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Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Wild, Wild East: Duel of the Independent Film Companies Part 4


"The establishment of the Long Bow Company has undoubtedly corrected the phenomenon of the occasionally shoddy independent production."--Cinemart writer, March 1974
Many thought Shaw Brothers were in serious trouble in the summer of '73 when, without warning, director Chang Cheh left the company and took David Chiang and Ti Lung with him. Their contracts ending in May of that year, it was expected the two actors would sign again as they were all at the top of their game. However, there were rumblings that the 'Iron Triangle' were indeed still close to Run Run Shaw, and that both David and Ti Lung had new contracts with the company. 
When Run Run Shaw wasn't giving reporters the answers they wanted, they sought them from director Chang Cheh; so in May of '73, the enterprising filmmaker held a presser with a big banner that read 'Chang's Cocktail Party', with the new Long Bow logo featured prominently. Among the attendees were David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Fu Sheng, Chiang Tao, Lu Ti, and choreographers Liu Chia Liang, Tang Chia an Huang Pei Chi. 
It wasn't disclosed at the time, but Shaw Brothers had millions in Taiwan that couldn't be extracted from the country. Chang Cheh was being sent there to not only make movies, but have free reign to make them how he wanted. 
Moreover, Chang owed the studio money so some of these works were intended to pay off that debt. Originally, the films kicking off Chang's Scope (before Long Bow was officially christened in Taiwan the following year)  were David and Ti's directing debuts: THE YOUNG REBEL (released in 1975) directed by Ti Lung; DRUG ADDICT (1974) by David Chiang; and HEROES TWO (1974) from director Chang. Release dates were switched around in favor of other pictures. Chang and his crew knew filming outside the Shaw studio was going to have its share of problems, and it would be approximately nine months before Chang and his new, steadily growing stable of stars would move Long Bow's base of operations to Taiwan. (Insert: Tina Chin Fei, Chang Cheh, Amy Tao, Ti Lung, unknown actress signed up for Long Bow)
However, Chang's Scope/Long Bow wouldn't be the first independent venture Chang Cheh endeavored upon. When he was in the middle of filming such big movies as THE WATER MARGIN and BOXER FROM SHANTUNG, Chang found time to co-found South Sea Film Company with producer-director Chang Ying (Zhang Ying). The first movie was KING OF THE BOXERS (1972), the debut of Meng Fei; an actor who would later be one of Chang Cheh's FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS in 1974. Chang Ying would help Cheh get started in Taiwan. (Insert: Chang Cheh celebrating his 50th birthday in January, 1972 with his wife and  co-founder of South Sea Films Chang Ying among a guest list that included Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, and Tina Chin Fei)
Chang Cheh had been a hot commodity for seven years, making millions for Shaw Brothers and being paid very well for it. Unfortunately, his propensity for overspending prevented him benefiting financially from his work. The man himself was well aware of his shortcomings and reporters were intrigued in learning all they could about the man and the myth.

Media rumors persisted about Chang Cheh's alleged abrasive personality. Over the years, much had been said of the "King of Violence and Bloodshed"; but for Annie Wong (later to become a movie producer at the close of the decade), she learned a lot about the man whom she assumed was as difficult and strong-willed as the characters in his movies. Cheh had been criticized for his penchant for blood and gore since his ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) splattered across theater screens. Audiences loved it, though; the scenes of a lone swordsman bloodily cutting down scores of opponents was a release of anxiety to a great many Hong Kong citizens at the time. This also created a stigma that the filmmaker was as fearsome as one of his scripted and stoic superheroes.
In September '73, Chang had been filming all night back at Shaw's on THE SAVAGE FIVE (1974). He'd only slept a few hours before he had to be up to resume filming for himself and squeeze in a lunch-time interview beforehand with Cinemart's Annie Wong. The following excerpts offer insight not only about Chang Cheh, the filmmaker; but Chang Cheh, the man. 
Asked about the rapidity with which he was working, Chang stated, "I have just finished two films for my own company, and I'm about to start a new one. Our plan is to shoot 12 films a year, and so far, we've completed four in three months; those being THE DRUG ADDICT directed by David Chiang; THE YOUNG REBEL directed by Ti Lung; and two from me, HEROES TWO and MEN FROM THE MONASTERY." 
On actors and screenwriting, Chang Cheh had this to say: "The screen tests of the male actors have been quite satisfactory. We selected ten from nearly a thousand people. Although there are many females among them, unfortunately, there were no outstanding ladies. Two were very good and we signed them. 
Continued: There's another area of my company that isn't getting much attention and that's the screenwriting group. I think it's more important than training actors. The lack of screenwriting talent is a serious problem. Our writing team is very good with a high aptitude for learning the trade in writing about what interests them. We've adopted individual guidance methods, and we only give advice from the sidelines so as not to interfere with the writers scope. I want to write different kinds of scripts on my own; and my skills can be improved, but the action genre is my expertise. Allowing free reign is a good way to discover new talent, and I think this group will show good results very soon." (Insert: Chen Kuan Tai, David Chiang, Fu Sheng, Ti Lung, Wang Chung, Chi Kuan Chun heading to Taiwan in 1974)
Asked if his films would continue being male-centric, Chang replied, "In recent years, there have been many famous male stars, so you can't ignore them. It's not intentional to favor the men over the women. All of my stars are unique in their own way. They all have their own characteristics, their own ideas. When you look at female actresses and female newcomers, you won't recognize them the second time you see them. Only a few will be memorable. Looking at batches of photos, the faces all look about the same. You have to look at the signature to know who it is. It's hard to differentiate one from the other. Regardless, stars must still be cultivated to achieve fame."
After finally meeting the cigar-chomping Godfather of Hong Kong Action Cinema and his wife, Annie Wong was surprised after the discussion, noting, "[Chang Cheh] is a very polite and kind man. He's not terribly temperamental as the rumors suggest, and he's loving towards his wife, with a gentleman's demeanor. Although I still can't agree with the violence and bloodshed of his films, I can't deny that his films have many unique qualities; and he himself has many strengths and advantages as a director."
In an earlier interview, director Chang was asked about what would make him lose his temper on the set; his response was: "This question doesn't make much sense, because any irritability and impatience is due to me being dissatisfied with myself and nothing to do with any other party." And on if he was satisfied with his films: "Some directors work very slowly, so methodically that it produces finer goods. But for me, if I slow down, I will be in trouble. Admittedly, there have been times at Shaw's where I have taken on a project blindly, but my nature is to always do my best. Generally speaking, my movies like THE ASSASSIN (1967), DEAD END (1969), and most recently with BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972), are works I think turned out very well. (Insert: lobby card for 1976s SHAOLIN AVENGERS, one of the last Long Bow pictures)
Continued: Now, if filming goes on far too long from beginning to end, the final product won't be to my liking. For example, THE HEROIC ONES (1970) and THE DEADLY DUO (1971) are two films that were delayed multiple times. I wasn't satisfied with either movie and I think it has a lot to do with my impatience and impulsiveness. As time goes on, my drive to finish a picture is sucked away and it feels like I'm working to get it done as opposed to making a quality movie." (Top: David Chiang, Chin Han, Chang Cheh, Ti Lung and James Nam on the set of THE HEROIC ONES)
Little to nothing has been written about Chang Cheh's wife, Liang Li Chang. Said to be a quiet and graceful woman, she often accompanied the director when he was filming outside of Hong Kong. And when he wasn't filming, Chang Cheh spent several hours a day talking to his attentive better half about various subjects--most of which dealt with filming. From around midnight to three or four in the morning, Chang's audience wasn't a theater full of patrons, but his wife listening and giving her opinions on whatever entered the mind of Hong Kong's greatest proponent of masculine cinema.
On June 6th, 1974, Chang Cheh held a press conference at Kai Tak Airport that he would be taking a crew of 45 to make movies exclusively in Taiwan. The plan was to make six films in six months, and any more would be determined later. This was changed from the original 12 pictures that had been planned the year before. Sometimes director Chang preferred to avoid reporters, and other times he loved giving them what they wanted. This was an instance of the latter.
Reporters asked a flurry of questions, one of which was why he was going to Taiwan when he had everything he needed within the walls of Movietown. He answered, "I'm the person who dislikes confinement the most. In my many years filming at Shaw Brothers, it was either the back-lot mountain or inside the studio. No matter how good, or how big the sets are, it's not enough. It's time for a new approach, and that is the forming of Long Bow. There are studios in Taiwan, but there are also many exterior locations that will make for a refreshing new look. For me, a change of scenery is a new kind of excitement and it raises my interest in filmmaking."
Another question was if Shaw Brothers was funding this venture. Chang responded, "Long Bow is borrowing Shaw's capital. Run Run Shaw will give my company unlimited support. I have been with the company for many years. I have a very good understanding of Run Run Shaw, his personality and how his mind works; and his thoughts and opinions of me. So, we don't need to spend a lot of time around each other. This is the benefit of years of cooperation."  With a smile, Chang opened his palms and stated, "Although I am an independent producer now, you have seen my movies, so you know I don't plan my budgets carefully. Where have I saved money? Take NA CHA, THE GREAT (1974) as an example; so far I've already spent one million."  Money problems, among other things, would arise again over the course of Long Bow's two year Taiwan tenure.
Long Bow was set up like a mini-Movietown in that it had its own Actors Training Class that taught them the basics of acting and performing in front of the camera. Of course, it wasn't on a scale of Shaw's Academy, but a smaller, crash-course version. With that said, Chang Cheh and company filming in Taiwan was chaotic, but no more than the typical HK picture, and particularly those of the independent variety. 
The first official Long Bow feature was FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS. However, a number of problems caused the production to go well beyond schedule. With a high HK$1.2 million allotted for the budget, it had ballooned to HK$2 million by the time it was finally completed. That over 90% of the movie was exteriors meant delays were inevitable. Bad weather kept the filming process slow; then Fu Sheng, one of the five masters of the title, was injured and shut the picture down for another week. Further waste of funds went to four studios that were rented out to accommodate the film's four interior sequences. The outdoor shots were taken in the Northern Mountains, Taichung Forest Park in Lugu Village, Linkou District, and other places. (Top: Chi Kuan Chun, Ti Lung, Meng Fei, Fu Sheng, David Chiang, Chang Cheh arriving on set of FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS)
In the end, FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS (1974) made HK$1,693,684 at the HK box office. It was the #4 hit of the year in 1975 (since its release came at Christmas, 1974, it was rolled over into the next years tally), playing for 15 days. It would be the biggest Hong Kong hit of Chang's new company. Despite the low ebb that hit the industry that year, it would be a good one for Chang Cheh; his DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN would be the #9 biggest hit of 1975, amassing HK$1,319,161 in 13 days of exhibition. (Insert: Note David Chiang's and Fu Sheng's hairstyles on this magazine ad for FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS)
Asked about a dip in popularity for fighting films and their violent content, Chang responded, "The average person is worried that action films will eventually go downhill. In my mind, that will never happen; unless your film has no theme, no central idea, and lacks a convincing story. American westerns have been filmed for decades; they're being made right now, and the genre still has an audience. Of course, our action films are no exception. As for violence and cruelty in my movies, I don't think the audience minds it. I have heinous people in my films. The more cruel the punishment, the more the audience enjoys it."

DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN (1975) was originally supposed to be completed after FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS, but was temporarily postponed. 
In the interim, Chang Cheh flew in I Kuang to Taiwan to discuss and write the script for what would be BOXER REBELLION (1976), one of the biggest epics of the director's career. Chang Cheh spent a year gathering numerous historical notes and photographs of the people from the time period. I Kuang (Ni Kuang) began writing on July 24th, 1974 and finished the script in six days, totaling 211 pages. Writing a script of this magnitude in such a short time was an incredible feat. Chang Cheh was so meticulous to details, Kuang had this to say about the job: "Because [Chang Cheh has] collected so much information for my script, it has went entirely smoothly. Within a week, I wrote what I think is the most satisfying script I have ever written since I began my career as a scriptwriter." 
In October of 1974, Chang Cheh and others inspected the locations in Hukou and Houli, Taiwan. By November, filming began on the biggest movie the director had attempted up to that time. In an effort to move the production along as efficiently as possible, Chang Cheh split the crew into twelve groups of ten to fifteen members each; all of whom were in charge of costuming, makeup, and other departments. Chang Cheh would communicate with them all via radio communication. Chang had this to say about his intentions: "Quite simply, this film will strive to accurately and fairly show the history of that turbulent time, giving audiences a glimpse of the modern spirit that gradually sprang from this monumental historical tragedy... As an independent producer, it is extremely difficult to make such a huge movie; but I hope to get my original vision up on the screen. So far, preliminary estimates for the budget have reached HK$5 million. If there are delays it will surpass that. However, I hope that such a serious motion picture like this will be valued within our industry."
While Chang Cheh was amassing a diverse slate of films for his company, problems for him and Long Bow would go beyond what the director experienced on FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS.
Upon completion of BOXER REBELLION, Chang and his crew returned to Hong Kong in February of 1975 for the Chinese New Year festival. Intending to return to Taiwan in March, he readied three scripts in the interim--a new approach to Chinese Fantasy with 'The Hell', and two historical films: MARCO POLO (1975) was first; then what was potentially the biggest movie of Chang Cheh's career; surpassing the grandeur of BOXER REBELLION, an outright war movie originally marketed as'The Seven Daredevils'; later christened as SEVEN MAN ARMY (1976). 
MARCO POLO saw Richard Harrison returning to work with the director again. In BOXER, Harrison was the German General. In MP, he was playing the title Italian explorer. Interestingly, when Chang Cheh envisioned this movie, it was his attempt to expand the international market in the midst of the shrinking Asian ones. After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, putting communists into power, the Chinese movie industry lost around 1/3 of the Southeast Asian markets. Chang Cheh's ambition was to reinvigorate the domestic market while attracting those overseas, so he began filming MARCO POLO and 'The Hell' concurrently till the latter title was shelved for reasons we will get to later. (Insert: Richard Harrison and his second wife, Licia, in Taiwan)
Most would cut corners and others tried to find workarounds; Chang Cheh opted for the latter. MARCO POLO was the "fusion of Chinese and Western culture, economy, and friendship" as the director called it. Though his intentions were to combine culture with Kung Fu, on the screen it was just another martial arts picture--and a damn good one, too. The export title of THE FOUR ASSASSINS suits the film better than its original moniker that does little with its title character. Even though it did nothing to expand the international market, it was a testament to Chang Cheh's skills that he was able to get the only real emotive performance out of Richard Harrison that wasn't a gladiator movie. With that said, MARCO POLO gives viewers a glimpse at what an Italian muscleman epic would look like in Chinese hands.
According to the director, and compared to many of his other Long Bow pictures, the filming went smoothly from beginning to end. However, for the exteriors shot in Taoyuan in Taiwan, excessive rain hindered the filming. "It rained continuously and it was not easy to get any sunny shots. And all the mud we had to work in... and when I was finally able to get a few shots, it would rain again!" 
The MP shoot would also see the exit of Chang's longtime martial arts choreographer, Liu Chia Liang. There were a few reasons reported in articles of the time for Liu leaving. One was that he was promised a directing credit on a film of his own. When it became apparent this wasn't likely to happen, the quick-tempered choreographer requested to return to Shaw's where he could begin a new career as a filmmaker. Another story was that the two had a falling out because Liu was spending time designing fight scenes on Jimmy Wang Yu's ONE ARMED-BOXER VS. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976). The former seems the more likely of the two. Whatever the real reason was, Liu Chia Liang's last day working for Chang Cheh was June 23rd, 1975. Upon his leaving, Hsieh Hsing and Chen Hsin I took over as Long Bow's primary martial arts directors.
The venerable Liu Chia Liang was among the most respected men in the Hong Kong film industry in those days. When critics spoke of Kung Fu and Wuxia cinema, they often centered the conversation around Chang Cheh and Master Liu. In 1979, when indy Kung Fu comedies were at the height of their popularity, one HK critic made this comparison between SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER to Chang's and Liu's works: "When it comes to martial arts movies, I still enjoy watching the movies of Chang Cheh and Liu Chia Liang. Although I'm dazzled by watching Jackie Chan, with his novel and hilarious actions that make me laugh endlessly, the plots are limited to a temporary visual satisfaction. When I leave the theater, I find my thoughts are empty, giving me nothing to think about beyond a purely entertainment level.
Continued: Chang Cheh's martial arts movies have a lot of heroic spirit; the martial spirit of swordsmen and gallant knights. He is so good at creating the image of a righteous hero. When I leave one of his movies, it is often interesting to recall what I have seen. 
Continued: With Liu Chia Liang, his martial arts films are deeply rooted in family, and the people; there is a humanism in his martial arts. His protagonists are usually humble and not impulsive. There is a lack of ruthlessness in his depictions of Kung Fu."

But unlike the characters in his movies, Master Liu had a reputation for never holding back what he thought--for pomposity and lacking in self-control; characteristics the man himself admitted to having: "I know that many people dislike me, even hate me in the industry because I am proud and arrogant; and they are traits I can't change."

There was a sense of duty to Master Liu as well, as recounted in a story from 1971 when Liu was in the Philippines with Chang Cheh shooting DUEL OF FISTS. Liu and leading actor David Chiang were at a club in Baguio. Another film industry group at the nightspot got into an argument with David Chiang for reasons not specified (he was seeing famous Filipino actress Parwana Chanajit during the filming); and it only became more heated once Master Liu joined in to aid his friend. The two sides were ready to fight, but when Master Liu made a phone call to even the odds, the other side simmered down after a mediator got involved and the mass brawl was averted. Now more irritated than before, the martial arts master choreographer fumed, "I have already called for others to come here and it's for nothing now. What should I do about this? If the need arises and I ask for help the next time, they likely won't listen to my order." (Insert: Tang Chia and his wife, Liu Chia Liang and his wife, Chang Cheh and his wife, David Chiang and Ti Lung in Thailand filming DUEL  OF FISTS)

Liu Chia Liang would help his friend David Chiang once more later in the decade. When Liu became a famous movie director, David Chiang, once referred to as the "Movie King", saw his star falling and allegedly went to Liu to discuss the two of them doing a project together. In 1977, the two began work on the unique and underrated SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978).

It's interesting to note that after Liu Chia Liang became a superstar behind the camera with the worldwide success of THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978), his salary was reportedly three times higher than Chang Cheh's or Li Han Hsiang's in 1978. Also, director Liu had renegotiated his contract three times in as many years. Like Chang Cheh, whom he had spent a decade with as his primary choreographer, Liu Chia Liang had expensive tastes and was now making enough money to sustain those high-priced predilections.
Not counting the numerous Chang Cheh epics Master Liu worked on, his days at Long Bow in Taiwan were unique and varied, even if Chang Cheh's style wasn't Liu's interpretation of Kung Fu. However, there are shades of Chang Cheh in later works from Liu like LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA (1982) and THE 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (1984). When Liu left Long Bow, you could tell a difference in the movies; not that the choreography was of a lesser quality, just Liu's unmistakable brand was noticeably missing. (Insert: Liu Chia Yung, Liu Chia Liang, Gordon Liu Chia Hui)
The remainder of 1975 and all through 1976 saw some of Long Bow's best pictures; some peculiarly interesting ones; some disasters; and more issues that resulted in loss of revenue and more of Chang Cheh's most important personnel. One film in particular, with its outsized budget, would be instrumental in bringing down Long Bow.
One of the most famous actors to hit his stride in indy Kung Fu (and later shot to fame on television) is Liang Chia Jen (Leung Kar Yan). He started out working for Chang Cheh's Longbow Company in Taiwan, debuting in the excellent SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS (1974), where he looked like a lithe and lethal Steven Seagal with Iron Skin. After that hit movie (that also saw the debuts of Wang Lung Wei and Gordon Liu Chia Hui), Liang stood out from his colleagues by maintaining his signature beard and goatee the remainder of his career.
Appearing in seven of Chang's Long Bow movies, these were co-lead villain roles with a single part as a protagonist, supporting main leads Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun in BOXER REBELLION (1976). When Chang and his crew returned to Hong Kong in 1977, Liang stayed behind in Taiwan to cultivate his career in a steady stream of Kung Fu pictures and also to get married. Essentially a free agent, he didn't like long-term contracts and preferred the freedom to come and go as he pleased. 
He became a leading man by 1978, with Golden Harvest's WARRIORS TWO (1978) being a particularly big hit, netting nearly HK$3 million. He injured his leg during one of the fight sequences and had to do multiple takes with a bleeding limb. Some of his indy work at this time like 1979s ODD COUPLE was another success, and slightly more profitable than WARRIORS TWO had been. It was one of only two movies made by Gar Bo Films, an independent company founded by Karl Maka and Sammo Hung, who was still under contract at Golden Harvest. After the two films, Gar Bo was shut down due to Sammo Hung signing with Golden Harvest. 
Elsewhere, THE IRON-HAND BOXER (CANTONEN IRON KUNG FU) and SLEEPING FIST (both 1979) were well received by audiences who turned them into million-grossers. The former was the sole feature for the Choi Li Film Company, distributed through Annie Wong's Ocean Films; the latter via East Asia Films. Liang did another movie for them, the cult favorite THE THUNDERING MANTIS, that was released in 1980.

FIST and MANTIS were both directed by Teddy Yip Wing Cho (Yeh Yung Chu) and Liang enjoyed working with the director (who was far more prolific as an actor); noting the script and martial arts sequences attracted him to the SLEEPING FIST project. The same applied for the MANTIS movie (EPILEPTIC MANTIS) where Liang had a hand in designing his moves as "The Crazy Mantis"; specifying in a 1979 interview, "I enjoyed making this movie quite a bit. I put a lot of thought into my character and his moves in imitating the Praying Mantis; the way it moves its legs like it's dancing. When I become the crazed Mantis it's even more vigorous and exciting. Normally, these are responsibilities of the martial arts instructors, but I came up with some of my own ideas for the fighting scenes. It's an unusual and novel movie and I hope the audience finds it an eye-catching and interesting experience when it comes out soon."

Like many of his colleagues, Liang desired to direct and got his chance at Golden Harvest with PROFILE IN ANGER (1984). Before that, he became an even bigger star on television playing Jin Yong's famous character Qiao Feng from his novel 'Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils' in the TV series of the same name (or EIGHT DRAGONS). After his directing debut, he was invited by Planning Director Wang Tian Lin (Wong Jing's father) to do a guest appearance in NEW TALES OF THE FLYING FOX (1984) at Shaw Studio. Afterward, he signed with Shaw's in December of 1983 for two movies and directing another one. He was given an attractive deal with a lot of freedom; unfortunately, this was right at the end of the Shaw Brothers reign, a once mighty company that was now reduced to being a glossier independent company in terms of their outmoded filmmaking style that Golden Harvest and other rising majors had left behind them. At this point, the only thing keeping Shaw Brothers going were those old-fashioned martial arts features that foreign audiences still craved. (Insert: Liang on set of NEW TALES OF THE FLYING FOX)
One of Liang's co-stars, Tsui Siu Keung, was a Shaw actor who, like Liang, hit the big time on television; in his case it was the wildly popular TV series CELESTIAL SILKWORM TRANSFORMATION; which was later turned into a box office hit for Shaw Brothers titled BASTARD SWORDSMAN (1983) starring Tsui in the role that made him famous on the small screen. A sequel followed, RETURN OF THE BASTARD SWORDSMAN (1984), that was reportedly even more popular in some Asian markets like Malaysia. (Insert: Liang and Philip Ko in one of the best KF comedies, 1980s TWO ON THE ROAD from Goldig Films)

What attracted Liang to sign with Shaw's was their desire to turn his famous role as Qiao Feng into a motion picture to be made under the title of 'Legend of Qiao Feng' and directed by Chu Yuan. A rights issue with TV producer-director Xiao Sheng kept the movie version from being made, much to Liang's disappointment. To compensate, Shaw's rushed SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984) into production and gave Liang the lead role that was originally intended for Tony Liu Yung who was now playing the villain. There was a TV series with the same plotline on the Imperial Secret Police so there was hope the movie would translate to good box office as THE BASTARD SWORDSMAN had done.
Liang had a grand time working on the movie for director Lu Chin Ku and acting alongside many old friends. He stated in an interview, "After many years of making movies I've never been so happy because this team of actors and staff are like one big family to me." 
The movie opened in Taiwan on March 29th, 1984. SECRET SERVICE was not a success in Hong Kong even though it surpassed the million dollar mark at the box office. By this point, HK$3 million was the new barometer. It was among the best movies to come out of the studio (as well as one of the goriest), even though it was overshadowed by the box office-gobbling HK New Wave pictures coming out everywhere else. 
When filming on IMPERIAL COURT wrapped, Liang went to Taiwan to see what the film market had to offer and met up with his mentor Chang Cheh who had set up Chang Ho Company, his second and last go at his own indy production house. Invited to participate in SHANGHAI 13 (1984), Liang would feature in a role (as well as other capacities behind the camera) one last time for the director who got his career started. Starring a laundry list of 70s superstars and a handful of new faces like Andy Lau, SHANGAI 13 did good business in Hong Kong, making HK$4.8 million upon its release on April 30th, 1984.
Once he was back at Shaw's, Liang was to work on a film for Wong Jing, but that never materialized either; nor did his directing gig at the company. Asked about film contracts and his first time in the director's chair, Liang said, "I've never signed long-term contracts. If myself and the studio are satisfied with the film then we will cooperate again. I like this better than signing a long-term deal; at least it's more free. Being a director you have the opportunity to shoot subjects that interest you. Of course, I lacked experience my first time doing it. I went over time and budget, and I didn't always achieve what I wanted." (Insert: Liang performing a fight scene while director Sammo Hung watches during the filming of 1979s KNOCKABOUT)
Liang wasn't a martial artist but learned on-set, perfectly mimicking what he was shown to do. One of the most popular and successful actors to appear in HK-Taiwanese movies, his work for independents are among the best ever produced in the 1970s.

On the night of March 14th, 1977, martial artist and actor Shan Mao (real name Cong Fu Xing) was killed by a taxi driver at approximately 2:20am. When the news came, it was Chang Cheh's protege, director and actor Wu Ma, who made the call from Taiwan to Shan's long-time friend Tony Liu Yung to give the bad news. Initially, details were wildly exaggerated as it was thought he had either been stabbed to death by multiple assailants or run over by a car. When the real details began to slowly seep out, it was learned Shan's death came after an argument that led to a fight and, tragically, the end of his life. Asked if Shan was a heavy drinker, Liu Yung said, "He was indeed a frequent drinker. In Hong Kong, I often drank with him and sometimes we'd be drunk and get into fights. It's sad, so very sad. I have known him for seven years and we've done movies together, and recently completed a new one." 

The night of the murder, Shan Mao had been drinking with two young women. Having a late night snack at a restaurant, a drunken Shan and his two inebriated lady friends hailed a taxi to Beitou in Taipei to stay overnight. Apparently not wishing to go there, the two ladies became unruly and interfered with the driver; resulting in him stopping the car. Shan Mao then became angry and after an argument, he punched the driver three times. The two now hysterical women exited the car and Shan attempted to chase them, but returned to the taxi and punched the driver two more times through the window. Wishing to drive away, the driver asked the drunken actor to just pay the fare; Shan refused and instead wanted to fight, reportedly demanding the taxi driver get out and hit him as hard as he could. The driver obliged; and after eight punches, Shan blurted out that it was now his turn. Wishing to get away, the driver turned back to his car and grabbed a screwdriver and hit Shan Mao with it a total of four times. The actor stumbled backward and fell in the street as the driver, Chu Ching He, got back in his taxi and drove away, not knowing he had just killed the intoxicated actor. 
Of the four strikes, one on top of the head, the left wrist, another on the chest, it was a strike to the left temple that proved fatal. Two days later on the 16th of March, Chu was arrested; and then indicted on a murder charge on the 18th. According to sources, Shan Mao's younger brother tried to assault Chu at his indictment but was stopped by the police. Chu had no prior criminal record and expressed regret over the death of the actor. (Insert: Shan Mao, Chen Sing, and Chiang Chih Yang in 1974s THE FURIOUS MONK FROM SHAOLIN)

Shan was one of the many recognizable faces throughout the genres 70s heyday. Arguably his best remembered role was as the duplicitous monk in Chang Cheh's SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1977). His last completed work was as the Japanese general in Chang Cheh's NAVAL COMMANDOS (1977), released after his death in April of '77. Director Chang had invited him to be a martial arts instructor on THE BRAVE ARCHER (1977), but he was unable to leave Taiwan at that time, but did come to Hong Kong to shoot scenes for Chang Cheh's naval epic. He was never a big star, but an actor familiar to audiences from his dozens of film roles, mostly as villains. Shan Mao was 33 years old.

Just as the independent companies were rising to prominence in the early 70s, they took a downturn by 1974. Largely due to the oil crisis of 1973, other problems contributed to production cut-backs at this time. Television was keeping audiences out of theaters; a censorship crackdown due to increased on and off-screen violence and stronger sexual content; both overseas and Asian markets were becoming more selective of the films they imported, leading to many co-productions between HK and Thailand and others; trends were growing stale and producers were looking to new faces, new settings, and new ideas to get people into theaters while keeping costs down and revenue high.
Hong Kong Kai Fa Film Company, for example, produced several movies featuring real martial artists like Chen Hui Min (covered in Part 2), Fong Yei (an overseas Chinese in Thailand who brought Thai boxing to Hong Kong), Bolo Yeung (aka Yang Tze), Chieh Yuen, and San Kuai in movies like FREEDOM STRIKES A BLOW (more famously known around the world as CHINESE HERCULES), and THE GREATEST THAI BOXING. The latters Chinese title translates to CHAO ZHOU BOXING CHAMPION, inspired by the surprise hit Champ Wang film, CHAO ZHOU GUY in 1972.
By 1975, even Run Run Shaw had to modify his filmmaking practices within Movietown; advising his directors to follow the lead of the independent companies and cut down on shooting days by keeping their running times to 90 minutes or under. In an industry with well over a hundred movies a year being released (not counting all the foreign films), it wasn't easy to stand out among dozens of others looking to become the next Bruce Lee-level superstar. (Insert: poster for 1974s THE WILD WHIRLWIND, produced by Chang Ying, co-founder of South Sea Film Company)
After Lee's death, audiences gravitated towards stars with legitimate martial arts backgrounds. Before the ill-conceived Bruce clone movies began appearing at a rapid pace in 1976, producers would sometimes exploit Bruce Lee in their promotion to grab patrons attention; such as in the case of FURY IN STORM (1974) with its tagline, "The biggest and best film ever made after Bruce Lee's success"
This was the standard till later in the decade when more elaborate, acrobatic-enhanced fighting sequences became the new big trend that rejuvenated the independent style of action movie. Every indy company based in HK and Taiwan scrambled to find a new Kung Fu star in the hopes of making millions in HK dollar profits. (Insert: poster for 1973s THE FLYING TIGER, produced by female producer Li Shi Rong and starring up and coming actor Champ Wang and future multi-award winning actress/director Sylvia Chang)
Below is a select number of actors--one of whom became famous outside the major studio system; and three others who,  whether due to circumstances out of their control, or due to their own failings, never caught on with the fickle, sometimes demanding, entertainment-craving Hong Kong audiences.
Wang Koon Hung (Champ Wang/Wang Kuan Hsiung) got his BA at Taiwan's Han Jiang (Tam Kang) College of Arts and Sciences. Without any on-camera experience, Wang found fast fame in Taiwan with his first movie, CHAO-CHOW GUY (1972), aka CHAO ZHOU BIG BROTHER (Chao Zhou is a city in the Eastern Kwang Tung province of China). Bruce Lee going over huge in Hong Kong was a big deal as he'd made a name for himself in Hollywood; not as a leading man, but had close ties to Tinsletowns biggest names. For a Chinese-speaking actor/martial artist to hit it big in their first movie wasn't a regular occurrence, and Champ Wang was among the few who did so. 
Made for Chin Sheng En's (Chin Chui Pai; Jin Chao Bai) Filmline Enterprises (1980s THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE among many others), the then twenty-three year old actor was soon being seduced by bigger paydays from outside producers looking for a quick hit. In an effort to keep Wang from breaking his three-year contract, producer Chin staved off offers of HK$70,000 per picture by increasing Wang's pay to HK$30,000 a film but with an upgraded monthly allowance of HK$10,000. 
After his surprise hit debut, Wang had only made two movies in 1973, the first of which was the modern-day actioner THE FLYING TIGER (1973); where he was loaned out by Chin to his longtime friend Xu Jian's short-lived Li Ji Entertainment Film Company. The second was TWO DRAGONS FIGHT AGAINST TIGER (1974)--written, directed and produced by Chin. Reportedly, the film rights sold in all Asian territories with the Philippines paying HK$66,000; said to be the highest price yet paid for an independent production at that time. This was another film utilizing a title similar to Wang Yu's THE CHINESE BOXER (1970) in the hopes of making lots of money at the box office; the Chinese translation of Wang's being 'The Dragon and Tiger Meet'.
Champ Wang amassed a minor cult following outside of Asia with the unusual fist and kicker, IRON OX, THE TIGER'S KILLER (1974). Throughout the 1970s, his healthy slate of films were dominated by Kung Fu and Swordplay pictures like THE GOLDEN MASK (1977), ONE-ARM CHIVALRY FIGHTS AGAINST ONE-ARM CHIVALRY (1977), CLUTCH OF POWER (1977), SHAOLIN KUNG FU MASTER (1978) and BIG LAND, FLYING EAGLES (1978). He did a few of the 'Bumpkin Kung Fu' flicks like IRON BRIDGE KUNG FU and HORSE BOXING KILLER (both 1979), but this style didn't suit him. In the 1980s, he switched to mostly crime thrillers and modern-style action; gambling movies came back into vogue and he appeared in those such as THE KING OF GAMBLERS (1981) directed by Cheng Kang. It is in this period and beyond where Wang Kuan Hsiung had his most gratifying accomplishments; and arguably the era he is best-remembered for today.

In 1980 he won the Best Actor Award at the 17th Annual Golden Horse Awards for the Taiwanese war movie FREE OR DIE (1980). After retiring from the film industry in 1984, Wang began a new career for himself as a medical therapist, treating those with autism. In 1999, he immigrated to the United States and became a legal citizen and lives in Los Angeles. A superstar in Taiwan, Champ Wang enjoyed a twelve-year run in the business. Sadly, many others would try and fail to achieve even a single hit; or lasting appeal in an extremely crowded industry. 

Sometimes, in the world of 70s HK-Taiwan action cinema, individuals would throw away promising careers for a shot at the big time in an unstable industry; hoping to make a hit movie that would lead to more. One such man was Chung Cheng (Yan Chung Cheng). An overseas Chinese originally in medical school at National Taiwan University to become a doctor, Chung gave up his medicinal studies to be a Kung Fu star. His second movie and first as a lead was THE MAGNIFICENT TWO (1975), directed by Szu-ma Hsiung Feng (Si-ma Hung Fung); a movie that began filming in mid-1973 but wasn't released till early 1975. 
Produced by female movie producer Li Shi Rong (Li Shi Yung), she thought Chung had a lot of potential that may translate to good box office. When he wasn't studying to be a doctor, Chung was a Taekwondo practitioner. His parents were reported to have been vehemently against him being an actor, even threatening to cut off his financial lifeline. He forged ahead and, unfortunately, THE MAGNIFICENT TWO would be his only lead role. With seven titles to his credit, his movie career flatlined by 1978. This film would be Hua Lan Film Company's sole movie credit. (Insert: Producer Li Shi Yung during the filming of 1973s THE FLYING TIGER)
Li Jin Kun (Larry Lee Gam Kwan) had a grand pedigree in martial arts even if his martial arts movie career didn't reach the same heights. Born in Hong Kong in 1947, he gravitated towards Japanese arts like Karate, Judo and Aikido. By 1963, he went to Kyoto, Japan to study Okinawa Ganju-ryu Karate from 9th Dan Master Suzuki Masaru. Li returned to Hong Kong in 1965 and opened his own dojo. In April of 1972, he garnered international attention in the MA community upon his invitation to the European Karate Association. He would return to Japan later that year to receive his 4th Dan in Karate, becoming the highest ranking Karate instructor in HK. By this time, Li had accrued some 1,000 students; eventually expanding his art by opening more schools.
"I've spent years learning Karate, but never expected to play a Karate hero in the movies."--Li Jun Kun 
When Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong in 1969, he was looking for a school to practice in his spare time. Introduced to Li Jin Kun via an industry friend, Bruce and Li got along great right from the start. Bruce introduced him to Lo Wei on the set of FIST OF FURY (1972) and Li Jin Kun was on-stage with Lee while he performed a Jeet Kune Do demonstration on the TVB network. (Insert: Bruce Lee on television performing a demonstration while Li Jin Kun watches at far right)
A basic actor for Liu Bing Hua's Far East Pictures, he signed up for six films, but only did three of them. By 1974, Far East was closed down. His first movie for the company was THE THUNDER KICK (1973); followed by BLOODY RING (1973), and THE CHINESE TIGER (1974); all were directed by Teddy Yip, the director of such inventively gruesome actioners like THE BLACK TAVERN (1972) and THE THUNDERING MANTIS (1980). Li's film for Europa Film Enterprises, THE BODYGUARD (1974), had him dressed like Bruce from FIST OF FURY. That film would have footage pilfered for a 1996 movie directed by Robert Tai called FIST OF LEGEND 2: IRON BODYGUARDS.

After his brief run in the movies, Li returned to teaching martial arts, eventually immigrating to Canada in 1988. He continued spreading his art, and his many students carry on the tradition to this day.
Fledgling actors and martial artists failing to hit the big time wasn't exclusive to small studios with limited capital. While the independent studios were giving the Shaw's serious competition, the other major studio in town, Golden Harvest, was their primary competitor and formidable rival. 
South Korean import Sun I Lung was a relatively new face, but a somewhat familiar one in his native country. Golden Harvest boss Raymond Chow gave him the lead role in the HK-Indonesian co-production THE DOUBLE CROSSERS (1976); directed by KING BOXER's Cheng Chang Ho with seasoned headliners Chen Sing and Chen Hui Min supporting the newcomer. A modern day crime actioner, it was his first film in HK. Overconfidence, obsessing over his looks and training regimen were possible contributing factors to his first lead role being his last. He played The Godfather in THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977) and had a supporting role in Lo Wei's TO KILL WITH INTRIGUE (1977) starring Jackie Chan and Hsu Feng. After about a year in Hong Kong, Sun called it a day, his shine having dimmed in the film industry.

Shaw Brothers Studio wasn't immune to industry hardships, either. In early '74, they made headlines over approximately 100 layoffs within Movietown; no film stars, but the people who create those wonderful Shaw Studio sets. 
Asked about this in an interview, executive producer Mona Fong responded, "Our company employs a lot of labor and the layoffs are all carpenters. With fewer period films being made right now, some woodworkers had nothing to do so they were laid off. The point of a business is to make money, right? No matter how big Shaw's company is, you need revenue coming in to keep your business running. The layoffs were necessary as a cost-saving measure." (Mona Fong with Bruce Lee)
There were other tremors occurring at Shaw Studio that sent seismic waves throughout Asian media outlets on a par with Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho leaving the company a few years earlier. Said shock waves being the aforementioned news that Chang Cheh and company were leaving for Taiwan to set up the ill-fated Long Bow company. But upon his return to Movietown in late 1976, there were detectable differences in the director's signature filmmaking style.
"Now I understand the most expensive thing in the world is war; even making one for a movie."--Chang Cheh on SEVEN MAN ARMY.

When Chang Cheh announced his new slate of films, critics were hailing him as making movies "no other filmmaker would dare to attempt". The director was famous for his masculine, testosterone-charged action films, but he was also not afraid to take chances on other genre styles. Unfortunately, when Chang strayed too far from his element, the results weren't always well-received. One of these was in his comfort zone, but a style of movie that wasn't normally done in Chinese-speaking territories--and that was the war film. SEVEN MAN ARMY (1976) wasn't a glossy movie with intricate set design, it was a gritty motion picture filled with blood, sweat and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Based on the battle at Gubeikou, it was one of the skirmishes during the 'Great Wall Battle' of 1933 (preceding the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937), it was a largely forgotten battle at the time of the film's making. Seven men belonging to the 145th regiment were ordered to guard the battalion watchtower on Mao'er Mountain. After heavy bombardment from tanks and planes, and exhausting all their ammunition till they had nothing left but bayonets, the seven men managed to hold the tower for a week. They all eventually succumbed to the massive forces of the Japanese military. The Japanese buried the men together at the site, marked by a shrine that read "Tomb of the Seven Warriors of China".
"This was a heroic and moving battle that should not be forgotten. I only hope that I can bring that to the screen in my film."--Chang Cheh on SEVEN MAN ARMY

Chang's film sticks to the details of the battle but since all but one of the seven soldiers were unknown, he had to create new ones. As filming commenced, Chang Cheh had this to say about this enormous undertaking: "To do a film on a scale of something like THE LONGEST DAY (1962) is not within the current Chinese technical capabilities; nor is it within reach of our financial resources. So, when I chose to do a war movie, the Ministry of National Defense provided me a number of materials to choose from and I picked this mostly forgotten battle of Ba Dao Lou Zi. But who were these seven men? There's little information and a lot of lists of soldiers killed in the historical data."

Chang Cheh heavily researched the Great Wall Battles, even bringing in some Gubeikou war veterans to act as consultants. There was such importance attached to this venture that the Taiwanese military gave full access to their army and hardware. A reported 16,000 troops participated in the production. The military received 4 yuan a day for food. Shortly into filming, though, a bad batch of food gave most everyone diarrhea so it was decided the bento meals would be ordered from Changhua and transported to the location in Taichung fifteen miles away. 
In addition to the thousands of soldiers, eighteen tanks and nine airplanes were supplied as well. David Chiang, Ti Lung, and Chen Kuan Tai were busy working on other pictures back at Movietown, but they were allowed to fly out to Taiwan to participate in this big-ticket extravaganza. Both David and Ti's wives, Maggie Li Lin Lin and Amy Tao frequently visited them on the set. Even Run Run Shaw and Mona Fong came out to meet with cast, crew, and the soldiers and war veterans. The exteriors took 47 days to shoot, and that included a few days at a Taiwan military academy.
Ti Lung was a newlywed, so he stayed to himself most of the time, reading books in a corner somewhere. The cast poked fun at him for his sudden adherence to adulthood. Meanwhile, Alexander Fu Sheng was up to his usual tricks, reportedly having to be told multiple times to be quiet during filming. Chang Cheh's favorite son was unable to get on his nerves, joking on set that, "The loud boy has too much energy. If he sits still for too long he gets uncomfortable. It's only when Jenny is at his side will he be quiet."  Fu's antics reportedly got him a minor eye injury that bothered him for ten days of filming. (Insert: Fu Sheng receives instructions from Chang Cheh)

The 'Ba Dou Lou Zi' structure was a four or five story construct made of reinforced concrete. It stood near some shooting ranges used by the army. Since real ammunition was being used at times, a barrier was erected around the perimeter and out of camera range to prevent anyone from being hit by stray bullets (although allegedly, one man was killed by shrapnel during one of the battle sequences). There is a monument of the tower itself located on Kinmen Island.

Versus what was spent on it, SEVEN MAN ARMY was a casualty at the box office with a final tally of HK$789,574. Two other war pictures were released that year: VICTORY (1976), directed by Liu Chia Chang; and 800 HEROES (1976), directed by Ting Shan Si. At the 13 Annual Golden Horse Awards, SEVEN MAN ARMY was nominated for Best Film but lost to VICTORY. The aptly-named film came away with a total of five awards. Adding salt in the wound, 800 HEROES was the #5 film of the year, making HK$1,830,648.
Another headache endured at Long Bow was during the initial filming of what began as 'The Hell'. An experimental work akin to the Japanese horror movie JIGOKU (1960), nothing like 'The Hell'  had ever been seen--much less attempted--in Hong Kong before. Asked about the unusual nature of this film, Chang stated, "I'm not the type to follow trends; I create my own."  The innovative director's bizarre idea for a mystical fantasy was partially inspired by an unlikely source.
When Carl Douglas's Disco-Soul, Orientally-infused 'Kung Fu Fighting'  hit the airwaves in December of 1974, it became a global #1 hit. English-dubbed, Hong Kong Kung Fu movies were still very popular around the world and Douglas's catchy tune put men and women alike on the dance floor. By late-summer of 1975, this hip new trend made its way back to the country that had influenced it. Over in France, the Pop-Funk-Disco band Les Clodettes (made up of beautiful back-up singers for Claude Francois) danced martial arts moves in bikinis and Karate Gis in the infinitely catchy kitsch of 'Chinese Kung Fu'  in 1974.
Headlines read, 'Kung Fu Dancing Craze Hits East'. Since Chinese Kung Fu was popular with foreign audiences, HK producers thought expanding on that popularity by mixing Kung Fu with dancing was a good idea. Granted, the evolution of MA choreography looked more and more like a dance, but this was to be in the American sense, akin to something like WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Chang Cheh was the first producer-director to utilize this approach; and the ambitious, if doomed to fail 'The Hell' was the guinea pig. 
Originally promoted as a "three-in-one musical epic", one section of the movie starring Fu Sheng and his real-life girlfriend Jenny Tseng was intended to have featured six song and dance numbers with the music composed by Steven Liu Chia Chang and lyrics by Chang Cheh. The dance sequences were all choregraphed by Chen Chun Hua. Shih Szu was reported to have performed some dance sequences in the picture as well. Primarily a Kung Fu actress, she had long wanted to incorporate her singing and dancing skills and 'The Hell' was giving her that chance; although the original result would never be screened for the public. (Insert: two images of cut scenes featuring Shih Szu in the aborted THE HELL; and the three actresses from the original HELL version: Shih Szu, Maggie Li Lin Lin and Jenny Tseng)
Immediately after wrapping up all her scenes on the picture, Shih Szu would return to HK and sign a new contract with Shaw Brothers on October 20th, 1975. Having first signed with Shaw's in 1969, her previous agreement was a six-year deal; her new contract was for three years, at three films a year and the option to film 1-3 movies for outside companies. (Insert: August 1975 magazine advertisement for 'The Hell' before it was shelved)
In the 'Questions and Answers' section of the December 1975 issue of Movie News (Shaw's English-language publication), a reader from Kuala Lumpur asked, "Can you please tell us the titles of the songs which Fu Sheng and his girlfriend sang in the movie HELL and when will their fans in Malaysia have the opportunity to hear those songs?"  The response: "As the movie HELL has not been completed, the songs are not yet titled."  Sadly, nobody would get to see or hear the couple sing a set on-camera. Initially, Liu Chia Chang was going to dub Fu Sheng's voice, but news items at the time reported that the actor was admant about dubbing his own for the songs. Jenny tutored him and Steven Liu was said to have been pleased with Fu's burgeoning vocal talent.

Ultimately, Shaw Brothers saw no commercial value in Chang Cheh's bizarre movie mixture of martial arts, drama, horror, and musical numbers. Chang Cheh had recently completed something similar, but in a traditional Chinese Opera style with the production of THE RED BOY (English title: THE FANTASTIC MAGIC BABY), a mythical character featured in the 16th century novel 'Journey To the West'. When this Kung Fu-Opera-Fantasy bombed badly at the box office, Run Run Shaw took the unstable condition of the HK film industry in 1975 into consideration and decided it was best not to release the film. Chang's bizarre, three-tiered, genre-melding experiment would be shelved for two years; after which the unfinished work would undergo a massive overhaul.

All of Shih Szu's scenes were eliminated along with a newcomer, a popular Taiwan singer named Pan Jian, in a co-lead role. The look of Hell and its denizens were both discarded and done over again. The demon guardians were done again with all new (and improved) makeup. A sequence with Li Yi Min battling Hei Bai Wu Chang (Underworld Gods that are essentially a pair of Grim Reapers) was among the celluloid casualties. The "Asian Kung Fu Dance Craze" was over before it hit the dance floor. (Insert: a collage of cut scenes from the orginal version of THE HELL)
When filming resumed in 1977, it was at Shaw Brothers Studio with an entirely new cast and modified plotline; little of the original footage survived the final cut and didn't blend well with the new portions. The film was finally released in 1980 where it was quickly forgotten till years later when it became a surprise hit on DVD; likely for its undeniable weirdness.
Chang Cheh would revisit the mixing of martial arts and dancing in his 1985 movie, THE DANCING WARRIOR; an action version of Sylvester Stallone's STAYING ALIVE (1983) made for his second independent company, Chang Ho.

One of the few in Chang's group that was a real martial artist was Wu Dong Cai; discovered in the He-Man Contest put on by Yang Tze Productions (covered in Part 3). He'd signed on with the company for two years and Chang decided on a name change to Chi Kuan Chun. Born in Panyu, Kwang Tung, he fled China with his mother and sister at a young age. Preferring sports to studies, Chi was an active swimmer and proficient in Hung Gar Kung Fu, having begun his training at the age of 12. Standing 6' tall and weighing 155lbs, his strong physique was what prompted Chang Cheh to choose him for his company trademark. In it, Chi poses as he pulls a bowstring back as the music plays heralding a Long Bow production.
On his time in Taiwan, Chi said, "Compared to Hong Kong, I like the life and the people more in Taiwan. I really hope I can one day live and work there. When I first arrived in Taipei, I lived with my colleagues in the company dormitory so I could get to know everybody. I didn't know anybody in Taipei so in the beginning I didn't go out by myself."  Chi loved watching movies, his favorite being of the action variety; both foreign and domestic. He continued, "I don't like literary or artistic movies. I don't think I will ever do anything other than action films. I'm not interested in them and my physique isn't suitable to films about love and romance." A lover of nature, Chi was quite taken with Xitou Bamboo Forest with its towering pines and other sights while filming FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS. Chi said, "I stayed there for one night with the crew and when there was time for a break or if I had no scenes, I would sneak off and enjoy the beauty of the place."

Often reserved and an intensely private person, Chi was vocal on other topics. His quiet demeanor translated to the roles he played, which displeased him; the actor specifying one film where he only spoke two lines. After two years of filming, he'd softened on doing more dramatic roles--so long as it was something along the lines of Ti Lung's roles as the Emperor in THE EMPRESS DOWAGER (1975) and THE LAST TEMPEST (1976). "I'm known for my martial arts movies so it would be difficult for me to do a movie without any fighting at all. The audience might be disappointed."  Chi loved performing in Kung Fu pictures, and especially the hard work and required stamina of being in overly hot climates and long hours. Recalling a studio sequence in Taiwan, Chi worked from noon till 6am the following morning: "I was exhausted, but managed to keep going. Eventually, the adrenaline took over and I felt better by morning. However, when I got home, I slept for a full day."

After completing MAGNIFICENT WANDERERS (1977), Chi returned to Hong Kong with the rest of the crew to finish shooting SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1977); and then back to Taiwan for NAVAL COMMANDOS (1977) in September of '76.
During production of SHAOLIN TEMPLE (initially a Long Bow picture), Chi negotiated a raise with Chang Cheh and received a stunning yearly salary of HK$160,000 whether he made four films in that year or not; and any more movies beyond the four would award him with an additional HK$40,000. When the usually introverted actor disclosed this information to the press, it reportedly didn't sit well with many of his colleagues. "I've received offers for HK$60,000 from other companies, so I'm only asking for HK$40,000 from Long Bow which isn't too much to ask. I'm satisfied with this amount. There is the matter of being loyal to Chang Cheh; he promoted me and made me what I am today. Even with a slightly lesser salary, I will continue to work at Long Bow."

Originally, NAVAL COMMANDOS was to have been a Long Bow production. Instead, it became a co-production between Shaw Brothers and Central Motion Picture Company (China Motion Pictures). The latter would maintain distribution rights in Taiwan, and Shaw's everywhere else. As with many of Chang's films for Long Bow, his return to Taiwan was equally problematic. Having worked only one day on the picture, director Chang was spotted back in Hong Kong watching a test screening for SHAOLIN TEMPLE. (Top: International promotion for what was also being called 'The Naval Stormtroopers, and finally as NAVAL COMMANDOS)
Questioned by a reporter as to what was going on with his naval epic, Chang replied, "The matter concerns Li Ching. You should understand by now that, outside of a few exceptions, actresses will never be important in my films. My upcoming THE BRAVE ARCHER is one of the exceptions. NAVAL COMMANDOS has a total of three actresses. At most, it would only take three to five days to get all their scenes. In Hong Kong, Li Ching promised me and Shaw to do this film. The remuneration was agreed upon by her beforehand. When she arrived in Taiwan, she suddenly said she wanted more money and asked the producers at China Motion Pictures for the extra funds. Shaw's is co-producing with them, and all the actors were cast by Shaw Brothers. Of course, they refused to give her more money, so now Li Ching is out. She now says she only agreed to do the movie to give me face. So she not only insults Shaw's by backing out, but China Motion Picture Company by asking them to pay her money. It's possible but not definite that Tanny will replace her."

Tanny didn't take the main female role, but Shih Szu did. Filling out the other female roles was Kwok San Hing, who appeared in the previous years award-winning, top ten hit, EIGHT-HUNDRED HEROES (1976); and Chu Ching, who worked with Cheh again on THE BRAVE ARCHER (1977).

Prying further into the fate of Long Bow, a reporter asked about his current debt of HK$1,000,000. "I could make a lot of money in this business but I am lousy at handling finances. This is a career where you can make big money in a matter of minutes and it can be gone in an instant. It's an exciting job and difficult to give up. My contract is HK$200,000 per film; that's HK$1,000,000 a year. For NAVAL COMMANDOS, since the budget is very large, I happily donated my fee to the production."
A year into Long Bow's existence, rumors were already going around Chang's company was in trouble; that the director was frustrated and contemplating ending his tenure in Taiwan. Some of this turned out ot be more than just gossip.

When Chang was filming BOXER REBELLION (1975), an enterprising young producer named Lin Chong Feng offered the director an unprecedented sum of HK$1,000,000 for distribution rights in Taiwan. When Run Run Shaw got this news, the deal was so good, he allowed Chang Cheh to negotiate licensing in Taiwan with autonomy. Unfortunately, Chang Cheh's prior political career before he entered show business caused issues while both the Chinese and the British allegedly took offense to how they were depicted in the film. Then, director Chang disliked his near 2 1/2 hour movie was being scissored to fit more showings in Taiwan movie theaters as well as a problematic line of dialog being omitted. For its HK release, it was reported Chang would recut the movie himself. Shaw's publications relayed that the Taiwan box office take was good ahead of the films summer release in HK. All total, the picture was unable to recoup its massive production costs. Still, BOXER REBELLION is among the director's finest epics. (Insert: Fu Sheng with Richard Harrison attempting to use chopsticks while Chang Cheh watches in the background)
Allowing Chang Cheh to handle copyright sales of his films eventually became a detriment to Shaw, Chang, and Long Bow upon making a licensing deal with Jin Hua Films, an independent Taiwanese company run by Li Gui Wu, Lin Rong Feng (Lin Yong Feng), and Lin Rong Fa.

"I'm a very confident person, but I'm also a pessimist. I plan for the worst in everything, so I will never announce something until an agreement is reached."--Chang Cheh
Shaw Brothers were apparently becoming nervous with Chang's spending habits on movies that weren't returning on their investment due to extravagant budgets. Plus, the Shaw's were angling for major US distribution that never came. It was no longer 1970 when Chang Cheh could spend HK$2.5 million on THE HEROIC ONES and it make money not just in Hong Kong, but every other Asian territory. With the fall of Saigon and the resulting loss of multiple Southeast Asian markets, and the remaining markets being more selective and restrictive about which--and how many--Hong Kong pictures they purchase, Chang's big movies with pricier licensing fees would be harder to sell; and in some cases, censorship would compromise his original vision. (Insert: magazine advertisement for THE MAD BOY before it became THE NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS)
Reportedly, Jin Hua Films put up HK$2.5 million of the budget for SEVEN MAN ARMY as well as retaining domestic rights in Taiwan. It was also reported that Chang Cheh had signed a contract with Jin Hua to make eight movies a year for them. One of the stipulations of the SEVEN MAN ARMY purchase was the film be finished and ready for Chinese New Year in Taiwan. There were multiple delays whereby Long Bow was unable to fulfill its end of the contractual obligation. Early into filming, Alexander Fu Sheng's grandfather was injured in a car accident, so he flew back to Hong Kong for several days and the film was shut down. Another time, David Chiang and Ti Lung were called back to Hong Kong, causing another shutdown. Additionally, the movie was severely cut when it finally hit Taiwanese movie screens. (Insert: Fu Sheng and Jenny Tseng at the airport)
Adding to the contentious situation, Chang's company co-financed THE IRON SUPERMAN, a SciFi movie using footage from Japan's SUPER ROBOT MACH BARON (1974-1975) television series. Director Chang was too busy to oversee the filming so Shaw's resident editor Kuo Ting Hung (Kwok Ting Hung) took off to shoot scenes with Lu Jian Meng (Jaime Luk Kim Ming) and Maggie Li Lin Lin to edit into the Japanese giant monster footage. Upon its completion, no one wanted the movie, and Chang Cheh had no interest in trying to sell it for overseas distribution; so it went out under the Chang's Company banner. 
After a year went by--from 1975 to early 1976, only two movies had been completed per the Long Bow-Jin Hua deal. The two sides renegotiated and came to an agreement that Jin Hua would license a set number of movies from Long Bow in Taiwan while Shaw's maintained distribution for Hong Kong. It was here where tensions between Chang Cheh and Jin Hua came to a boiling point, and Run Run Shaw had to come in and lower the temperature.

In late summer of 1976, Chang's THE NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS was released at the Shaw Brothers Cinema in Taipei. The Jin Hua Film Company took issue with this as they claimed ownership of the picture to distribute in Taiwan as per the revised contract signed between them and director Chang Cheh. The story made headlines in the newspapers and when questioned about this dispute Chang Cheh responded, "This issue is more simple than the papers are making it out to be. I only signed a contract with Jin Hua for three films; those three are THE SHAOLIN AVENGERS, MAGNIFICENT WANDERERS and the currently unmade 'The Arena'. SHAOLIN AVENGERS has already been handed over to them; WANDFERERS is only half completed; and the other picture is postponed due to Ti Lung being pulled back to work on Chu Yuan's JADE TIGER (1977). NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS doesn't belong to them. They will have to wait for the remaining two films. If they cannot wait then the matter will be turned over to the courts and I will pay them the contracted copyright fee if  'The Arena' is never made. It's that simple."

Once MAGNIFICENT WANDERERS was completed, Long Bow was "temporarily shut down". Since neither side could come to terms with monies owed, Jin Hua's bosses proceeded to file fraud charges against Chang Cheh on October 2nd, 1976. The Immigration Bureau was then notified to prevent the director from leaving the country till the matter was settled. Run Run Shaw intervened and claimed that NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS is the property of his company; and any debts between Chang and Jin Hua Films has nothing to do with the Shaw Organization. After further deliberations, the fraud charges were dropped and the parties settled out of court.
The proposed movie with Ti Lung among the cast never materialized, SHAOLIN TEMPLE was completed at Shaw Studio, and NAVAL COMMANDOS was made without Long Bow's involvement at all. In the end, Chang Cheh owed Jin Hua Films HK$800,000 plus interest. This would be added to Chang's debt he would owe Shaw Brothers. Long Bow was now officially closed. (Cast and crew in back row: Chen Hsin I, Shan Mao, Kuo Chui, Hsieh Hsing, Shih Tung Tien, Chang Cheh, Pao Hsueh Li)
Other potential issues would arise between the dissolution of Long Bow and Chang's new five-year contract with Shaw; stipulating 25 films a year and his salary of HK$1,000,000 a year. 
The question was, when Chang returned to Shaw Brothers, what was to happen if the martial artists under contract to Long Bow decided to stay in Taiwan? As Chang put it, "There are two ways to deal with this situation. Insist that they stick to the terms of the contract; and the other is to let it go. I opt for the latter."
Chi Kuan Chun's contract with Chang Cheh was nearing its end and the actor had a decision to make: stay with his mentor and sign with Shaw Brothers, or go out on his own. In a 1977 interview, Chi's decision became clear: "Working with Chang Cheh these last few years has been inspiring, but I've never had the opportunity to be a leading man. I'm not jealous of Fu Sheng, but every time I perform with him, director Chang always lets his light overwhelm me."

Many of the Long Bow crew stayed on with Chang Cheh during his Venom Era. Chi Kuan Chun, though, would leave Chang's group upon the completion of NAVAL COMMANDOS. He immediately became in-demand for numerous indy companies, starring in a few dozen Kung Fu and Swordplay features. 
Chi's first movie outside of Chang's camp was SHOWDOWN AT THE COTTON MILL (1977). The sole feature for the Chiang Nan Film Company, it was the fourth time the actor had played the Hou Wei Chin character. In an unusual bit of role reversal, Tan Tao Liang was cast as the lead villain, Kao Chin Chuen. Filming began in early 1977, and the pitting of Chi Kuan Chun's Hung Gar Fist against Tan's lethal legs was heavily hyped. 
A few years later, Chang Cheh would do his own version of COTTON MILL as TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN (1980) starring his 4th class of actors-martial arts performers. 
Having pondered being a director for a few years, Chi made that a reality in 1978, founding the Champion Film Company. Named after himself--the stage name Chang Cheh had given him--Chi produced two pictures, WAYS OF KUNG FU and THE BIG RASCAL. Chi would act as writer, director and leading man in the latter. Having maintained his physique ever since, he doesn't look much different today then he did breaking into the business 50 years ago. (Insert: Chi Kuan Chun giving instructions to Wang Chen in an action scene during the filming of 1979s THE BIG RASCAL)

HK box office numbers for Chang's Scope/Long Bow pictures are as follows: 
1. FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS (1974): HK$1,693,684
2. HEROES TWO (1974) HK$1,363,602
3. DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN (1975) HK$1,319,161
4. SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS (1974) HK$1,283,178
5. MARCO POLO (1975) HK$1,198,860
6. BOXER REBELLION (1975; released as SPIRITUAL FISTS) HK$1,172,519
7. NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS (1976) HK$909,240
9. MEN FROM THE MONASTERY (1974) HK$822,329
11. SEVEN MAN ARMY (1976) HK$789,574
12. NA CHA, THE GREAT (1974) HK$516,604         
13. THE DRUG ADDICT (1974) HK$479,763
14. THE YOUNG REBEL HK$366,084
16. THE FANTASTIC MAGIC BABY (1975) HK$263,488

Chang Cheh's two-year Long Bow adventure could be viewed as a failure from a monetary perspective. Some of his films during this time passed the coveted $1 million mark, but the expenditures kept the costs in the red. From a fan's POV, though, this period of the director's career was both rich in entertainment value and two years of ambitious and epic Kung Fun.
In the final part of this series, we take a lengthy look at Jackie Chan's troubles with Lo Wei; John Woo's start in indy cinema and his ambition to make a great Kung Fu movie upon arriving at Golden Harvest; the beginnings of Tan Tao Liang and Angela Mao Ying; an in-depth look at Lo Wei and Jimmy Shaw Feng's dueling FIST OF FURY sequels; and Shaw Brothers versus Golden Harvest; and Jackie Chan, in his own words, detailing his entire career from when he started, to when he had a decision to make--stay with Lo Wei, or go work for the Shaw's or Golden Harvest. 

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