"We want to show our foreign fans that, although the Chinese people are small in stature, we are good fighters..."-- Liu Chia Liang in Southern Screen, July 1977 page 30.
|Shooting the opening scene of 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN|
Liu's magnum opus took 3 months to complete and employed upwards of 500 extras. All the hard work paid off handsomely, as the film was a huge success. The directors devotion to Chinese martial arts is embedded in virtually every frame. It's a brilliant movie from a brilliant director.
Chang Cheh's massive Shaolin spectacle was episodic in structure detailing an array of characters and featuring many training sequences leading up to a 30 minute battle at the end. When Liu Chia Liang made 36TH CHAMBER, his film was equally sprawling, but put the central focus on a single character -- the historical monk, San Te essayed to perfection by Gordon Liu. He magnified the amount of kung fu training sequences going into much greater detail than had been seen before. What was ingenious about this was that through the meticulous, and varied training methods (detailing how the monks became martial arts masters) San Te endures, the character is gradually built before our eyes. It's one of the most fascinating character arcs ever seen in a martial arts film. You're virtually watching a young boy grow up to be a man within a two hour time span. It's easy to see why this film is so well regarded today.
|Behind the scenes on 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN with Master Liu Chia Liang (middle)|
|Master Liu cuts his adopted brothers hair for his iconic role.|
ALL IN THE FAMILY: JIMMY LIU CHIA YUNG (real name: Ho Chi-hung)
|DRAGON'S CLAWS (1979)|
|THE TIGRESS OF SHAOLIN (1979)|
|L-R: Master Liu, David Chiang, Cecilia Wong; SHAOLIN MANTIS|
It sets up a bewildering arc that confuses the audience on how they should feel regarding the lead character. It's both a unique plot contrivance, and also the films greatest detriment. Liberties are also taken in the creation of the Mantis style. It's simply a bizarre movie all around, but a rather daring experiment for the esteemed director.
|Liu Chia Yung (left) fights David Chiang (right) during finale of SHAOLIN MANTIS|
|David Chiang (left) battles Gordon Liu (right) in SHAOLIN MANTIS|
Speaking of Gordon Liu, his bald head became such an iconic image, that to see him in a movie sporting a head full of hair seemed downright bizarre. And seeing him with hair in his next movie is at first odd, but it's such a great film, you soon separate the familiarity of San Te from Gordon Liu.
|Cast photo for Liu Chia Liang's production of HEROES OF THE EAST|
|Gordon Liu and Yuka Mizuno promoting HEROES OF THE EAST|
Peppered with highlights, the Shaw's were apparently confident they had another hit on their hands as HEROES OF THE EAST was heavily promoted in their magazine publications. The Japanese heavy cast was ballyhooed to a great degree, most especially the participation of Yasuaki Kurata and the gorgeous model, Yuka Mizuno.
|L-R: Gordon Liu, Yuka Mizuno, Liu Chia Liang|
From here on out, Liu Chia Liang's movie career would be dominated by kung fu pictures saturated with increasingly grating comedy shenanigans. The films themselves were a delight in the intricacies of the fight sequences, but often the heavy-handed humor made for a difficult viewing experience at times. Save for one motion picture, all of Liu's Shaw movies from this point on would contain a thick aura of comedy, or operate as kid friendly entertainment.
This was readily apparent in Liu's next two movies -- DIRTY HO and MAD MONKEY KUNG FU (both 1979). The humor is concentrated in the former -- born out of certain characters parcel to some jarringly bizarre battles; but it points towards the sort of extreme silliness Liu's movies were angling for in subsequent pictures. The latter is non-stop action laced with near constant goofiness.
|Behind the scenes on DIRTY HO; Liu Chia Liang at right|
DIRTY HO features some of the directors most creative choreography; most particularly in the 'congenial duels' found throughout -- a number of fights take place while hidden under the guise of a friendly conversation. For example, everyone else is oblivious to the fact that two men are trying to kill each other while sharing their love for art!
Both here and in MAD MONKEY KUNG FU, Master Liu devises creative fighting sequences that are enhanced by the artfully designed Shaw sets. MAD MONKEY KUNG FU is a particularly irritating movie, but the fights save it, and that's really all it has going for it. Liu Chia Liang not only directed and designed the plethora of action, but he took the lead role, as well. Master Liu often took small roles in his films, but this was the first time he'd taken the lead. His student, Hsiao Hou, co-stars (see above photo), but he fails to be a memorable presence despite being an incredible acrobat and kung fu performer. The film is very popular among fans, and it probably has the most action of all the films on the directors resume.
DISCIPLES OF THE MASTER: HUI YING HUNG
|Hui Ying Hung both castrates and guts Wang Lung Wei in 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER|
|L-R: Hui, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien; INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN|
In 1979, Lo Lieh was given an opportunity to fulfill his dream of directing a film solely of his own. That particular movie was CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS (1980). Operating as something of a sequel/remake of Liu Chia Liang's EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1977), the revered Master Liu helped out his friend by choreographing all the marvelous fight scenes. Lo Lieh even played the White Lotus of the title -- the superior colleague of the now dead White Brow Priest, Pai Mei. The team-up of Lo and Liu (see insert photo) was a much ballyhooed event at the time.
Sometime around the completion of MAD MONKEY KUNG FU (1979), Liu's temperament changed. Despite his wealth (he had an affinity for fancy cars) and popularity, Master Liu became disenchanted with the company. As relayed to Chang Cheh by Sir Run Run Shaw himself, Liu was not "someone for long-term partnerships."
His sense of pride and ego seemingly got the best of him at times. His relationship had soured with Chang Cheh in 1975, and a few years later, the same had happened between him and the Shaw's. Whereas at one time he seemed eager for international appeal, he had now changed that sentiment, too. Still, he remained constant in always displaying traditional Chinese martial arts onscreen with superlative choreography.
Liu left the company briefly to work with his brother on a few independent films under the Lau Brothers Film Company banner. Liu didn't direct any of these, only designed the action sequences. Reportedly, Liu was an avid gambler on horse races, but luck wasn't on his side when it came to making independent movies.
He eventually returned to Shaw's, and to familiar territory, with RETURN TO THE 36TH CHAMBER and MY YOUNG AUNTIE. The Shaw's, obviously excited about the potential of Liu's 36TH CHAMBER sequel, entered the picture at Cannes; but Liu was reportedly not interested in this sort of exposure. It's worth noting that Liu Chia Liang took a huge gamble with RETURN by having Gordon Liu play an entirely different character the second go round.
MY YOUNG AUNTIE (1981) is arguably the more interesting of the two; mostly in the way the director bridges the generation gap while presenting Western influence on Eastern culture. Some fans dislike Fu Sheng for his impish antics, but Liu Chia Liang lets his disciple Hsiao Hou run wild seemingly every time. He's a marvel to watch onscreen, but too often he appears to suffer from ADD.
|Liu Chia Liang battles Korean, Kwan Young Moon (right) in MY YOUNG AUNTIE|
|Director Liu instructs Mai Te Lo in MY YOUNG AUNTIE|
|Director Liu on set of MARTIAL CLUB|
|Liu Chia Liang and his brother Liu Chia Yung (right)|
It was around this time that the troubled actor, Alexander Fu Sheng would star alongside his brother, Chang Chan Peng, in Liu Chia Yung's hilarious THE TREASURE HUNTERS (1981). He would also become a pupil of Liu Chia Liang, and star in a few of his movies. This meant there were more overwrought comedy scenarios coming, but also some true kung fu classics. An example of the latter began shooting in May of 1981 as 'The Heroic Family'. With virtually zero humor, it was to be the directors most serious, gloomy work yet; and ultimately proved so in more ways than one.
FINAL INSTALLMENT TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3