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Monday, August 6, 2012

Tough Guys Files #3: Hwang Jang Lee Part 4

***A special thanks to Achillesgirl for taking the time to translate articles to make this a more interesting installment***

"People say that Chinese kung fu is the best, but I think it's a whole load of rubbish!"--YOUNG HERO (1981)

The antagonist roles for the Korean Kicking King kept coming, surfacing as if they were being sent down a conveyor belt.

These ranged from the Ming vs. Qing Era kung fu'ers like THE BUDDHA ASSASSINATOR (1980) to the dozens that cloned the formula introduced by SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978); like the star-studded THE DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS (1979), TWO FISTS AGAINST THE LAW, YOUNG HERO (where Hwang plays a Japanese fighter!), LACKEY & THE LADY TIGER (all 1980) and THE EAGLE'S KILLER (1981). That last title starred John Chang in the Jackie Chan role playing a naive bumpkin who is deviously sold as a sex slave by Ghost Hand, Lo Hsin played by Hwang Jang Lee!

"Listen... you give me those two damned brats, and you will live!"--THE DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS (1979)

Lu Chin Ku's THE DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS (1979) is an exceptional film from this time period. The story is modified slightly from the typical revenge formula, but benefits from a bang up cast of old hands and up and comers. The choreographers are the Yuen's yet again. The powerhouse fight co-ordinators, Chien Yueh Sheng and Hsu Hsia join them.

Hwang Jang Lee stands out as the merciless Lu Shan. Not only does he showcase his devastating kicking array, but also the styles, 'the Devil Rod' and 'the Devil Claws'. So not only are his hands and feet on display, but also some bone crushing pole work.

Among the cast is fellow Korean superstar, Kwan Young Moon, who plays an old kung fu master who was crippled by Hwang years earlier. He joins the fight late in the game and turns it into a three on one battle to the death. This also opens up opportunities for Hwang to cut loose with his cache of kicks.

Kwan would feature more prominently as a slightly younger good guy in YOUNG HERO (1981) and as one helluva sadist in BLOOD CHILD (1982); both films co-starring Hwang Jang Lee as a villain and hero respectively.

9. The 'Shadow Enters the Light' kick is a deceptive maneuver Hwang Jang Lee uses quite a lot in his movies.

No doubt this is an essential move to throw an opponent off their game. Hwang basically sidesteps the fighter and kicks them in the back, or around the shoulders before they have time to react, or even realize what has happened. Hwang Jang Lee can be seen pulling off this maneuver standing still, or running towards his targets.

THE EAGLE'S KILLER is particularly unique in that it's very much like both SNAKE IN EAGLE'S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER. John Chang is in the Jackie Chan role and Hwang is yet again playing a hired assassin. There's even a kung fu disco soundtrack. However, Hwang is a bit more evil here and more of a 'Thunder Leg' than he was playing character bearing that name in DRUNKEN MASTER (1978).

RING OF DEATH (1980), another Seasonal film, is a bit of a disappointment as Hwang Jang Lee is barely in it. This is a Cliff Lok flick bearing some scripting elements very similar to DANCE OF DEATH (1976) and ODD COUPLE (1979). The mighty boots of Master Hwang don't even make their presence known till the end in a battle atop the title destination. A similar contraption was put to much greater effect in the superior DRAGON ON SHAOLIN TOWER (1980). Hwang plays a fighter for the Russian military and plays the cookie cutter bad guy very well during the last 30 minutes till the bland Cliff Lok gains the upper hand on him.

"I have some things... to attend to!"--LACKEY & THE LADY TIGER (1980)

LACKEY & THE LADY TIGER (1980) aka FEARLESS KID & THE LADY TIGER sees Hwang Jang Lee faring a bit better, even if the movie itself is disposable fluff. Outside of Hwang's participation, it's notable only for being a rare lead role for Mars (Huo Hsing). The movie itself is yet another tiresome, by the numbers imitation of SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978) with near endless scenes of annoying comedic shenanigans. It even reuses the plot device of a naive student unwittingly giving out the location of their master to the villain who wants to kill him.

It's nearly an hour into the movie before we see Hwang for the first time. He's been in prison for ten years for thievery, kidnapping and murder. Once he's out, he goes after the kung fu master who put him in jail.

Mars makes neither a good lead, nor a charismatic hero. His method of learning kung fu by repeatedly tossing a cat into the air and studying it as it flips and tumbles its way to the ground is one of the dumbest scripting choices ever utilized in one of these movies; it's also modified from the 'Cat Kung Fu' seen in SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW and now called the "Anti-Judo Power Cat's Paw Kung Fu" Mars dubs it during the closing moments. Mars does however make a great punching and kicking bag for Hwang Jang Lee; who incorporates an offshoot of Judo into his fighting technique. Without Master Hwang, this movie would be utterly forgettable and a waste of time.

Playing a hero offered relatively few prospects for Hwang Jang Lee, although he was just as good in those roles. Putting on the shoes of a protagonist meant he would likely be onscreen more, which was also a great benefit for his fans.

This was the case in the aforementioned HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA (1981) and also in RAGING RIVALS (1981) aka HARD BASTARD. This particular movie gave the star a chance to not only play a good guy, but cut loose his usual hard edged persona and engage in some comedy and frequent costume changes.

The films trailer gives more of a plot than the actual film itself does. Something to do with gangsters and some street performers who are hassled by them till Hwang steps in and helps them out. As bad as this film is from a narrative stand point, it's arguably Hwang's best movie in terms of him getting to do comedy, play a good guy and kick an amazing amount of ass all at the same time.

He also played a good guy of sorts in the abysmal modern day movie SECRET EXECUTIONERS (1982). The movie lacks a plot, too, and is a confusing mess that begins with an hilariously shoddy fight scene that's a top contender for worst choreography in a martial arts film. Not even Hwang Jang Lee can salvage this one.

BLOOD CHILD (1982) aka FIVE FINGERS OF STEEL fares much better and that's because Godfrey Ho was nowhere around to muck it up. Hwang isn't in the movie all that much aside from being seen crushing coconuts and landscaping with his powerful kicks that clear trees with the greatest of ease. He also comes to the rescue during the intense final fight.

Hwang worked behind the scenes here as one of the films two fight choreographers. This one is also of special interest in that fellow Korean boot master, Kwan Young Moon, plays the main villain (with a retractable knife hidden in his shoe) and he and Hwang tussle and trade mucho kicks at the end. This is also one of the more intense final fights most likely due to the onscreen charisma and kicking ferocity of both Hwang Jang Lee and Kwan Young Moon.

10. Another kick Hwang Jang Lee can be seen doing frequently is the 'Double Kick of Death'. Here, he kicks an adversary in the stomach with a single leg. Then he leaps into the air, and with his free leg, kicks the man in the side of the head.

There's also a variation of this kick. Hwang forgoes the strike to the stomach and instead leaps into the air rapidly kicking his opponent with both legs, one after the other, before touching the ground. This is a basic "two stepper" that always leads into combo string of other lethal kicks.

"Chinese kung fu... RUBBISH!"--YOUNG HERO (1980)

Kwan appeared in several of Hwang's movies including his early Korean features. A couple of years prior to BLOOD CHILD, both these super kickers swapped places so to speak in YOUNG HERO (1980). Kwan played the good guy and Hwang Jang Lee was a vicious fighter from Japan wandering China destroying any kung fu schools he came across.

Kwan was an imposing figure in his own right and went to Shaw Brothers before Hwang Jang Lee, who followed suit a short time later. He is also notable for at one time being Sylvester Stallone's martial arts trainer and a friend of Muhammed Ali's.

It's worth noting that the fight between Hwang and Kwan Young Moon is far lengthier and more extravagant in YOUNG HERO than in BLOOD CHILD. However, the fight in the latter film is possibly more intense considering how sadistic Kwan's rapist, baby murdering character is throughout the film. Both films and their final fights are well worth checking out.

Furthermore, Hwang's Japanese fighter (who constantly talks about how Chinese kung fu is rubbish!) is little more than a standard screen bad guy. Kwan's bad guy in BLOOD CHILD is given more depth and infinitely more evil in their two big screen pair offs (they also exchange blows in DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS). The producer of BLOOD CHILD, Lo Chia Po, also directed YOUNG HERO, and, to my knowledge, is his only directing credit.

"That damn bitch did it to me! She's lucky she got away, but I'll get her! Damn bitch!"--THE FEARLESS DUO (1978)

After finishing up his directing gig with HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA (1981), Hwang was signed to a contract by Runme Shaw with the stipulation he would get to direct again, something he seemed rather excited to do.

Production on KID FROM KWANGTUNG (1982), which began shooting under the title of CHIN NA (a devastating martial arts style involving a lot of joint locks), was already underway. This was Hwang's Shaw Brothers debut as a co-star. After years of toiling away on small, yet profitable independent features, Korea's supreme kicker was now with the majors; even if Shaw's were at a low ebb around this time. This picture reunited the indomitable Hwang with Chang Chin (the Butcher Boy from FLAG OF IRON), who gave support in YOUNG HERO from 1980 and many other indy features that had Hwang as the lead antagonist.

KID FROM KWANGTUNG paired Master Hwang with lead star Wong Yu, an actor who was well known, but never attained superstar status to the degree of such actors like Chen Kuan Tai or Fu Sheng. The two got on well and Hwang intended to use him as the lead in his Shaw Brothers directorial debut.

From choreographer turned director Hsu Hsia, KID FROM KWANGTUNG had a spectacular cast of real martial artists and crisp direction from the man who likewise helmed LION VS. LION (1981) and GHOSTS GALORE (1982). The film also displayed some of Hwang's best kicks ever captured onscreen. Despite taking three people to take him out, the way Hwang is vanquished is a bit of a cheap coda, but not quite as nonsensical as in some of his indy features. But then he's so formidable here (as in other movies) there's really no other way.

Among this films cast are Yen Shi Kwan (he worked with Hwang on DANCE OF THE DRUNK MANTIS and BLOOD CHILD), the lovely Yang Pan Pan, Yuen Te and Kuan Feng. That last actor was one of the great unused in Shaw Brothers movies save for his incredible performance in Lo Mar's MONKEY KUNG FU (1979). Kuan has always reminded me of Hwang Jang Lee and in this film, the two of them meet. Unfortunately, Hwang makes incredibly short work of Kuan in this movie.

11. Hwang's 'Windmill Kick' is a series of outside crescent kicks delivered repeatedly at ferocious speed to his adversaries head. These usually finish up with a jumping side kick, or some other punishing blow that sends the poor recipient to the ground.

The 'Pendulum Kick' is a variant of the 'Windmill Kick'. For this version, Hwang Jang Lee will attack with an outside crescent kick, then an inside crescent and back and forth with the same level of speed and aggressiveness.

Having already done some prep work the previous two months, production was set to begin in October of 1982 on the tentatively titled BLOODSHED IN GOLD TOWN.

Only Wong Yu and a Korean actress had been cast at that time. The Korean actress was the then Miss Korea; Mandarin name of Xuan Zhi Hui. Having never met her before, he spotted her in a newspaper and decided she was to be one of the female stars of this movie. Of course with her being a beauty pageant winner, her role required nudity.

In a Southern Screen interview, Hwang boasted that his directing debut with Shaw Brothers would be unlike any other martial arts film seen up to that point. He also said that there would be more plot and acting to accentuate the fight scenes.

While fans have been divided over Wong Yu being cast in KID FROM KWANGTUNG as the villains main adversary, Hwang wanted Wong Yu because he was a good actor and could also rise to the occasion for the action sequences. Regardless, Hwang also stated he preferred working with all Korean casts as opposed to Hong Kong crews because of the language barrier. For BLOODSHED IN GOLD TOWN, Wong played the apprentice to a villainous coffin maker. Sadly, for reasons unknown (possibly the casting Hwang desired fell through), this production never quite got off the ground and was abandoned.

"What's wrong? Snake getting tired?! It seems our old snake is ready to die!"--SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978)

While KID FROM KWANGTUNG was a decent box office success bringing in roughly HK3.2 million dollars (Hsu Hsia's LION VS. LION brought in a respectable HK3.4 million the year before), Hwang was set to appear in Hsu's next film, GHOSTS GALORE (1983) where he took a role not to dissimilar from the throwaway evil magician role he essayed in the successful NINJA IN THE DRAGON'S DEN (1982).

There's been a long standing rumor that Hwang Jang Lee abruptly exited Shaw Brothers studio because of an argument with Mona Fong. Depending on which story you hear, some say he slapped her, or put his hands on her in some way. According to the man himself (via ANONYMOUS KING director, Jon-James Hodson), Hwang Jang Lee stated he never got into a fight with Mrs. Fong, nor would he ever put his hands on a woman. He went on to say he still receives checks from Shaw Brothers so if there had been any problems with them, he would not continue to get money from them. Whether these are royalties or from some business venture is unknown at this time.

At some point in 1982, Hwang Jang Lee would leave Hong Kong for the greener pastures and lower budgets of Korea where he would hook up with the Trifecta of Terrible, Godfrey Ho, Joseph Lai and Tomas Tang.


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