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Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Wild, Wild East: Duel of the Independent Film Companies Part 2




DEADLY CHINA DOLL: POLLY SHANG KUAN LING FENG CHAPTER 1
 
"If I hadn't become popular after doing DRAGON INN (1967), I wouldn't have a film career today. However, I don't really like making movies. I am more interested in furthering my education."--Polly in an interview with HKMN, November 1975 

While the lovely lady of action, Cheng Pei Pei, was a massive superstar at Shaw Brothers Studio, there were other Swordplay Queens making as much, if not more, noise on Taiwanese cinema screens. Two of the biggest--Polly Shang Kuan and Hsu Feng--were discoveries of King Hu Jin Quan, a filmmaker who likewise gave Cheng Pei Pei her breakout role during his time at Shaw Brothers Studio. Of the three, Polly Shang Kuan had the most colorful career; and was in the news or on a magazine cover virtually every week.

Polly Shang Kuan Ling Feng was among the few martial arts stars that became famous virtually overnight; making a name for herself in King Hu's hit film, DRAGON INN (1967) for the Taiwan-based indy outfit, Union Films. Originally, the company wanted Cheng Pei Pei for the role but Shaw wouldn't lend her out; so Polly got the part almost by accident and she took off from there--going on to become the most popular movie star in Taiwan at that time.
 
She initially trained under the tutelage of Han Ying Chieh for several months before taking up martial arts training on her own. An extremely humble lady, in her early years, Polly was reserved  off-screen; like the girl next door. After a few years in the industry, though, she hardened herself and became very outspoken with a fiery personality to match. 

"This trip to Hong Kong makes me feel immense gratitude to you all. Thank you for the love and encouragement you've given me, making this experience one of the happiest days of my life. I shall never forget all of your precious hospitality!"--Polly Shang Kuan's written statement read during her first visit to Hong Kong in 1968.
 
After the massive HK success of DRAGON INN (1967) and another hit with THE SWORDSMAN OF ALL SWORDSMEN (1968), Polly visited the island for the first time on November 6th, 1968. She spent seven days there meeting flocks of fans, businesses, and making television appearances. (Insert: Polly in HK next to a poster of her Taiwanese Swordplay movie, THE SWORDSMAN OF ALL SWORDSMEN)
 
 
The Taiwanese starlet was so popular in Hong Kong, she was one of the three finalists in a Queen of Swordswomen poll in April of 1969; voted on by the readers of two major HK newspapers. Polly came in third place behind Cheng Pei Pei and Chin Ping (who retired in December of that year). Her star would continue to rise both in Hong Kong and back home in Taiwan. In some ways, Polly's personality was similar to Wang Yu's. She was constantly in the news, on dozens of magazine covers, and very ambitious about where she wanted to ultimately be in life. Especially in the first half of the 1970s, the media couldn't get enough of her. (Top and insert: Polly dressed as her DRAGON INN character, readied for a TV appearance on the TVB program HAPPY TONIGHT during her HK visit; Polly signs autographs on one of her many stops in HK in 1968)
 
There was even an alleged rivalry going on between her and Hsu Feng, who had a smaller role in DRAGON INN but had the leading role in A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971). The purported heat between the two women was due to Polly surpassing Hsu's star status and doubling her pay rate from HK$30,000 to HK$60,000 per film at the dawn of the 1970s. Both women had intriguing career trajectories in the 1970s that led the two ladies down opposing paths when their careers in front of the camera ended in the 1980s.
 
Both star's personality's couldn't have been more different, though. Polly was vocal and big into fashion, as well as being a martial artist; while Hsu Feng was quiet and felt a sense of duty to those who had helped her, a casual dresser, and wasn't formally trained in any fighting style.
 
 
Case in point was Hsu Feng's relationship with King Hu. Hsu had said in interviews that Hu Jin Quan had given her confidence by encouraging her to stay in the business and pursue a career as an actress. (Top: Director King Hu with actress Hsu Feng on A TOUCH OF ZEN)
 
In 1973, Shaw Brothers invited her to co-star in Chu Yuan's SEX, LOVE AND HATE (1974). Anxious to star in a modern-day movie, Hsu hesitated before accepting the role. Recalling the grudge King Hu had with Shaw's, she felt it might be a sign of disrespect if she did the picture. She would eventually take the role anyway. Something similar would happen between Cheng Pei Pei and King Hu that same year. 
 
However, between the three actresses--Polly, Hsu, and Cheng Pei Pei--only Hsu worked with King Hu again. She reunited with her mentor on THE VALIANT ONES (1975), a co-production with Hu's own company and Golden Harvest; and again with Hu on RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN and LEGEND OF THE MOUNTAIN (both 1979).

When Hsu Feng joined the Union Company with Polly, her monthly pay--along with Polly--was a low NT$1,000 (the equivalent of $34 in today's money). Hsu wasn't big into being fashionable like Polly was, and she didn't make enough to invest in high-end clothing lines. So when Union's publicity department got tired of her casual dress for photo shoots, they tried to persuade her mother to dress her more like a movie star. This resulted in Hsu Feng publicly stating, "If I had a lot of money I'd dress up to fit the part of a movie star. But the company gives me very little to live on; so I have to use my money wisely, and I have to support my family. And I'm just an actor. As long as I look good on camera, the audience doesn't care how pretty I am off of it."

For the next few years, critics would occasionally compare the two actresses although by the end of the decade, amid some career parallels, a bit of role reversal would take place that we will return to later.

After Polly's stint at the Union company ended, the blazing swordswoman had a potentially bright future ahead of her making movies for Taiwan's First Films. Huang Zhuo Han's company had one of the longest runs of the numerous small studios. Unfortunately, when the actress wasn't training in martial arts, learning to speak English and playing the zither, Polly spent most of her First Film tenure irritating Boss Huang over money disputes that led to a lawsuit and lots of headaches. Moreover, her stream of troubles were foreshadowed while still under contract with Union Films. (Insert: Polly flanked by directors Li Han Hsiang and King Hu in 1972)
 
During the filming of THE BRAVE AND THE EVIL (1971) in 1970, the incident between Polly and director Jimmy Wang Yu (mentioned in PART 1) wasn't the end of that film's numerous problems. Towards the end of filming, Polly allegedly became ill with the flu and was admitted to the Tri-Service General Hospital in Taipei where a relative of hers worked as a physician. Laid up in a hospital bed for a week, the Union company head Sha Rong Feng (Sha Wing Fung) became nervous that Polly may not complete the picture; the reason being they didn't believe she was actually sick. Only a day of filming remained, but Polly's protest was reported to have nothing to do with Wang Yu, but personal issues with Union Films. 
 
The actress apparently wanted the company to lend her money to buy a house. Sha Rong Feng was said to have agreed to this under the condition she sign a new three-year contract. After three days of negotiations, neither side could come to an agreement, but Polly did complete the postponed picture.
 
Later that year, Polly Shang Kuan was filming THE GHOSTLY FACE (1971) in Bali; a co-production between Union and an Indonesian company. She was asked by a reporter about receiving a HK$100,000 deposit from Huang Zhuo Han to make movies for his company. Even though she denied this as a rumor, she was working for First Films the following year. The reticence of the actress to divulge details would be a pattern that would pop up throughout the decade.
 
Union Films was a company that took an assortment of beatings the entirety of its ten year existence. When King Hu broke his contract with Shaw Brothers to make movies for them, the two companies came to an agreement; the first three films Hu would make for Union in Taiwan, the Hong Kong distribution would be handled by the Shaw's. As fate would have it, Polly Shang Kuan's critically lauded role in DRAGON INN (1967) made a far greater impression at the HK box office than in its home turf in Taiwan. The box office hit HK$3 million, making Ms. Shang Kuan the biggest moneymaking film star in the Mandarin film industry till Bruce Lee hit the scene in 1971.
 
When A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971) hit theaters, it fared badly; although a few years later it would receive international recognition along with King Hu himself. While Union's boss Sha Rong Feng appreciated Hu's directing skills, he worked far too slowly and they needed revenue coming in to stay afloat. They had a falling out and Hu left to set up his own company. In another blow, after ten years of doing business together, Shaw's decided to part ways with Union and opened their own Taiwan branch to handle distribution of their films. 
 
Desperate to stay in the black, Union decided to focus on distributing movies and less on producing them. They did receive a lucrative boost when Lo Wei negotiated a deal for them to distribute FIST OF FURY (1972) in Taiwan along with two other films. The profits from Bruce Lee's second movie kept them going for a while longer. Their one major draw, Polly Shang Kuan Ling Feng, would soon leave after the expiration of her contract on September 30th, 1971. Both Golden Harvest and First Films were throwing more money her way than Union could afford. She wasn't keen on working for Raymond Chow, so First got her signature on the dotted line. It wouldn't be long, though, before Polly would be causing many headaches for the Big Boss of First Films. 
 
Additionally, both Chow and Huang had a partnership between their two companies, so Polly would be loaned out to Golden Harvest in a move that would benefit her in the end.
 
The year 1973 was a turning point for the actress. She starred in the hit Chinese New Year Golden Harvest action-comedy, 'Little Heroes On the Road', aka BACK ALLEY PRINCESS (1973). The film would make HK$1,567,174 at the box office. Later that year, Polly won Best Leading Actress at the 11th Annual Golden Horse Awards in October of 1973 for her role in the film. Having garnered good critical notices from her first movie at the small Union Film company years earlier, and now an award-winning martial arts movie actress, you'd think things could only go up for the martial artist leading lady.

Judging by audience reaction to the movie, Polly had a knack for comedy; so Lo Wei asked her to team up again with Sam Hui (brother to Michael and Ricky Hui) for a sequel, 'Little Heroes Make Trouble In Chinatown', aka THE CHINESE ENFORCERS, aka CHINATOWN CAPERS (1974). Even though Golden Harvest cooperated with some of First Film's talent pool (Wang Yu being one and Polly Shang Kuan being another), issues would soon arise that strained the inter-studio relationship between the major company and the independent.

During the filming of BACK ALLEY PRINCESS in Hong Kong, it was noted how uncharacteristically obedient Polly was while working under Lo Wei's guidance (see insert). They had something of a father-daughter relationship. After filming wrapped on PRINCESS, Polly returned to Taiwan to begin work on three movies for the First company: THE TWO CAVALIERS, A GATHERING OF HEROES, and SEVEN TO ONE (all 1973). When she didn't return to HK to begin filming the PRINCESS sequel at Golden Harvest, rumors swirled that she wasn't doing the movie at all.

As it turned out, the filming of BACK ALLEY PRINCESS had delayed the shooting of A GATHERING OF HEROES and she was replaced on THE TWO CAVALIERS; so Boss Huang held her over resulting in a delay on her return to do the PRINCESS sequel shoot. When the Golden Harvest sequel was released the following year, it nearly equaled the gross of the first movie with a cume of HK$1,441,784.
 
Incidentally, Polly's role on THE TWO CAVALIERS was given to popular Taiwanese songstress, Chin Mi. She had been with Huang's company for two years and abruptly quit the production after two days of filming. Her contract was set to expire December 31st, 1972. Chin had this to say about breaking her contract: "I quit the movie because my part in it was far too small. In the past two years, I've gotten little screen time. They just want to put some delicate beauty in front of the camera while the martial arts heroes get all the attention". She continued, "I am still very grateful to First Films for promoting me, I just feel left out. But it's a business, and in this business it's the action stars who get the support." 
 
The now twice vacated role went to newcomer, Kuo Hsiao Chuang (the star of 1973s CHUI CHOW KUNG FU)
 
Asked if she would return to acting in the future, Chin Mi said the conditions would have to be right; but till then, she looked forward to going back to her singing career. She never did another movie.
 
This project disruption caused a rift between the two companies as it was viewed that--despite her contract with First--since Golden Harvest was a major, and Lo Wei had opened up a new avenue for Polly at Golden Harvest, that she should be loyal to Chow's company instead of First Films; the company she was contractually bound to. 
 
Adding to the tense situation, Polly's two other First Films pictures for 1974 did little business in comparison. EMPRESS DOWAGER'S AGATE VASE, another comedy Kung Fu flick, and her first movie she made after winning the Best Actress Award, only made HK$354,019; while the star-studded THE RANGERS did about the same with HK$375,800. She fulfilled her obligation to Lo Wei but did no more movies for Raymond Chow as she reportedly didn't like working at Golden Harvest. Huang, whose company was growing in capital and now producing some 15 movies a year, would then cease playing Golden Harvest movies in the small chain of theaters he opened in Taipei. (Insert: Polly with Lo Wei's first wife, Li Liang Hua at Golden Harvest)

In an instance of what goes around comes around, Huang Zhuo Han was now having done to him what he'd done to Union Films. The difference being Polly still had movies owed to First Films per her contract; as well as an IOU for monies she denied borrowing. Moreover, the martial arts tigress stated in interviews--without naming anyone--that there were occasions where she only received two-thirds of her pay. However, the actress's troubles, and ability to frustrate the companies that hired her, would continue throughout the decade.
 
TAIWAN'S TOUGH GUY: CHEN SING

Like so many others, the Bangkok born, muscular actor Chen Sing (Chen Hsing, Chan Sing) started his career working for the Shaw Brothers. His status as an actor began in 1968 essaying various villains in Chang Cheh's movies. Sadly, he never had a major martial arts role at Shaw's; either playing minor antagonists or a corrupt official who never did any fighting. The biggest of these roles was playing a scheming warlord trying to bring down the King in Chang's opulent and epic classic, THE HEROIC ONES in 1970. Chen Sing performed in similar capacity in Chang's ultra-splattery mini-epic THE DEADLY DUO (1971). 
 
Considering Chang Cheh was solely responsible for the masculinity boom in Hong Kong, it's curious why he never took advantage of Chen Sing's attributes. Chen wasn't only a martial artist; he had an impressive build that the director never showed off on-camera. He continually cast Chen in minor roles as assassins; and sometimes with no dialog. The few times he got larger roles, such as the two aforementioned Swordplay titles, his acting was on display instead of his skills and physique. Chang Cheh may have given Chen his first break, but it would be Ng See Yuen who gave the actor the starring roles he craved.
 
By 1971, Chen had tired of only being offered supporting roles and always playing villains even though his face was ideal for that sort of part. Reportedly, Lo Lieh invited Chen to play the main bad guy in his directing debut, DEVIL AND ANGEL (1973) only for Chen to decline the offer.
 
There was also a rumor that Bruce Lee wanted Chen to play a role in GAME OF DEATH (1977). When asked about this, Chen denied knowledge of it, stating he hadn't been in contact with Lee about appearing in the picture. He did say that if asked by Lee he would decline the invitation if it were to only be a small part or if he was just there to be beaten up on-camera. Things were about to change for the frustrated actor, though.
 
Chen Sing joined the independent motion picture company, First Films in 1972. He didn't wish to leave Shaw's, but the pay for a supporting player was much lower than a leading actor. He didn't feel his career was going anywhere so leaving was what was best for him. First Film's president Huang Zhuo Han saw potential in Chen and top-billed him in several movies. The First company was a fast-rising indy company and entirely the creation of law-grad, former teacher, and Ministry of Defense Secretary, Huang Zhuo Han. 
 
For 15 years, between 1952 and 1967, Huang operated two independent companies. In that time, his work as a producer holds the distinction of producing the first color 35mm motion picture in Hong Kong with 1957s THE MERMAID PRINCESS. After the closure of his two enterprises, Huang returned to Taiwan to set up First Films, one of the most successful of all the indy companies mass-producing movies in 1970s Hong Kong. Huang's contributions to the industry brought him recognition in 1993 for Lifetime Achievement at the 30th Annual Golden Horse Awards. He died in 2004 aged 85.

Going back to Chen Sing, his deal at First wasn't much better than what he had at Shaw Brothers, but he was a headliner now. Signing a three year, ten picture deal with the option to shoot two other movies a year outside of the First company, the pay was a low HK$20,000 per film. Considering his rising star status, Chen was asked about his contract being of low pay: "If I breach my contract there will be legal action against me, leading to no filming in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Now, I could go to Japan or Thailand where the law cannot control me and make money that way; but I don't want to do that. When I left Shaw's Huang Zhuo Han was the first to sign me. Although the pay is low, I am grateful to him for this opportunity." (Insert: Chen Sing, weightlifter Hsieh Yuan, Cheng Lei, and Guo Hui AT Shaw Studio in 1968)

Chen wasn't entirely pleased with his new situation, but he was hopeful for a bonus should his films reap good box office for Boss Huang's company. There was also the option of making two movies for somebody else or for himself. His star turn in Ng See Yuen's THE BLOODY FISTS (1972), co-starring with a pre-Shaw Brothers Chen Kuan Tai, and filmed for Empire Cinema Center Ltd, rewarded him with a bonus; likely due to the film's surprisingly high HK$1,731,484 box office take in 15 days of theatrical release. 
 
THE GOOD AND THE BAD (1972), aka KUNG FU--THE INVISIBLE FIST, was Chen's second film for the company, and the second for director Ng, a young, up and coming talent. It was also another hit--bringing in HK$1,248,293 in 15 days of release. It was the first of a few collaborations Chen did with Japanese import, Yasuaki Kurata. Chen and Kurata headlined a third movie for Ng See Yuen titled THE RAGE OF WIND (1973); known in America as THE NINJA WARLORD. This one was made for another indy outfit, the Eternal Film Company. WIND was yet another success, stirring up HK$1,014,388.
 
Chen was also apprehensive about shooting so many movies in such rapid time. He was like Bruce Lee in that respect, in that he felt a slower, more concentrated pace on a single movie would only improve the industry model instead of they usual making multiple movies at once. At the time he was working as a lead actor, some reporters saw Chen and his stocky build as a potentially comparable star to Bruce Lee since his films were achieving steady box office in Chinese-speaking territories and in Japan as well. (Insert: Magazine promotion for THE RAGE OF WIND)
 
Unlike his colleague Jimmy Wang Yu, Chen Sing was an amenable man. He had an eye-opening and enlightening outlook on the industry in those days. He also had something to say about the 1973 crackdown on violence and bloodshed in Chinese-language motion pictures; an uptick in crime was blamed on the surge in on-screen brutality. 
 
As told to a reporter about the increasing censorship, "Reality is far more cruel than what you see in the movies. You can't do this, you can't do that... it seems the Censorship Office is required to have a problem any time we make a film. If a fight scene isn't intense, you're not satisfying the audience and the box office is impacted. It makes it hard to shoot when a sequence can't pass their inspection. In some of the early China Republic movies you can't even dress a certain way without being restricted. I would actually like to shoot some modern-day movies. Adding some modern-style action and car chases would make a movie more edgy and varied." (Insert: Chen Sing in front of the recently completed Connaught Center--now the Jardine House--in 1973)
 
 
In attendance at the 11th Annual Golden Horse Awards in October of '73, a recovering Chen Sing (he'd been stabbed in the leg while filming on an unnamed movie) spoke to a reporter about the state of the genre and his thoughts on martial arts pictures. (Insert: Chen at the Golden Horse Awards. His wife is next to him, and actor Fong Yei [Fang Yeh, Fong Yau] on the far right)

Reporter: "Due to dwindling box office numbers, many are saying martial arts films in their current form are losing audience interest. Are you planning on doing different types of non-fighting roles?"

Chen Sing: "Well, for now there's no such plan. As for the future, it's not been decided. Regarding the state of Kung Fu films, if the production is taken seriously, the standards of the script, the actors, the acting, and the technicians behind the camera are better skilled, then the film itself will turn out well. An ideal situation would be to produce one good martial arts movie a month instead of working on five at once. The level of quality can be raised considerably. If we put all our energy into a single production, there is no doubt the standard in our industry will improve."

Reporter: "Some are saying that today's Kung Fu movie audience have higher expectations for these films now. Do you feel the same way?"

Chen Sing: "Most certainly. We've been making MA movies for years now. Up to now some 500 have been released, right? Eventually you get tired of watching it. If there are no new plots the fans will naturally lose interest. In my view, this is the biggest reason the audience of these movies is getting smaller."

Reporter: "You were recently stabbed in the thigh while filming, and the injury was not minor. Do you think these movies are worth the risk?"

Chen Sing: "It depends on your attitude towards the genre and filming in general. Personally, I am very passionate about the martial arts. My interest in filming in a capacity beyond acting is also growing, so it's definitely worthwhile for me."

Aside from starring in movies, and like a growing number of his colleagues, Chen Sing had interest in making his own--producing and directing them. He co-produced BLACK PANTHER (1973) alongside his First Film boss, Huang Zhuo Han. The experience apparently wasn't to his liking as he remained an actor the duration of his career. He never got to experience working on a single picture at once, to see what a more focused production would look like versus the typically faster pace of the island's industry. By 1974, critics were referring to him as the "Charles Bronson of the Chinese film industry". In 1978 alone, Chen Sing starred in over two dozen movies completed or released in that year. 
 
His stance on doing too many films at once was an accurate summation in terms of box office. With so many movies playing throughout the year, that meant some films would do dismal business. And when the heavily acrobatic "Bumpkin Kung Fu" style took the box office by storm in '78, times got harder for grounded fighters like Chen and Carter Wong in period settings. MANTIS COMBAT (1978), one of a handful of movies Chen did that had a Korean director on hand to shoot alternate scenes, was directed by Shang Lang (Heung Ling; Xiang Ling); the director of the awful fantasy flick, DEADLY SNAIL VS. THE KUNG FU KILLERS (1977). Chen's Mantis movie made HK$91,975 in seven days. (Insert: Chen in 1974s THE FURIOUS MONK FROM SHAOLIN)
 
Another of Chen's films that had a poor showing that year was the modern-day crime movie, AMSTERDAM CONNECTION; it fared little better with HK$92,434. Co-directed and co-written by Law Chi (Luo Qi; Law Kei) and actor Fan Mei Sheng, it was apparently one of a few films that attempted to mine material from the aborted Li Han Hsiang and Chen Hui Min Europe-lensed Kung Fu project, 'Gambling For Heads'. Another similar movie from 1978, and with Chen Sing in a smaller role, was the HK-US co-production between Golden Harvest and Columbia Pictures, THE AMSTERDAM KILL.

1978s TWO GREAT CAVALIERS (not to be confused with 1973s THE TWO CAVALIERS starring Chen and Wang Yu) had a lot of star power in the casting of Chen Sing, Angela Mao Ying, John Liu, and Liang Chia Jen. Unfortunately, it went largely unnoticed by audiences. In release for seven days, the box office take was a not-so-great HK$93,138. (Insert: new actor Kam Kong visits Chen Sing during filming of BLACK PANTHER at First Films in 1973)

A fourth film starring Chen Sing that took a nosedive in '78 was BRUCE AND SHAOLIN KUNG FU co-starring Bruce Le and James Nam (who also directed). Bruce clone movies seldom made money in Hong Kong (if at all) and this one was no exception, taking in HK$91,975 in the average exhibition time of seven days.
 
The modern-day movies Chen stated several years earlier he'd like to do, gained steam in the late 70s (such as the 1976 mega-hit JUMPING ASH also starring Chen) and really hit their stride in the early 80s. Outside his film career, Chen was a Karate instructor and trainer for police officers in Singapore. He retired from the movie industry in the early 1990s living a quiet life for the remainder of his life. Sadly, the chiseled-feature fan favorite passed away in Jakarta, Indonesia on September 4th, 2019. Chen Sing was 82 years old.
 
VILLAIN OF THE EAST: YASUAKI KURATA
 
Undeniably the busiest, and most recognizable Japanese actor in Chinese-language action pictures in the 1970s was Yasuaki Kurata (Yukio Someno is a close second)
 
According to Chinese sources of the day, Kurata was born in Saitama Prefecture, Tokyo. Studying at Waseda University in Tokyo, he later transferred to Nihon University's Film Department where he majored in acting and television. At that time in the early 70s, Kurata, who had been learning Karate from his father since he was a boy, was proficient in three Japanese styles. By the time he was 25, he had a 4th Dan in Karate; a 2nd Dan in Judo; later adding Aikido to his repertoire and opening a school while in college. Kurata participated in tournaments but had yet to win any championships.
 
Then a rising star at Toei on Japanese TV and in movies, Kurata's strong predilection for Chinese culture at a young age eventually led him to meeting director Chang Cheh; who was in Japan doing location work on THE ANGRY GUEST in 1971. Introduced through a friend at the Imperial Hotel in Japan, Chang invited Kurata to participate in the movie; opening the door to a prosperous career in Hong Kong and Taiwan action cinema. Upon his arrival in Hong Kong on September 2nd, 1971, he couldn't speak any Chinese dialects; but after spending eight months filming in Taiwan, Kurata picked up Mandarin to communicate on the many sets he found himself working on for the next 10+ years. (Insert: Kurata at the 18th Asian Film Festival in Seoul, Korea in 1971. Front row: Chang Cheh, Tina Chin Fei, David Chiang, Li Ching; Back row: Wu Ma, Ti Lung, Kurata, Chen Kuan Tai)

When Kurata came on the HK-Taiwan movie scene, many of the Kung Fu films were the 'Hard Fist and Kick' variety. Many of them took place during the early China Republic era when Japan invaded in the 1930s. When Kurata had settled in at Shaw Brothers Studio, many didn't yet know his name; so he was asked through an interpreter why he was being called 'The Japanese Villain'. Kurata smiled and said with an innocent look in his eyes, "Probably because I look a little aggressive"
 
At the time of his discovery by Chang Cheh, Kurata was asked about Japan and the martial arts, going on to say, "Before the war, Japanese Karate masters were discriminated against; especially after the fourth stage of advancement. The police departments kept a blacklist record. If there was a murder or a robbery the first thing they did was investigate the martial artists. There's nothing like that now, of course. Nowadays there are many advocates in the martial arts world; lots of healthy young people who like to learn."

During his time at Shaw Brothers, both David Chiang and Ti Lung threw a big banquet for Kurata to welcome him to Hong Kong. Speaking on his first experience filming in the then British colony under the guidance of Chang Cheh, Kurata said, "This is a good opportunity for me. Chang Cheh gave me so much confidence. I have long admired his reputation in Japan, so I was extremely honored to get to work with him on his movies."

Since Chang Cheh gave him exposure in Shaw Brothers pictures THE ANGRY GUEST and FOUR RIDERS (both 1972), Kurata became an instant favorite of many film producers like Ng See Yuen and Huang Zhuo Han. He was in such high demand that he rented a single-story building in Kowloon and turned it into a private studio to train and hone his skills in acting and the martial arts. In between films in HK, Kurata would make the trek back home to make more movies there. In Japan, Kurata even sang the theme songs and other tracks for some of his movies and TV work. (Insert: Kurata and Bruce Liang doing publicity in front of the Vatican for LITTLE GODFATHER FROM HONG KONG)
 
Later on, he was asked in a 1973 interview how he felt about playing so many villainous Japanese in Chinese movies and if it bothered him. He responded, "I'm not bothered at all. I am acting as a character in a script. I am paid to be as wicked as possible with absolutely no reservations."
 
Interestingly, when Bruce Lee and Chinese Kung Fu movies caught the attention of Japanese film producers in 1973, they imported them in large numbers for a brief period of time. Paying up to US$30,000 each, this benefited the independent companies during a time when higher production costs were hindering them. However, anti-Japanese narratives were extremely popular in Kung Fu movies, and especially in the non-major studio Chinese martial arts pictures; the bad guys were almost exclusively of Nippon origin. Worried this could affect sales in the newly opened Japanese market, some producers changed their scripts to alter the nationality of the villains.
 
In ONE BY ONE (1973), an early movie of Kurata's, and for First Films, he played a very different kind of villain. In what was a Chinese remake of THE DEFIANT ONES (1958) with a barely-there plot, Kurata was paired with--and chained to--a newcomer named Chin Kang (King Kong; Kam Kong). Chin, whose real name is He Xing Fu, had credentials similar to Kurata's. An overseas Chinese in Vietnam since he was a child, Chin's martial arts pedigree included being a 3rd Dan in Karate and a 5th Dan in Taekwondo. Additionally, he'd graduated from the Department of Physical Education of the University of California. In 1968, he represented Vietnam in the Decathlon competition at the Olympic Games held in Mexico. 
 
Director Chien Lung (who would die in 1975) promoted him, finding Chin and his skills a rare talent, convincing the martial artist to sign a three year contract with First Films at four films a year. Pleased with his new basic actor, Huang Zhuo Han gave Chin the stage name of King Kong. The uniquely brutal fight scenes in ONE BY ONE apparently left a mark on the Censorship Board as the film was banned for exhibition in Hong Kong. Chin Kang would co-star with Kurata a few more times. He's likely most famous internationally for playing the head-cleaving killer monk in Wang Yu's MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976).
 
When Kurata returned to Shaw Brothers in 1978 to film HEROES OF THE EAST, it was a reunion of sorts; not just for him filming at the studio again, but working with the Liu brothers. Some of Kurata's other movies like THE PRODIGAL BOXER (1972) and SECRET OF THE SHAOLIN POLES (1977), were choreographed by Liu Chia Yung and Liu Chia Liang respectively. 
 
Kurata also brought seven others with him, not counting Yuka Mizuno. Naturally, since Kurata was a regular on HK pictures, everyone knew him; but those in the studio had trouble with the names of his fellow Japanese colleagues. They were in the studio quite a bit, sometimes working both day and night shifts due to the heavy load of martial arts sequences required of the movie. However, one of the Japanese performers, the 6'5" Omae Hitoshi, had filmed at Shaw's a few years earlier on Pao Hsueh Li's FIVE TOUGH GUYS (1974). (Insert: Kurata with Liu Chia Liang at Shaw Brothers Studio in 1971)
 
The Japanese star was reportedly treated like royalty on the film. Kurata designated the hotel the Shaw's would pay for and his salary was said to be high although he declined to reveal the amount. Meanwhile, his Japanese co-stars stayed in the Dun Hou building (Dormitory #3)
 
Kurata worked over 20 days on Liu's movie, filming two weeks at the studio, one week on location in Japan, and back to Shaw's for the remainder. The cultural difference between Chinese and Japanese women was noticeable. Expecting all the Japanese actors to hang out together, some were curious as to why Yuka Mizuno often sat alone reading books, away from Kurata and the others. The star of the film, Liu Chia Hui, explained to a reporter, "It's partially a matter of seniority. Kurata is a star in Japan, so they ignore Ms. Mizuno. She is a newcomer and a woman. Women are viewed as inferior in Japan. Some women have status there, but very few of them do."  (Insert: Kurata with Liu Chia Hui on the set of HEROES OF THE EAST doing publicity)

Asked about his career at that time, Kurata said, "I mostly do television in Japan. I have made quite a few movies, but most of them are for Chinese companies. Currently, I've done maybe 150 episodes of G-MEN '75 for television. This series is very popular in Japan. It takes about six days to shoot an episode and I make around the equivalent of HK$10,000 for each one." On his preference filming in HK and Japan: "I make more money in Japan, but filming in Hong Kong has more opportunities for me. I'd like to be a producer and make some films here. In Japan, it's virtually impossible to make your own movie. Japanese theaters are owned by major companies and they won't schedule your movie if you're an independent. There's both good and bad when dealing with the Japanese, and in all honesty, the Chinese are simply more honest in my experience."
 
Around the time Kurata completed HEROES OF THE EAST, he would announce his departure from the television world to work exclusively in movies in both Hong Kong and Japan. He would continue to be a popular villain in many more Chinese pictures, and attract the attention of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung by the mid 1980s.
 
CHINESE UNTOUCHABLES: TRIADS IN THE MOVIES

Organized crime had infiltrated the HK film industry for years. Unlike Hollywood's eventual eradication of Mafia influence, Triads gained an increasing hold over the industry from the 1970s to the 1990s. Gangsters commonly appeared in movies, and they could often be spotted by any visible tattoos. Jimmy Wang Yu, one of the most famous movie stars in Hong Kong, became a Triad some time in the mid 1970s when he was working exclusively with independent producers. He never had any tattoos, though; or at least none that were visible on-camera. Body art is still frowned upon in Chinese society; and in olden times, represented punishment and a slave brand as much as it did gangster affiliations. It is and was viewed as a bodily desecration of filial piety. 

Charles Heung Wah Keung (Xiang Hua Qiang) was born into gangsterism. His father founded the Sun Yee On syndicate in 1919, the most powerful Triad organization of them all. Deported from HK in 1953 by the British HK government for his criminal activities, Heung's elder brother took over their father's organization while Charles, the tenth son, kept a low profile; this, despite later being labeled one of the big bosses in the syndicate. 
 
Heung is far more well known for his career in later years than when he first started. Known mostly as the founder of successful production companies in the 80s and 90s like Win's Entertainment and China Star Entertainment, he began his career in the early 70s as an actor in movies of varying genres; but most memorably to cult audiences in Kung Fu pictures like the 'Hard Fist & Kick' style movies THE MAGNIFICENT BOXER and END OF THE WICKED TIGER in 1973. In 1977, he founded his first film company, Yong Sheng Pictures (Super Win Film Company). For his first, short-lived venture, Heung produced and starred in MYSTERIOUS FOOTWORKS OF KUNG FU (1978) and GOOSE BOXER (1979); two films made during the final Kung Fu phase of the 70s where martial arts movies were built around intricately choreographed, heavily acrobatic training and fighting sequences. 
 
Ensuring he would stay in the news, Heung married Bruce Lee's mistress, Betty Ting Pei in 1976, had a kid together, and called it quits in 1980. Ting Pei co-produced his MYSTERIOUS FOOTWORKS OF KUNG FU as well as taking a role in the film. She had performed in the same capacity on the controversial Bruce biopic BRUCE LEE & I in 1976.
 
What eventually became GOOSE BOXER was particularly problematic. Originally titled 'Master Tian', the film had a slightly different cast and storyline. Wei Pai (the Snake in FIVE VENOMS) was initially cast as Heung's co-star. It was his first movie after abruptly leaving Shaw Brothers Studio where he was partially responsible for the massive reshoots to TEN TIGERS OF KWANG TUNG (1980). He would eventually abandon Heung's production as well to join Golden Harvest and garner a bad reputation for being unreliable. The film's MA choreographer, Tommy Lee (Gam Ming), was originally cast as the main villain, but after Wei's departure, his part was taken over by Philip Ko (possibly due to scenes having to be re-shot). Charles Heung became the sole lead, and by the time it was completed in 1979, it was a quirky addition to the 'Bumpkin Kung Fu' trend popularized by Jackie Chan in 1978.

Flash forward to February of 2021, Charles Heung and his son Heung Zuo were denied citizenship in Taiwan due to the Heung family's Triad background. Both their wives are of Taiwanese heritage. Charles Heung's wife, Chen Lan, who is also active in the film industry, is a devout communist, openly and proudly proclaiming her support of the CCP. As per Taiwan law, anyone with a criminal background, or sympathetic to the CCP are denied immigration status.

Not unlike Charles Heung, Alan Tang (Deng Guang Rong) was Triad royalty. His father was a leader of the Hongmen (also known as The Heaven and Earth Society) in GuangZhou, China. When he went to Hong Kong with his father, they formed the Lian Gong Le (also known as Single Ear) club with an uncle named Liu Rong Jiu. Liu had reportedly supervised criminal activity along the docks of Hong Kong. When Tang became a big star, Liu would turn over all affairs of Lian Gong Le to him.
 
 
In 1973, Alan Tang would self-finance an action-crime movie titled DEATH ON THE DOCKS that would commemorate his father's death. It was his first independent production and the only film of his Kingsley Film Production Promotion Company. 
 
Also in 1973, Alan made headlines after a multi-person brawl got him and his girlfriend arrested in America. He was over there starring as one of THE DYNAMITE BROTHERS for schlock filmmaker Al Adamson. While filming in Watts, Alan, his girlfriend Jenna, and two local martial artists entered a supermarket. According to Tang, his girlfriend accidentally bumped into a Mexican woman who was there with others. Apologies weren't accepted and insults were lobbied between parties. A fight broke out that left much of the store in ruins. 
 
In a 1973 Cinemart interview Alan stated, "Originally, the place we were staying was near the market. We tried to leave but were quickly stopped by the police. Even Jenna was taken into custody. The cops there were incredibly efficient. Jenna was eventually let go but myself and two others were placed in jail". Describing his time in lockup, Alan revealed that the company producing the movie transferred US$2,000 to a lawyer to represent him in court for a hearing on September 6th, 1973. The alleged perpetrators never showed up in court so the case was dismissed. 
 
Reportedly, another US company wanted to pay Alan US$50,000 to make another movie. His arrest had already caused a delay in a starring role in TOO YOUNG (1974) for Goldig Films and directed by Yang Chuan (infamous for the Shaw horror cult favorite SEEDING OF A GHOST in 1983). To get around the actor's absence, director Yang filmed scenes that didn't involve Alan and his costar Tanny Tien Ni. Alan would apologize for the hold-up, declaring, "I'm sorry for the delay I've caused for Goldig. No matter how much money they were offering me in America, I couldn't stay."  He and his girlfriend returned to Hong Kong on September 9th.
 

Back home in Taiwan and HK, Alan wasn't an action star. He was a martial artist, but did very few martial arts films. He was primarily an actor in romantic dramas with major players like Chen Chen, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, and Jenny Hu to name a few. By the mid-70s he was the highest paid actor at HK$150,000 a year. Tang would work on upwards of six films at once and lamented this practice; so he made it a rule he would only work on a single movie a day. (Top: Alan receives instruction from director Richard Chen Yao Chi while filming RUN LOVER RUN, released in 1975)
 
In 1977, Alan Tang formed Wing-Scope Film Productions (Da Rong Film Productions, Limited)  in Hong Kong with his elder brother and began financing modern-day crime thrillers like 1977s THE SCOUNDREL (the first film Cheng Kang made outside Shaw Brothers before returning to the company), THE LEGAL ILLEGALS (co-starring with fellow Triad Chen Hui Min), and DON'T KILL ME, BROTHER! (both 1981)
 
Despite his crime connections, Tang was instrumental in rescuing anti-communist protesters during the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. On March 29th, 2011 Tang died at home after suffering a heart attack.
 
The most famous actor with mob ties was Chen Hui Min (Michael Chan Wai Man). Born in Hong Kong on April 25th, 1945, Chen is a man of action in every sense of the word. He lived for martial arts training, fighting, racing, and utilizing all of them in his movies. Chen has had one of the most fascinating lives of any HK actor. Having lived on both sides of the law, he was a prison guard and a police officer before becoming a member of the 14K Triad; or the Hongmen Loyalty Society. A martial arts instructor and champion, Chen's precision in his strikes and kicks on-screen gave away his off-screen fighting abilities.
 
Known for playing antagonists, in the early 70s, he regularly played good guys. He had few tattoos at that time, but since body art was frowned upon and had negative connotations, you wouldn't see him shirtless in movies like FREEDOM STRIKES A BLOW (1973). Despite his fearsome looks, Chen was extremely humble and cordial to everyone, unless provoked to be otherwise. He made friends very easily and was a favorite of many to work with. There was, however, another side to Chen Hui Min. It wasn't unusual to find him making news for various altercations involving fighting that sometimes led to his arrest and an assault charge; or even an attempt on his life.
 
Bang! Bang! Films JUMPING ASH (1976) was the #1 hit of 1976, racking up HK$3,875,745 in 21 days of release. It ushered in a new style of crime movie and set the stage for the New Wave that emerged in the 1980s. Shot in a documentary form, it was unlike anything that had been seen before in HK cinema. It led to other works that experimented with new styles of filming, particularly in the Shaw Brothers popular CRIMINALS series. It was also unique for being co-directed by the enormously popular film and TV actress, Josephine Siao Fong Fong (Shiau Fang Fang) and Leung Po Chi. 
 
This was Siao's first and last time directing a movie. She faced numerous problems when it came to exporting the movie to other Asian and Occidental markets. She was passionate about the film and intended for it to receive an American release. Unfortunately, an unnamed US distributor was dissatisfied with the dubbing and ordered it done over as well as the need for the soundtrack to be remixed for copyright reasons.
 
Prior to playing the genre-defining role of the killer in JUMPING ASH, Chen Hui Min had done nothing but modern-day and period-set Kung Fu pictures. Inspired by the films success, Run Run Shaw persuaded Li Han Hsiang, who was known for his dramas, comedies and erotica, to direct his first Kung Fu movie. Accepting the project, Li decided to have Chen be the lead actor. Tentatively titled 'Gambling For Heads', the picture was to rely heavily on European location shooting in the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands for a period of 2 1/2 months. Filming in Britain began on October 2nd, 1976. Upon the crew's arrival in the Netherlands, things took a potentially dangerous turn when local gangsters took issue with Li Han Hsiang, Chen Hui Min, and others filming there. To avoid escalating matters, and at the behest of Run Run Shaw, director Li and his crew returned to Hong Kong and canceled the motion picture. Chen stayed behind and returned a few days later. 
 
It's possible the tension had to do with the Netherlands shoot during the filming of JUMPING ASH. Reportedly, there were issues between Chen Hui Min and local gangs at that time. Then, on two separate occasions in August and September of 1976, Chen was the target of two altercations; the August attack he never reported to police, but the September attack was far more serious. In the early morning hours of September 21st, a killer sent from a Chinese gang in the Netherlands tried to kill Chen at a bar in Tsim Sha Tsui, a popular and major shopping district in Hong Kong where Chen had been a bodyguard for powerful figures years earlier. The gunman went to a bar owned by a man who was friends with Chen. The thug took him hostage at gunpoint, forcing the bar owner to take him to Chen. After driving around and never finding his target, the assassin let the man out and left the area. (Insert: Josephine Siao Fong Fong flanked by her co-director Leung Po Chi and her star and frequent cop actor Ga Lun promoting JUMPING ASH)
 
There was another incident that took place in a nightclub on the night of September 3rd, 1976. Chen was enjoying drinks with friends when two black men approached him. One of them pulled a gun and pressed it against his neck. Police were quick to arrive and the two men, who were speaking French, were ambassadors to HK from the Congo and thought that Chen had insulted them with gestures. This was an occasion when an apparent cultural misunderstanding nearly led to violence and potentially death.
 
In the late 70s, Chen was in high demand. He signed a contract with Shaw Brothers in 1977 that allowed for filming wherever he wanted, as well as his own works like a personal, self-financed project titled HANDCUFFS. The actor was in no hurry to finish the movie, though, having shot for a few days and stopped again. Chen was especially popular in Japan and he wanted to invite a number of major Japanese stars to participate in his movie like Toshiro Mifune and Sonny Chiba. One of Chen's friends, martial arts choreographer Lu Chuan (a Japanese whose real name is Yasuyoshi Shikamura, or Shikamura Ito), introduced Chen to Chiba in early '77. Chiba did make a few movies in HK, but didn't collaborate with Chen on his project. It was eventually finished and released in 1979 as THE HANDCUFF.
 
Director Chang Cheh wanted Chen to appear in the first of his LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES series (known globally as THE BRAVE ARCHER), but he was too busy on other projects to participate. Chen had a small, but memorable role early in his career on ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS in 1972. He would eventually work with Chang Cheh on the amazing Wuxia/Kung Fu hybrid, FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS (1982) where he played the lead villain; hands down the best Kung Fu villain role Chen ever had. (Insert: Chen Hui Min battles Chen Sing in 1978s BRUCE LEE THE INVINCIBLE)

The actor and active sportsman's first major role at Shaw's was in Sun Chung's JUDGMENT OF AN ASSASSIN (1977) playing the main villain, Bloody Devil. Not knowing what to expect of the eccentric director, Chen Hui Min found himself enjoying the experience so much, he would work with the director a few more times.

One picture that Chen and Sun collaborated on was 1978s GODFATHER'S FURY, a co-production between Shaw Brothers and actor turned producer Chung Kuo Jun for Hai Wai Film's. Chen's tattoos were prominently displayed in this movie and became part of its promotion. Chen said this about his body art in August of 1978, "My tattoos are nothing more than symbols of a man. In the past, most people viewed tattoos as a sign of impropriety, that only underworld criminals, sailors, and prostitutes would have them. But now, times are changing. At present, it's becoming more socially acceptable and viewed less as a sin. For mine, I went to Japan and had painters draw the designs for me and had them applied here in Hong Kong. The dragon on my back took the longest, lying on a bed all day for 20 hours. I couldn't sleep on my back for a few days... In the minds of the Chinese, the dragon is supreme and a sacred spiritual creature and one that's unpredictable; so that's why I chose it.  The eagle represents ferocity. I chose it because I'm not going to be bullied. When I first got tattoos, my wife saw them for the first time and thought they were ugly. She hated them. As time passed and I got a few more she grew to like them and wanted me to get more (laughs)! I intend to get more in the future as well as add things to the existing ones. One will be a sunrise. The sun coming over the horizon is radiant and magnificent! I also want to add more to the eagle."
 
Aside from fighting, Chen's passion was racing. It wasn't unusual to see him in photographs posing next to any of his fast cars he owned. Chen is 77 years old now, and has yet to slow down in his twilight years. While his fighting days of the Kung Fu and Crime movie era are behind him, he has amassed over 170 film credits; some of which are allegedly autobiographical. If you'd like to read more about Chen, his fascinating life and his movies, there's a two-part article series HERE and HERE. 

DEADLY CHINA DOLL: POLLY SHANG KUAN LING FENG CHAPTER 2

Problems for Polly arose again when she was assigned to the First Films production of BLACK PANTHER (1973), a modern-day action movie starring Chen Sing and Yasuaki Kurata. Shang Kuan complained that the role was too small for her so she refused to take the part. Boss Huang then offered her more money and she still refused, responding to questions about her behavior, "Other companies compete for my participation because I bring good box office and have marquee value. Once that's gone, I have nothing."  To pacify the fiery actress, Huang replaced her with Nancy Yen (Yen Nan Hsi), a new and aspiring martial arts actress who got a few major roles and little audience attention.
 
Meanwhile, Polly's movie rival, Hsu Feng, was having struggles of her own. Her monetary problems were slowly being alleviated but not without a price being paid through overwork and the dangers of filming action pictures. Using her salary from ten productions to make her family comfortable, Hsu Feng struggled to stay afloat in an industry that was potentially hazardous to her health. In 1973, she shot six movies in as many months, and kept this schedule for the next few years. 
 
As with a good number of Hong Kong and Taiwan's industry performers, the heavy workload took a toll on the actress: "Last year, I was filming in Taiwan and working both days and nights. I felt like I was going to die. At one point, I forgot what movie I was acting in. It's August, the weather is extremely hot and I'm wearing leather clothing. I haven't slept all night and it's noon the next day. I'm watching the stunt director about to jump off a two-story wall with only a layer of cardboard boxes and sponges underneath to break his fall. Think about what they've paid you to do and if it's worth your life or not."  

But as Hsu Feng wore herself out making movies at a near constant rate, Polly Shang Kuan was causing her boss's patience to wear thin.

By 1975, Polly found herself in a lengthy courtroom battle to repay some NT$820,000 (New Taiwan dollars) she owed First Films boss Huang Zhuo Han. In the end, the Taiwan District Court unsurprisingly finalized the case in favor of Huang. However, despite being one of the highest paid film stars (her per-film price tag was now HK$120,000, the same as Wang Yu's salary), Polly claimed she was broke and would go to jail if necessary. She did admit she was in the wrong, blaming her insolence on being young and inexperienced.
 
Incidentally, Polly did fly to France for two weeks in August of 1975 to shoot FROM HONG KONG WITH LOVE; a comedy starring a quartet of popular comedians known as Les Charlots (The Crazy Boys) and Micky Rooney. On her time in Paris, perky Polly remarked to a reporter, "This was my first time in France. The people are so warm there. They say hello by kissing your face! When filming they're very slow and waste lots of time. They will set up four cameras to film simultaneously, and afterward pick the shot that works the best. So we might only get three or four good shots a day. However, it was a well-funded production." 
 
The HK scenes were filmed on the Shaw Brothers Studio lot. It wasn't a co-production, the French crew just shot exteriors there. The Shaw's built some outdoor sets specifically for the movie that would be destroyed during the film. There was also a pyro snafu during filming when an explosion was much bigger than expected, injuring around a dozen stuntmen; two of whom were seriously wounded. Public grounds outside Shaw's property lines were damaged and the insurance company on the French end had to pay for it. Neither Polly nor Micky Rooney were involved in the sequence. This would be the one and only time the actress would film at the company.

Immediately upon her return from France, Polly had no time for a rest. Despite headlines of "Polly prepares to go to jail", she was due to co-star with Carter Wong and Tien Peng in Joseph Kuo's (Kuo Nan Hung) THE 18 BRONZEMEN (1975), a favorite among Kung Fu fans. This was a career boost for her as she was replacing an unnamed newcomer who had broken their contract with Kuo, leading to another situation where a lawsuit was being served. Kuo had other issues on the film aside from temperamental actors, though. The gold paint used on the title metal men caused them to pass out and have vomiting spells. The film was a huge hit in Taiwan. Articles boasted Kuo's movie had defeated Bruce Lee's record in Taipei. This turned out to be untrue, but just another example of Chinese style carnival hucksterism to fill up movie theater seats.
 

Joseph Kuo is a big name in the history of Taiwanese cinema and Kung Fu movies in general. He founded Hong Hwa International in 1970 and made an impact with GHOSTLY SORROW (THE KING OF SWORDS) that same year. His work went largely unnoticed after that till the release of the wildly successful THE 18 BRONZEMEN in 1975; a movie that sold to distributors in some 70 countries. The BRONZEMEN struck gold, making HK$1,744,324 in two weeks of release in HK theaters when it played there in 1976. It was the 7th biggest hit of the year.
 
Kuo then pumped out THE SHAOLIN KIDS (1975) with the same cast; but it fared poorly in comparison, bringing in a disappointing HK$357,616 after six days. Since Kuo had big success with THE 18 BRONZEMEN, hopes were high THE SHAOLIN KIDS (which wasn't about Shaolin or fighting cherubs) would take advantage of the momentum. It was even more heavily promoted, with Polly featured prominently in the theatrical promotion and magazine ads.
 
Movies about Shaolin and the monks residing within its walls were popular with audiences in 1976; so Kuo used the same players again in a quickly mounted quasi-sequel to his Bronzemen hit but as different characters. The title changed slightly during production to EMPEROR YUNG CHIN DEFEATS THE 18 BRONZEMEN, but was known internationally as THE RETURN OF THE 18 BRONZEMEN (1976). Kuo's sort-of sequel was also submitted to the Cannes Film Festival that year. Whether due to it not being an official sequel, Shaolin saturation, or some other reason, the film did poorly in Hong Kong. In eight days of release, it only made HK$443,971. 
 
Also in 1976, Polly Shang Kuan did another movie based on an historical figure in Cheng's initial FG2 script called SHAOLIN DEATH SQUADS (LI SINIANG ENTERS SHAOLIN in Chinese) where she plays the same character as Shih Szu in the massively troubled FG2 (you can read a detailed history of it HERE). This was her last movie for First Films, despite Boss Huang earlier stating he wasn't going to allow her to film for him to repay her huge debt she owed his company. (Insert: Polly seated as director Kuo gives direction on the set of THE 18 BRONZEMEN)
 
In January of 1976, Polly announced she would be retiring from the film industry and relocating to the United States in May of that year. This initial plan didn't pan out as intended as she had several movies to finish or films awaiting her participation; so it was unexpected that she would abruptly quit acting to study in America.
 
After her turbulent run at First Films, Polly then signed a two-year contract with Taiwan's major film production facility, Central Motion Picture Corporation (China Film Company) in June of 1976. In a stunning move, she burned this bridge right off the bat. She was set to star in two movies for the company, completing one of them, an award-winning action film titled THE VENTURER (1976). In August, on the day her next picture was to begin shooting--an anti-CCP action movie titled TIGER CLIFF (1977)--Polly suddenly quit, citing she was flying abroad to study in America and would be unable to fulfill her contract obligations. CMPC terminated her agreement and proceeded without her.
 
Then rumors surfaced that she had secretly gotten married to an American in the United States but she denied this. As with seemingly everything else Polly denied, this turned out to be true. Likely a marriage of convenience, it didn't last. In a humorous anecdote from a 1975 interview, Polly said about settling down, "Of course, I won't continue acting after marriage, unless I marry a very poor man who needs my help". In another interview from 1975, the actress spoke more candidly about the subject of marriage: "At some point in life, girls want to get married. And when my time comes, I will no longer make movies; I will only focus on taking care of my husband and children and have a happy family".
 
By March of 1977, Polly had returned to Taiwan and, in a similar act of atonement to First Films, penned a letter of apology to CMPC. Expressing shame and regret, the actress wished to collaborate with the company again. It would take a year, but she would do one more movie for them, co-starring with David Chiang in THE RED PHOENIX (1978). 
 
 
In between, she starred in some bizarre pictures for a variety of indy companies like THE FIGHT FOR SHAOLIN TAMO MYSTIQUE (1977) and THE ZODIAC FIGHTERS (1978); the latter title being the only martial arts movie to feature flying sharks that erupt out of the sand on the beach. 
 
One movie that would have paired her with Chen Hui Min and directed by Hsu Tseng Hung went unfinished due to her abandonment of the industry; although she did work for the director (among many other directors) in IMMORTAL WARRIORS (1979).

Whether due to her erratic career decisions or changing audience trends, Polly's star power began to wane near the end of her career while her rival, Hsu Feng's, rose. 
 
By 1975, Hsu Feng swapped out her casual jeans and t-shirts for a more glamorous look. The late-blooming international attention brought to A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971) at Cannes in 1975 did likewise for her film career. 
 
In 1976, Hsu won Best Actress for ASSASSIN (1975) at the 13th Annual Golden Horse Awards on October 30th, 1976. Directed by Larry Tu Chong Hsun (Tao Chung Fun), he was an AD on King Hu's DRAGON INN and A TOUCH OF ZEN. He would also direct Jimmy Wang Yu in THE GREAT HUNTER (1976) and THE LANTERN STREET (1977). Another award for acting came for EIGHT-HUNDRED HEROES (1976) at the 23rd Asian Film Festival; and another Best Actress win in 1980 for THE PIONEERS at the 17th Annual Golden Horse Awards. 
 
Hsu would marry real estate developer Tang Jun Nian in 1980. She then became a movie producer while her husband founded The Tomson Group. Upon her husband's death in 2004 at the young age of 56, Hsu Feng took over as Chairman of the company. Having struggled virtually the entirety of the 1970s, the 1980s brought the benefits she had worked hard for.

As for Polly, she was ready to hang up her acting career and move on to the next stage in her life. It would seem that her film career was little more than a stepping stone to something else--that being an eventual move to the United States. She still had no shortage of movie roles even if her drawing power had lost some of its luster (in Hong Kong, anyway).
 
The aforementioned SHAOLIN DEATH SQUADS only played for three days, making HK$206,582. Other films like THE MYSTERIOUS HEROES (1977), pairing her with Carter Wong and Kam Kong, only made HK$85,586. Even more disastrous, Wu Min Hsiung's (Wu Min Xiong) HEROES IN THE LATE MING DYNASTY (based on the novel by Shan Tian Fang) pairing Polly once again with Carter Wong, and featuring Tien Peng and Pai Ying, could only gather HK$66,000 in ticket sales after seven days in release.

She would still pop up in the news having used her star power in non-celluloid ways. In April of 1978, Polly and a female friend were leaving a restaurant in Taipei late one evening. Upon reaching their vehicle that was parked a distance away, the two ladies were approached by several men who intended to rob them. One of the men recognized the actress and quickly told the others who she was so they decided to leave them alone.
 
Keeping a relatively low profile the last couple years of the 70s, Polly Shang Kuan's actual retirement didn't come till 1981. She did go back to the United States in 1979 to attend a college in Washington State. Specializing in drama and dance, she stated she wouldn't return to Taiwan till she earned her degree. Polly's time at an American college was reportedly enjoyable as no one knew she was a movie star back home. When she finally made America her home, she taught martial arts and eventually opened two restaurants in California and re-married. She remains a popular actress with Kung Fu fans; although strangely enough, it tends to be the wackier movies from her latter days than Polly's more polished outings of her earlier career that fans fondly remember.
 
Coming in PART 3, we take an extensive look at two independent companies--Yang Tze Productions and Goldig Films, and the stars whose association and or participation led to bigger and better things, and others who never made it. Additionally, we cover indy filmmaker Ng See Yuen and a then hot trend of shooting Kung Fu films in European countries.
 
 

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