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!


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.


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