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Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Wild, Wild East: Duel of the Independent Film Companies Part 1


The Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, the two major Hong Kong film studios back in the island's cinema heyday of the 70s, battled for box office supremacy throughout the decade and into the next. Meanwhile, a band of ragtag independent companies vied for their own piece of the theatrical action. Some survived; others did not. While many of Hong Kong's most famous stars were groomed for stardom at either of the Big Two, there are many other famous actors/martial artists (many from Taiwan) that made their names on the independent circuit where the life of a Chinese film star was often cheap, but never boring. 
This decade-spanning five-part series takes a look at some of those companies, the stories behind them, and the various big names and up-and-comers who either migrated from the majors to smaller studios; cooperated between both; and others who started out making movies for independent producers. The many box office numbers included within this five-part series are Hong Kong totals only. It's important to note that a film that bombed in HK may have been a big success in another market like Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, or Malaysia. 
Additionally, you'll read about the controversies and scandals surrounding some of the players and producers; and what these actors and actresses thought of their fast-paced profession--in those moments--during that wild and woolly time of flying fists and thunderous feet that was 1970s HK Kung Fu Cinema.
In the 1960s, Shaw Brothers Studio and Cathay Organization (formerly MP&GI: Motion Picture & General Investment) were the two major film studios producing movies for Hong Kong and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. When Cathay ceased film production in 1970, Shaw was the sole celluloid titan standing; though it wouldn't be long before a new, formidable rival surfaced. Golden Harvest was founded that same year in 1970 by Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho; both of them former Shaw executives who wanted to go beyond the Old Hollywood-style contract system that Hollywood itself was forced to abandon a few decades earlier. (Insert: Cathay theater in Singapore)
For a year, the company struggled to gain ground against their former employer. Saved from bankruptcy by Bruce Lee, Raymond Chow would gradually reap his Harvest, forming partnerships with equally hungry, small production facilities; while many other upstarts rolled the dice in an increasingly crowding field looking to gain a foothold in the burgeoning HK film industry.

Many rose (including two from the ashes of Cathay), and many fell due to poor box office, contract-breaking film stars, or an inability to weather market instabilities. Some companies made money by distributing Shaw or GH product till shifting focus to producing movies of their own. Gambling on even greater success, virtually every major film star founded their own production company at some point. The massive success of THE CHINESE BOXER (1970) and THE BIG BOSS (1971) caused a seemingly never-ending, volcanic eruption of Karate-like, 'Hard Fist & Kick' style martial arts flicks. This followed an explosion on the international market that left audiences captivated and critics applying derogatory terms like "Chopsocky"
These early examples were predominantly 'Chinese vs. Japanese'  fight-fests that, at their strongest, lasted roughly two years from 1972-1974. Succeeding trends involved shooting in foreign countries or updating the era to modern times; movies about the Shaolin Temple; gimmick Kung Fu flicks; and finally, the 'Bumpkin Kung Fu Comedy'  that combined multiple trends with threadbare budgets, storylines, and the most intricate of choreography yet seen.
Independent companies followed the trends of the majors, copying or expanding on them. Seeking growth, some Taiwanese indy organizations would gamble large sums of money to established actors like Chen Kuan Tai and Ti Lung (whether they were allowed to freelance or not)  to make films for them. By the end of the 1970s, the indies did something astonishing; they ceased riding the coattails of the majors and made the majors follow trends of their creation. The result of this was, ironically enough, the beginning of the end of the Independents.
In 1974, the martial arts film, the bread and butter of the HK film industry, temporarily waned in audience interest, as did the erotic thrillers and sex comedies intended to lure people away from free TV; while dramas began to rise in popularity in markets where they weren't usually hot sellers. Famous director Li Hsing (see insert) was the face of dramatic features, and many of them starred Alan Tang and Chen Chen, the highest paid actor and actress in Taiwan at that time. Dramas and romantic movies were popular with critics, but less so with HK audiences, and that was about to change.
One of their movies, WHERE THE SEAGULL FLIES (1974), racked up an impressive HK$1,396,347 in 14 days of release. The inaugural movie for Ma's Film Company, the film set a record for licensing in other markets. Taiwan ponied up HK$1 million while both Singapore and Malaysia paid HK$500,000. As a result, SEAGULLS successfully set into motion a slew of movies with oceanic-style titles and locales. On the other side of the coin, Summit Film Productions WILD AS THE WAVES (1974) beat it into theaters by a week but the movie starring popular actress Jenny Hu, burgeoning action movie actor Charles Heung and produced by Jackie Chan's future manager Willie Chan only managed HK$362,765 in 8 days.

It was a good if not great year for the industry, and especially for the indy companies. Total productions in 1974 reached 110 movies; down from 1973 that saw 140 films made in Hong Kong. Forty of the movies made in '74 passed the coveted HK$1 million mark. Things took a turn for the worse in 1975 (which is covered elsewhere in this series), and this hindered the indies not just in the newly implemented restrictions in other Asian markets, but in the theater chains that showed their films. By the summer of 1975, some 40 Taiwanese movies were backlogged for release in Hong Kong. Both Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest distributed independently produced movies, while chains like the Shuang Li theater line specialized in them; and even they had installed new rules that some found constricting to the industry. Film producers had to pay them a deposit of HK$30,000 before they would show their movies to cover any losses incurred by the theater. The film owner was also responsible for paying theater advertising fees for their films. As for the '75 slump, the industry rebounded in 1976, and got even better in 1977.
While the smaller film facilities yielded notable and influential movies throughout the decade, the year 1978 showed even grander prospects for the independent film establishments in Hong Kong than any prior year in the decade. There had been steady growth each year with the biggest dip coming in 1975 when the industry experienced impediments that were damaging but, due to budgetary cutbacks, ultimately proved beneficial by the year 1978; the year business was booming in the Hong Kong film industry.
Approximately 20 movies made more than HK$2 million. More than half of that 20 were HK productions. Moreover, 74 of the top-grossing Chinese and Western films that year grossed more than one million HK dollars; topping previous years totals. Of those 74 films, 48 of them were HK productions (compared to the 39 million grossers of 1977). This included indy hits like DIRTY TIGER, CRAZY FROG with HK$2.4 million for Gar Bo Films; ENTER THE FAT DRAGON with HK$1.6 million for Fong Ming Motion Picture Company; MYSTERIOUS FOOTWORKS OF KUNG FU netted HK$1.2 million for Super Win Company (Yong Sheng Pictures); and KUNG FU MASTER NAMED DRUNK CAT took just over HK$1 million for Goldig Films. 
Things were looking very good for the HK movie industry; and Kung Fu comedy was the new trend, becoming the most popular of the other trends that preceded it.
To further put things into perspective, the total gross for the year was a record-breaking HK$129.4 million. This was approximately HK$15 million more than 1977s total industry gross of HK$114.8 million.
While Golden Harvest was slowly surpassing Shaw Brothers as the dominating force in Hong Kong cinema, the latter still out-paced the competition with a staggering 40+ movies a year (although Shaw's number of films yearly would decrease into the 1980s). Initially resisting the lure of outright comical kung fu, the Shaw Brothers continued with serious dramas and bloody martial arts epics. 
Some of their hits that year in 1978 included HK$2.9 million for THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN; HK$2.2 million for AVENGING EAGLE; HK$1.8 million for FIVE VENOMS; HK$1.5 million for LEGEND OF THE BAT; HK$1,432,402 for CRIPPLED AVENGERS; and HK$1.3 million for INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN.

However, the biggest moneymaker of the year had no kung fu at all, but plenty of comedy. Michael Hui's satire of the TV industry, THE CONTRACT (1978), signed up HK$7.8 million in ticket sales (a bit less than the HK$8.5 million of the Hui's THE PRIVATE EYES, aka MR. BOO, from the previous year). A Golden Harvest picture, it was more proof that comedy was the new recipe everybody wanted. 
The box office of Jackie Chan's two indy Comic-Fu flicks lit the fuse for the new genre style that exploded all over the then British colony. Incidentally, Chan's DRUNKEN MASTER was the #2 hit of the year, racking up HK$6.7 million in ticket sales. Chan had become a hot commodity and an avalanche of copycats were in-coming. Even terrible movies Chan did for Lo Wei like SPIRITUAL KUNG FU (1978), released after his two Seasonal smashes, finally made money with a 14-day cume of HK$2,393,383.
As one HK film critic put it in 1978: "The type of film that is currently very popular with audiences is the Kung Fu Comedy. Chinese martial arts is our forte and this style of cinema is a new peak that's never been seen before. This route of turning Kung Fu comical has been in the making for a few years now, but has gained prominence this year in two films starring Jackie Chan and directed by Yuen Woo Ping. SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER are both representative works of where the genre is going."
In the winter of 1978 alone, there were nineteen Kung Fu Comedies in production. 
1978 had its share of bombs, too. There were thirteen movies that made under HK$100,000. Stars like Tan Tao Liang, Carter Wong, Chen Sing, and Chen Hui Min had some five-figure losers that year. Some of these failures were viewed as a result of poor theatrical distribution as opposed to being poor quality productions. 
For example, THE SHAOLIN INVINCIBLES took a beating for a total of HK$159,000. Released in Hong Kong in 1978, THE BIG BOSS PART II (1976) starring Lo Lieh, Chen Hui Min and Bruce Le was another in an assembly line of Bruce Lee clone movies that seldom made money in Hong Kong, but were made with the overseas markets in mind. This one played six days for a total of HK$82,661. While he's not credited on-screen, magazine sources list Lo Lieh co-directing with Chen Zhu (Chan Chue). Filmed in Thailand, the movie may have been a hit in that market as Wang Ping was essentially royalty there and was more popular in Japan than she was in Hong Kong.
The genre would change yet again in the 1980s. Kung Fu would eventually find a larger home on television while the Silver Screen became dominated by modern-day action-comedies and thrillers. Outside of Comic-Fu, which was virtually owned by Jackie Chan by then, there were modern-day crime thrillers that erupted in popularity with the advent of John Woo's A BETTER TOMORROW (1986) and movies like GOD OF GAMBLERS (1989); both starring former Shaw Brothers and Indy actor, Chow Yun Fat. Hong Kong's video boom was a mirror image of the one that occurred in America in the 80s. Indy Kung Fu was eventually phased out of theaters in a business on course to be run by nothing but major players. 
Unable to successfully change with the times, Shaw Brothers shut down film production to focus on television (where they already held a firm grasp). Golden Harvest thrived like never before while other studios like Cinema City and Golden Princess became major players in the industry.

The days of the contract actors were a thing of the past. 1970s Hong Kong cinema went from being a dangerous, oftentimes adventurous, 9 to 5-type gig to a less frantic lifestyle of glitz and glamor on a par with what American actors enjoyed in the 1990s. Ironically, with a more Hollywood modeled Hong Kong, the increased salaries of film stars bit into production companies profits. This resulted in an overabundance of low-quality pictures. There was still plenty of blazing guns and bullet-riddled bodies from John Woo; and Jet Li flying through the air dueling in the Martial World to keep audiences enthralled. Still, rising home prices, piracy, and Triad gangs producing movies at gunpoint put the cinema of HK at a low ebb it hadn't seen since the oil crisis of the 1970s. 
Get ready to explore a decade that was literally life imitating art. A time when film stars were prone to fisticuffs behind the scenes; producers and directors schemed against rivals to sabotage their works, steal their ideas or their talent; competing filmmakers took to the local papers to hype the skill levels of their stars for box office gain; Asian stars in foreign countries faced prison time for brawling with locals; hot-headed actors and actresses took on their employers; and dishonored producers sent mobsters after contract-breaking film stars to reign them in. It was a time that will never come again. Say hello to the rough and rowdy days of 1970s Hong Kong Kung Fu cinema.
If you wrote a book about Jimmy Wang Yu, it would play out like a wildly unhinged movie script. Born Wang Zheng Quan on March 28th, 1943, he signed on at Shaw Brothers when he was 20 years old. He started out with director Hsu Teng Hung in TEMPLE OF THE RED LOTUS (1965), the first in a trilogy of Wuxia pictures.
Upon becoming the main actor for Chang Cheh in THE MAGNIFICENT TRIO (1966), the experimental TIGER BOY (1966), and TRAIL OF THE BROKEN BLADE (1967), his star rose even further. The sky was the limit when he headlined Chang's blood-soaked sword-slicer, THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967).  
By the end of the year on December 13th, Wang Yu was accepting a Golden Globe Award for being one of the ten most popular actors of the year. A month later on January 9th, 1968, the fast-rising young actor was once more gracing a stage to receive the coveted Lai Sing Gold Cup in the 4th Annual Popularity Contest For Actors and Actresses in Film and Television.

Meantime, Wang Yu made movies for other directors like the co-production with Nikkatsu Studios of Japan, ASIA-POL (1967), the ultra-violent THE SWORD OF SWORDS (1968) for director Cheng Kang, and MY SON (1969) for his close friend Pan Lei. Still, he remained closely associated with Chang Cheh, the director who made him a household name with the first two ONE-ARMED movies, THE ASSASSIN (1967), and the acclaimed GOLDEN SWALLOW (1968). By 1969, Wang Yu the actor desired to do something on his own. Unfortunately, his testy personality kept him in trouble within the walls of Movietown. However, since Shaw turned a blind eye to his fly-off-the-handle behavior, this would become both an advantage and a detriment to his career. (Insert: Director Chang Cheh and Wang Yu during the making of THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN)
But while Wang Yu became a mega-star working for the Shaw Brothers, he would likewise leave an indelible mark for smaller companies trying to score a hit or two in a very crowded market. His even wilder behavior outside of Movietown sheds light on his progressively worsening antics that often led to violence and potentially serious prison time. 
Upon closer scrutiny, there's a noticeable downturn in Wang's career trajectory amid many impulsive and dangerous life choices. Wang Yu went from Run Run Shaw--a boss who ran his company in Old Hollywood factory mode; to more freedom with Raymond Chow and independents--but often with less resources at his disposal. Wang went from working largely within the confines of a vast "magic kingdom" that was Shaw's Movietown, to limited interiors and lots of outdoor settings with even fewer sets. Wang Yu was a loose cannon at Shaw Brothers, but was temporarily reigned in due to his contracts. Upon breaking the terms of his agreement, the openness and free reign Wang enjoyed seemed to antagonize his irascible, if loyalty-driven personality. (Insert: Wang Yu doing a demonstration at an event in Singapore in 1969)
Quite possibly the most controversial figure in HK cinema history, Wang Yu is the prototype for HK's rebel actor; his film characters were barely discernible from his life in the real world. Prone to fighting and difficult to work with, he was the type of personage with little tolerance for contract stipulations. Having already written extensively about his contract-breaking lawsuits with Shaw Brothers and later criminal activity (which you can read about HERE), we'll summarize and expand on it so as not to be repetitive. 
For decades, Wang bemoaned his relationship with his former boss Run Run Shaw; that he wasn't getting paid enough money. What he never mentions is when he signed his second contract in February of 1968, he was agreeing to the conditions of said document before he signed it. This was after "Million Dollar Director" Chang Cheh made Wang Yu a "Million Dollar Actor". (Insert: Both Run Run Shaw and Wang Yu wish one another a Happy New Year at Shaw's New Year's party, February 1968)
Whether his movies were making money or not, Wang Yu was a lightning rod for sensationalism. His propensity for brawling was at least contained within the confines of Shaw's Movietown. He was embroiled in scandal of a different kind a few months after signing his second five-year contract at Shaw's. 
Famous actress Lin Cui separated from her film director husband Chen Jian (Chin Chien; Chun Kim) in 1967 after 8 years of marriage. By August of '68, she was having Wang Yu's first daughter, Wang Shin Ping. Even though Wang and Lin had been living together since her parting of ways with her husband, Hong Kong law at the time stipulated that a couple upon separation must wait three years before divorcing. This being too much for Chen Jian to bear, he would kill himself inside his dormitory at Shaw Brothers Studio on June 15th, 1969. (Insert: Lin Cui brings snacks to Wang Yu during filming of MY SON in May of 1969. Director Pan Lei at left)
Already a well known director prior to signing with Shaw Brothers in 1965, he directed nine movies for the company before his death. His last movie, RIVER OF TEARS (1969), starring Chin Han and Jenny Hu, was a few days away from completion. That morning on June 15th, he was to shoot at Kowloon Peak. When he didn't report for filming, his assistant director Chi Yao Chang (who later went to GH and was Bruce Lee's AD on WAY OF THE DRAGON)  went to his room and found him dead. The aftermath was a similar but much less volatile situation to what Betty Ting Pei went through over the death of Bruce Lee with many in the media and public blaming both Wang and Lin for Chen Jian's death. Wang Yu and Lin (who was 8 years his senior)  would remain together after the scandal. They would have two more daughters together and a separation of their own in 1975.
Wang may have been the model for HK actors being bitten by the directing bug. He frequently made it known he wished to helm his own movies, but this was not part of his contract. According to Wang Yu, he was being discouraged against it by Chang Cheh and Boss Shaw--stating he wasn't ready to sit in the director's chair; considering his unpredictable behavior and hot temper, there was reason for hesitation. However, Shaw relented and allowed him to direct; so Shaw himself broke the terms of Wang's contract to pacify the actor. (Insert: Wang Yu joins Lo Lieh and Kao Yuen during a break filming BROTHERS FIVE for a light-hearted visit with Ching Li as she films RIPPLES)
In typical Wang Yu fashion, he was so confident in his abilities, he prematurely christened himself a "Million Dollar Director"  before filming on THE CHINESE BOXER--or, 'The Dragon and Tiger Meet' as it's known in Chinese--began in July of 1969. Wang based his story on an incident that took place along the Yang Tze River sometime in the 1930s. Despite his self-assured disposition, Wang asked his mentor Chang Cheh for advice during filming (see insert). He visited the set as did Wang's close friend, fellow director Pan Lei (who will figure into this story again).

For Wang Yu to be writing the screenplay, directing himself and the rest of the cast was a big deal at the time, with a lot riding on his success or failure. This was, after all, an actor with only a few years under his belt now commanding a motion picture. Reporters kept up with various details--pointing out his use of camera placement as well as his strictness on set; but remarkably jovial compared to what he'd get up to when he left the Shaw Brothers nest.

Wang was so focused on making the best movie possible, he wanted an additional layer of realism by shooting his finale on real locations. In what would be a taster of his later independent works, Wang Yu decided he wanted to shoot in Seoul, South Korea. Unfortunately, it was the dead of winter and sixteen degrees below zero there.

Scheduled for a 10-day shoot, when the crew arrived they had to go through numerous military checkpoints while trying to find ideal locales. The soldiers were very accommodating and, upon learning it was Wang Yu inside the car, asked for autographs. The military men were so elated that even the AD and DP (future Seasonal Films president Ng See Yuen and future director Hua Shan respectively) were asked for autographs (seen in insert). In order to shoot without interruption, Wang declined doing any interviews for radio or television. 

Wang found the landscape around Bukhan Mountain to be most suitable. With just ten days to get the final fight in the can, filming in below-freezing temperatures took its toll on the cast and crew. The actors couldn't wear heavy clothing; and getting snow in their shoes and in exposed areas meant they could only shoot for five minutes before they began shivering uncontrollably. There was no electricity for miles so they burned clothes to stay warm. 

Adjusting to the South Korean food was another issue as most of the crew kept diarrhea the duration of the shoot. Despite a number of setbacks, Wang filmed very fast, amassing 40-60 shots a day. The hardships of filming in grueling weather and a passion for an eye-opening end product would pay off.

The resulting THE CHINESE BOXER (1970) was a massive success, making HK$2.8 million; the first time a Chinese martial arts movie was built exclusively around empty-hand and kick-fighting techniques. The film struck such a chord in the industry, that many of the bandwagon movies that followed utilized 'Dragon and Tiger'  in some way in the Chinese title. The Karate-like action choreography was all the rage for the next few years till a new trend replaced it. Disgruntled that his boss wouldn't alter their written agreement a second time, Wang Yu bolted from Shaw's contractual grasp and incurred an assortment of lawsuits. When the court battle between producer and actor ended, the former was rightfully victorious while the latter decided he'd continue taking jabs at his former employer. 
Wang Yu the actor--and now the director--would also find himself in a multitude of compromising positions that no doubt frustrated the various movie producers hiring him. Still, he remained popular with audiences. In 1971, he won a Silver Award for being one of the top ten most popular actors of the year from Cinemart Magazine, the most authoritative periodical on the independent movie scene in those days. At that time, breaking a contract wasn't viewed so much as bad business ethics as it was an act of rebellion. This practice became more frowned upon later in the decade when unruly actors breaking their agreements became more prominent. Nobody could tarnish Wang Yu's image but Wang Yu, and his self-destructive behavior in the next few years took its toll on the man and his career.

Wang naturally fled to Golden Harvest, founded by Shaw Brothers' former general manager, Raymond Chow. The actor's new boss quickly sent him to Taiwan and Japan to make movies; during and after his banishment from making movies in Hong Kong till the expiration of his contract with Shaw. This set off a decades-long war between the Shaw Brothers and Chow's Golden Harvest companies (covered further in Part 5); and the media was only too happy to oblige.
Naturally, with Wang Yu making money off a character created at the company of his former employer, his feud with Shaw would only become more heated. Shaw's first lawsuit failed in Taiwan due to the contract provided was not the original arrangement. The second suit submitted in Japan to stop Wang Yu from filming there was tossed out due to Japan not recognizing Chinese law. 
In Japan, Wang would collaborate with Shintaro Katsu, one of Japan's biggest movie stars, in the Japan-HK co-pro, ZATOICHI MEETS THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1971). Katsu set up his own independent motion picture company in 1967 under the Katsu Productions banner. Japan's film industry was facing stiff competition from television, and HK would find itself in the same spot in a few years. 
With Daiei's future in peril, Katsu's company teamed with Golden Harvest, who handled HK distribution; while Dainichi-Eihai, the integration of both Daiei and Nikkatsu networks, took care of the Japanese release. Kimiyoshi Yasuda is credited as director for Nipponese shores while Hsu Tseng Hung (Su Jiang Hung) was billed as director for the Chinese version. 
It's unclear what is different between the two cuts, but judging by the description in Chinese articles of the day, the plot was virtually identical save for the finale. However, Wang Yu is billed as Fang Gang for the Chinese release, but listed as Wang Kang for Japan. Then there are images of shots not present in the Japanese release. For example, Chang Yi (who had recently left Shaw's for Golden Harvest during the filming of A CALL TO ARMS) is seen in images with Wang Yu, Katsu and actress Wang Ling. In the Japanese version, he shares no scenes with the two principle actors, exiting the movie within the first several minutes.

Upon its release in January of 1971, the ONE-ARM and ZATO match-up made HK$1,558,813 for Golden Harvest. As the two studios were now in competition with one another, Shaw Brothers would retaliate with a new single-digit sword-slinger of its own.
Once he was back in Taiwan, Wang Yu set up his own film company, the Cheng Ming Film Co., and made ONE-ARMED BOXER (1972); one of his best-loved films. It was a combination of 1967s THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (the film that skyrocketed him to fame) and THE CHINESE BOXER (1970). The genesis of the movie was the success of THE CHINESE BOXER--that was in release while Wang was filming in Japan; and the success of the co-production with Katsu. Putting the two styles together seemed like a natural-born hit. Reportedly, Wang had little resources for ONE-ARMED BOXER so Raymond Chow handled the bulk of the financing as the film's producer. (Insert: Lung Fei puts in his vampire fangs on the ONE-ARMED BOXER set)

Beginning in January of 1971, Wang immersed himself in making this movie--writing the script and devising the fight sequences to his liking. He sold the idea to Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho saying, "I have met with many senior martial arts experts in Taiwan and they admire my work very much; so if I ask them to participate, they won't hesitate to join my cast."  Some ten martial arts masters were hired to play the villains in the movie. Wang greeted them at the National Youth Wushu Invitational Competition in the summer of 1971. Among these were military boxing champion Tsai Hung; judo master Wu Dong Qiao (Wu Tong Chiao); and Karate 4th Dan Lung Fei as the fang-toothed lead villain. Chen Shi Wei, the son of a martial arts family, was invited to be MA instructor and would work with Wang Yu on a few other films in that capacity.
Throughout the decade, Wang would direct a few more films for his company, most of which played off his Shaw successes like ONE-ARMED BOXER VS. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976) and RETURN OF THE CHINESE BOXER (1977).

In the middle of their two year court battle, it was rumored that Run Run Shaw had offered Wang Yu HK$1.5 million to return to Movietown. Whether this was true or not, Wang allegedly wasn't willing to make a bargain. Those sympathetic to Wang in the media stated if he had met with Shaw, he would likely demand a much higher number so that the movie mogul would surely refuse. (Top: Wang Yu visits the set of the original, unfinished version of FINGER OF DOOM in April, 1969; L to R: Li Hao, Hsu Teng Hung, Chang Yi, Ching Li, Wang Yu)

There is, however, some weight to this story that may add additional elements of truth to it. Despite playing the single-armed Fang Gang in a non-Shaw movie, Wang Yu was supposedly incensed that Shaw was making a second sequel in the ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN series; even though it was a different character played by David Chiang. Titled NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, Shaw spent a bundle on new exterior sets specifically for the picture, and heavier marketing. Upon its release in early February of '71 the new film surpassed the box office numbers of RETURN OF THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1969) and the HK-Japan co-pro, making HK$1,596,530. 
On February 22nd, 1971, director Chang, along with David Chiang, Ti Lung, and others, were in Singapore on a nine-day vacation that included stops in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Their R&R unexpectedly turned into a partial publicity jaunt for NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN. Whether a coincidence or not, while Chang and company stayed over in Singapore, Jimmy Wang Yu happened to be there as well. On the night of February 25th, Wang invited Chang to join him for a meal at a food stall. Chang Cheh declined his former protege's offer, stating to the press, "If Wang Yu wants to see me, he can come to me. I don't need to go to him. I taught him everything he knows".

A few years later while Chang Cheh was operating Long Bow in Taiwan, Wang had grown frustrated with Golden Harvest and expressed interest in once again working for the man that made him famous. It would take several years, but the two were reunited for Chang's star-studded actioner, SHANGHAI 13 in 1984.

While under the GH umbrella, Wang would also shoot films for independent companies like Kao Pao Shu's Park Films and Taiwan's Union Film. For Ms. Kao, Wang starred in the fan favorite, THE DESPERATE CHASE (1971). It was at this time that the actor would nearly destroy his health from working too much. As for Union Films, they were fairly prolific for a ten year period between 1967-1977. They were also distributors of both Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest pictures. The former eventually set up a Taiwan branch to handle their own title circulation. (Insert: Cast and crew begin filming on THE DESPERATE CHASE in July, 1971)
In addition to King Hu's DRAGON INN (1967), Union's biggest claim to international fame is funding Hu's A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971). Hsu Feng (see insert) starred and, like the director, garnered international recognition when the film was featured at Cannes in 1975 and won an award for Best Foreign Film. According to her, she appreciated the attention, but lamented the little pay she received on the picture; noting it wasn't enough to cover doctor bills for a back injury she suffered while making it--an injury that bothered her the rest of her career.
Going back to Wang Yu, one of the first movies he made in Taiwan was THE BRAVE AND THE EVIL (1971) for the Union company. It was Wang's second time as director. He would once again be the screenwriter while also honing his skill for being difficult to work with for small companies as much as the major ones. Aside from various accidents during the action scenes, he caused a stir on the set after becoming angry and demeaning indy MA superstar Polly Shang Kuan Ling Feng in front of the crew. According to articles of the time, Wang's hot-headed behavior had been tolerated in HK; but in Taiwan, it was taken as a serious insult. It was the one and only time the two worked together. 
Wang's short fuse was toned down on his next film, however, co-directing THE SWORD (1971) with his friend and famous Taiwanese novelist-director, Pan Lei. This was a co-production between upstart indy company Yang Tze Productions owned and operated by Yang Man Yi (who sometimes directed his company's movies) and Pan Lei Company. Known for his dramas, Pan Lei could do unique swordplays like the underrated THE FASTEST SWORD (1968) at Shaw Brothers. Pan had been on hiatus for about a year, having lost interest in the industry. Allegedly, he was stirred back to the director's chair after word got back to him that Wang Yu had declared, "If Pan Lei ever returns to direct again, I will try to help and support him in every way I can".

At that time in 1971, Wang was working on two movies--BEACH OF THE WAR GODS (1973) and an unnamed comedy. He shut both films down (he was directing and starring in the former and only headlining the latter) to help Pan on THE SWORD when filming began in April of 1971; in what was a fairly rapid shooting schedule. Reportedly the highest paid actor in Asia at the time, Wang was making NT$1 million (HK$120,000 or US$29,000) at that time and chose not to take a salary on THE SWORD, but a percentage of the box office instead. (Insert: Wang Yu, Raymond Chow, Leonard Ho, and the cast of BEACH OF THE WAR GODS)
On the subject of loyalty, one gets the impression that Wang Yu possibly regretted leaving Movietown; at least leaving the guidance of Chang Cheh. Shaw ran his studio like a factory. Many in the industry at that time treated being an actor as a typical 9 to 5 job. Wang, though, obviously wanted to be a big star and live a lavish lifestyle. His erratic behavior likely had a lot to do with why the Shaw's were hesitant to give him too much leeway. That Run Run Shaw altered his own written agreement to allow Wang to direct shows a willingness to appease the headstrong superstar. He proved himself to be a fantastic director; only Shaw wasn't going to renegotiate his contract to give him more money. Both men's perspectives are understandable, but it's intriguing to imagine what Wang Yu's career, and his life, would have looked like had he not left Movietown; at least not when he did. 
A complicated man, Wang was most definitely a hard person to get along with; but he had a level of allegiance to those closest to him and to his filial duties.
"When I left Shaw Brothers it was for no other reason than to make money for myself and open my own company. These last two years have been the best time for the independent filmmakers. My principle has always been to do what's best for me."--Kao Pao Shu in 1974

Hong Kong cinema was once ruled by female film stars. The driving force of the industry, it wasn't till Chang Cheh ushered in the age of masculinity that men became the dominant attraction. A few years into the macho boom, Run Run Shaw gave one of his actresses the opportunity to step behind the camera and direct a movie of her own. 

Born on the coastal province of Jiangsu, China in 1932, Kao Pao Shu worked as a journalist before becoming an actress. She worked as a supporting player for a myriad of indy companies before entering Shaw Brothers in 1958 where her roles were more substantial. She did approximately 80 films at Movietown. When she wasn't acting, she worked in the dubbing department and was also an assistant director to esteemed filmmakers Yueh Feng (1968s THE BELLS OF DEATH) and Cheng Kang (1972s THE 14 AMAZONS)
Run Run Shaw would promote her to director in 1970. She made LADY WITH A SWORD (1971) starring Lily Ho; one of, if not the biggest, female star at the studio (see above insert). One of five other movies Lily Ho made that year, LADY made HK$453,601 in Hong Kong; although it was reported to have been a much bigger success in other markets. Kao, like many of her colleagues, had ambitions of taking her own risks and bringing her ideas to the screen while being in total control of every aspect of the filmmaking process. (Insert: Kao with David Chiang and Ti Lung at Shaw Brothers New Year's party in February, 1971)

When Kao left Shaw Brothers in 1971, she formed Park Films with her second husband, Bai Wen Qi (see insert). The duo produced eleven films independently--with Kao writing, producing and directing most of them. Some were period pieces and others were Early Republic Era, or modern-day settings. Kao often put in cameo appearances or played a supporting role in her films. Speaking of her time prior to being her own boss, Kao said, "Earlier in my career I was always concerned with how everything was done. In those days, I felt my salary was always less than the sum of my abilities and achievements. When I became my own boss, it was even more difficult! I've had to work harder than ever before to reap some benefits".
Action cinema's new director on the block was certainly one of the most passionate. Kao would begin work at 5am, call for the cast and crew to the set at 6am, and wrap up in the late evening. By the time she had completed preparations for the next day's filming, that left her four hours to sleep before getting up to do it all over again.
Kao's first movie for her new production company was the bloody Wuxia actioner starring Jimmy Wang Yu, THE DESPERATE CHASE (1971). Wang was exceedingly busy at this time when shooting began on July 6th, 1971. For this film, Wang was reunited with Chiao Chiao from his two ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN movies. He traded his sword for a spear in a role he would revisit again in 1977 with THE DEADLY SILVER SPEAR. It was the first time the actor would use a spear on the screen. With both star and director being overtly strong personalities, Wang wanted to call the film 'Wang Yu, the Hero'. He did get his way in 1973 with WANG YU, KING OF BOXERS. (Insert: Director Kao discusses a scene with Miao Tian on THE DESPERATE CHASE set)
Heavily promoted, Lady Kao would host the film's Taipei premiere on November 12th, 1971; the birthday of Taiwan's founder, Sun Yat Sen. Unfortunately, THE DESPERATE CHASE wasn't a success in Hong Kong; its pursuit of a bounty of HK dollars ended with a tepid HK$584,777. It did, however, become a favorite of many in Europe and America where it was released as BLOOD OF THE DRAGON. (Insert: Kao observes the building of a 30ft tower to get the shot she wants during the making of THE DESPERATE CHASE)
Kao Pao Shu had her first indy hit with her second self-made movie--the gambling actioner, THE CANNIBALS (1972). Starring Chang Chia Chen, better known under her stage name of Chen Chen (see insert), she was a discovering of director Li Han Hsiang; and soon to be the highest paid actress in Taiwan. This was something of a coupe securing Chen Chen's services. She was a fast-rising starlet who had been acting since the late 60s at the young age of 16. She became an instant success after her star turn in THE BRIDE AND I (1969) became the #2 hit of the year in Taiwan.
In release for 15 days, THE CANNIBALS gobbled up HK$1,177,312. During the filming, Kao told reporters she had a feeling this movie would be successful and she was right. She would stick with the theme of gambling and modern settings in general, for the next few films she directed.
That same year in 1972, Kao's company would produce a movie that neither she nor her husband had a hand in; that film being ONE-ARMED SWORDSWOMAN (1972) starring Chang Ching Ching as the single-limbed sword-swinger. Hoping to cut a big piece of the box-office pie enjoyed by the previous ONE-ARMED movies starring Wang Yu and David Chiang, few were interested in the sex-swapped version from Park Films. The film stayed in theaters for five days, only making HK$118,050.
The next movie from Lady Kao was another gambling fist and kicker, this time starring Yasuaki Kurata as the main villain and newcomer Huang Yuan Shen as the hero. A discovery of Ng See Yuen, director Kao gave him the lead role, co-starring alongside Hsu Feng and Hu Chin. She saw star power in the young actor and signed him up for three movies. The actor arrived in Taiwan to begin working on Kao's WIN THEM ALL (1973) on December 6th, 1972. He was also shuttling back and forth on another action project titled THE BRAVEST ONE (1974) for director Fan Dan that was being shot in Hong Kong. Kao decided to shoot as many of Huang's scenes together as possible to accommodate him. 
During his time working for Kao Pao Shu, he would live in the upstairs of Park Films headquarters based in Taiwan. Huang had this to say about his initial experience working with Ms. Kao: "I've received so much help from Sister Kao, I can't express my gratitude enough. Even the actors far more experienced than myself have nothing but praise for her."  Huang spoke of his living arrangements: "I eat well, live well, and am living a very positive life. Mornings I practice martial arts and at night I read books and listen to music. I film during the day and when I'm not needed on set, I watch Sister Kao at work to gain knowledge on directing." 
Huang would only star in two of the three films he intended to do for Kao; and in 1974, directed and starred in his sole directing gig, 'Gambling Ghosts', or, under its English title, AFFECTION AND THE DEVIL. Promoted as a new style of horror film with comedy, it's possibly the first example of comedy-horror on the Asian front. 
As is often the case in Chinese-language movies of the era, WIN THEM ALL's title had meaning behind the scenes too. Co-star Hsu Feng refused to complete the last day of filming unless Kao gave her the remainder of her remuneration. With the film held up, Kao sent a demand letter for breach of contract to the actress, who then did the same to counter-sue.
Reportedly a tough lady behind the scenes, Kao Pao Shu allegedly could be difficult to work for. Just the same, she was a unique personality, stating in a 1974 interview about her work, "The movies I make are what I would want to see. I want to make the film--the emotions and the story--as real as possible. I express myself and show it to the audience and hope it is something they want to see."  During the filming of THE VIRGIN MART (1974), a movie about human trafficking starring Betty Ting Pei and Hu Chin, a reporter questioned what made her want to make a film on this subject matter: "I was inspired by seeing stories on this problem in the newspapers and on television. The most striking thing about this is how so many young boys and girls see this as a way out of whatever problems they are having and fall into a trap that leads to thievery and prostitution."  Another hit for her company, THE VIRGIN MART made HK$1,599,013 at the box office.

With three of four pictures for her production company grossing over a million dollars, Lady Kao was riding a wave of success that was about to lose momentum but not hinder her determination.

After filming wrapped on THE VIRGIN MART, Kao intended to take a long vacation and travel the world; instead, it was a partial vacation in the latter part of 1974 to Turkey and to Italy. Her trip to Istanbul was largely to scout locations for a new movie; and her stopover in Italy was to attend the MIFED Film Market and gain experience on overseas filmmaking. She also experienced foreign customs totally alien to her own. "Things are very different over there. Unlike us, they like to hug and kiss you on the face when they greet you. I'm not used to this sort of thing, but while I'm there, I try to adapt to their ways. There were some men who attempted to court me over there; inviting me to dinner right after introducing themselves. Naturally, a Chinese girl would never do such a thing."  On foreign films, "I often watch foreign movies. I feel they are indeed far more advanced than ours in every way. We can learn so much from them." Wrapping up her talk with a HK reporter about her foreign trip, Kao concluded by saying, "In Rome, I met a female movie producer who was only 32 years old but looked a little older. She asked me, 'you Oriental women all look so young; what's your secret?' She laughed when I told her my secret was I never stop working!"
During her stay in Istanbul, a Turkish film producer invited her to co-produce a motion picture about an international police detective. In addition, she would put up half the budget, be the director, and own the license for Southeast Asia. The cast was set up to feature Chen Hui Min (who was additionally assigned as MA instructor and assistant director), Hu Chin, Eddy Ko Hsiung and Tina Chin Fei. Lady Kao became even more enthusiastic about the project when a British producer came aboard and claimed he had a well-known actress to play the main female lead in the picture; although Kao had intended on taking the role herself. Now a co-production between Hong Kong, Turkey, and Great Britain, the filming was to take place entirely in Rome and Turkey on an eight-week shooting schedule with a budget of US$500,000. As often happens, things don't always go as planned.
In early 1975, filming began on FEMALE FUGITIVE; starring and directed by Kao. Even though it was now a scaled-down production from what it initially was, it remained a project she was especially enamored with that would now be filmed in Thailand. Shortly after the film's HK debut, she flew to Thailand on August 24th for the premiere there. This gala event was held by the owner of Meng Kong Film Company and sponsored by the Salak Beli Drug Rehab Center and Thailand's Anti-Drug Agency. In what amounted to a mini-adventure just to attend the publicity jaunt, Kao forgot her passport. Then the plane she was on lost its left wing engine forcing a landing in Singapore before re-routing to Bangkok. 
When she finally arrived, Ms. Kao embarked on a two-week promotional tour. She and the film's Thai star Sombat Metanee (one of the country's biggest stars at the time) took the stage for interviews at three different theatrical showings. The night of the 27th, the Meng Kong Film Company held a reception for her at the Dusit Thani Hotel where members of the Thai and British press asked questions. After the dinner, the film was screened there, and after that, she did a Q&A. On the 30th of August, Kao went to Chiang Mai where most of the film was shot, and met with audience members there. On September 6th, she attended yet another ceremony, this time with the Philippine Ambassador. 
Commenting on her promotional tour, Kao remarked, "With full screening rooms, TV and radio interviews, press conferences, being surrounded by Chinese, Thai and British reporters, the one question that everyone was most interested in asking about was my age. This is also the question I got asked the most when I visited Indonesia, Europe, the Middle East, Turkey, and at a Japanese TV station last year. From conception to the shooting of my film, as well as the two weeks of promotion, I am really tired. Next time I will arrange a one-month trip!"  As for FEMALE FUGITIVE's run in Hong Kong, it was a disappointment. Despite mediocre box office, it played for two weeks, bringing in HK$827,120.

Kao had one more crime thriller in her, that being the multi-national WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACK (1976), aka LOW SOCIETY, before circling back to martial arts films. Having guided bloody swordplay action with flair, Kao similarly handled straight Kung Fu epics with ease; showcasing her signature style in 1977s THE DAMNED, aka BANDITS, PROSTITUTES AND SILVER starring Wong Tao and Angela Mao. She then revisited Wuxia cinema in 1979 with THE JADE FOX.
Released in early 1980, Kao shot one of the liveliest of all the Kung Fu comedies with THE MASTER STRIKES (originally advertised in English as 'Super Tiger'), starring Casanova Wong, Tony Ching Siu Tung, and Yen Shi Kwan. Filmed entirely in Hong Kong, Kao was just as spirited at the end of her directing career as she had been when she began ten years earlier. Just as her previous pictures, Lady Kao was more than a director and writer, she would oversee and participate in the editing and dubbing of her movies. Her last movie is the obscure SEED OF EVIL (1981), in which she wrote, directed and starred.

The revered novelist Gu Long (Ku Lung), whose works formed the basis of dozens of martial arts movies, thought highly of Kao. In 1973, he said of her, "Kao Pao Shu talks like a man, drinks like two men, works as hard as three men, but inside her heart is a deeply feminine woman."  For years Gu called the in-demand screenwriter Ni Kuang his brother, and added he now had a sister, Kao Pao Shu.

Speaking about directing in 1974, Kao Pao Shu said, "The weak are not allowed to exist in this industry. It's constantly moving so fast; like a momentum that you must always be rushing forward. You can't just stand still because everyone else is trying to run faster than you are."  After a varied career spanning thirty years, Kao Pao Shu passed away July 20th, 2000 at the age of 68.
In the two-part series, 'The Flying Guillotines: History of the Shaw Brothers Trendsetter, its Sequel & Imitators', we covered the similarities of Wang Yu and Chen Kuan Tai breaking their Shaw Brothers contracts and the lawsuits that followed them. Both men had similar temperaments and career trajectories, but different endings of those chapters of their lives. This portion of 'The Wild, Wild East' expands on 'The Chen Kuan Tai Situation'  from Part 2 of that series.
Popular comedian Yi Lei (more on him in Part 3) was good friends with Chen Kuan Tai. With both men having an entrepreneurial spirit, they formed Tai Shen (Da Sheng) Films in 1974. Their first movie, a comedy called THE CRAZY INSTRUCTOR (1974), did well enough in some Southeast Asian markets for the duo to forge ahead with a second picture. But whereas Chen was a producer on their first movie, he would realize his directorial ambitions on the second one. The aim was to begin shooting in 1974, but Chen, Yi, and other actors they needed were all too busy with other projects. So after Chen completed SEVEN MAN ARMY in 1976 for Chang's Company, and with Run Run Shaw's blessing, Chen was on course to direct his first movie, the satirical comedy, THE SIMPLE-MINDED FELLOW.
Chen and his cast met in a suite in Hong Kong's Millennium Hotel everyday to discuss the next day's filming. To help boost his confidence, Chang Cheh and Cheng Kang advised Chen on directing techniques. Moreover, Shaw alums like director Ho Fan, actress Dana, choreographer Liu Chia Liang, and others came to congratulate him on his first day of filming (see photo above). Like with Jimmy Wang Yu, Boss Shaw broke the terms of his own contract to allow his employee to experience being in the director's chair. Unfortunately, this would lead to an unnecessary two-year long dispute between Chen and Shaw.
At the time, Chen seemed very satisfied with his place at the company. Negotiated by Chang Cheh on Chen's behalf, Shaw Brothers had adjusted his pay four times since he made a huge splash in BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972). Cinemart, the leading independent movie magazine in Hong Kong, reported in 1976 that Chen's per-film average was between HK$40,000-HK$50,000 plus a HK$2,000 monthly allowance. Contracted to shoot 4 movies per year till the end of his contract in 1977, that put him as one of the highest paid actors in Hong Kong. (Insert: Chen at his dormitory inside Movietown)
In those days, you could say Chen Kuan Tai was hasty and impatient. He allegedly complained to Shaw's publicity department that they didn't sufficiently promote BIG BROTHER CHENG (the sequel to the 1974 hit THE TEAHOUSE) despite it being a top ten hit in 1975. According to one reporter, Chen was annoyed he was billed below Ti Lung in Liu Chia Liang's SPIRITUAL BOXER (1975), even though both men were only guest stars seen at the opening. Much like Wang Yu, Chen Kuan Tai wanted to be big business, and the bigger the better. Lofty ambitions seemed to get the better of him, leading to an ill-judged exit from the studio before his contract expiration date.
A little over a month before he broke his contract with Shaw Brothers in October of 1976, Chen Kuan Tai and Liu Chia Liang registered a joint filmmaking enterprise: Kung Fu Film Productions Company. After a few weeks had elapsed with no announcements of any films to start shooting, all Chen Kuan Tai would tell reporters is that "the time is not yet right". No titles were ever announced and nothing came of this potentially promising team-up of the two martial artists and good friends. (Insert: Chen with director Liu Chia Liang, Ti Lung, Wong Yu during the making o THE SPIRITUAL BOXER in 1975)

After the expected lawsuit, movies made that were quickly pulled from theaters (or couldn't be shown at all), and needlessly lost finances, Chen Kuan Tai and Run Run Shaw came to an agreement. Two years after he broke his contract, Chen returned to the studio in 1978. Once viewed as an arrogant man, it was reported the actor's temperament was noticeably different upon signing a new arrangement. In November of 1979, Chen had this to say about his "vacation" outside of Movietown: 

"In the past, my disputes with Shaw Brothers wasn't really a fight for power and profit, nor was I jealous of others; I simply wasn't reconciled within myself. Possibly I felt inferior to others around me. I do know I doubted myself and lost confidence in my abilities. A career is a man's second life and making movies is mine. I've used wealth as a measure of my abilities. I felt if I wasn't making more than everyone else then my achievements were worth much less. I think this has been my own fault."  
Chen Kuan Tai's homecoming allowed him to freelance whenever possible, and direct again if he chose to. At peace with himself, he remained at Shaw Studio till their closing in the mid-1980s.
When you compare Wang Yu's Shaw era with his work for independents and Golden Harvest, his time at Shaw Brothers was far more consistent and bankable. His career afterward was wildly discordant. During his post-Shaw career, journalists referred to him as being "obsessed with making money". In November of 1972, he was asked by a Cinemart reporter how he was able to make 14 movies within that year in Taiwan. He detailed traveling to three different studios and locations in a 24 hour period while sleeping for only three hours a day in his car: This sort of bodily torture resulted in numerous injuries and becoming ill due to overwork. Noting his exhaustion, "When I'd get home at 4 o'clock in the morning, I was so tired I couldn't even take off my clothes; so I'd just lay across the bed and instantly fall asleep."  Wang would go on to explain his income went to his family, supporting his brothers and sisters overseas in Canada and America, and repaying a debt of near HK$1 million for his father's failed textile factory.
He had so many movies out or coming out, you could go see a Wang Yu movie one week and another would take its place the next. Despite the heavy workload, Wang had a lengthy string of bombs that year in 1972. BOXERS OF LOYALTY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS made $HK307,208 in 7 days of release; SHOWDOWN grossed a 7 day total of HK$283,065; MA SU CHEN, the sequel to the same year's FURIOUS SLAUGHTER, grossed HK$443,430 in 6 days; THE FURY OF KING BOXER managed HK$614,371 after 8 days of exhibition; THE GALLANT, a trilogy of stories all starring Wang Yu, scrounged up HK$464,563 in 7 days. The anthology it was copying, Shaw's TRILOGY OF SWORDSMANSHIP, made HK$1,062,847; THE FAST FISTS slowed to a total of  HK$243,848 in theaters for 7 days. Then there was THE INVINCIBLE, defeated after an 8-day cume of HK$289,520. (Insert: Wang Yu on the set of THE GALLANT with director Yang Su)
Wang Yu did have hits with FURIOUS SLAUGHTER taking in HK$1,126,506 in 8 days; and ONE-ARM BOXER accumulating HK$1,020,535 in 14 days of theatrical play.
Asked about this level of market saturation Wang said, "I've set two goals for myself--to make money and to make at least a few good movies for future generations". As history has shown, he accomplished both of them. He did, however, vow to reduce his workload to ten films a year in the hopes of increasing the quality of his work. (Insert: Magazine ad for CHOW KEN, aka FURY OF KING BOXER)

One of the movies Wang had recently completed was 'Cold-Faced Tiger', aka A MAN CALLED TIGER (1973). Reportedly, the film was originally offered to Bruce Lee, but his contempt for Lo Wei was greater than the payday. Wang Yu hadn't liked Lo either since the Shaw Brothers days, but the actor needed a hit. Bruce and Chow were rumored to be on bad terms as well, so Chow was only too happy to throw money Wang's way. A Golden Harvest production filmed in Japan, there was also a Japanese version shot for that market. Director Lo Wei tried to get Tatsuya Nakadai but he turned down the paltry $HK100,000 offered to him. After Wang Yu's string of bombs, the HK$2 million made by TIGER in February '73 was a shot in the arm for the actor. 
KNIGHT ERRANT (1973) followed it into theaters the week after and only mustered HK$584,997. TIGER was the last big hit he had till THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975) took HK$1,087,235 in 13 days. Billing him as director on the HK release, it was the 12th biggest hit of the year. Wang's next hit came almost a year later with ONE-ARMED BOXER VS. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976), slashing and chopping its way to HK$1,264,855 in 14 days of theatrical play. The night before that film opened was also the moment Wang's Triad involvement would mimic the sort of violence you'd see in any number of HK gangster movies in the 80s and 90s.
Wang Yu's arrogance and ill-temperament got him into trouble many times. You could make a movie about his numerous altercations and it would be the action-packed hit of the year. In the same above-mentioned November 1972 interview, Wang was asked about his increasing newspaper appearances for being a "martial arts thug", causing disturbances at night clubs and other venues. His brief response was, "If you don't go to these places you'll find less gossip".

In 1972, Wang was in the headlines multiple times for incidents involving scuffles with police, film directors and actors. Two incidents in July occurred in Taiwan; one of which involved a Taiwanese actor whom Wang reportedly beat with sticks. Details were not immediately known, but another encounter had Wang Yu getting into a fight at a restaurant in Taiwan. According to Lo Wei, who was present, Wang Yu was engaged in a heated argument with director Wang Hung Chang (Wang Hong Zhang). He directed Wang in THE HERO (1971), known in America as RAGE OF THE MASTER. Seeing things potentially getting out of hand, a friend of the director intervened and put his hand on Wang's shoulder to calm the actor down--only a fight broke out instead. Both Lo Wei and Wang's wife at the time, Lin Cui, chalked it up to a misunderstanding. However, in most of Wang's altercations, his hot temper is tolerated and excused because of his drawing power at the box office. And as subsequent years attest, Wang's short fuse got shorter, and the situations got more violent.

On another occasion, Wang Yu got into a brawl with two men while he was in Thailand filming THE TATTOOED DRAGON (1973) for Golden Harvest. All three were arrested, and apparently Wang caused more trouble while in custody. Pending trial, the wild actor apparently was able to bond himself out as it was reported no one from GH had done so. Whatever it was that transpired was so serious, Wang was facing two years in a Thai prison. In a move that sounds like something right out of a 1970s HK action flick, Lo Wei (who directed the movie) and the few members of the crew quietly left on separate flights back to HK in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, Wang was smuggled out of the country in an effort to evade both reporters and Thai authorities that intended to prosecute him in military court. Later, when Wang finally spoke to the press about the incident he said, "If I had stayed in Thailand I'd be in prison for two years. I was forced to leave in this way". He continued, "From now on, I won't be making any more movies in Thailand". Years later, Wang Yu did return to the country for family reasons.

How Raymond Chow handled this with Thai authorities, or even what exactly it was that caused the fight was not divulged at the time. At any rate, it was business as usual for Wang Yu as he flew to Taiwan to start a movie for First Films; then preparation for some planned production for Raymond Chow to be shot in Italy (possibly what eventually became the Australia-lensed THE MAN FROM HONG KONG [1975]).

Around the time of THE TATTOOED DRAGON fiasco, THE TWO CAVALIERS (1973) was being promoted by First Film's reps as Wang Yu and Chen Sing teaming up to battle Bruce Lee at the box office. THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972) had just come out, ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) was near completion, and GAME OF DEATH (1977) was in-progress. This was some clever marketing and an attempt to tease a possible future movie co-starring both Bruce Lee (who would be dead in five months) and Wang Yu. The two actors didn't like each other so it was doubtful if that much ego could have been contained without reaching a boiling point. 
Even so, Bruce and Wang both met for the first time in February of 1972, taking photographs for reporters at Kai Tak Airport before attending Golden Harvest's Lunar New Year celebration on February 15th. Much was made in the papers that Shaw and GH were having their New Year's parties on the same day. 
Curiously, the year 1974 saw only one Wang Yu movie in theaters, that being FOUR REAL FRIENDS; the aforementioned First Films flick. You would expect a movie packed with so much testosterone would be an easy million-grosser, and it was promoted as such. Unfortunately, the combined strength of Wang Yu, Chen Sing, Chang Yi, and Chin Kang (King Kong, Kam Kong) and Lung Fei as the main villain only flexed HK$650,570 of theatrical muscle in seven days of release.
In late '74, rumors of Wang and Lin Cui's relationship being on rocky ground was widely reported when she returned to Hong Kong from Taiwan with their eldest daughter in mid-December to file for separation. Since they were never officially registered as a married couple, HK law dictated that if a man and woman live together for seven years, it's considered a common law marriage. Wang attempted reconciliation but Lin wanted to be officially separated, refusing to speak to him on the matter till the signing of their split. Wang Yu was reportedly virtually broke at this time. Their property on Prince Edward Road in Hong Kong was in Lin's name. When Wang's villa in Yangmingshan, Taipei was built a few years earlier, he put the property in his daughters name, and the only things he owned were investments in a printing company and theater chain. As for their children, Lin Cui wished to raise their eldest daughter (Wang Shin Ping), while Wang would raise their two other daughters, Wang Jia Lu and Wang Mei Yi.

After seven years together, the couple formally announced their parting at a presser for the media. Once the news was out, Lin emphatically requested the media leave her be; while Wang Yu stated for the cameras in a sincere tone, "Lin and I will always and forever love one another."

The first movie Wang Yu made after his breakup was a new direction for him... a sex comedy for First Films titled 'Contraception'; or in English as A COOKBOOK OF BIRTH CONTROL (1975). Directed by Chen Hao (Steve Chan Ho), the brother of famed villain actor and filmmaker Chen Hung Lieh, and a member of the popular Silver Rats group (more on them in Part 2), it paired Wang Yu with Wang Ping again; the two having previously co-starred together in THE CHINESE BOXER (1970). 
Wang Yu worked with Chen on the script in Taipei, often all night to get it done quickly. After Huang Zhuo Han gave the go-ahead to film, Chen (who also stars in the picture) decided to rewrite his script and add new roles, including some Taiwanese sex starlets like Elaine Jin Yan Ling. HK audiences weren't interested in Wang Yu making them laugh, though; the film's funny business only made HK$274,234 in six days of release. (Insert: Elaine Jin Yan Ling, Wang Yu, Chen Hao during the filming of A COOKBOOK OF BIRTH CONTROL)

The summer of '75 also saw Wang Yu return to Taiwan and his one-armed superhero character for what would become one of, if not his last hit of the decade, ONE-ARMED BOXER VS. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976). One of the most well-known Kung Fu movies around the world, the single-digit, head-cleaving classic is one of several films the actor made that has kept him a popular topic of discussion among genre fans ever since.

It was also the middle part of the decade when Wang Yu's career went into exceedingly dangerous territory. 
After his divorce to Lin Cui, he had a several month romance with actress Lin Ching Hsia (see insert) that perplexed many in the industry since their personalities were polar opposites. At the time, Lin Ching Hsia was romantically entangled with actor Tsung Hua, the two having known each other for 3 1/2 years. Rumors began to swirl that she also had a boyfriend in Taiwan... that being Jimmy Wang Yu. During an April 17th, 1976 interview with the couple, Wang stated he liked her for her purity, her ignorance of the world, and that she was the kind of woman that sought protection from a man. Lin's mother apparently didn't like Wang and he would give her numerous reasons not to a week later. Still, reporters noted that when Wang and Lin were together, he never smoked, drank, or gambled; seemingly having abstained from his bad habits. That was to change on April 24th, 1976.

The night before on the 23rd was when the infamous Xing Hua Pavilion incident took place. Wang was identified as the instigator of a vicious altercation between the Bamboo Alliance and Four Seas gangs that left multiple people dead. That he attempted to flee Taiwan for Hong Kong only made the actor look guilty. Similar to his melee in Thailand, Wang was able to escape serious prison time; not by sneaking out of the country, but partly by way of a lenient judge. Probably the biggest scandal at the time, some of the actor's colleagues in HK and Taiwan pleaded for him while media personalites wanted to see Wang finally pay the consequences of his actions. In the end, Wang appealed his ten-month prison sentence only for the plaintiff to withdraw the charges.
The vicious gang violence he put into motion temporarily made him an industry pariah. When he re-entered the film world, the first picture he starred in was THE DOUBLE DOUBLE CROSS (1977) co-starring with Chia Ling and Chang Yi; and directed by actor-turned-director Tien Feng and produced by another of Wang's pals, Jimmy Shaw Feng and his Alpha company. Since Tien was Wang's good friend, his participation may have been a favor to help Wang out during that dark time of his career.
In 1977, and after a few failed relationships, Wang changed his feelings on a second marriage. He went all out for his wedding to Wang Kai Chen, an airline stewardess for China Airlines whom he'd met on a flight. They got married on December 20th, 1977 in Hawaii and had a second wedding on January 8th, 1978 in Taiwan. A third wedding was planned for Hong Kong. For the gala Taipei wedding at the Grand Hotel, Wang's three young daughters were flower girls. The media at the time made mention of how unhappy they looked, pointing out how they never smiled once during the entire ceremony. There was worry that Wang would find a way to have an altercation at his wedding, but outside of a disagreement with a staff member he kept his cool and respectability for the occasion. 
One of the reasons for concern was that Wang Chen's former boyfriend, a Malaysian man, attempted to get her back before the wedding. It was not to be as her parents, as most all Asian families do, vehemently opposed their daughter marrying a foreigner. In an unusual move, Wang Yu (and his soon-to-be bride) sent the man a letter thanking him for being good to Ms. Wang the duration of their relationship. 
About his new love, Wang Yu said to reporters, "Everyone has a past. Mine has come to an end". The actor's past was not only not ending, but was about to get far worse and more dangerous than ever before. Despite what was to transpire over the next few years, the marriage lasted till 1999. Still, any notion of a story-book romance where the once hot-headed groom would finally settle down to a life of peace and tranquility was about to be wiped away.
Wang's fighting and bad temper had always been a regular headline-grabber; but by 1976, things took a violent turn. His mob involvement and brutal brawling left a number of people seriously wounded or dead and put his family in grave danger due to his inflammatory behavior.
After Wang Yu's last completed film as a director, THE RETURN OF THE CHINESE BOXER (1977), he began working on a modern-day movie where he was to both star and direct. On July 4th, 1978, Wang was filming in Taipei's Tamsui District when two taxis entered the filming area. Seven to eight men exited the cars and began assaulting people with Wang Yu being the main target. The actor defended himself with a knife and managed to escape in another car; but not before a makeup assistant and one of the film's investors were injured. Wang decided against working with local authorities to identify the attackers and the film was canceled. 

By this point, the actor was in the news for his off-screen behavior longer than his movies were in theaters. Returning to the one-armed well one too many times did nothing for his movie career (although overseas audiences couldn't get enough of them)
Wang Yu joined forces with David Chiang to direct and star in THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMEN (1976). You'd expect this would be a success but the film came up a couple hundred thousand shy of the coveted $1 million mark. Director Tsu Teng Hung returned to direct Wang in ONE-ARMED AGAINST NINE KILLERS (1976) only for it to be shelved for two years. Promoted as "a blockbuster of chivalrous romance", Wang's last single-arm actioner ONE-ARM CHIVALRY FIGHTS AGAINST ONE-ARM CHIVALRY (1977) was a double-amputee bomb with a HK$178,393 box office take after only two days in release. Produced by Wing Tai Films, distribution was handled by First Films. After a five-year collaboration, it was the last association between Wang and Huang's First company.

Prior to his family being threatened in 1980, Wang, along with actor You Tian Long (Yu Tien Lung; choreographer on some of Wang's early 70s movies) and others, got into a massive brawl while in Penghu, Taiwan on the night of October 12th, 1979. It's unknown how many were involved in this melee, but it left one man shot in the head. It was reported that Wang Yu wished for a private reconciliation with the opposing party but they refused his offer. From here, the worst was yet to come. 
Wang Yu nearly being killed at approximately 12:40pm on January 10th, 1981 was likely connected to his joint venture with the Bamboo Alliance to open an underground casino. He had insulted the leader of the Four Seas the previous year after refusing to appear at one of their casinos. Attacked by multiple assailants at the Tianchu Restaurant in Taipei, Wang suffered serious injuries to his stomach and leg (sources range the stab wounds from four to seven); the stab wound to his right thigh reportedly opened up a major artery. (Insert: Wang and director Larry Tu Chong Hsun on the set of THE LANTERN STREET)
Multiple threatening phone calls to the Min Sheng Hospital where Wang was taken concerned the staff that thugs may lay siege to the place to get at the uncontrollable actor. Wang Yu once more refusing to cooperate with the police only exacerbated the situation. Not only was the actor facing further bodily harm to himself, his family, and his home being set ablaze, he was facing yet another criminal offense for violating gambling ordinances. Wang would leave the hospital before he was due for release over fears the Triads would indeed get to him there. The violence came to a head inside a court of law on May 8th, 1981 where a literal court battle took place. Multiple Triads, including Wang Yu, got into a bloody knife fight after failing yet again to resolve issues privately, much less abide by the rule of law.

By the early 1980s, Wang Yu's career was mostly dead. Crime would worsen in the film industry and Wang would act as mediator; most famously with the contract taken out on Jackie Chan by Lo Wei. He appeared sporadically in several movies into the early 90s, and was out of the spotlight for a decade before surfacing again in the last ten years. Health problems caught up with the actor, suffering a stroke in 2011. Jimmy Wang Yu passed away on April 5th, 2022 at the age of 79. (Insert: Wang Yu in 1968)
Despite his arrogant personality and senseless penchant for antagonism and violence, Wang maintained a lot of fans, and especially outside of Asia. He brought a lot of unnecessary grief on himself and others, but had an amazing body of work that is all the better in that many of his sterling roles were in films he directed himself. If ever there was an Asian actor whose life reflected his art, it was Jimmy Wang Yu.
There were other film stars who had similar career paths to Wang the Wild One. There were also actors who were involved in organized crime and maintained high levels of popularity on the big screen. In PART 2, we take an in-depth look at Polly Shang Kuan Ling Feng, Chen Sing, Yasuaki Kurata, and a trio of Triad actors.

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