all of these and many others lacked one thing--Hwang Jang Lee and his demolishing repertoire of kicks and powerful fist fighting.
Going back to his alleged difficulty in pulling punches from the previous chapter, one only need watch Hwang in action to see he's putting his all into his movements. It's quite easy to discern he's getting into his part; possibly too much! Still, Hwang obviously had a great rapport with the Yuen clan, among others. In most all of his movies, Hwang is choreographed by the Yuen's; ranging from Yuen Woo Ping to Yuen Shun Yi to Brandy Yuen and Corey Yuen Kwai.
It's here where Hwang Jang Lee was signed on to co-star in one of his best loved movies, DANCE OF THE DRUNK MANTIS (1979). The film was the official sequel to DRUNKEN MASTER. This time, Hwang shared the screen with Yuen Shun Yi, who was pushed up to leading man status ever so briefly. To add additional box office value, the Yuen patriarch, Yuen Siu Tin reprised his drunken beggar role that made him wildly popular in the two Jackie Chan trendsetters just two years before his death.
Having done around 250 movies prior, Old Yuen's career got an amazing kung fu burst late in the game. He forever became associated with this particular beggar character, known as Sam Seed. For whatever reason, Jackie Chan refused to appear, or was too busy with other endeavors, particularly his own directorial debut with the Lo Wei produced THE FEARLESS HYENA (1979). Then again, it could have been he simply didn't want to work with Hwang Jang Lee again.
4. The 'Fanning Legs of Fury' kick is Hwang, while holding the other fighter's wrist, kicking his victim with his leg, but furiously fanning his leg from left to the right while smashing his opponents face in the process.
Tan Tao Liang has a variation of this same kick, but Hwang's is more kinetic. Hwang also did another variation of the 'Furious Fan' during the opening of HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA. Instead of whacking a single man in the face, it's two bruises for the price of one as Hwang's feet sway from one guys face to the other.
"I'm glad you've got here. You can help bury your old man, shit face!"--DRUNKEN MASTER (1978)
DANCE OF THE DRUNK MANTIS didn't replicate the super success of DRUNKEN MASTER, but managed half of that films box office take. Not long after, actor Chen Hung Lieh (famous for playing villains in countless Shaw Brothers swordplay epics and independent features) had turned to directing and, like Hwang would soon do, formed his own production company. This film, which began production sometime in late 1979, was to feature much of the stars and crew that had made the low budget actioners of Seasonal such a success.
This new picture was to reunite Hwang Jang Lee with Yuen Shun Yi and with Pan Ying Zi (numerous Shaw Brothers erotic films and actioners like SWORDSWOMEN THREE from 1970) in a guest starring role. The name of this mysterious movie was MONKEY OVERTAKES MANTIS (photos above and below). Judging by images from ever how much footage was shot indicates it was among the many others that followed in the wake of Jackie Chan's two Seasonal hits.
The Yuen clan, who reportedly demanded high sums at this point in their careers, were hired to do the choreographic duties in an effort to replicate past successes on this new production.
The Yuen's could regularly be seen as background players, or thugs in hundreds of Shaw Brothers movies from the 60s to the late 1970s. Their work on Ng See Yuen's Seasonal movies were the breakout to success that catapulted them to later stardom; particularly Cory Yuen Kwai and the most successful of the bunch, Yuen Woo Ping.
Hwang Jang Lee's look is different in this one as the accompanying photos attest. He's clean shaven, but I presume still the bad guy with Yuen Shun Yi as the hero.
It would seem the life of Chen's Brothers Film Company was short-lived as there's no record that MONKEY OVERTAKES MANTIS was ever released, or even completed for that matter.
Chen Hung Lieh's last known directed effort was 1979s THE BONE CRUSHING KID and no mention of this MONKEY title on either his, or the stars' long list of credits. It's one of those great mysteries of HK cinema. With such a bang up cast and behind the scenes pedigree, one would think this movie would have surfaced had it been completed. Then again, it may have come out and simply disappeared like some of these movies tend to do.
5. This next kick is not only a punishing blow, but it's also a bit humiliating for those who get caught with it. It too, has some variables. Essentially, Hwang catches an opponent by using one of his legs as a tentacle, or lasso. While holding the victim in a downward position with his leg wrapped around their head or arm, Hwang pounds away at them with kicks from his other leg, or punches from his free hand!
A variation of this sees Hwang holding onto one man while kicking the holy hell out of a second opponent with his free leg. While that second guy writhes in pain, Hwang then focuses his wrath on the man trapped in a head lock by his other leg.
This is one of Hwang's more versatile, spectacular kicking displays. I call this one 'In the Clutches of the Dragon'. This kick also applies to catching an opponents weapon, thereby opening them up to a painful attack from Hwang's fists, or his free leg. This is also one of Hwang's most oft used attacks and one of the most unusual, not to mention impressive when seen in execution.
"Come here and lick my feet and I might consider letting you go... lick... QUICK! Lick it!"--MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1983)
While Hwang Jang Lee became notorious for getting a little too carried away in his fight scenes, he often worked with the same co-stars on multiple movies.
Hwang co-starred with his SECRET RIVALS nemesis, John Liu in a few additional flicks for other independent companies such as SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION and INSTANT KUNG FU MAN (both 1977) for Fortuna Film Company and INVINCIBLE ARMOR (1977) for Lai Wah Company; the latter production being directed and written by Seasonal's owner Ng See Yuen and looking virtually identical to any of Seasonal's output at the time. I guess that's the Ng Touch.
"I don't give a damn who you are... you're gonna die!"--INSTANT KUNG FU MAN (1977)
THE INSTANT KUNG FU MAN, also from 1977, had the look and feel of a Seasonal picture even down to the participation of the Yuen's doing the choreography. The films climax is also in the same surreal valley location where the finale of THE SECRET RIVALS 2 took place.
The storyline is a bit more complex than normal about two brothers, the oldest a criminal, the other a cowardly trickster. The elder sibling sends his brother to Shaolin to learn kung fu, but he could care less and eventually escapes the temple. A student well versed in kung fu is sent after him.
The elder brother is partnered with Hwang Jang Lee's character and betrays him. Hwang runs off to train (that's an unusual element) to take revenge. In a bad case of mistaken identity, the clownish brother goes around pretending he is a kung fu master and attracts the attention of the vengeance seeking character played by Hwang.
In addition to Hwang having to go train to take revenge, John Liu isn't in this movie as much as you'd expect. He crops up late in the final fight to deliver a few kicks and that's it. This pictures end fight is an explosive piece of ferocious choreography at times, which flies in the face of the lighter tone of the preceding 90 minutes.
6. 'Embracing the Dragon's Fury' kick is a simpler form of 'In the Clutches of the Dragon'.
This attack is essentially Hwang placing his right leg behind a victims neck as if they're resting their head on a pillow. He then sends them flying backwards with his left leg straight to their face or chest. This maneuver is usually preceded by a slew of kicks to various body parts.
There's also a variation of this blow. Sometimes, as pictured above, the opponent is caught from the rear; a dangerously precarious position.
"May I present my friends... Red Man... and Green Man!"--DRAGON'S CLAWS (1979)
Hwang also worked with the youngest of the famous Liu (Lau) family, Jimmy Liu, in the lesser known THE FEARLESS DUO (1978) and the Joseph Kuo favorite DRAGON'S CLAWS (1979); two films out of hundreds of others that mimicked the silliness of SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW and its buffoonish Jackie Chan clown character.
Hwang fought a lot more than usual in the latter film. He was also a slightly less insidious villain than normal, but this doesn't take anything away from how powerful he comes off in his fight scenes. This was down to him preferring to kill a man after he'd either returned to good health, or actually learned kung fu sufficiently before Hwang sent them to hell.
"You were lucky you got away the last time. But today no one escapes!"--THE FEARLESS DUO (1978)
THE FEARLESS DUO is quite possibly the weirdest movie to feature Hwang Jang Lee. The plot is very basic, if stripped to the barest essentials. The family of two sisters is murdered by Ghost Leg (Hwang Jang Lee). The kung fu fighting sisters later fight him and cripple one of his legs in the process just prior to making their escape.
The two women then spend years searching for Ghost Leg again to finish the job till they cross paths with a young punk who is anally raped by the ghost of a famous kung fu hero. Yes, Jimmy Liu has his ass violated in this movie from the same director of the amazing THE REBELLIOUS REIGN (1980).
Hwang Jang Lee has very little to do here till the end, so the filmmakers shoot a scene that shows him as some sort of gangster who runs an Opium syndicate in a local town. The use of two women as major kung fu fighting heroines is a nice change of pace, but having martial arts cinema's supreme leg fighter crippled by them is something else entirely!
However, during the last five minutes of the end battle, they pretty much throw the crippled plot device out the window and Hwang suddenly unleashes a near constant stream of kicks after having lost his bronze walking stick.
After both male and the remaining female have been pounded with dozens of kicks from every possible angle, Jimmy Liu suddenly goes insane immediately after pissing all over himself. Yes, when all else fails and you don't know how to end your movie, simply turn the good guy into a babbling, pissing, homicidal idiot.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3