Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Celluloid Trails: When Hammer Met Shaw; Or Making The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires Part 2



"THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES is a new blockbuster horror film. A mysterious, Hitchcock-style, frightening film sure to be popular with audiences. Since "Chinese Fever" has taken the world by storm, the subjects of Chinese culture, Kung Fu, and ghosts have been turned into a first-class motion picture never before seen in cinema history. British director Roy Ward Baker has skillfully synthesized a gloomy atmosphere of Eastern Kung Fu and Western horror. This unique production is not to be missed."--article promoting the film in Southern Screen, April 1974

CONTINUED FROM PART 1

THE CHOOSING OF THE CHINESE CAST

David Chiang and Ti Lung were two of Shaw's biggest box office attractions at that time. Both from Chang Cheh's stable of superstars, the three were known as the 'Iron Triangle' for the string of hits they'd amassed in the early 1970s. With the global success of KING BOXER (1972), Shaw's gave selected actors a chance to shine internationally during their 2 year co-production stage. Granted, as stated in Part 1 of this article, some of the films afforded them were anything but classy, tasteful pictures.

With LEGEND, David Chiang was being heavily promoted for foreign markets. Occidentals had already seen him on the big screen in TRIPLE IRONS (THE NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN [1971]) and 7 BLOWS OF THE DRAGON (THE WATER MARGIN [1972]) in 1973; both directed by the venerable Chang Cheh. With his turn in the overseas limelight, the young actor was also preparing his directorial debut with THE DRUG ADDICT (1974); a modern day action drama starring Ti Lung, David's frequent costar in those days. 

Filming LEGEND was a learning experience in directing for him, as well doing some directing of his own on the set. "I want to try new things and not follow a single path. I want to make films that deal in the real world", he said in a May 1974 interview following completion of LEGEND. Naturally, Chang Cheh was there on the sidelines to give him both guidance and the script for his directorial debut. Ten years later, David's maiden voyage in the directors chair would be remade as the period kung fu movie, OPIUM AND THE KUNG FU MASTER (1984); once more starring Ti Lung.

Ti Lung would likewise get a shot at international stardom co-starring with Stuart Whitman and Peter Cushing in the second Hammer-Shaw collaboration, SHATTER (1974). 1973 was a good year for Ti Lung. He was often overshadowed by David Chiang, but was rewarded with an Outstanding Performance Award at the 11th Annual Golden Horse Awards in October of 1973 for his role in Chang Cheh's classic action-drama BLOOD BROTHERS. On December 1st, Ti received another trophy for being one of Hong Kong's top ten stars as voted on by a local newspaper (see insert left side). Yueh Hua was among the ten--another popular actor who headlined two of the Shaw co-productions released within that two-year time frame (see insert right side).

In LEGEND, Chiang plays two roles--the great grandfather Hsi Pin An seen in a flashback (see top right insert); and the main character of Hsi Chin. Playing more than one character in GOLDEN VAMPIRES may have given the incredibly busy screenwriter I Kuang the idea to write a script built around this plot device. The following year, David Chiang would play a master of disguise in THE IMPOSTER (1975), an action-thriller directed by former DP-turned-director, Pao Hsueh Li.

Shih Szu was one of Hong Kong's most popular Kung Fu Queens; having taken up the sword put down by Cheng Pei Pei (1966s COME DRINK WITH ME) who had retired from acting in 1970 after completion of  THE LADY HERMIT (only to be lured back to the industry a year later by Golden Harvest, Shaw's chief rival), released in January of 1971. Apparently the British side was looking at other actresses to take the role of Mai Kwei, but went with Shih Szu at Shaw's insistence. Publicizing her as a "budding international star", she had two opportunities to shine on the international stage--first with the aforementioned HK-Italy co-production of SUPERMEN AGAINST THE ORIENT (opposite Lo Lieh) and again on LEGEND. Interestingly, SUPERMEN began production first in April of 1973 but hit theaters in September of 1974 after LEGEND's July release in Hong Kong.

Curious like everyone else as to how this Kung Fu-Horror combo would turn out, Shih Szu enjoyed the experience commenting, "I knew the golden zombies were fake, but with the makeup, costuming, and the atmosphere, I couldn't help feeling scared at times." The bubbly, family-oriented young actress was ready to put her sword away and try more dramatic roles to accommodate her singing and dancing skills, but few of these types of roles came her way. Asked about working with foreigners, Shih Szu remarked, "Foreigners are very funny. It's been like a gathering of friends. We can learn a lot from them. Their makeup for example, is much better than ours on camera. My English is better than the Italians, but the British have me beat!"

LOVE AMONG THE UNDEAD 


In the film, the characters were pairing off for brief on-screen romances in between the vampire battles. Not much was done with the love angle involving David Chiang and Julie Ege; unfortunately not as much as should have been considering their fate during the powerful finale (see above for an alternate shot). More substance was afforded Robin Stewart's and Shih Szu's onscreen attraction. A lakeside love scene was shot between the two but it was cut from the movie; at least in the version released outside of Hong Kong. A Chinese review of the picture remarks about the romanticism of this scene: "The delicate and lively Shih Szu and her lover Robin Stewart chase and play with each other around a lake in the forest. This exotic couple in these surroundings brings a beautiful atmosphere to the film." Much like how Shaw Brothers heavily hyped the groundbreaking lesbian angle of INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN in 1972, they did the same for this love of an Anglo male and a Chinese woman. According to the British side of the production, the scene didn't work so it was edited out. A kiss between them does survive the English version.

Another scene that was cut down was in Vanessa Buren's introduction (played by Julie Ege). There are magazine photos that suggest some additional dialog between she and Liu Hui Ling (see insert), an actress known primarily for erotic and exploitation movies. In Chinese articles for GOLDEN VAMPIRES, it is stated she plays the wife of the British Consul played by Robert Hanna. Onscreen this is never stated; nor do Liu and Robert Hanna share a scene together to give the impression they are a married couple. Liu Hui Ling doesn't even have any lines so these bits were either removed or only exist in the HK version.

With all the flying fists and feet and vampires, there was little time for love in the movie; but off-camera, Robin Stewart was finding time aplenty to romance Shaw's erotic film starlet Tanny (Tien Ni). At the time, the Taiwanese freelance actress was being coached by Shaw's private European secretary in learning English for her major part in the soon to be produced Warner-Shaw co-pro CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD (1975) starring Tamara Dobson and Stella Stevens; a bigger budgeted sequel to CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) that began production with Don Medford (THE HUNTING PARTY [1971) at the helm before he was replaced with Chuck Bail (BLACK SAMSON [1974]).

The two had a whirlwind relationship lasting the duration of the production. Meeting basically by accident, Stewart was walking past a dressing room and spied Tanny inside and, according to sources at the time, it was love at first sight for both of them. Essentially inseparable for roughly two months, the relationship was not to last, and they both knew it. Stewart had a reputation for being a ladies man while Tanny was alleged to have been something of a wild child herself.

Tanny would soon meet the love of her life, though, in swordplay actor Yueh Hua; himself having been briefly married in a secret ceremony to an Italian woman named Sophia he met while working in Italy on AMAZONS AGAINST SUPERMEN. This tabloid-worthy bond caused controversy among Hua's family and film-circle friends (foreigners aren't looked at favorably as relationship material). Together from July of 1974 to October of 1975, Yueh Hua flew to Rome for the divorce. Yueh Hua and Tanny Tien Ni would date for a few months before marrying on December 22nd, 1975 and remain together till Hua's death on October 20th, 2018 at 76 years of age.

In 2012, Robin Stewart would reunite with Roberta Daler, an old flame from 40 years prior in 1972. The two would marry and remain together till his death three years later on November 22nd, 2015.

While David Chiang's on-screen romance with Julie Ege may have been tragically brief, the actor's off-screen romance was much smoother. Two months before LEGEND's HK debut, the busy actor married Maggie Li Lin Lin on May 20th, 1974. In attendance were Chang Cheh and his wife; Liu Chia Liang and his wife; Tang Chia, Ti Lung and his girlfriend at the time, Amy Tao; Fu Sheng and others. Honeymooning in Japan, Chiang and his bride spent a much deserved 12 days away from the moviemaking world. They are still together today.

HAMMER TO FALL

In hindsight, the first Kung Fu-Horror combo neither helped Hammer's decline nor hurt Shaw's ascension on the world market. By the end of 1973, Shaw Brothers had produced 36 films (since 1967 they normally averaged 40-45 completed productions) and had a massive success with a near HK$6 million haul with the influential comedy-drama, THE HOUSE OF 72 TENANTS (1973). The company garnered even more gigantic profits from the worldwide success of KING BOXER that same year. As for Hammer, the sun wasn't shining nearly as bright for them.

At that time, Hammer was in dire straits while Shaw's was basking in the glow of success. Regardless of the opinions of some of the Hammer crew, the Shaw Studio was truly unlike anything on Earth. Modeled on the Old Hollywood Studio System, the Shaw's had their stable of actors under contract; many of which did work for other companies with the boss's permission. Some of the actresses were freelancers, however. The entire staff of techs and actors stayed at Movie Town in dormitories although the big stars ultimately bought homes elsewhere. It was a self-contained world unto itself. The Shaw Brothers not only distributed their own movies but owned an enormous fleet of movie theaters to show them in. Some of these theaters exclusively played foreign films of all genres they'd licensed; these included Hammer Films, one of which Shaw's acquired being CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT (1971)--the dinosaur-less Julie Ege Stone Age romp that was playing during LEGEND's production. Moreover, the Shaw's had their own means of promoting their output via their own periodicals. Hammer did not have any of these luxuries; without a distributor--particularly a major American one--they were virtually naked in a blizzard.

As to be expected, LEGEND was heavily promoted in both of Shaw's Chinese movie publications, Southern Screen and Hong Kong Movie News magazines. Chinese sources hyped the picture as "a new breakthrough in zombie horror films." Unlike NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), the zombies of LEGEND didn't eat the living; although they did kill with swords like Ossorio's Blind Dead Templar Knights (even riding horses in slow motion for one sequence), LEGEND's corpses differed in that they were Kung Fu experts! As for its promotion, Shaw's publicity department utilized the stunning British preconception artwork of Tom Chantrell. For a time, articles hyping the picture in Shaw's publications used the film's original LEGEND title; but by April of 1974, it was being touted as DRACULA AND THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES. When the film premiered in Hong Kong in July of '74, the same Chantrell artwork (see below) was now bearing the 'Dracula' moniker as was other theatrical posters.


There was a lot of enthusiasm for this curious pairing of Eastern and Western cinema styles despite the tumultuous making of the movie. Around the time of the film's completion, Shaw's publication Southern Screen reported a Reuters blurb in the British press: "The Shaw Brothers company, which has always been good at shooting Kung Fu movies, and the London-based Hammer Films Company, which has always been good at making horror movies, will inevitably produce a superb international production." In the end, the picture was profitable for both companies even though it didn't lead to more in a similar vein; nor did it help to stop Hammer's bleeding.

It was reported that the picture would have its London premiere on Christmas but it ended up being pushed back to October. In the end, LEGEND did surprisingly well in Britain and in Asian territories. In fact, it played everywhere in the world except America at the time. 

Initially, Warner Brothers (who had a healthy relationship with both companies) was going to distribute LEGEND in America; they reportedly were very excited and pleased with the end result. But then the Warner distributed DRACULA AD 1972 disintegrated at the American box office. Since AIP had enjoyed a surprise success with their modern day vampire scare-a-thon COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970), both Hammer and Warner Bros. hoped for the same thing. Warner's financed both of Hammer's modern era Dracula's; but after his poor showing in 70s Swinging London, it prompted the company to shelve its sequel, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) and, unfortunately, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (although they did distribute it in the UK). For its belated US release, it ended up being inexplicably cut to pieces and re-edited in the most incomprehensible way possible before being released by Dynamite Entertainment as THE 7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA in 1979.

By 1973, Hammer Films likely looked antiquated to theatergoers hungry for something different and more adult. Movies like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE EXORCIST (1973), and soon, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), had uprooted horror from the Gothic Fairy Tales of the Universal and Hammer period and planted it in a raw, visceral, grotesque place it had only hinted at before. Other quasi-horror films like STRAW DOGS, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and THE DEVILS (all 1971) brought a new level of controversy to motion pictures that outraged critics and patrons on a much grander scale than Hammer had done in the late 50s. Even westerns like THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and the gritty crime thriller DIRTY HARRY (1971) depicted a level of intensity and violence that surpassed the spurting blood and spare body parts of Hammer's chief exports.


Hammer held on for a few more years producing only two more features and several others that were never realized; these included a failed attempt to bring a live-action version of adult comic favorite Vampirella to the screen (you can read about the un-making of that picture HERE); a co-production with Toho about the Loch Ness Monster was another fatality (although years later the monster built for it ended up being used in a movie; as well as a model kit designed and sold several years ago)

Unable to assimilate into a changing marketplace, the once lucrative Gothics were outmoded by even gorier product that had been influenced by them. Ironically, Hammer's biggest success wasn't even a horror picture, but a comedy in ON THE BUSES (1971). Once film production ceased after the failure of their Hitchcock remake, THE LADY VANISHES in 1979, the company switched over to television with HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR in 1980 and HAMMER HOUSE OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE in 1984. The company had a revival in 2007 and has been producing new films ever since; although the response to New Hammer has been less than enthusiastic.

As for Hammer's competition in those dying days, they had either already packed it in or were about to go the way of the dinosaurs. Tigon, the company that attempted to buy Hammer in 1971, stopped film production in 1972 and settled into film distribution instead. Amicus, Hammer's strongest rival, and famous for its anthology horrors, was out of business by 1977. American International Pictures went from an independent maker of Drive-in movies (including numerous Gothic horror classics) to a major competitor to the big studios and, sadly, failed to transition--being sold to Filmways in 1979.

THE DIMINISHING OF SHAW HOUSE

As for the Shaw Brothers, their eventual decline mirrored that of Hammer's to an uncanny degree. As with the British company, intense competition aided heavily in making Shaw's style of movie-making outdated. Golden Harvest, a company formed in 1970 by former Shaw employees, was initially struggling to survive due to the dominance of the House of Shaw. If it hadn't been for Bruce Lee, Golden Harvest would likely have succumbed to their former boss. Bruce Lee had first went to the Shaw's, having been an admirer of their filmmaking style. Lee had already worked in Hollywood, though, so when Shaw offered him their standard contract he turned it down. Raymond Chow of GH saw an opportunity and offered Lee what he wanted.


The same applied to Michael Hui just a few years later. Hui was a well known television personality working at TVB, a TV broadcasting company based in Hong Kong and co-founded by Run Run Shaw. Hui moved into the film world at Shaw Studio in 1972 but eventually was lured away to Golden Harvest in 1974 where he starred in record-breaking comedies that dwarfed everything else at the HK box office. This was the beginning of a slow decline for the Shaw Studio. 

By the early 1980s, Shaw's output had lessened from some 40 pictures a year to around 20. Despite the competition and success of the Hong Kong New Wave, they continued to make their usual period swordplay and kung fu films largely unchanged from the way they'd made them in the 60s and 70s. They had a few new hungry directors delivering product with a raw, modernized approach, but it was too little, too late. By 1985, some of Shaw's theatrical features didn't play in HK theaters at all. The studio would eventually halt film production, and focus on television instead. Shaw's leased their massive studio out to foreign companies for years till Shaw Brothers had a revival of their own in the late 90s beginning with HERO (1996), an updated version of one of Chang Cheh's biggest, most influential hits, THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972).

The co-productions of Shaw and foreign companies was largely two years of an experimental curio. Mostly a batch of exploitation movies with a few polished features coming out of the enterprise (of which GOLDEN VAMPIRES is among the latter), it did lead Run Run Shaw to try and mount a massive co-pro of James Clavell's novel 'Tai-Pan'. Purchasing the rights from MGM in 1975, Shaw's announced in April of that year that Carl Foreman (see insert) would write the script for this ambitious project. Foreman was a famous screenwriter who wrote scripts for THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) to name two. Boasting of a proposed US$12 million budget, the Shaw Brothers planned to build a six-story complex to house some 300 foreign technicians intended to work on the picture. In January of 1976, Clavell was invited to Shaw Studio for a dinner in his honor to discuss the making of what was being called the most important movie in Hong Kong film history. By this point, the budget was being touted at US$45 million. Unfortunately, it eventually stalled, ending with Shaw selling the rights to a Swiss businessman. It did finally get made in 1986 by Dino De Laurentiis and his DEG production company.

In Tokyo on October 26th, 1975, Run Run Shaw (accompanied by Betty Ting Pei and Li Ching) went into negotiations with Shigeru Okada (see insert), president of Toei of Japan to co-produce a series of movies that likewise never materialized; the first of these was tentatively titled 'Tang Prostitution'. An agreement was signed for mutual film distribution, co-productions and acquisition of the respective companies product. The two men met at the 21st Annual Asian Film Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia a few months earlier in July of 1975. Apparently, Shaw was more interested in opening an animation studio in Hong Kong with the help of Okada; this too, never being realized. The failure of this collaboration was a shame considering Toei produced dozens upon dozens of exploitation pictures and operated in much the same conveyor belt style of moviemaking as Shaw's did. 

Run Run did co-produce CANNONBALL (1976) with Roger Corman's New World Pictures; and would later reunite with Warner Brothers in the early 1980s to co-finance the now critically revered cult classic BLADE RUNNER (1982) directed by Ridley Scott.

Nowadays, co-productions between Asian and Anglo film companies is a regular occurrence; Communist China being the major player, spending millions on mostly lifeless fluff with many special effects-heavy movies using American technicians behind the scenes. Mimicking Hollywood's CGI-obsessed product, China's film industry is vastly different to the wild and woolly Golden Age of Hong Kong.


The legacy of the LEGEND is being the first Kung Fu-Horror hybrid. Something of a trendsetter, it nonetheless wasn't very influential on the flood of horror pictures that came in its wake. Other domestically produced films that mixed Kung Fu and horror were BRUCE LEE VS. KUNG FU FRANKENSTEIN (1974), THE MAGIC CURSE (1975) and WITCHCRAFT OF MAO PEOPLE (1977); but many of these took inspiration from either THE EXORCIST (1973) or the Shaw Brothers production BLACK MAGIC (1975).  Ghosts and horrific spells became synonymous with HK horror and not vampires and zombies, at least not for a while.

It took six years before Kung Fu-Horror was successfully attempted again with Sammo Hung's smash horror-comedy combo SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS (1980). It wasn't till MR. VAMPIRE in 1985 that this crossover genre really took off in a huge way. The Shaw's didn't attempt another such endeavor till 1982s spook-filled funny business, THE FAKE GHOST CATCHERS. However, some of their martial arts pictures like the earlier, ultra-violent THE BLACK TAVERN (1972) and the later disappointment of THE SPIRITUAL BOXER 2 (1979) had horror elements in them.

Essentially, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974) was a spirited last gasp for Hammer--a company that saw a strange cinematic brew as a means of rejuvenating their outdated formula. For the Shaw's, this was a burst of creativity that briefly ignited but never truly caught fire. In the end, both companies learned nothing from their troubled alliance; and an inability to adapt to changing markets led them both down a road to a strikingly similar fate. Just like the Chinese proverb, 'There is no never-ending banquet', both Hammer and Shaw Brothers learned all good things must come to an end.

*This article utilized anecdotes, images, and assorted minutiae from Shaw's Southern Screen and Hong Kong Movie News Magazines; and also the Hong Kong publication Cinemart Magazine.*

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