Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Wild, Wild East: Duel of the Independent Film Companies Part 5



SHAW VS. GOLDEN HARVEST VS. LO WEI VS. JIMMY SHAW VS. JACKIE CHAN CHAPTER 1

Prior to Jackie Chan (along with Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao) aiding in Golden Harvest surpassing Shaw Brothers as Hong Kong's major studio stronghold, he was finally coming into his own after a disastrous run of movies with Lo Wei. Indy producer and director Ng See Yuen and MA choreographer Yuen Woo Ping turned him into a major box office draw as the lead in the independently made SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978); a cheap Kung Fu flick that had a very basic plot and few actual sets. Something about the movie clicked with audiences, though. The movie had ingredients for a cinematic cocktail that hit viewers at just the right time; the primary ingredient being comedy, and heaps of it. (Insert: Jackie Chan, Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Siu Tien on the set)

At the time, Chan was still under contract to Lo Wei, the director of Bruce Lee's THE BIG BOSS (1971) and FIST OF FURY (1972). The relationship between Lee and Lo was hostile and often made headlines in the early 1970s. It wasn't unusual to see the two men smiling in photos for certain events at Golden Harvest; but off-camera, Lee held contempt for the director. Like he had done with Lee, Lo Wei would cause waves with Jackie Chan several years later. Even so, Chan was not the man Bruce Lee was. While Lo feared Bruce, it was much easier for him to manipulate the young and naive Chan without fear of being beaten up. (Insert: Lo Wei with his wife Li Liang Hua and Bruce Lee at the New Year's party for Golden Harvest on February 15th, 1972)
 
Prior to working with Lee, Lo Wei was a director at Shaw Brothers Studio. Shortly after Raymond Chow left the company to set up Golden Harvest, he needed more talent, so he cherry-picked a small handful of techs from his former boss; Lo being one of them. He'd just finished THE SHADOW WHIP (1971) starring Cheng Pei Pei and began filming DUEL FOR GOLD (1971) when he abandoned the latter (Chu Yuan took it over as his first film for the company) and joined Chow's camp. (Insert: Lo Wei on the right going over the script for THE SHADOW WHIP with Yueh Hua and Cheng Pei Pei on location in Japan)
 
Lo's work at Movietown was polished and consistent in terms of quality. His films for the fledgling Golden Harvest were all over the place. He wasn't a standout director, or a particularly innovative one; but he made entertaining movies. Unfortunately, his career will always be tainted by his antagonistic relationship with Bruce Lee and his aggressiveness to maintain control over Jackie Chan. Outside of THE BIG BOSS (1971) and FIST OF FURY (1972), Lo did have big successes with BACK ALLEY PRINCESS (1973) and A MAN CALLED TIGER (1973); the former snagging a Best Actress Award for star Polly Shang Kuan and a much needed hit for Jimmy Wang Yu in the latter. In an unusual move, Chow released both films on the same day during the Lunar New Year; one in the morning show and the other at the midnight airing. (Insert: Lo Wei flanked by Maria Yi and Bruce Lee on the set of THE BIG BOSS)
 
In 1974, Lo started his own company, Lo Wei Motion Picture Company, Limited. His inaugural feature being CHINATOWN CAPERS, the sequel to PRINCESS and co-produced with Chow's Golden Harvest. Lo Wei was riding high for the moment, but his directorial success would take a sudden downward spiral before a crash and burn by decades end.

At the height of his directing career in late 1972, a British journalist was reporting on the Asian movie scene and interviewed Lo Wei, who had this to say about the genre at that time, its violence and popularity: "Swordplay films only became real box office about six years back. Before that, Chinese opera was very popular, but nobody wants to look at that sort of film today. You see, nowadays, people work very hard, they are very tired after work, and they are unsatisfied with life; they find relief in watching swordplay films because they are very fast in terms of action and they excite people. Some of these pictures, I agree, have a bad effect on young people, but it depends on how the director treats the subject matter of the film. I myself work on the principle that violence is portrayed in a bad light and a bad man gets his just desserts."
 
Lo continued, "It is not that the Chinese have a particularly violent, racial character. Everybody likes to watch violence. The most important thing for a producer is to make money. All producers think of the box office first. Of course, the producer must be technically skilled; his film has to come up to the standard, but he doesn't really think about his film in terms of art."

To say there was a rivalry between Shaw's and Chow's companies in the 1970s is an understatement. Shaw Brothers dominated the first half of the decade. Chow aspired to be Hong Kong's Da Ge, or Dai Lo (Big Brother; Big Boss). The Harvest didn't become a major overnight; it was an uphill battle that Chow meticulously fought throughout each rough and tumble year of the 1970s. He had an edge over the many other independents in that he worked for the Shaw's and inherited Run Run's slick business sense. This paid off lucratively for Chow by decade's end.
 
Despite 1975 being the worst year for the HK film industry, Shaw productions accounted for half of the top 20 movies of the year. However, the #1 hit in '75 was Hui's Film Production Company's comedy THE LAST MESSAGE; co-financed with Golden Harvest. It brought in HK$4,553,662 in ticket sales. Hui movies would dominate the top spot in '77 and '78 as well. Their PRIVATE EYES (1976) was released in late December of '76, so its tally spilled over into the next years total. in 1978, Jackie Chan finally got the notice he'd always wanted and by 1979, both Shaw and Chow had his talent in their sights.
 
Eventually, Chow's company would tighten its grip on the industry as the decade drew to a close. Initially struggling to survive against his much bigger competition, Raymond Chow signing Bruce Lee was what saved his then new organization that was about to go out of business almost as soon as it had started. After securing Lee, Chow went about trying to poach as much of Shaw's contract roster as he could. He didn't always succeed in pilfering his competitions talent pool; but sometimes he did, such as a major acquisition of Michael Hui, who had a huge hit at Shaw's with Li Han Hsiang's THE WARLORD (1972).
 
Lee had wanted to sign with Shaw Brothers but refused their standard contract offered to him. Having been in Hollywood, he was of the mind he deserved an American-sized salary for his services. Occasionally at odds with Chow over money, Lee would flirt with making movies for Shaw Brothers--and apparently intended to do so--leading up to his death in July of 1973; a week prior to the HK release of his last completed film, ENTER THE DRAGON. There are many 'What If?' scenarios, too. Had Bruce made movies at Shaw Studio, Golden Harvest may very well have been closed down by 1972; and we never have gotten movies like BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972), either. As it was, both Shaw and Chow would barter for another major star's signature by the close of the decade.

For all the chatter of Shaw's low wages, Golden Harvest was not much different. Not everybody at GH got a lucrative deal like Bruce Lee; but Chow was willing to pony up to get talent and offer more freedom of ideas without talent having to prove themselves first. Shaw Brothers were the primary target of this kind of monetary propaganda because they were the biggest studio in Southeast Asia as well as being a launchpad for countless stars in front of and behind the camera. For years, they received the bulk of international attention from various foreign celebrities, magazines, and other Anglo media outlets. By 1979, the tide was changing. Dinah Shore was in Hong Kong interviewing Raymond Chow and Jackie Chan about "Bruce Lee #2". Unlike other studios, Movietown had living quarters on-site for all its staff and actors. Actually, all the film companies treated their roster of stars like they were factory workers. There were exceptions, but for the most part, you were paid a basic per-film wage and a monthly allotment. A basic contract was the equivalent of starting pay for an entry-level job.
 
Angela Mao Ying, for example, the first newcomer hired at Golden Harvest, was making the equivalent of US$600-$800 per film, plus a monthly retainer of US$500 in 1972. The average number of working days for a single movie was 60 days. This was at the beginning of her career so her pay would increase over time. She didn't have a HK hit till BACK ALLEY PRINCESS (1973), and Polly Shang Kuan got the accolades plus an award for that one. Huang Feng's LADY WHIRLWIND (1972), for example, the film that introduced her to foreign audiences under the title of DEEP THRUST, only made HK$401,794 in seven days of release. Even so, Raymond Chow obviously saw something special in Mao Ying.
 
A top student of Taiwan's Fu Sheng Drama Aademy (Lu Kuan Peking Opera School), Angela Mao had trained in various martial arts styles for several years. Entering the school at the age of five, some of her classmates were Lu Feng, Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Chang Yi, and Chin Hsiang Lin (Qin Xiang Lin). Upon joining Golden Harvest in 1971, Mao was introduced in THE INVINCIBLE EIGHT (1971); but her first movie was THE ANGRY RIVER, released a few months later. Her third film for the company, THUNDERBOLT (1973), began shooting in June of 1971, but multiple injuries put her out of the picture for a few weeks.
 
For the shooting of HAPKIDO and LADY WHIRLWIND in South Korea, Raymond Chow paid for her, Sammo Hung and Chang Yi to learn the art of Hapkido from a Korean master named Chi Hanzai (Ji Han Jae). Reportedly, it was during this film's making that Mao Ying earned the nickname, "Little Pepper"; after a street altercation with a man who attempted to harass her. Asked about her frequent clashes with her male classmates in opera school, Mao Ying said, "I just like to joke around. People say I was born with a boy's temperament as opposed to a girl's elegance." (Insert: Angela Mao's Hapkido training)
 
The "Little Pepper" moniker was given to her by Shin Sang Ok, a Korean filmmaker who worked for Shaw and Chow and was most famous for he and his wife being kidnapped in 1978 by North Korean dictator and lover of movies Kim Jong Il. Kim would force Shin to bolster the film industry there with movies like the monster flick PULGASARI (1985). Shin and his wife would escape captivity in 1986.

Everyday after filming, Angela would undergo Hapkido training from 8pm-10pm. Learning under Ji Han Jae, Mao Ying said, "Before learning Hapkido one must learn forbearance. For the first lesson, Master Ji warns all his students they should never strike another person on impulse. If this rule is broken, you will be punished by the Master. Most of the maneuvers in this art are defensive first and offense second."  As part of her training, Mao Ying had sand bags tied to both of her ankles and had to do jumping exercises starting at 60 times and moving up to 400 times. Of course, the weight of the sand bags was increased each day as well. The completion of her entrance exam required the breaking of boards with the feet. The thickness was a little less for the women than for the men, but Mao passed her exam.

On her opera training versus movie career, Mao remarked, "Making movies is comparatively easy. When I was at the drama school, I was up at 5am every morning practicing singing, dancing and martial arts, and never stopped till 9pm. That life was much harder than my current one." At this time, Mao Ying was taking care of her family. Dividing her income into two parts, since she signed her contract in Taiwan, Mao would turn her salary over to her mother. Her remuneration from HK filming was for her own private use. Later on, she would buy her mother a house in Taiwan. Mao would eventually leave Golden Harvest and work heavily on the independent movie scene starring in films like RETURN OF THE TIGER (1977) for director Jimmy Shaw Feng (who will soon figure into this story) and DANCE OF DEATH (1979) at Fortuna Film Company.
 
Aside from Angela Mao, Raymond Chow also had an idea to bring Cheng Pei Pei out of retirement and pair her with Lo Wei. This was another way for Chow to jab Run Run in the ribs. Pei Pei's exit from the movie industry to marry and move to the USA was big news in 1971. Her career curtain-closer, THE LADY HERMIT (1971), was a big hit for Shaw Brothers. It was her last for the company although THE SHADOW WHIP (1971) helmed by Lo Wei was released after it. 
 
Upon her return to Hong Kong to resume her career after a two-year absence, Pei Pei had ambivalence about going before the cameras again, citing how much the industry had changed in just two years. Her return under the direction of Lo Wei, NONE BUT THE BRAVE (1973), wasn't a success; and neither was her follow-up in Ting Shan Si's WHIPLASH (1974). Cheng Pei Pei called it quits for the second time, and Lo Wei continued making movies few went to see. Bruce Lee was dead, and Chow had only Jimmy Wang Yu to rely on and his star was dimming due to market saturation with so many films bearing his name; and a growing number of violent off-camera altercations. (Insert: Cheng Pei Pei and Lo Wei)
 
In 1975, it was comedy, and not Kung Fu, that would come to Golden Harvest's rescue. With but a single top 20 hit in the year 1976, Chow's company gained a sturdier foothold in the industry. Golden Harvest had been on shaky ground more than once since its inception; and well into the decade, the establishment was viewed by critics and journalists as less a major studio than a glossier independent. Chow learned a lot from his former boss and used that business savvy to take risks on his talent pool that occasionally paid off in a massive way. (Insert: a view from the top of the hill behind sound stage C looking down at GH Studios)
 
Compared to the vast expanse of Movietown, Golden Harvest was a tiny company originally situated on Hammer Hill Road in Kowloon. The company expanded in 1976 to accommodate three sound stages (one of which was situated atop a hill), props, costuming departments and dormitories, by adding a new production department. Chow also moved the business office next to the dubbing facility. (Insert: Sound stages A and B; sound stage C was added in 1976)
 
By 1978, when the Kung Fu comedy became a dominating force, it was clear that Golden Harvest would eventually overtake Movietown itself. By 1980, the writing was on the wall.
 
The year 1975 had been the low point of the decade with only 15 movies making over HK$1 million. The communist takeover of Vietnam after the fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975 evaporated that market. Shaw's had recently re-opened their Lido Theater in Vietnam on September 9th, 1974 (see insert). Built before the war, the movie house underwent major renovations and seated near 1,000 patrons. Chang Cheh's award-winning BLOOD BROTHERS (1973) was the main attraction for the theater's reinstatement. All the profits went to local hospitals. Sadly, once the VC seized power, the market there was gone along with what was known at the time as the Khmer Republic.
 
The year 1976 was an improvement, although both studios had serious missteps with record-low box office releases. Even so, one area that always seemed to pull Chow's company out of the fire was in their distribution.
 
While they didn't produce the movie, GH distributed JUMPING ASH, an independently made movie that was the top hit of that year (discussed in Part 2). The precursor to the New Wave 80s style made nearly HK$4 million during its HK theatrical run and no doubt gave Raymond Chow some insight into where the future of HK cinema would be. 
 
 
Run Run Shaw, who had always been recognized for his ability to foresee new trends, failed to capitalize on changing audience tastes by this point in the decade. Possibly this was due to his preoccupation with breaking into the world market as a major competitor with big budget Hollywood pictures. Also, Run Run was determined to bring TAI-PAN to the screen with the aid of its author James Clavell and writer Carl Foreman (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE to name two); announced in summer 1975 to begin shooting in late '76. TAI-PAN did get made, but not under the Shaw Brothers banner. This was another area where Chow would take advantage of Shaw's big theatrical gambling losses. (Top: Shaw General Manager Laurence Ling, Shaw President Run Run Shaw, Taiwan Film Festival Delegation Chief Henry Kung, Assistant General Manager Raymond Chow, Cathay General Manager Yu Pu Ching, and Publicity Manager Huang Yeh Pai at a Taiwan Film Week from June 8th-14th, 1969)

Still, of the 34 movies in 1976 that grossed over a million HK dollars, 16 of them were Shaw Brothers productions; 8 of which were among the top 20 for the year. For example, KILLER CLANS was the #3 top grosser. Its near HK$2 million haul put Swordplay cinema back in vogue. Golden Harvest, on the other hand, had no films in the top 20 they produced in-house. Just like with JUMPING ASH, the #2 film was distributed by them; an Opera from John Woo titled PRINCESS CHANG PING made a surprisingly high HK$3,448,498 in 21 days. Chow produced far fewer pictures than his chief competitor, so it wasn't as if Shaw was in trouble at this point; only there were signs that trouble was ahead. Film critic Qui Zi had this to say about the selling and distribution of movies in HK: "The success of a film mainly depends on the content of the film; but distribution plays a role to a degree. The former is a principle and the latter relies on technique. If you use gambling as a metaphor, your skills are in the quality of your film's content. Your wager is in how you schedule your film for release." 
 
In 1977, both Shaw and Golden Harvest would play a veritable game of chess with their movie theater chains; opening one and closing another. While some of Chow's gambles on licensing films made for smaller companies paid off, critics at the time thought Shaw made some odd decisions by re-releasing older titles for the launching of new cinemas; and were likewise bewildered by Run Run's giving up movie houses in prime locales, and opening others in areas that were less attractive, but had cheaper rent.
 
Also in 1976, while Run Run Shaw and Raymond Chow competed for box office dollars, Lo Wei took on a young man named Cheng Yuan Lung (Jackie Chan); whom John Woo had given a sizable role in his COUNTDOWN IN KUNG FU (1976), known internationally as HAND OF DEATH.

The filmmaker who had given Chan his first break, though, was actor-turned producer-director Chu Mu. Founding the Great Earth Film Company in 1972, Chu assembled a small group of young talent for a few movies. The outfit didn't last long, though. The inaugural film for Great Earth, NOT SCARED TO DIE (1973), better known as EAGLE SHADOW FIST, brought in a very low HK$69,336 in six days of theatrical play. The company was done within a year but some of its talent would go on to find fame elsewhere, Chan being among the few; only it would take approximately six years before the success-seeking actor would finally find the fame he was seeking.(Insert: First Films President Huang Zhuo Han, Jackie Chan and Chu Mu, founder of Great Earth Films)

Lo's first movie with his new, would-be talent was originally called FIST OF FURY PART II. However, Jimmy Shaw Feng (Shao Feng), the owner of Seven Seas Pictures (Hong Kong Alpha Motion Pictures), and a friend and colleague of Lo, was also making a sequel to FIST OF FURY. In the end, there was a lot of animosity between the two men in bringing their sequels to the screen; and it was a rocky beginning to what became an unstable relationship between director Lo and his star Jackie Chan. 
 
As reported in The China Times in early '76, Lo Wei had gotten a little too drunk at his birthday party in Hong Kong. One of his guests was Jimmy Shaw Feng, a close family friend of Lo and his wife; and even closer to his wife's sister. The alcohol talking, Lo jovially spilled the beans about his intentions of shooting a sequel to his Bruce Lee hit in the hopes of reviving his sagging career. Sensing dollar signs, Shaw Feng decided he'd take the idea for himself and mount a sequel of his own.

Shortly after forming his own company and marrying his second wife, Hsu Li Hwa in 1975, Lo dissolved his partnership with Raymond Chow, parting on less than friendly terms. Lo's new wife then became his partner in producing his films independently; one of these being NEW FIST OF FURY. And while that film and FIST OF FURY II pitted Chinese versus Japanese, behind the scenes it was Lo Wei versus Jimmy Shaw Feng in a back-and-forth battle that could've made an entertaining Kung Fu Comedy in itself.

Shaw (no relation to the Shaw Brothers) wasted no time cranking out a script for FIST OF FURY II with a cast ready to go before the cameras; toplined by Bruce Li (Ho Chung Tao), a martial artist who made a career doing Bruce Lee-alike movies. Allegedly, Shaw approached Lo Wei about co-directing FOFII. Since it was Lo's idea to begin with, he had no desire to co-direct a movie with the man that had brazenly ripped him off. 
 
Meanwhile, Raymond Chow refused to get in the middle of the two bickering men and their competing pictures, stating he had no right to object or agree to either film. The rights to the original FIST OF FURY (1972), which was a co-pro between Chow and the defunct Si Wei Movie Limited, were controlled by Lo's first wife, Liu Liang Hua, so there was nothing he could do there; and Chow wasn't about to broker a deal between the former married couple whose split was anything but amicable. 

With Lo's refusal to abandon his project and participate with the competing one, Shaw brought Lee Tso Nam aboard to co-direct his movie. Lo then changed his film's title to NEW FIST OF FURY as well as changing the script. Adding to the heat between the two productions, both crews shot in Changhua and Lukang Township in Taiwan; areas only a few miles away from one another. They even crossed paths at dinner time and the two companies lodging were within close proximity--Lo's team at the Taiwan Hotel and Shaw Feng's group stayed at Sakura Mountain Hotel. (Insert: Lee Tso Nam goes over a scene with Tan Tao Liang during the filming of 1978s CHALLENGE OF DEATH)

Tempers came to a boil over the use of an actor that ended up in both movies. Lo Wei invited Sun Lan (a bit actor in dozens of Kung Fu flicks) to play the role of the police captain in his movie. Sun happened to bring his wife and child with him too. Reportedly, the kid was sick and Sun owed money to the First Hotel in Taipei. Lo Wei refused to pay Sun any money outside of the agreed-upon salary. Jimmy Shaw got wind of this and decided to intervene by lending Sun Lan the money and put him in a background role in FIST OF FURY PART II. He also put him and his family up at the Sakura Mountain Hotel, which enraged Lo Wei. Naturally, this caused problems when Sun was needed on the set of both movies at the same time. Both directors were occasionally sending crew members out to find him. Eventually, an altercation occurred at the Sakura Mountain Hotel when Lo and his wife made a scene that led to the police getting involved. Moreover, the police had agreed to provide three fire trucks for a rain sequence in FOFII but they were delayed for three hours due to the dispute at the hotel where Lo was demanding his actor return to his set.

In the end, Lo's marketing of Jackie Chan as a new Bruce Lee bombed with a meager HK$456,787 in ticket sales; while Bruce Li made a career out of imitating the late superstar in movies that few in Hong Kong cared to see (but made money everywhere but in Asia)
 
Lo gave Chan a variety of roles in each subsequent box office bomb he put him in. According to old articles of the time, famed novelist and scripterwriter Gu Long found Chan unsatisfactory as a leading man. Reportedly stating in public, Gu Long said of his work on THE KILLER METEORS, "For my stories, actors like David Chiang and Ti Lung are suitable protagonists, not Jackie Chan". So Wang Yu took the good guy role and Chan was cast as the villain. After filming, Lo Wei suggested Chan have eye surgery, which he did.
 
After the chaos during the filming of NEW FIST OF FURY, a few other catastrophes in Lo's life put his meltdown against Chan two years later into perspective.
 
Despite his plump face and fat body being viewed as a sign of good fortune, Lo Wei was the living caricature of the obnoxious, overbearing film director. He had a jocular, if frequently abrasive personality and a gambling problem that cost him his marriage to his first wife Liu Liang Hua in 1974. 
 
While filming YELLOW FACED TIGER (SLAUGHTER IN SAN FRANCISCO) in the United States, Lo lost the equivalent of US$10,000 in Las Vegas, infuriating his wife in the process. He was 55 at the time and she 42 years old. A former actress and a major shareholder in Golden Harvest, Liu had enough and returned to Hong Kong to begin divorce proceedings in mid-May 1974. To further expound on her influence in the industry at that time, it was Liu who signed Bruce Lee to make movies for Raymond Chow. As for YELLOW-FACED TIGER, the Wong Tao and Chuck Norris modern-day actioner failed to fill Lo Wei's pockets; only making HK$344,107.

Devastated over the divorce, Lo fell into depression, losing a lot of weight and believing that his next big hit would bring her back to him. When this didn't happen, things became more heated, leading to both parties bad-mouthing the other in public with Lo threatening a lawsuit. This was the beginning of the downward spiral that would irreversibly damage the director the remainder of his career. (Insert: Lo Wei with his first wife, Liu Liang Hua)
 
 
However, Lo showed a rare humorous side upon marrying Hsu Li Hwa the following year (pictured above and insert). Poking fun at himself, the now silver-haired Lo vowed to quit his excessive wagering habit, penning a letter to his new wife that declared, "I swear I shall never enter a casino again... without my wife's approval." 
 
Over the years, his filmography is less in the spotlight than his volatile feud with his star Bruce Lee in the early 70s, and his toxic treatment of Jackie Chan in the latter part of the same decade. The last few years of his directing career (the next arm of his profession as a producer would keep him busy into the 90s) were experimental but major failures.
 
 
Probably the biggest of these was the 1978 3D Kung Fu road movie THE MAGNIFICENT BODYGUARDS ('Flying Over the Cirrus Mountains' in Chinese). It was another disappointing Jackie Chan movie, but this one paired him with James Tien and Bruce Liang. Lo Wei thought for sure this film would be the hit he was looking for, remarking in an interview shortly before its release: "Flying Over the Cirrus Mountains... just listening to the title is awe-inspiring, simply magnificent! Just imagine, Cirrus Mountain towering into the clouds; and in between these lofty, cloud-covered cliffs and rocks are swordsmen and the sounds of clashing steel and death."

There had been two other Taiwan-made 3D movies in 1977, DYNASTY and 13 NUNS (13 GOLDEN NUNS); both helmed by Chang Mei Chun. Both movies also shared the same cinematographer in Chen Jung Shu. He had worked closely with the late Michael Findlay while he was in Taiwan; an American filmmaker and the creator of a new 3D system that only required a single camera to house the two lenses needed for the three-dimensional effects. DYNASTY was a huge success for the Eastern Media Film Production Company (Eastern Pass, or Dong Chuan Pictures), in release for 14 days and amassing HK$1,964,795. While the former was the better-made of the two, the latter title became the more well-known; released in America under the sleazily titled, REVENGE OF THE SHOGUN WOMEN. In Hong Kong, 13 NUNS' gimmick of bladed implements of all shapes and sizes being hurled at the camera every two minutes failed to amaze audiences as its predecessor had done; only making HK$675,384 during its eight-day run.

As for MAGNIFICENT BODYGUARDS (1978), director Lo Wei had this to say about his 3D movie: "Generally speaking, the 3D effects in my movie are roughly the same as the two previous Chinese 3D pictures. The main difference is in the dramatic elements and how well-written the script is. I've paid great attention to it. I dare to say that my film is better than the two other 3D pictures before it."  On the 3D effects, Lo went on to say, "I dealt with these lenses very carefully and didn't overuse the 3D too much. If eight out of ten shots were things being thrown at the audience, they'd become numb to the effects. I watched Chang Mei Chun filming in Taiwan and told him I wanted to make a movie like this too!"

Between the 3D and the weather, filming was difficult, with the director only getting eight shots in a nine-day period at one point. On the use of special camera effects Lo said, "[Chen Jung Shu] had to refit our camera to do the 3D. At the beginning, we'd intended to rent the same Stereoscopic camera from the United States that was leased to the company that made DYNASTY; only we could not get it as we were told it couldn't be rented out to anyone else. So we improvised and turned our camera into a three-dimensional one and the effects are even better than the original from America!"

It's possible the reason Lo Wei's company couldn't secure the use of Michael Findlay's camera was because he had been killed in a freak helicopter accident atop the Pan Am Building in Manhattan on May 16th, 1977.

Hoping for a big hit, Lo boasted, "For what I spent on this picture I could have made three ordinary movies!"  He would also heavily propagandize the production and the services of director of photography, Chen Jung Shu. Since he had collaborated with Americans in Taiwan, the publicity was wildly exaggerated. Claims of 20th Century Fox offering Chen a hefty payday to work on some American pictures, but allegedly turning the offer down because he was afraid his purportedly superior 3D camera would be plagiarized by foreigners. (Insert: Lo Wei's exasperation is evident as DP Chen prepares to get a shot from a hole in the ground of galloping horses hoping not to be killed by them; Jackie Chan is seen running towards them in the background)

Lo's optimism could barely conceal his growing frustration with his chosen star whom he repeatedly failed to utilize properly. Before Shaw's helped him out by releasing some of his Chan movies, Lo was finding it difficult obtaining distribution due to his growing list of bombs. Some of the director's worst box office came in TO KILL WITH INTRIGUE (1977), the movie he made prior to BODYGUARDS that paired Jackie with award-winning starlet Hsu Feng. It died a quick death with a five-day take of only HK$273,142. However, Lo's other movie from 1977, THE KUNG FU KID starring Chen Hui Min, was a much-needed hit, making HK$1,092.876 in eight days of release.
 
With Lo's growing frustration over his movies with Chan failing to make any money, he happily loaned him out to Ng See Yuen, founder of Seasonal Film Corporation. That temporary partnership yielded an unexpected smash hit with SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978). Here was a movie that dramatically changed the landscape of the martial arts film genre for the next few years. Now, numerous producers with a few bucks in their pocket would set out in any number of grassy fields or mountain valley's to shoot dozens of cheap Kung Fu flicks with barely any plot to speak of, a scant number of sets, and even less production values.
 
Ng See Yuen (who's been discussed at various times throughout this series of articles) is an important and underrated figure in independent cinema, with a greater footprint in the industry than he seems to get credit for. Aside from being an AD on THE CHINESE BOXER (1970), early in his career he had been an Assistant Director or Co-director on indy movies like HEROIC SWORD (1969) and THE MAD KILLER (1971). His trilogy of movies in the early 70s with Chen Sing were all million-grossers (see Part 2). He even tried his hand at horror with 1975s A HAUNTED HOUSE. Grossing HK$532,341 in twelve days, it was reported to have been a bigger success in other Asian markets. (Insert: Ng See Yuen with Kao Yuen on the set of 1971s THE MAD KILLER)
 
Ng's SECRET RIVALS (1976) helped bring Hwang Jang Lee and Jackie Chan together for SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978). The kick-fest co-starring John Liu and Don Wong Tao made HK$803,855 in eight days of release. The 1977 sequel made a bit more with HK$902,998 in the same number of days. Ng also directed arguably the best, and possibly most profitable, of the Bruce clone movies in 1976s BRUCE LEE: THE MAN, THE MYTH for The Eternal Film Company. Treating the subject matter seriously and with a stoic air, audiences turned out in large numbers to the tune of HK$1,282,742 for 13 days of exhibition. Prior to the massive success of JUMPING ASH in 1976, Ng was integral in popularizing the modern crime genre in Hong Kong as well.
 
To survive in the HK film industry, you had to have foresight in where audience interests were heading. Sometimes it was just down to luck in hitting on a trend that clicked with film-goers. He had an uncanny ability to mine success from the trend of the moment, and even create them. 
 
While Ng helmed some very successful 'Hard Fist and Kick' movies earlier in the decade, by the mid-1970s, he was the driving force behind two wildly successful modern crime pictures. His ANTI-CORRUPTION (1975) for Eternal made bank with HK$2,543,074 in 22 days. In comparison, his follow-up crime picture MILLION DOLLAR SNATCH (1976), made a mil less than its predecessor, but still a big hit with an 11-day cume of HK$1,515,564. For director and producer Ng, the best was yet to come.
 
JOHN WOO: FIGHTING FISTS & CHIVALROUS SHAOLIN KUNG FU

Director John Woo (Wu Yu Sheng, John Woo Yu Sum, John Y.S. Woo) is one of the most successful Chinese filmmakers to become famous in both Hong Kong and America. He started out under the aegis of Chang Cheh as his assistant director on movies like BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972), FOUR RIDERS (1972) and THE BLOOD BROTHERS (1973). He would later move up to the director's seat at Golden Harvest. But wedged in between was his brief tenure as an AD on a few independently made martial arts features; both of which were picked up for US distribution by Cannon before Golan and Globus bought the company in 1979. 
 
 
One of these was the ultra-rare THE GODFATHERS OF HONG KONG (1973), aka THE MANDARIN; and the other was FISTS OF THE DOUBLE K (1973), aka FIST TO FIST. Produced through Emperor Films International--or Wells Fargo Pictures and Empire (HK) Pictures--it was the directing debut of producer Chu Won Yin (Zhu Huan Ran), better known as Jimmy L. Pascual. In articles of the day, it was stated the license for FIST TO FIST were being picked up all over the world; this being the time Kung Fu pictures were especially hot. Pascual's movies got a lot of attention from foreign distributors. Many were licensed by small outfits in America like THE GOOD AND THE BAD (1972), released in America as KUNG FU, THE INVISIBLE FIST; and THE EVIL SNAKE GIRL (1974) as DEVIL WOMAN to name two others. 
 
The company had some sizable hits such as THE BLOODY FISTS (1972) and THE MAGNIFICENT BOXER (1973) starring Charles Heung. Henry Yu Yang headlined the former title, leading to a few instances of his top billing Kung Fu flicks like THE AWAKEN PUNCH (1973) and THE YOUNG DRAGONS (1973); the latter being directed by John Woo for Golden Harvest in his directorial debut.
 
When you look at Woo's career, especially from the mid-80s onward, his films show a deft hand of a director possessing a uniquely high level of confidence. But early on, Woo conveyed himself as a young filmmaker lacking conviction in his abilities. A passionate man in his approach to his work, but seemingly dissatisfied with it, and his career in the 1970s.
 
 
During his GH tenure, Woo made some unremarkable, but significant movies; one of the most important being COUNTDOWN IN KUNG FU (1976), aka THE HAND OF DEATH. A starring vehicle for rising kicking sensation Tan Tao Liang, it ended up being a bigger launchpad for a young Jackie Chan (at that time billed as Cheng Yuan Lung).

Movies about Shaolin had become very popular. Chang Cheh made them fashionable in Taiwan between 1974-1976, and Joseph Kuo had re-imagined them with his THE 18 BRONZEMEN (1976) and similar movies.

Woo wished to put his own spin on the trend, stating in a January 1976 discussion on its making: "Before filming THE HAND OF DEATH, I got a taste of the audience psychology in wanting something new and fresh; so I did a lot of preparation beforehand. Firstly, I referred to many classical books on the martial arts in order to learn its true meaning. Once you have acquired skills you will challenge your opponents, and you will not be shamed by victory or defeat. The theme of the film is that martial arts practitioners are not afraid of hardships, they learn with humility and their intentions are righteous while undergoing a spiritual suffering." 
 
Woo continued, "After writing the script, and to make the movie more realistic, Sammo Hung, the martial arts instructor, and myself went to visit various famous teachers; Shaolin masters in Macau, Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. Other than our discussions about Shaolin boxing, we also made a documentary, approximately an hour in length, showing these seniors performing their Shaolin martial arts; most of which had never been seen on the screen. Before we started filming the movie, Sammo and I watched our documentary and researched the various styles to choose the appropriate ones for our actors to practice and use on-camera. Once the cast had gotten the essence of styles they'd been learning, we began shooting."

Further details on the making, Woo stated, "We shot out in the country and in the mountains of South Korea. This film has a strong theme and my requirement of dramatic tension greatly interested me; so my focus was a purely emotional point of view. However, volatile personal emotions caused a demanding effect that hurt the actors and crew. Despite the limited means we delivered a high quality picture. As for the sequences where I was extremely demanding of my crew, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the staff of this film for their diligence and hard work. In this movie I was able to do what I wanted to do. Action movies should be innovative and not casual; otherwise the audience will lose interest. I hope THE HAND OF DEATH displays some of that creativity." 
 
Woo received criticism for his treatment of his cast. He detailed further, "In an effort to make the filming more realistic, I ordered all the main actors not to use stunt doubles. To use some examples, one scene of horses being tripped resulted in an actor injuring his back after multiple takes. Tan Tao Liang injured his leg a few times in scenes without the use of trampolines; and in another scene during a fight between Tan and Cheng, I tied a steel wire around Cheng Yuan Lung's (Jackie Chan) waist. Just as Tan kicks him, the line is sprung back to make the fall look more powerful. Unexpectedly, due to the excessive force, Cheng was hurtled to the ground and hit his head on a platform, knocking him out. He suffered a concussion, and when he came to Cheng thought he had died! He couldn't see for a while and when his vision returned we were going to do the scene again. The staff became angry and blamed me for Cheng's injury, saying I had no sympathy and they all refused to shoot the scene again. Fortunately, Cheng understood my "harshness" in making this film. In my opinion, my films express personal sensibilities. Some would give me the title of 'Violent Director' because my films so far are all action films. In order to improve my filmmaking abilities, I will try my best to overcome difficulties in the future and strive to learn new methods so that my films can enter a new era of cinematic diversity."
 
Woo's efforts didn't translate to audience approval. HAND OF DEATH played for 9 days, and in that time, only made HK$490,854. After completing HAND, Woo made PRINCESS CHANG PING (1976), the aforementioned opera tale for Golden Phoenix that was a big success for the company and Chow who distributed it. The year 1976 wasn't good for Golden Harvest where martial arts action was concerned, though. TIGER OF NORTHLAND hit theaters after HAND exited them and only lasted 3 days before being pulled after a miserable take of HK$170,949. THE HIMALAYAN, though, starring Angela Mao, Chen Sing, and Tan Tao Liang, was a hit for the company, grossing over a million HK dollars.
 
Tan Tao Liang's star was getting bigger by this point, even though he (and virtually the entire industry) would be eclipsed by Jackie Chan's success a few years later. An overseas Chinese born and living in South Korea, he had been a TKD instructor for the Busan police at 18 years old as well as a bodyguard. His skills would be integral to his career as a Kung Fu star several years later. He opened a lot of eyes with his debut performance in HERO OF CHIU CHOW (1973), aka HERO OF THE WATERFRONT, directed by Wang Hsing Lei (Wong Sing Loy); a director on the independent circuit who, like Shaw favorite Cheng Kang, was a "slow director", in that he took a long time to finish a single movie. The sole picture for Lei Ming Fei's Crown Company Limited, HERO was a bigger hit than anticipated. The key to this, possibly had a lot to do with the promotion.
 
When filming began in 1972, Tan was 25 years old and, having been training in the art since he was twelve, had acquired a 5th Dan in Taekwondo by that time. He was so impressive, he was made a TKD instructor at South Korea's Busan University when he was only 17 years of age; and performed in the same capacity in Taiwan at various universities. The Korean kicking art was all the rage between 1972-1974, with various films featuring Taekwondo in some capacity. He did something unique in his first movie, and that was climbing between two walls using only his legs. It was the first time this skill had been seen on-screen and was the film's main selling point.
 
The film's promotion also relied heavily on Tan's real life martial arts abilities. Newspaper ads from the Crown Company went the extra mile and took jabs at other stars like martial artist Chen Kuan Tai who had a recent smash with MAN OF IRON; and even Jimmy Wang Yu who fired back with publicity of his own, stating, "I'm not a martial arts master, never used substitutes and don't need gimmicks to attract an audience."  Chang Cheh took to the papers as well for comment, citing the movies themselves were not real life, and that if your film is good the viewers won't care if the actors can fight or not.
 
Crown boss Lei Ming Fei kept the antagonistic momentum going, using Tan to put on a show in Taichung for onlookers to promote the movie when it hit Taiwan theaters on December 30th, 1972. Like a carnival barker, Lei proclaimed to the crowds, "Tan's skills are entirely real. There are no photographic tricks involved as you will see!"
 
With all the hoopla surrounding both Tan and his debut in HERO OF THE WATERFRONT, producers for other companies began throwing more lucrative offers at him in an attempt to lure him away from director Wang Hsing Lei. Tan refused them all, citing, "I was given this opportunity by director Wang, so if he doesn't agree, then I can't agree."  Tan's next movie was TORNADO OF PEARL RIVER (1974). Making HK$628,733 at the HK box office, it would be the second and last collaboration with Wang Hsing Lei.

The film's popularity and Tan's leg skills wowing audiences guaranteed a sequel and the inevitable imitations. A blurb from an issue of International Screen in 1973 summed up the atmosphere at the time: "With the gust of wind that was Bruce Lee, and now Tan Tao Liang's 'Gecko Kung Fu', many children in Taiwan are wanting to learn boxing and kicking styles, practicing in the streets and alleyways, as if they're the stars of an action movie."

One such kid was six year old Ching Lap Wei. Inspired by Tan Tao Liang upon seeing him in HERO OF THE WATERFRONT (1972), the kid wanted to be a Kung Fu star. His father, an advertising agent, didn't take his son's interest in martial arts seriously. That changed once he discovered his little boy was climbing between the walls in a corridor outside his home in secret. Placing a thick blanket on the ground, Ching reportedly fell many times, but eventually managed to effortlessly use his leg strength to ascend the two walls over ten feet.
 
Surprised at his parents elation upon discovering what he was up to when they weren't around, little Ching was about to get his wish. With his father's advertising connections, he was able to set up a meeting with Ma Han Ying, a production manager on a job for the Hua Lian (Hwa Lien) Film Company. This was to show off his son's newfound skill set in the hopes of getting the little guy into a movie. Ma, along with screenwriter Sung Hsiang Yu (Song Xiang Ru), and director Tu Chong Hsun (Tu Zhong Xun), made an appointment to see Ching's wall-climbing abilities and were so impressed, they decided to put him in their new film, THE END OF THE BLACK (1973); he even made it on the poster and was heavily promoted in the film's promotion since HERO OF THE WATERFRONT had been such a big success due to Tan Tao Liang's stunning leg strength. The company did try to get Tan to star in the movie so Ching could feature alongside his idol, but the two sides couldn't come to an agreement. The kid did appear in a sequel, THE RETURN OF THE HERO OF THE WATERFRONT (1973), starring Philip Ko and Pearl Cheung.
 
 
In the end, THE END OF THE BLACK was the last movie produced by Hua Lian Films. Ching Lap Wei was approached by other producers and his father was delighted for his son to appear in films for fun.. so long as it didn't interfere with his school studies. Meanwhile, Tan Tao Liang went on to a successful career on the indy circuit in predominantly period-set martial arts pictures. He wasn't as prolific as many of his colleagues, but among his best films are GENERAL STONE (1976), THE HOT, THE COOL AND THE VICIOUS (1976), DYNASTY (1977), BLOODY TREASURY FIGHT (1979) and THE HEROES (1980).
 
On a related note to THE HAND OF DEATH, Tan's co-star in HERO OF THE WATERFRONT was future award-winning actress Joan Lin. HERO was her first lead role, replacing famed actress and songstress Chen Chen. She went on to a remarkably lengthy career in Taiwanese cinema. Starting out as a martial arts actress, she became known for dramas for the bulk of her resume. In 1982, she married Tan's HAND co-star Jackie Chan in a secret ceremony in Los Angeles. Immediately after their wedding, Jackie insisted his new wife withdraw from the limelight to protect his career. They have a child together, Jaycee Chan.
 
Later in the decade, Woo's demeanor was more solemn. During the filming of LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY (1979), Woo seemed noticeably depressed as he still had yet to produce a big hit. CHIVALRY had gone over time and budget and revisions were being made. Asked about the overages Woo remarked, "I have high requirements for myself. This is a period piece with many sets only I need large-scale sets. I'm trying to do the best with what I have but I want to be satisfied with my movie, and for the audience to be satisfied as well."

Woo was so engaged in his work he hadn't been eating or sleeping much and had become even more thin than he was before. He also wasn't making enough money to support his family, stating in an interview, "I worry about them and how I can make their lives better, so it is very important to me to make money from movie-making; but at present, I'm only earning enough to support my wife so this is not the way."  Woo had recently purchased a life insurance policy for his family and was at a low ebb in his life, insinuating he had contemplated suicide. (Insert: John Woo and Michael Hui)
 
Asked if he's an emotional man Woo continued, "I can say that I have never really been happy. Now I have a family and a job but I haven't done what I want to do in this business. I've had many frustrating encounters in the past. Nobody liked the way I shot my movies; people looked down on me. When I was a kid, my parents were poor but now that I have made some achievements, I receive flattery from others that I don't think I deserve."  When asked about his future in the business Woo replied, "I want to make a blockbuster movie. I want to make audiences feel good by what they've seen. I want to be satisfied with my work. I want to set a high box office record, but up to now, I've yet to do it."  (Insert: Woo with Damian Lau Chung Yan on the set of LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY)

CHIVALRY crossed the million mark, but Woo would find bigger success doing comedy for his next few pictures. And in 1986, he would create an entirely new sub-genre; essentially a recreation of the Swordplay movies of old but with guns instead of swords. Woo's modernization of his mentor Chang Cheh's works would make him the hottest director in Hong Kong; and it wouldn't be long before Hollywood came calling.
 
As detailed elsewhere in this series, indy producer and director Ng See Yuen had a keen eye for talent. He wasn't as prevalent as Chang Cheh in creating new stars, but he was partially responsible for one of the HK film industry's biggest moneymaking actors. That man was Jackie Chan.
 
THE OLD MASTER BEGGAR: THE DEATH OF YUEN SIU TIEN

Appearing in nearly 350 movies, spanning three decades--a staggering achievement--the patriarch of the Yuen Clan, Simon Yuen Siu Tien, remains one of the most recognizable faces in Hong Kong cinema history. He'd been acting since the late 1940s, mostly in minor parts. One of his most colorful roles came in 1974 when Chang Cheh gave him a pivotal part as the Tiger-Crane master in his seminal Long Bow classic, SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS. Four years later he would play in similar capacity opposite Jackie Chan in the big hits of '78 SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER.
 
 
It was at this point Yuen's career went into overdrive, appearing in a slew of SNAKE and DRUNKEN knock-offs. The old man was in the greatest demand of his life. Sadly, overwork would take its toll on Old Yuen, who appeared in 20+ movies in his last two years, and the biggest roles he ever received.

After finishing THE BUDDHIST FIST (1980) for his son Yuen Woo Ping's Peace Film Production Company, the elder Yuen went on to play another beggar role in the Golden Harvest movie, THE MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER; again directed by his son and starring Sammo Hung. Yuen the younger had signed a contract with Raymond Chow's company and brought his free agent father along with him. After filming for three days in September of 1979, Yuen Siu Tien collapsed and was unable to return to the set. Fan Mei Sheng replaced him in the movie. (Yuen Woo Ping, Simon Yuen Siu Tien, Sammo Hung on the set of MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER)
 
In January of 1980, Yuen spent three months in hospital, and was discharged after surgery in the hopes he could recuperate at home. Feeling unwell a short time later, Yuen was taken back to hospital for blood tests and a malignant tumor was discovered in his lungs. His conditioning worsening, he would die in the early morning hours of December 17th, 1980 at 69 years of age.
 
"I've been making movies for over 40 years and only now do I become popular. It's like a dream; and one I never thought I'd see come true!"--Yuen Siu Tien in 1978.
 
Prior to his collapse, Yuen was reported to have taken on ten new movies at once, and had been working on three to four of them a day; filming on one set, then moving on to do scenes for another, and so on. His sons tried to convince him to slow down and simply enjoy the rest of his life; but the sudden attention and stardom he was enjoying after the two Jackie Chan movies made the old man feel invigorated, even though the long hours was taking its toll on his body. Independent producers, eager to have his face and name on the marquee, rushed to secure his services in their films in the hopes of scoring a hit. (Insert: Simon Yuen and Cliff Ching Ching in 1978s PECULIAR BOXING TRICKS AND THE MASTER)
 
Unfortunately, many of these producers were reportedly taking advantage of his participation, claiming it was only a cameo appearance. But in many cases, despite two to three days of work, sometimes at 20 hours a day, Yuen's role would end up being much larger and his name used to promote the movie. Naturally, at his age, the physical actions would be performed by a stand-in; but the arduous shooting for hours on end is strenuous for anyone, and especially a near-70 year old man. 
 
The following are some brief remarks from the elder Yuen about his son Woo Ping, and the industry at the time: "When it comes to Kung Fu, Yuen Cheung Yan (Yuan Xiang Ren) learned faster and better than Woo Ping did. Cheung Yan is good, but when it comes to brains, "Big Eyes" has it; Big Eyes is Woo Ping's nickname. He has had business acumen since childhood and has a keen sense on how to make money. When he was making DRUNKEN MASTER, he was under a lot of stress from spending so much time designing the moves. Many nights when he returned home he would practice new things with his brothers. He didn't ask me for advice and I didn't volunteer any so he could do it himself. But if asked, I will certainly offer a few pointers."  (Insert: photos from 1980s SIX DIRECTIONS OF BOXING)
 
On martial arts instructors Old Yuen had this to say: "At present, when it comes to martial arts films, Yuen Woo Ping, Sammo Hung, and Liu Chia Liang are the top choreographers; and each has their own team. However, in this industry, there is no one person who is the best. There is always someone better. Competition is good. If prestige belonged to only one person, there is no progress and nothing new to see!"
 
Some of Yuen Siu Tien's last film works include BLIND FIST OF BRUCE (1979), MAD MAD KUNG FU (1979), THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING (1979), CRYSTAL FIST (1979),  THE STORY OF DRUNKEN MASTER (1979), and SIX DIRECTIONS OF BOXING (1980). Old Yuen is fondly remembered by Kung Fu fans for his many roles of old drunken Kung Fu masters during the last two years of his long and illustrious life.
 
SHAW VS. GOLDEN HARVEST VS. LO WEI VS. JIMMY SHAW VS. JACKIE CHAN CHAPTER 2 

Oblivious to the changing genre around him, Lo Wei became even more hostile when Chan's followup for Seasonal Film Corporation, DRUNKEN MASTER (1978), was an even bigger success than its predecessor. Lo genuinely believed he, not Ng, had made Jackie Chan a star. The man who complained about his actor's looks in stills for NEW FIST and SHAOLIN WOODEN MEN, stating, "This man looks too sloppy", was now claiming Chan's Seasonal success was entirely his doing; and now Chan owed him for his surging popularity the pompous director had nothing to do with.
 
Suddenly, Chan found himself in high demand with major players Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest vying for his signature on a contract. Chan was unsure what to do as he also wanted to work for himself in his own production company. Both Run Run Shaw and Raymond Chow went back and forth like Chan was an item on an auction block. (Insert: Chan receives filmmaking pointers from acclaimed and multi award-winning director Li Hsing)
 
There were some in the industry that thought Jackie may indeed end up at Shaw Brothers. He had visited the studio three times in apparent negotiations. Considering the growing enmity between Lo Wei and Golden Harvest that was now putting Chan in the cross-hairs, it was surmised that Shaw Brothers would be the safer option as the company had a working relationship with Lo's company. 
 
Mona Fong was asked about this triangular duel between Shaw, Chow and Lo Wei and she said, "Our company has many basic actors. Shaw Brothers have never desired to push actors to break their contracts to make films here. Jackie Chan is the basic actor of Lo Wei's company, so if one day he does make films for us, he will have to obtain the approval of his boss, Lo Wei." (Insert: Elizabeth Taylor with Mona Fong. In November 1979, Taylor had been an awards presenter at the 16th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan. After the event, she flew to HK for a banquet at Run Run Shaw's villa in her honor)
 
The reality of the situation is that this problem could have likely been avoided entirely had Chan simply finished his remaining movie on the contract he had with Lo Wei. Then he would've been free to refuse signing another, and then join Chow's company without committing a breach of contract. Lo himself wasn't free of guilt, either. Taking a contract out on Chan with the Sun Yee On Triad syndicate to force the actor to make movies for him was going to extremes; even though Triad influence in the HK film industry had been a problem for decades. Much like how the Mafia ran Hollywood during its Golden Age, this was the case in 1970s Hong Kong; and it only grew more profound up to the 1997 handover. 
 
Lo Wei was a desperate man, arguably an entirely unstable man at this point. He'd lost a wife, lost his Midas touch, and was now losing his sanity in a bid to hold dominion over an actor who had done more for the industry outside of Lo's grasp because Seasonal Films gave Chan the opportunity to be himself.
 
Director Chang Cheh had spent years with Run Run and Raymond Chow, and knew both men very well. He had this to say about Lo and Chan's red-hot industry kerfuffle in a 1979 interview:

"During these negotiations Jackie Chan has been in talks with Golden Harvest 90% of the time. It is more likely he will sign with them. I don't think Shaw will be able to sign him. This whole thing is a replica of the Bruce Lee incident when he came to Shaw the second time to get more money out of Chow to make him stay. Raymond Chow will double Chan's price and he will make films for Golden Harvest. Chan is the only one who wins in this. I can see clearly how this matter between Run Run Shaw and Raymond Chow is going. The only one that's unclear to me is Lo Wei. He is an impulsive man so I don't know how he's going to handle this." (Insert: Chang Cheh and Lo Wei in 1972)
 
Meanwhile, Lo felt betrayed by Golden Harvest that they dared to poach his star from his company. Actors breaking contracts was frowned upon in the industry but it didn't stop them from doing it, nor studios seducing an actor they wanted with larger paydays. Chan had not produced a hit for Lo at that time so the burly filmmaker assumed he owned the actor; and that since Chan put millions in indy outfit Seasonal's coffers, Chan would now do the same for him. (Insert: Hong Kong Movie News promotion for SPIRTUAL KUNG FU)

Director Lo wasn't quiet in the media, either. He was quoted in public appearances saying, "It's impossible for Jackie Chan to make movies for Golden Harvest. He works for me! If Chan doesn't take the advice being given to him, I will seek the support of the Shaw Brothers and file a lawsuit for breach of contract."
 
The Shaw Brothers weren't about to back Lo Wei in any lawsuits against Jackie Chan. They were only distributing Lo Wei's movies that weren't making him any money.
 
Lo became incredibly petty, breaking to the media in 1980 that Chan was dating actress Michelle Yim (Yen Hui Ling). The two had known each other for ten years and had only recently begun dating while trying to keep their relationship a secret. Earlier in the decade, John Lo Mar gave her the stage name of Michelle. She attended the same class at the Shaw Training Academy that Danny Lee and Alexander Fu Sheng did, but did not graduate with them as her mother insisted she focus more attention on her school work.
 
Naturally, this was big news for media outlets. As annoying as it may have been for the happy couple, it was harmless compared to Lo's controversial headline-grabbers that, historically, would overshadow whatever merits his career as a director may have had.
 
Despite Lo Wei's filmmaking troubles, Seasonal Film Corporation struck gold with the 'Bumpkin Kung Fu Comedy' concept. It became the most popular trend, totally identifiable with the look and feel of the independent companies. Golden Harvest was very successful at imitating this trend, producing some of their best catalog titles, even if they made relatively few of them. These include KNOCKABOUT (1979), THE YOUNG MASTER (1980), and DREADNAUGHT (1981). Shaw Brothers, on the other hand, made several attempts at replicating the indy style and the results were awkward nearly every single time; examples being THE BOXER FROM THE TEMPLE (1979), THE FIGHTING FOOL (1980), and COWARD BASTARD (1980). 

Easily the best of Shaw's indy-like output was Chang Cheh's SHAOLIN RESCUERS (1979); and most especially John Lo Mar's MONKEY KUNG FU (1979). Largely a director of dramas, it's the few martial arts movies Lo Mar made that he's best remembered for. Prior to becoming a director, Lo had written radio dramas. Upon entering Movietown, he got work as an assistant director, an editor, and any other jobs that would carry him to the director's chair. Filming for MONKEY KUNG FU began in late November of 1978. What makes this film special is the casting of Monkey Kung Fu stylist Hou Chao Sheng (Hau Chui Sing) and Tony Cheng Hsiao Tung (Ching Siu Tung), the son of famous filmmaker, Cheng Kang. (Insert: lobby card for MONKEY KUNG FU featuring a scene not in the movie)
 
During an interview, Lo Mar was asked about his movie and cast: "The 'Ape' style of movie is a relatively new concept and a different sort of martial arts picture than I've shot before. It's entirely about the Monkey Style of Kung Fu. There's a story to go along with it, of course. The storyline was born from the mind of the co-star, Hou Chao Sheng. I've known him for years. He also runs a martial arts school."  Lo continued, "The Shaws suggested I use Hsiao Tung. He'd signed a long-term contract with them back when his father joined the company. Back then when his son signed on Cheng Kang said, 'Don't worry, I won't help him. If he wants something, he has to rely on himself. I taught him from a child that if he wants something he can't depend on other people, but he must succeed on his own.' He's not like his father, though; he doesn't like to talk. When I first saw Hsiao Tung he was maybe 15. There were many movies with women playing sword fighters. Of course, many of the shots were done with doubles and that's when I learned Hsiao Tung was also acting as a stand-in for some of the actresses because of his size." (Insert: Hou Chao Sheng, John Lo Mar, Ching Siu Tung on the set of MONKEY KUNG FU)

In between his early days in movies, Tony Cheng ran a mechanics shop and sold cars. His hard work would pay off in a big way in the early 1980s where his style of action design was instrumental in molding the HK New Wave and revolutionizing the industry with films like DUEL TO THE DEATH (1983), A CHINESE GHOST STORY (1987), and the SWORDSMAN trilogy that began in 1990.
 
The following are excerpts from 'The Pain of Success'; an article written by Jackie Chan and published in Shaw's Hong Kong Movie News about his career up to the just-released THE FEARLESS HYENA (1979).
 
"It's funny to think about this now. On the first day my father led me to meet [Master Yu Jim Yuen], I was dressed as a cowboy, wearing a cowboy hat and a pair of guns on my waist. My father said to the Master, 'This child doesn't study well. All he knows is to play with toy guns all day long. Now I leave it to you. Help me to discipline him properly'. The kind of discipline the Master taught, I had to learn to behave properly, and I had to learn the rules in everything. Even at that young age, I had movies in my heart.... When I was seven and a half years old, I left my parents in Australia to begin my training with Master Yu Jim Yuen. My father only came to Hong Kong to see me once every two years. Before I turned 17, I never left my master. The ten years of practice was quite hard. If it weren't for my inexplicable passion, I would have ran away. Speaking of which, when we would practice boxing, Master Yu would suddenly stop, and put cups of tea on our arms or legs and teach us how to pose for an hour.

Continued: Later on, my friends who I used to know suddenly began distancing themselves from me. If I am cold to them they think I am proud and arrogant. If I am warm to them they think I am being a hypocrite. Success has been my goal for many years, and I never imagined that when I saw success in the distance, I would suffer so much pain reaching it. (Insert: cartoon of Jackie Chan telling a producer that "it's easy to obtain my services if you can beat this maneuver!")

Continued: At the age of 17, opportunity came! Yuen Qiu, the only female apprentice of the Master, introduced me to director Chu Mu. He immediately allowed me to participate in NOT SCARED TO DIE (1973). The filming was quite hard; fighting and showing off my skills against Japanese villains. Then I did THE HEROINE (1973). Again, director Chu gave me the second male lead role, but this time playing the villain. I went toe-to-toe with [Charlie Chin] Hsiang Lin! It was because of my work on THE HEROINE that I became great friends with Charlie Chin Hsiang Lin. I spent many days with him. He taught me how to get along in the world and I taught him how to do Kung Fu. At that time, I was already accepting apprentices.... (Insert: Yuen Qui with Roger Moore on the set of  1974s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) 
 
 
Continued: All things have to be done through hard work to reap the rewards. After appearing in a few pictures for Great Earth Films, Chu Mu introduced me to Li Han Hsiang at Shaw Brothers. He said to him, 'This child is good, you can use him in one of your films.' I wanted to be in a good movie. As long as I could appear in more shots, I could at least sleep at night. I began hoping I would be given more acting scenes in THE GOLDEN LOTUS. I remember on the set any time somebody needed something I would rush to do it like it was the most important thing in the world. I was so eager to show off. Li Han Hsiang payed attention to me but, unfortunately, he didn't make action movies at all so I was useless in that respect. Director Li is a peculiar person and he requires a clear explanation for the audience in every shot. After working on THE GOLDEN LOTUS (1974) for him, I had a deeper understanding of working in movies. (Insert: a very young Jackie Chan third from right. Founder Chu Mu behind him)

Continued: It's easy to say and painful to think about the years I spent in the industry not being an actor. In those years there were dozens of martial artists wanting to make directors pay attention to them. I was desperate. I did all the dangerous and difficult moves nobody else wanted to do. Finally, directors noticed me, and I gained the respect of martial arts instructors. I now had more opportunities for film work. Build confidence in yourself. I often tell my assistants and apprentices, don't think no one will see your efforts; someone will always see them. When I was filming THE HAND OF DEATH (1976), some people called me an idiot because I was working so hard. I was dedicating myself and all my strength to my role.

Continued: When I'm on the set and don't have to perform I would stand next to the director or martial arts instructor. I would secretly listen to them talk about the camera and directing a scene. I listened and learned everything I could. I wasn't happy with my career during this time. The films I did weren't big hits which hurt me a lot. I was so discouraged because my enthusiasm could no longer support my confidence. After I finished THE HAND OF DEATH for John Woo, I went back to Australia for a whole year. I began thinking that maybe being in the movies wasn't for me. I thought about giving up on them. But I couldn't forget my love for the movie world. I couldn't stand the quietness and loneliness of Australia. I couldn't stand listening to Lo Wei lobbying for me after watching THE HAND OF DEATH when I came back to finish filming SHAOLIN WOODEN MEN and SNAKE AND CRANE ARTS OF SHAOLIN. Then, I would meet Yuen Woo Ping and my life changed forever. He liked my work and allowed me to be myself and give my all to the movie. I must constantly seek change and new innovations.

Continued: Thanks to Master Yu's teaching, I learned that martial arts training requires constant breakthroughs. You shouldn't get complacent in your existing Kung Fu foundation. You have to keep trying to make progress every day... Filming now, I'm still in a lot of pain. Whenever I hear someone's film is good I get nervous. I'm afraid that I'm not as good as them, and I'll disappoint the audience who have high expectations of me. What's more, after the release of DRUNKEN MASTER, there are so many imitators. If I don't work hard to innovate, I will definitely end up as old news. (Insert: lobby card for 1979s OF COOKS AND KUNG FU starring Jacky Chen Shao Lung)

Continued: When filming THE FEARLESS HYENA in Taiwan, I wrote, directed, acted, and guided the martial arts sequences. I designed some of the most difficult and dangerous moves, and some that others might not be able to do and did them myself. Many Taiwanese martial artists were hesitant to film with me as I pushed them so hard and we fought for many hours. I admit I am too demanding; but how can I meet the needs of my audience if I'm not too demanding?

Continued: When DRUNKEN MASTER was shown in Taipei, there were people at the theater entrance selling tickets as they had sold out. I got to see the audience reaction sitting among them in secret. Chin Hsiang Lin accompanied me to this showing. The reaction was really good and it made me very happy to see it. Chin said to me, 'you have so much talent!' At that time, only he knew how much struggle and hard work I had gone through in private, and my hardships weren't in vain! I should be grateful to Master Yu. My achievements today, I dare say aren't due to luck but hard work. (Insert: Charlie Chin Hsiang Lin and Jackie meeting with Lo Wei for the second round of negotiations to release him from his contract)

Continued: It's not easy to make a movie, especially an action movie. It has to be fast-paced. Even for a short sequence it might take several days to film what will go by in moments. The appetite of the audience always wants more and is always changing. The reason so many action filmmakers lose the audience that wants to see realistic and physical martial arts is because the audience believes what human beings are capable of doing. They have rejected action that is beyond human capacity....

Continued: DRUNKEN MASTER was loved by the audience. My first reaction was to cry. Many times I secretly hid in theaters to watch it. The audience laughed over and over; and clapped again and again. I wanted to scream and shout out the voice in my heart. I immediately thought of the cups of tea that Master Yu placed on my lap and I had to be careful not to break them. How many times I held the stance with the tea and I endured it.

Continued: Thinking of Master Yu, I have mixed feelings. Back then when I was learning martial arts under his tutelage I didn't know how much I hated him! When we didn't practice good enough for him, we would be beaten without saying a word. But now, I understand that if Master Yu hadn't beaten me like that, I wouldn't have the level of skills I have today, much less what I have now achieved. 

Continued: What you shoot can leave a lasting impression on the audience. In DRUNKEN MASTER, I hung upside down from a wooden platform and did sit-ups while placing water from two buckets into one hanging from the top of the platform. I found that viewers liked this abdominal muscle training scene very much so I used it again in a similar way in THE FEARLESS HYENA. I couldn't copy myself, so I had to come up with a new way to do that particular training scene. Instead of facing away from the board, I reversed my body and made the maneuver much harder than before. I fell over and over again. I had to NG sixty-four times before I was satisfied with it! I had Master Yu's teachings in my mind. During filming I imagined myself practicing his torturous exercises from back then! (Insert: poster for 1978s SNAKY KNIGHT FIGHTS AGAINST MANTIS, known in some Asian markets as SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW  2)

Continued: Chen Hui Lou actually wanted to find a substitute to beat me on his behalf. His Kung Fu was good, and if somebody else stood in for him it might not look as good. Even my apprentices dared not beat me. He eventually did it after I demanded he hit me. As a result, that was the scene where I heard 'I'm sorry' the most!

Continued: When I was most able to maintain my concentration on this film was when I was filming on Hutou Mountain in Tainan. It took about 20 minutes from the Prince Hotel where we stayed to the filming site. Many scenes in Chinese films were made there, which is indeed an ideal location. Since I was far away from Hong Kong and Taipei I was able to film quietly and was able to perfect the many martial arts moves I created for this movie. The final fight took me 14 days to shoot. People who filmed with me complained a lot, but I was quite comfortable with it. Chen Hui Lou praised my direction, which was another triumph I gained from making this film. This old senior actor is from a Peking Opera background and the master of my 'Laughing Fist'. His martial arts skills are very good. (Hong Kong Movie News promotion for THE FEARLESS HYENA)

Continued: I am finally successful. Producers and directors are asking to work with me. All I have to do is nod in approval and a lot of money goes into my pocket. Am I satisfied? On the contrary, I live my life in a nervous fashion. I think about everything as if I have lost my soul. Still, I have gained a lot. I also lost friends. My friends say that I have changed; but how can I stay the same? The trivial matters of filming is annoying enough, and I have to be surrounded by so many people. Thinking back to the days I was poor only drives me harder to do my best for the movie. And now the money is all in my pockets. The best way to success is to endure hardship." (JC promoting THE FEARLESS HYENA)
 
After nearly a decade of dead ends, Chan was enjoying success and became noticeably paranoid and controlling because of it. His father, Charles Chan Chi Ping, was invited to appear in a cameo for a movie called KUNG FU COOK that was released in 1980. It was reported in July of 1979 that Chan had sent his father back to Australia after his two-day work on the movie was completed. Chan said, "Producers are using my father's name to sell tickets." Around the same time, Chan was accusing his quartet of former students and assistants for ripping off his style of choreography and using his name to get on productions.
 
Before he finally signed a highly lucrative contract with Golden Harvest, Jackie Chan had a third option to consider: to make a third movie with Ng See Yuen and Yuen Woo Ping--who would once again be directing. Chan was going to discuss this project further with Ng upon his return from filming in Macau, but Raymond Chow's millions was too good to pass up. The film, DANCE OF THE DRUNK MANTIS (1979), a sequel to DRUNKEN MASTER (1978), was made, but with Yuen Shun Yi in the lead role. (Jackie Chan with Willie Chan and Eric Tsang after signing with Golden Harvest)
 
Jackie Chan not only popularized the cheaply made, but highly profitable 'Bumpkin Kung Fu Comedy'  but he made the penultimate example of the form on a much bigger budget with the 100th Golden Harvest movie, THE YOUNG MASTER (1980). Ironically, the man who had solidified the indy style in its most profitable form would also put it out to pasture. A few years later, Chan would transplant his trademark comedic tropes to modern-day settings and create a new style of chuckle Kung Fu built around dangerous stunts. 
 
 
The 1970s were now in the past. Remnants of that style of cinema held on till 1985 when it was replaced by all new trends and the reinvention of old ones. The HK film industry was evolving yet again. Today, the low-budget, fast-paced style of 70s Kung Fu and HK Action is kept alive by its many fans around the world. There will never be another time like that again. For their era, and the state of the industry in those days, it's an astonishing time period that yearns for more discovery--to understand the way those films were made so as to put them in proper context in what was quite literally The Wild, Wild East.
 
This series of articles--edited from a much larger piece--used over 120 sources from Cinemart, Milky Way Pictorial, The Asia Magazine, Asian Entertainments Magazine, Boxing & Martial Arts Magazine, Movie Story, Golden Movie News, Saturday Weekly, Southern Screen and Hong Kong Movie News Magazines. 
 
The previous installments: PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4.

***Images in this five-part series from the authors personal collection and Hong Kong Movie Database.***
 
Related Posts with Thumbnails

ShareThis

copyright 2013. All text is the property of coolasscinema.com and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.