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Friday, August 10, 2012

Tough Guys Files #3: Hwang Jang Lee Part 5


When a movie trailer brazenly states, "A masterwork by Tomas Tang and Joseph Lai", that's a HUGE red flag. Anything under the guidance of the Three Stooges of Asian Cinema, Tang, Lai and Ho is set to explode with unintentional hilarity and a beacon for entertainingly bad cinematic quality.--COOL ASS CINEMA

Going back to Korea, Hwang's career then took a bit of a nosedive. He starred in a relentless string of underfunded actioners of Asso Asia origin and for Tomas Tang's Filmark International company with many of these directed (or co-directed with the Korean crews) by none other than Godfrey Ho... or better yet, Godfrey Ho-kum.

Godfrey made dozens of "entertaining" movies; to put it mildly. I do have affection for such mindless celluloid of his such as MAGNIFICENT NATURAL FIST (1981) and FURY IN SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1981).

Hwang was already acquainted with Tang and Ho, as he had previously starred in several movies for them and a third conspirator, the King of Composite himself, Joseph Lai. Those earlier movies were for Asso Asia Films or IFD Film & Arts Limited. Any rabid kung fu fan will no doubt be familiar with this Dynamite Trio after either being suckered, or mesmerized by their undeniably crummy movies. These three didn't always work together, though, as Tomas Tang eventually parted ways with Lai to form his own company, Filmark International. Both men would more or less be in competition with one another to see who could make the shittiest "ninja" movies. In the late 1990s, Tomas Tang was killed in a fire in the office building where his office was located.

"You better tell me, baldy! Where is he!"--5 PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS (1983)


Filmark was a lower budgeted version of Lai's IFD company (if such a thing is possible). While Hwang's earlier movies for these guys were unanimously awful, these later films, while at least offering cool choreo, would never be mistaken for possessing attributes of profundity.

Storylines were recycled from one movie to the next--that is, when Ho-Lai-Tang took time to grace a movie with one--production values were confined to either cramped restaurant sets or some tents and huts out in a field somewhere. The occasional structures likely were already there, which left costumes as possibly the greatest expense on these poverty row productions.

The Korean kung fu movies weren't all that bad, though. The near endless fight scenes guaranteed fans a quick fix.

This was a world where simply looking at someone guaranteed your ass could get kicked. Even ordering a bowl of noodles with an impish smile on your face also proved to be not such a good idea in a Filmark movie.

Dubbing was suitably atrocious. At any given time, peppered throughout the meaningless, monotonous dialog exchanges
are lots of painfully uncreative usage of expletives like "shit face", "bastard" and "son of a bitch".

None of these did much to advance Hwang's career. If nothing else, it gave fans more opportunities to see him profusely bruise up the cast. Hwang's Korean output were approximations of the Hong Kong variants, but were noticeably discernible by their sound effects.

Other clues were the overly Anglicized credits, the simplistic set decor and the even worse dubbed dialog. If all you were looking for were fights, than these movies satisfied that craving. The added ingredient of Hwang Jang Lee only made these meals that much more enticing.

12. The 'Reverse Lightning Kick' is what I call it when Hwang steps onto another man's knee, or upper thigh, spins around and kicks them away with his free leg. This is a variation of the 'Shadow Enters the Light' kick. only instead of sidestepping, he rather arrogantly uses his opponents body as leverage to pummel them.

In TIGER OVER WALL (1981), Hwang alters this move by abandoning the use of his opponents body for leverage and instead spins around and kicks backward as he leaps into the air. This is during the final fight with Philip Ko Fei.

"You'll have to lick my feet again first... or do you think I can't humiliate you still more!"--MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1983)

Hwang's Ho-Lai-Tang output included such modern day winners as BUDDHIST FIST AND TIGER CLAWS (1982); which is a Korean version of THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (1966); SECRET EXECUTIONERS (1982), a film with zero plot, and if there was one, the filmmakers kept it a secret.

Hilarious period pieces like MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1983) were exercises in inanity that, in this films case, used an abundance of musical cues from STAR TREK 2 (1982) that stand out like a sore thumb.

The wigs worn and facial hair pieces are among the most laughable ever seen. The biggest guffaws are derived from this plumply faced rich asshole who stuffs his face full of chicken while torturing a young couple. Bits of chicken gets stuck all in his ridiculously fake handlebar mustache. He also fights with an outrageously large sword he can barely hold up.


Hwang Jang Lee is amazing here, though. He unleashes some unusual kicking techniques he seldom used; these are seen in the beginning. It's a great way to start an otherwise unintentionally hilarious little movie.

Dragon Lee is the hero and he does this goofy move during his fights where he repeatedly smacks himself in the face with his foot(?).

One of the best scenes is around an hour into the movie. Hwang wipes the floor with him and agrees to spare him if he'll lick the bottom of his shoes!

The movie may be hopelessly stupid, but it features an awe inspiring number of varied kicking combinations. Not only that, but it's simply one of the best kicking showcases for Asian cinema's ultimate leg fighter, Hwang Jang Lee.


13. For the 'Eagle Spreads Its Wings' maneuver, Hwang Jang Lee leaps into the air and simultaneously kicks outward with both legs smashing the faces of two opponents.

"You can study kung fu for 20 years but you will never beat me. Me kill a nobody like you? No... it could ruin that good reputation of mine. Bend down you little squirt! Crawl between my legs! Go and clean crud and pissholes!"--DRUNKEN MASTER (1978)

THE 10 BEST OF HWANG JANG LEE

A selection of 10 movies that aren't necessarily the best in terms of overall production, but those that feature the actor at his ass-kicking best, or a film of his that stands out for some other reason.


1. THE SECRET RIVALS (1976)--Hwang Jang Lee was formally introduced beyond the walls of Korea in this fight-filled, fast paced actioner that put legwork at the forefront in choreographic design. The film might be equally as famous for its usage of Morricone's cues from THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966).


2. INVINCIBLE ARMOR (1977)--This intriguing kung fu favorite was riding the coattails of EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1977). It also re-teamed Hwang Jang Lee with John Liu from THE SECRET RIVALS (1976) as well as seeing the Korean Boot Master wearing a white hair-piece once again. One of the actors best films; not just the fights, but plot, sets and direction, too.

3. DRUNKEN MASTER (1978)--While I have no great affection for Jackie Chan, this is the best of Hwang Jang Lee's two times opposite one of HK cinema's biggest attractions. While Hwang doesn't get to cut loose with as wide an array of kicks and spectacular combos as in his other movies, he's still quite the formidable screen presence. The sequence where he humiliates and degrades Chan by forcing him to leave via crawling through his legs is one of the best scenes in the movie.


4. THE DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS (1979)--This Shaw Bros. distributed Lu Chin Ku fan favorite is a superlative indy kung fu flick with a sterling cast and astounding fight choreography. Hwang Jang Lee fights with poles, fists and his repertoire of killer kicks. Typical comedy shenanigans of the time, but the fight scenes and cast make it worthwhile.

5. TIGER OVER WALL (1980)--Another Lu Chin Ku movie, this one is sorely lacking in the scripting department, but more than makes up for it with some of kung fu cinema's most sadistic villain portrayals. Hwang runs a beyond corrupt police department till Philip Ko Fei has had enough and the requisite super kung fu showdown arrives. Hwang is brutal here.

6. RAGING RIVALS (1981)--The movie itself is pretty much nonsensical crap, but it's Hwang in one of those rare good guy turns and he's obviously having a damn good time doing comedy, playing saxophone and donning various costumes.

7. HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA (1981)--Hwang's directorial debut sees him playing a rare good guy role. He's great as the hero and probably should have done more of them. The plot is simplicity, but Hwang's turn behind the camera yields some layering unusual in these independently produced kung fu movies. The fights are superb, too, with a wide variety of Hwang's celebrated footwork.

8. KID FROM KWANGTUNG (1982)--Hwang Jang Lee's first foray at the Shaw Brothers studio is this decently plotted kung fu comedy; typical of the hundreds of others, but benefits from the Shaw's usually high production values. In addition to carrying a jewelry adorned pet cat around with him, Hwang's eyes turn red when he gets angry. Things really kick (haha) into high gear halfway through and Hwang dominates from there on out.

9. 5 PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS (1983)--The movie itself isn't very good, but Hwang Jang Lee really gets to Let Loose the Legs regularly in this movie. And it has that musclebound Dragon Lee behaving strangely as usual. The plot has to do with Hwang trying to lay his feet on a set of coveted kung fu manuals. His kicks are so hot here, they set Dragon Lee's clothes on fire!

10. MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1983)--It was a tough choice between this and SHAOLIN THE BLOOD MISSION. But that film doesn't have Dragon "Kung Fu Seizure" Lee in it, so there you go.

Hwang shines here, too, and that sincerely stupid guy with the cartoon mustache and enormous sword and beyond bad dubbing and lack of a plot and Dragon Lee licking Hwang's shoe all combine to make this a brainlessly essential piece of crappy entertainment.


SHAOLIN THE BLOOD MISSION (1984) is among the best of Hwang's bunch here, actually possessing some semblance of a plot recycled from dozens of HK Shaolin vs. Manchu stories.

Hwang is dutifully evil and when he isn't toting peoples decapitated heads around accompanied by the PSYCHO (1960) music, he's stuffing dynamite down captives pants and blowing them to bits. He also uses women as chess pieces and lashes those he wants to move on the chess board!

There are only a few slow motion shots of Hwang pulling off his kicks in this movie; it's mostly all shown in brutal real time. The Korean superstar is something of an Asian Terminator in this one. It takes three men to take him out.

It's also another case of Hwang dying less dramatically then the pervasive ass kicking he doles out on the desperate heroes. As in a lot of his other movies, there's no exaggerated hanging on, Hwang simply slumps over as if he's going to sleep.

This was also my first exposure to the Super Kicker Sensation getting the opportunity to see this movie at the drive in back in the 1980s.

"I am Dong Won."--DUEL OF ULTIMATE WEAPONS (1983)


RAGING MASTER'S TIGER CRANE (1983) is an obscure movie even by Filmark standards. Hwang returned in yet another white haired bad guy role, this time with a female fighter by his side. Both of them wear these bizarre butterfly masks at the beginning of the movie, but disappear after that. Apparently the bed sheets with holes in them they normally used were all being washed.

The plot about the kidnapping of an artist makes a cameo appearance and is never explained. It's simply an excuse for a lot of fights.

In one scene, the hair department gives Hwang the wrong wig; instead of his dirty white hair piece, he has the typical black hair, but with two silver streaks on both sides. Possibly this sequence is footage from a different movie?

Hwang also does some different things here you never saw elsewhere. One is a kick Cynthia Rothrock made famous; swinging his leg over his shoulder to connect with a poor sap standing behind him. He does this in DEMON STRIKE (1979), but it's obviously a fake leg doing the kicking. Hwang also runs up a tree twice (well, once actually, but this footage is repeated about 30 seconds later) chasing Billy Tsui and does a lot of flipping through the air (or, more accurately, a stuntman).

This film featured some additional cost cutting measures... I can't believe I just typed that. Anyways, Tang pads this movie out by replaying some shots of a fight scene over and over again. This was highly noticeable and kind of annoying. It also might account for the 76 minute running time.


14. 'The Rising Phoenix Burns the Valley' is the phenomenal technique of Hwang leaping up onto two opponents shoulders, kicking them away, then kicking a third adversary approaching the middle. Hwang only did this a few times, but it's so spectacular, it deserves inclusion on this list.

"Ninja can't help you now! It's all over for you you old bastard!"--SECRET NINJA, ROARING TIGER (1982)


The triple threat of Ho-Lai-Tang strike again in yet another Krazy Korean movie mess. This one has elements (haha) of Chang Cheh's FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS (1982) by (poorly) imitating the Earth, Water and Wood ninjas; just one of many independent features that were inspired by Chang's next to last Shaw picture. The stupid ending of NINJA IN THE DRAGON'S DEN (1982) is also trotted out here, too, but minus the light-hearted tone and optical effects.

The plot has something to do with Tiger Hsao (Hwang Jang Lee) kidnapping a girl from a wealthy family who is, unbeknownst to her, part of a ninja society. He tries to bed her down at one point despite proclaiming their clan abstains from women.

Aside from some abundant nudity, Dragon Lee stars delivering yet another kooky performance. The man's participation wouldn't be complete without his hilarious penchant for fidgeting and frenetic shaking like he has a severe anxiety disorder.

The other co-star who I presume is Jack Lam, does his best HJL impersonation as one of the heroes. The fights are good, of course, if only the various plot holes indigenous to Korean kung fu flicks had been filled in.

THE 10 WORST OF HWANG JANG LEE

A selection of 10 movies that are pretty terrible all around. Most are watchable, but there are infinitely better movies to check out that star Korea's Super Kicker King.

1. THE FEARLESS DUO (1978)--One of the dumbest kung fu flicks ever made also has some moments of ingenuity, but the filmmakers fail to capitalize on them, or simply do not care. The latter seems the likely choice. Having the world's greatest kicker have one of his legs crippled was a novel idea, yet this is abandoned during the closing minutes of the final fight and simply forgotten about. The ending is just as absurd as the preceding 80 some odd minutes.

2. THE 36 DEADLY STYLES (1979)--Great title, massively awful movie. One of the genres more incoherent outings, Hwang Jang Lee is totally wasted in this slow death viewing experience. The wigs are hilarious especially two of the villains played by Hwang and Bolo Yueng. Joseph Kuo could normally be counted on to deliver disposable, yet good entertainment on a micro-budget, but he's asleep at the wheel here.

3. DEMON STRIKE (1979)--Piss poor kung fu/magic movie clone of Shaw Brothers' superior KILLER CONSTABLE. For whatever reason, a second plot is added that eventually melds with the main one. Actually, the bizarro storyline about Hwang Jang Lee as a white-haired black magic wizard who shoots laser beams from his palms and into women's vaginal regions is vastly more interesting than the note-for-note, no budget clone of the aforementioned classy Shaw movie.


4. LACKEY & THE LADY TIGER (1980)--Execrable paint by numbers clone of SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978). This one stars Mars in the Jackie Chan role in what amounts to a righteously poor substitution and an extremely poor movie all around. This is yet another production where Hwang Jang Lee doesn't even appear till the film is more than half over. His couple of fight scenes are good of course, but only completists will have the patience to make it to the end.

5. EAGLE VS. SILVER FOX (1980)--Another barely there, skimpily plotted movie that also skimps on HJL action. The film starts off with an exciting fight with Hwang kicking like nobody's business, but then he vanishes for much of the movie till the end. Godfrey Ho commits yet another celluloid crime. Hwang choreographs the action, but more of him in front of the camera was needed for one of the weakest movies on his resume.


6. TOWER OF DEATH (1981)--Bruceploitation at its worst in this Golden Harvest fiasco. It's made all the more offensive in that Bruce Lee was the company's golden goose that kept them from going under. Yet again, Hwang is barely in this movie and when he's onscreen, he's saddled with a ridiculously effeminate mane of hair. If he'd been the member of a metal band, nobody would have noticed. He's never allowed to cut loose with his array of kicks which is all the more surprising in that Yuen Woo Ping (who designed much of Hwang's fights in his earlier HK career) choreographed this crime against kung fu.

7. SECRET EXECUTIONERS (1982)--The absolute bottom of the barrel is this Korean Krud starring Hwang Jang Lee as something of a good guy taking on some gangsters. There's no plot whatsoever, and if there was, I missed it from succumbing to sheer boredom. The opening sequence is worth some great belly laughs, but after that, it nosedives quickly and even Hwang's kicks can't recover it.


8. NINJA IN THE DRAGON'S DEN (1982)--The movie isn't bad, but kung fu cinema's King of Kicks comes into the flick only at the end. His participation is treated mostly as a joke and the scene where he is defeated is likewise played for laughs. The jokey ambiance corrodes the power from HJL's kicks resulting in a fairly average finale.

9. RING OF DEATH (1980)--One of the least interesting Seasonal movies and one of the least of Hwang's roles especially in that, like a lot of others, he doesn't make his presence known till the last twenty minutes or so. And even then, he's merely a component of a tournament. And he gets beaten by Cliff Lok, one of Hong Kong cinemas least interesting lead actors.

10. RAGING MASTER'S TIGER CRANE (1983)--If a 'Worst Of' list was compiled strictly on overall production alone, you could damn near fill it up with Filmark/Asso Asia flicks. Hwang has some great fights here, but his girlish butterfly mask, his disappearing white hair and the redundancy of the final fight earn it a spot on this list.

"What do you think?! You still don't think I can take the position of that shit master Kwok of yours... as the best martial arts fighter in the region?!"--5 PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS (1983)


After finishing up his stint at Filmark with fight-filled flicks like DUEL OF ULTIMATE WEAPONS and FIVE PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS (both 1983), Hwang Jang Lee's star was starting to fade. Not long after, he was seemingly pulled from the movie mire by Sammo Hung, but even then, Hwang's appearances were more to dress up a lead cast that left him in a cameo, or supporting role.

After a few more independent films (like Sammo's WHERE'S OFFICER TUBA?), Hwang found himself under the umbrella of Hong Kong's other big studio giant, Golden Harvest; and his time there was just as brief. Hwang was featured as a Japanese ninja in MILLIONAIRE'S EXPRESS, Sammo's sprawling epic bolstered by a who's who of kung fu cinema excellence.

A mostly throwaway role in D & B's MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS (1987) and a short-lived reunion at Seasonal for 1987s NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 2 (where he played second fiddle to Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock and Matthias Hues) signaled Hwang's career as a big screen super kicker was coming to a close. He did get some time to shine in the classic 'Girls & Guns' cult favorite, ANGEL in 1987. By the time the 90s rolled around, Hwang's career was just about over after 15+ years in show business.

"So... you are dead already..."--SECRET NINJA, ROARING TIGER (1982)

Having proven himself to be kung fu cinemas baddest leg fighter the world has ever seen, Hwang Jang Lee retired from the limelight sometime in the late 1990s and became a successful businessman. Reportedly, he furthered his success with such entrepreneurial endeavors as running a golf tee manufacturing company and a hotel chain.

His popularity with fans has not waned over the years and recently, documentary filmmaker, Jon-James Hodson made the trek to Korea to track down Taekwondo's supreme kick master in what will hopefully be the last word on the man; that film bearing the title of THE ANONYMOUS KING.

Left to right: Dragon Lee, Hwang Jang Lee, director Lee Doo Yong, Casanova Wong; Photo Heroic Sisterhood FB page; whoever actually provided this image, if you read this, please comment below so you can be properly credited.

Regardless of how good or bad his movies might have been, Hwang Jang Lee gave the quality productions a slick sheen with his indomitable fighting skills. The bad films were enhanced by his penetrating charisma and anticipation of when he'd show up to unleash the fury of his vast kicking array. He was, and still is a rare breed in not just Asian action, but action cinema in general. Hwang Jang Lee put the 'Art' in 'Martial Art'. It's doubtful the screen will ever see his like again. And if not, he has left behind a body of work for his fans, and future fans to marvel at his amazing abilities as one of Asian cinema's most formidable screen presences.

THE END

1 comment:

shaolin_drunkard said...

Hi again. Great article. Most interesting thing about this Ho-Tang-Lai enigma is rumor that Tang never really existed. If you read interviews with Godfreys actors on Nanarland site, they never met him. It is very possible that Godfrey made up his false identity to split up two companies, and then “killed him” for taxation fraud.
Pozdrav.

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