The Shaw Brother Cinematography History Collections

The Shaw Brothers

Cinematography

 History Collections

 

Created by

Dr Iwan suwandy,MHA

Copyright@2012

THIS THE SAMPLE OF E-BOOK IN CD-ROM,THE COLPMETE CD WITH FULL ILLUSTRATIONS EXIST,BUT ONLY FOR PREMIUM MEMBER PLEASE SUBSCRIBED VIA COMMENT

 

 


INTRODUCTION

The Harvard Film Archive is presenting “Shaw Scope: A History of the Shaw Bros. Studio” from May 30th through June 7th. Boston-area enthusiasts will have a rare chance to see classic films like

 THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, COME DRINK WITH ME and THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG on the big screen over the next week.

 

Friday May 30 at 7pm: THE FIVE VENOMS, directed by Zhang Che (Chang Cheh).
Friday May 30 at 9pm: KING BOXER, directed by Chung Chang-wha.

Saturday May 31 at 7pm: THE LOVE ETERNE, directed by Li Hanxiang (Li Han-hsiang).
Saturday May 31 at 9:30pm: INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN, directed by Chu Yuan.

Sunday June 1 at 3pm: THE FOURTEEN AMAZONS, directed by Cheng Gang and Tung Shao-yung.
Sunday June 1 at 7pm: THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG, directed by Zhang Che and Bao Xueli.
Sunday June 1 at 9:30pm: THE ENCHANTING SHADOW, directed by Li Hanxiang.

Friday June 6 at 7pm: THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, directed by Zhang Che.
Friday June 6 at 9pm: COME DRINK WITH ME, directed by King Hu.

Saturday June 7 at 7pm: THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, directed by Lau Kar-leung.
Saturday June 7 at 9:15pm: HONG KONG NOCTURNE, directed by Umetsugu Inoue

Due to this show I will upload  another info about Shaw brother

The History of the Shaw Brothers

Ningbo, 1900s, Shaw family portrait (left to right) Runde SHAW, RunFun SHAW,
RunRun SHAW, Wang Shun Xiang, Runme SHAW, Runje SHAW,
SHAW Vee Ngok (front seated) (Image Property of Shaw Organisation)

The Early Years:

The Shaw Organisation began in 1924, with operations in Singapore screening their own brand of silent movies. Frustrated by local distributors, they set up their own cinema, “The Empire”, to screen their movies. Led by brothers Run Run and Runme Shaw, they began to branch out into Malaysia building new cinemas and operating a mobile cinema for rural areas. However, it was only with the advent of sound that movies began to really launch themselves – by 1933 the Shaw’s had produced the Cantonese opera film ‘Normal Dragon’ which proved a breakthrough for them in both Singapore and Hong Kong.

In the following years, the Great Depression led to a decline in cinema attendance. The Shaw’s began to produce films locally to minimise costs and also diversified into themes parks and other live attractions. By 1939, the Shaw’s had amassed an empire of 139 cinemas across South East Asia. However, by the time of the War, these Japanese invaded Singapore and seized most Shaw assets. They were then forced to use their cinema to display pro-Japanese propaganda movies throughout the occupation. Following the War, the Shaw’s regrouped and their operations once again expanded into more cinemas and increased film production.

The Years of Dominance:

By the early sixties, the Shaw Empire incorporated 35 companies, owned 130 cinemas, 9 amusement parks and 3 production studios. It was during this period that the Shaw began to dominate the box office and set new standards in film-making. However, it also marked the end of their relationship with Malaysia as their studio, Jalan Ampas, closed in 1967 after 160 films due to declining attendances and striking.

In 1957, Sir Run Run Shaw came to Hong Kong from Singapore and founded the new company, Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Ltd. It was following the opening of their Hong Kong studio, Clearwater Bay, in 1961 that the Shaw Studios grew to prominence. With over 850,000 sq ft of land and 1500 permanent staff, it was soon producing over 40 films per year (1966). This vast production line boasted a new film starting every nine days. Another defining feature was that all films were completed without sound, which was dubbed into various languages in one of the twelve sound studios on site. This allowed them to rapidly prepare each movie for the international market with consistent levels of production values.

Pictures from King Hu’s Come Drink with Me and Chang Cheh’s One Armed Swordsman

The first real breakthrough was ‘The Kingdom and the Beauty’ (1958), which enjoyed global success and broke all domestic returns. Four years later the ‘Magnificent Concubine’ won Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Li Han Hsiang went onto to have further international success with Empress Wu and Love Eterne in 1963. Other notable entries include King Hu’s ‘Come Drink With Me’ (1966), which ushered in the new era of wuxia-pian movies.

The legendary Chang Cheh was hot on his heels with the 1967 blockbuster ‘The One Armed Swordsman’. This Jimmy Wang Yu revenge yarn was the first movie to break HK $1m at the box office. Not satisfied with this success, Chang Cheh went onto to deliver hit after hit and forming a crucial role in shaping the kung fu genre. Many believe Cheh’s 1970 work ‘Vengeance’ marks the first genuine kung fu movie, it also importantly brought him together with Ti Lung and David Chiang (the ‘Iron Triangle’ as they became known). By the end of the 70’s he had countless successes to his name and had formed the international cult heroes ‘The Five Venoms’.

Among those who worked alongside director Chang Cheh were martial arts choreographer Lau Kar Leung and John Woo. Lau Kar Leung became a hugely successful director in his own right, moving away from Cheh’s blend of macho cinema and bloodshed for more respectful martial arts and also some early attempts at kung fu comedy (such as 1975’s Spiritual Boxer). There is no doubt that John Woo was heavily influenced by Cheh’s heroic themes as he left the Shaw Studios and made it big with his own brand of action in the 1980’s.

Pictures from Chang Cheh’s Boxer from Shantung (Chen Kuan Tai) and Chor Yuen’s Death Duel (Derek Yee)

Other notable contributions include Cheng Chang Ho’s The Five Fingers of Death (King Boxer), starring Lo Lieh. This action packed yarn actually out grossed Bruce Lee in the US during the height of the kung fu boom. Chor Yuen continued Kung Hu’s focus on wuxia-pian with the likes of Killer Clans and The Magic Blade. Whilst Chang Cheh reveled in blood and guts, Chor Yuen focused on aesthetics and grace, proving equally successful in the early seventies.

The Shaw Brothers continued to diversify in this period with the launch of their own TV station in 1973, TVB. They also began co-productions with international houses as well – the best examples being The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires and Blade Runner. By the mid seventies, their empire had now expanded to 230 cinemas, with another 600 cinemas on a distribution deal. Each week over 1.5 million people saw a Shaw produced movie!

Pictures from Lau Kar Leung’s Executioners from Shaolin (Lo Lieh) and 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Gordon Liu)

The Beginning of the End:

Stars at the Shaw Studios were normally contracted on 3, 5 or 8 years basis and would work 6 day weeks to keep within the schedules. As the success of Shaw’s brought more money into Hong Kong cinema, they actually became the victims of their own success as stars looked to more relaxed studios who also offered more competitive packages, such as ex-Shaw Raymond Chow’s Golden Harvest. As a result of this and increasing issues surrounding piracy, the Shaw Studios in Hong Kong ceased operation in 1983 as a film-maker to focus on TV production.

This marked a twelve year gap before they re-entered the movie business with Stephen Chow in “Out of the Dark” in 1995. A few more films have emerged since, including Hero (1997) starring Yuen Biao and Takeshi Kaneshiro and 2002’s Drunken Monkey, but nothing near the output of the previous decades.

The Shaw Brothers remained hugely protective of their back-catalogue and it was only in 2000 that they agreed to sell the entire 800 strong Shaw Brothers library to Celestial for HK $600m (US$ 85m) to the Malaysian company Celestial Pictures. Over a three year period the entire catalogue was remastered and restored with the latest technology.

Example of the impact of Celestial’s remastering work on the original source print from the 1970’s

Since this time, Shaw Brothers continues to expand its infrastructure with state of the art multiplexes and also a number of philanthropic ventures through the Shaw Foundation. The new millennium also brings a new era to Shaw Brothers. Shaw Studios are claiming to be developing the world’s most advanced film production and digital post production facility on a hillside site in Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong. The US $180million Shaw Studios features one of the largest, fully air-conditioned and sound and vibration-insulated soundstages in Asia, a full-service colour lab and digital imaging facility, over 20 sound and editing suites, a 400-seat dubbing and screening theatre, executive and production office space, banqueting facilities, and visual effects and animation capabilities. In all, over a million square feet of digitally-wired and secure facilities dedicated solely to film production and post-production. Expected to be completed by 2009.

Overview of the new Shaw Studio in Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong

Due to the recent financial crisis, Run Run Shaw announced that he was to delist Shaw Brothers Ltd in Dec 2008 and buy out the minority shareholders.

Shaw Cinemas in Asia, Japanese Occupation
“Japanese came in, we all ran away and they took all our theatres and s, amusement parks. So the Japanese were running all the business. But the Japanese were looking for me all over. So I was hiding. They took my photo and looked for me all over. I hid in one shop somewhere in Selegie Road but the Japanese caught me that night.”
– Tan Sri Runme Shaw, Pioneers of Singapore, Oral History

With war looming over the horizon, Runme and Run Run had planned to leave for Australia with their families. Their plans were dashed when a quota based on age was enforced on young men leaving the country and Run Run did not qualify. This was a blessing in disguise as the boat in which the Shaw family intended to travel was sunk by a torpedo. The brothers decided that their best chance to survive the crisis in Singapore was to stay together. Leaving their respective homes, the combined families moved in to the newly built Shaw villa at Queen Astrid in December 1941. It would be the first time since leaving China that the brothers lived together under one roof.

Shaw family portrait (1944)
A few months later, the Japanese crossed the northern border of Singapore and began their march into the city.Realising that it was not safe staying at such an isolated neighbourhood as Queen Astrid, the brothers decided to evacuate their new home immediately. After spending the night in a deserted, mosquito infested church, the fleeing Shaws arrived at businessman Eu Tong Sen’s house in Selegie Road where they sought refuge for a couple of weeks. For the duration of the war, the Shaws would make their office at 116 Robinson into their home.From the start, the invading Japanese wanted to utilise cinema as an effective propaganda tool. All Shaw cinemas were immediately seized by the Japanese propaganda body known as the Bunka Eiga Gekijio and the Shaw brothers interrogated.

Between 1942 and 1945, the Shaws were forced to work for the Japanese.

Under the Japan Film Distribution Co or Eiga Haikyu Sha, they continued to supervise the operation of theatres in Singapore and Malaysia. To this end, the Shaws were headquartered at the Pavilion cinema which is located where Specialist Centre stands today.

Later, the Shaws were directed to resume the operation of the amusement parks which reopened to the public.


Japanese ‘banana’ notes used during the Occupation
The Shaws were paid a ‘salary’ of $350 in Japanese currency for the “privilege” of showing propaganda filmsand a few Indian ones. Hollywood films, although ‘allowed’ in the early months of the Occupation were banned outright by November 1943.As part of the Nipponization effort, cinemas and amusement parks throughout Singapore and Malaysia were given Japanese names and had to display Japanese flags.    
Runme and Run Run in japanese issued work clothes
Nanyang Studio, Hong Kong

Runde Shaw
The Shaws were paid a ‘salary’ of $350 in Japanese currency for the “privilege” of showing propaganda films and a few Indian ones. Hollywood films, although ‘allowed’ in the early months of the Occupation were banned outright by November 1943.As part of the Nipponization effort, cinemas and amusement parks throughout Singapore and Malaysia were given Japanese names and had to display Japanese flags.When the Japanese invaded Shanghai in 1937, the Shaw Studio in China was destroyed and ceased operations temporarily. Due to their foresight, the Shaws had already established production in Hong Kong since 1934 at a studio called Unique (HK). It was located at 42 Pak Tai Street in To Kwa Wan in Kowloon. The land on which the studio sat was leased from Hong Kong Shanghai Bank for a monthly rent of HK$500. Runje ran the Hong Kong operations and placed Runde in charge of distribution in Shanghai.
Shaw and Son’s entry into the 2nd South East Asia Film Festival
– Beyond the Grave (1954)

Yung Siu Yi, a Nanyang studio Cantonese star in 1938
It wasn’t long after the new studio was set up that tragedy struck: Runje’s first wife Tang Yueh Ying passed away. Two years later, tragedy struck again as a mysterious fire razed the Hong Kong studio to the ground. While reconstruction was underway, Runje returned to Shanghai and got married to his third wife, Fung Hsiu Ching – an actress.In 1937, the newly rebuilt Unique (HK) was renamed Nanyang and control of the Hong Kong operations was handed over to Runde Shaw (1899 – 1973). He reorganised the accounting system in the studio and hired film maker Hung Chung Ho as head of productions. Nanyang studio continued to feed the Shaw circuit until Sir Run Run Shaw completed his own studio in Hong Kong nearly three decades later.In the year Nanyang Studio broke into the local production scene, film production was on the upswing. A total of 15 films were released by 7 film companies operating in Hong Kong. This was a large jump when compared with previous years where 4 or less films were released annually. Cantonese was the dominant language of productions. In fact, of all the films produced by the Colony between 1938 and 1940, only 13 films were made in Mandarin.

Most of the films produced had a contemporary setting and concerned themselves with humanitarian issues. In other words, studios in the mid-30s were utilising cinema as a sort of social forum.

Nanyang’s goal, however, was far different. The studio was concerned with commercial, market driven interests.

The Shaw brothers were particularly encouraged by the immense success of their Shanghai-made Cantonese musicals ‘Romance of the Opera’ and ‘Normal Dragon’, which trounced the first Hong Kong made talkies when they were imported into the colony between 1933 and 1934. Capitalizing on the demand for musicals, Nanyang studio harnessed the technology of sound and local talent to churn out 10 Cantonese song and opera films in 1935. The first such Cantonese opera film to come out of Nanyang was Mourning of Pure Tree Blossom.

With the emphasis solidly on Hong Kong’s ‘Cantonese’ heritage coupled with the brewing popularity of Cantonese songs over the last decade, these musical films were an instant hit with the masses. In response, Nanyang studio’s main rival – the San Francisco owned Grandview released 7 Cantonese song films that year. It was clear which direction the market was heading. Of the 32 films released by all companies in 1935, almost all were musicals and made solely for entertaining. Only 1 film was a ‘message’ film.

After Tian Yi in Shanghai was destroyed, Nanyang became the main source of Chinese productions for the Shaw circuit. At its peak, it was producing over 40 black and Normal films a year. It continued its prolific output until it was eclipsed by Shaw Movie Town . (1960 figure)

By 1946, Runde Shaw leased Nanyang studio to Great China Film Co where he was a shareholder. Four years later, Nanyang studio switched its focus from producing Cantonese films to Mandarin films for the rapidly growing Southeast Asian market as the supply of Mandarin films coming out of mainland China were cut off by the Communist takeover.


Lucilla Yu Ming, a Nanyang studio Cantonese star in 1952-1958

Mr and Mrs Runde Shaw and their three sons: Vee Say, Vee Ying and Vee Chen (1956)

Inauguration of Shaw Building in Hong Kong by Shaw and Sons Ltd (Nov 1, 1956)

During this period, Nanyang Studio operated under the company name of Shaw and Sons Ltd (1951-). It also ran a movie news publication known as The Screen Voice Pictorial (HK). Ex-Shanghainese stars such as Li Li Hua, Yan Jun, Bai Guang, Huang He and Zhou Manhua were recruited and trained for the cameras. New discoveries like Lin Dai, Lucilla You Min and Chao Lei had little experience and were made to prove their mettle in minor roles. But the abrupt switch of focus to Mandarin films proved difficult for management and they could not break the grip of Mandarin film giants like Great Wall, MP and GI and Phoenix.

By 1955, Nanyang reorganised itself with a new Cantonese film unit. A stable of Cantonese stars like Patricia Lam Fung, Pearl Au Kar-Wai, Cheung Ying Choi, Lui Kay and Mak Kay were promoted actively. Although this boosted Shaw’s share of the Cantonese market, their grip on the Mandarin market was slipping away. By this time, Hong Kong had become a major production centre for Mandarin product and the aging Nanyang studio could not deliver quality Mandarin films fast enough.

In 1957, Shaw and Sons Ltd made their first international co-production with a Korean company for the film ‘Love with an Alien’ but the box office results were far from encouraging. That same year, Runde handed over the reigns of the studio to Run Run Shaw who had returned to Hong Kong to take over film production with an aggressive agenda.

Meanwhile, Runde’s Shaw and Sons Ltd divested their interests into real estate and film exhibition/distribution in the territory. By 1958, with a new studio under construction and an award winning film (Diau Charn – Best Actress Lin Dai) to boot, Run Run Shaw was set to win back Shaw’s movie crown.

With over-the-top wire-work and special effects ruining many a current-day kung fu movie, there is nothing like a return to the martial arts movies of old to stir the emotions and bring back the purity of what kung fu has always been about. Over the next five years, audiences and especially kung fu film fans will find ample opportunity to have their emotions stirred. I refer, of course, to the “golden age” of kung fu films, as only Shaw Brothers could produce, classic films at long last returning to the world in all of their heavenly glory. This highly-anticipated event officially began December 5th, 2001, a day that will live in martial arts film history.

On that day, Celestial Pictures Ltd. announced the coming release of the Shaw Brothers film masterpieces, most of which have not been available since their initial theatrical releases. The official distributor in Asia will be Intercontinental Video Limited. A total of 760 gems from this film archive will be made available on DVD and VCD formats, after undergoing a state-of-the-art digitization process to restore each film’s sound and image to what we are all foaming at the mouth for: great quality.

Having written hundreds of film synopses and actors’ and directors’ biographies for Celestial Pictures, I was recently chosen as one of Shaw Brothers film experts. As part of this honor, I have been involved in the restoration process. Through the pages of Kungfumagazine.com and its print magazine “Kungfu Qigong,” I will be keeping you up-to-date on the newest releases from this film library, as well as providing you with cool stories about the films, stars and directors.

On Stage December 5th event Celestial’s shareholders have already invested over US$100 million for the acquisition of the library, its restoration, and the company’s operations. The entire restoration process is expected to take about three years, with specific films being released each month. This strategy will continue over the next five years. William Pfeiffer, CEO of Celestial Pictures, speaking by telephone from the historic Shaw Brothers Studio lot in Clear Water Bay says, “Celestial Pictures is thrilled and honored to launch the Shaw Brothers library in the restored digital format. Modern audiences worldwide will now have a unique opportunity to finally see these masterpieces of Chinese cinema.”

To combat video piracy, which was largely responsible for the collapse of Hong Kong’s film industry, Celestial Pictures has adopted an aggressive strategy of releasing films from the Shaw library on the same day and date across all of the key countries in Asia. Coordinating the simultaneous release of not just a single film but all films in a library of this scale and scope is a massive task, and it is a “first” in the video industry. On December 5th, 2001, Intercontinental Video Limited launched 10 remastered Shaw Brothers titles on DVDs and VCDs, hitting the market in nine Asian territories.

outside the screening of Pfeiffer fervently adds, “This video launch is certainly great news for the worldwide fans of Chinese movies, as most of these films have not been available on video or TV since their original cinema release. But the piracy issue is of the utmost importance. When you look at it in the longer term view as an industry, that is revenues going into the pockets of criminals and not the writers and the filmmakers. Then production values go down and you get a lesser entertainment experience. So to get that point across to those that don’t know the implications of buying a pirated product is essential.”

The Shaw Brothers Studio was built by Sir Run Run Shaw in 1958. With a studio lot of two million square feet located in Clear Water Bay, Shaw Brothers pushed the Hong Kong film industry to new heights. The Shaw Brothers Studio quickly became a movie empire and South East Asia’s most prolific producer of a wide array of films: from renowned martial arts films to historical adventures, from horror fantasies to slapstick romantic comedies, from action thrillers to enchanting musicals and unforgettable period dramas. It also earned worldwide recognition and won numerous international awards. It was largely due to the remarkable success of the Shaw Brothers films that Hong Kong became known as “Hollywood East”.

Cheng Pei-pei The launch celebration included two very special events. The first was a “Shaw Film Week” program at JP Causeway Bay Cinema where seven well-known films of various genres and from different eras were re-released on the big screen: “The Kingdom And The Beauty”, “Come Drink With Me”, “The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin”, “The Empress Dowager”, “The Blood Brothers”, “Hong Kong Nocturne” and “Let’s Make Laugh.”

To honor the truly remarkable achievements of Shaw Brothers and Executive Chairman Sir Run Run Shaw himself, Celestial Pictures next hosted a gala party. Sir Run Run Shaw, Asia’s unparalleled movie producer and studio chief, and Lady Mona Shaw were the guests of honor of the evening. “On that night, we paid tribute to the incredible impact that the Shaw Brothers Studio has had on Chinese culture and, indeed, the cinema industry worldwide. To have Sir Run Run Shaw, the creator of, and indeed the creative genius behind, the Shaw kingdom with us here is both a blessing and an incredible honor,” Pfeiffer tells.

Cecilia Ip & Pei-pei singing Special performances of Shaw songs by Karen Mok and Ivy Ling Po, who flew in from Canada for the event, captivated and deeply moved the audience. Many of the key creative talents and celebrities of the Shaw Brothers Studio were also present. They included Cheng Pei-pei, Gordon Liu, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-tai, Ching Li, Liu Yung, Hui Ying-hung, Chiao Chiao, Chin Ping, Ho Meng-hua, Liu Chia-liang and Chu Yuan. Many of these stars shared their fond memories of working at the Shaw Brothers Studio and expressed their gratitude to Sir Run Run. It was an evening of pure golden magic.

Pei-pei, Marsha & Pfeiffer At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Cheng Pei-pei and daughter Marsha, an up-and-coming star in Asia, were featured guests. As part of the honor, they attended the first “official” screening of the new 35mm print of “Come Drink With Me.” The kick-off at Cannes included big-wig cocktail parties, the red carpet treatment for Pei-pei and of course the fully restored film print exclusively reserved for the Theatre Bunuel. This event was of particular importance because it confirmed once and for all the rumors floating around the world that the Shaw Brothers films were finally coming back.

Pfeiffer finally notes, “We’re also striking new 35mm prints for limited theatrical re-releases for festivals with special retrospectives, then on video and our TV channel to be launched worldwide later this year.”

Pei-pei & daughter swordfight That is good news for Lim Cheng-Sim, programmer at the University of California-Los Angeles Film and TV Archives, which is responsible for curating film exhibitions. For years Lim has been working with John Woo trying to put together an ambitious travelling film festival of martial arts classics.

“We want to show 20 film in LA highlighting the genre development from its silent roots in Shanghai through the early ’80s,” Lim says, adding that the exhibition would then tour nonprofit film museums and festivals in the United States and Canada. “People say they love Hong Kong martial art films, but in truth they haven’t really seen them,” Lim points out. “Celestial’s move is very significant because now it’s possible to see them again.”

In an exclusive for kungfumagazine.com, Lim reveals the line-up of great films, as well as special appearances by filmmakers who will speak about their involvement in these films. People such as John Woo, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Liu Chia-liang, Gordon Liu, Yuan Woo-ping’s brother Yuan Cheung-yan, Quentin Tarantino and the Queen of Kung fu cinema herself, Cheng Pei-pei. Starting with the classic silent films “Red Knight-Errant” (1929) and “Swordswoman of Huangjiang” (1930), they’ll be followed up by “The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part I” (1949) starring the actor synonymous with the character Kwan Tak-hing, the far-out “Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute, Part I” (1965), the Shaw Brothers masterpieces “Come Drink with Me” (1965), “Golden Swallow” (1968), “The One-Armed Swordsman” (1967), “Vengeance” (1970), “Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan” (1972), “Blood Brothers” (1973), “Killer Clans” (1976), “Executioners from Shaolin” (1977), “36th Chamber of Shaolin” (1978), John Woo’s “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” (1978) and “Return to the 36th Chamber” (1980.) Topping it all off will be several important independent films: King Hu’s “Dragon Inn” (1968), “Escort over Tiger Hills” (1969), “From the Highway” (1970) and possibly Jet Li’s “Shaolin Temple” (1982).

Gordon Liu pours celebratory drinks In closing, we are privy to share with you Shaw Brothers martial arts films as they break free of the cobwebs of time to become available on DVD and VCD. Coming are such classics as “Come Drink With Me,” directed by King Hu and starring Cheng Pei-pei; “The Heroic Ones,” “The Anonymous Heroes” and “The Blood Brothers,” all directed by Chang Cheh and starring David Chiang and Ti Lung; “Killer Clans,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Yueh Hua; “The Tea House” and its sequel “Big Brother Cheng,” both directed by Kuei Chih-hung and starring Chen Kuan-tai; “The Magic Blade,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Ti Lung, Ching Li and Lo Lieh; “Clans of Intrigue,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Ti Lung, Nora Miao and Yueh Hua; “Temple of the Red Lotus,” directed by Kuei Chih-hung and starring Jimmy Wang Yu; “Death Duel,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Derek Yee; and “Heroes Two,” directed by Chang Cheh and starring Alexander Fu Sheng and Chen Kuan-tai.

You may not have heard of some of these directors and stars, but over time they will grow familiar. You may even discover that you’ve been watching their films for years, even seen them in Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films, without knowing it. If you don’t currently own a DVD player, now is the time to invest, because Shaw Brothers is coming to town.

Read More my reaseach about the Shaw Brothers cinematography history Below, I hope this sample of e-book in CD-ROM will made many Indonesian which never seen the film during Indonesia banned the diplomatic with People republic of China during President Suharto era 1966 until 1988 will know the up and fall of the Shaw Brothers Film in Hongko0ng, if you want to look the full illustrations please subscrfibe as premium member  via comment.

 

 

With over-the-top wire-work and special effects ruining many a current-day kung fu movie, there is nothing like a return to the martial arts movies of old to stir the emotions and bring back the purity of what kung fu has always been about.

Over the next five years, audiences and especially kung fu film fans will find ample opportunity to have their emotions stirred. I refer, of course, to the “golden age” of kung fu films, as only Shaw Brothers could produce, classic films at long last returning to the world in all of their heavenly glory. This highly-anticipated event officially began December 5th, 2001, a day that will live in martial arts film history.

On that day, Celestial Pictures Ltd. announced the coming release of the Shaw Brothers film masterpieces, most of which have not been available since their initial theatrical releases.

The official distributor in Asia will be Intercontinental Video Limited.

 A total of 760 gems from this film archive will be made available on DVD and VCD formats, after undergoing a state-of-the-art digitization process to restore each film’s sound and image to what we are all foaming at the mouth for: great quality.

Having written hundreds of film synopses and actors’ and directors’ biographies for Celestial Pictures, I was recently chosen as one of Shaw Brothers film experts. As part of this honor, I have been involved in the restoration process.

Through the pages of Kungfumagazine  and its print

 

magazine “Kungfu Qigong,”

 I will be keeping you up-to-date on the newest releases from this film library, as well as providing you with cool stories about the films, stars and directors.

Celestial’s shareholders have already invested over US$100 million for the acquisition of the library, its restoration, and the company’s operations. The entire restoration process is expected to take about three years, with specific films being released each month. This strategy will continue over the next five years. William Pfeiffer, CEO of Celestial Pictures, speaking by telephone from the historic Shaw Brothers Studio lot in Clear Water Bay says, “Celestial Pictures is thrilled and honored to launch the Shaw Brothers library in the restored digital format. Modern audiences worldwide will now have a unique opportunity to finally see these masterpieces of Chinese cinema.”

To combat video piracy, which was largely responsible for the collapse of Hong Kong’s film industry, Celestial Pictures has adopted an aggressive strategy of releasing films from the Shaw library on the same day and date across all of the key countries in Asia.

 Coordinating the simultaneous release of not just a single film but all films in a library of this scale and scope is a massive task, and it is a “first” in the video industry.

On December 5th, 2001,

 

Intercontinental Video Limited launched

10 remastered Shaw Brothers titles on DVDs and VCD hitting the market in nine Asian territories.

Pfeiffer fervently adds, “This video launch is certainly great news for the worldwide fans of Chinese movies, as most of these films have not been available on video or TV since their original cinema release. But the piracy issue is of the utmost importance. When you look at it in the longer term view as an industry, that is revenues going into the pockets of criminals and not the writers and the filmmakers. Then production values go down and you get a lesser entertainment experience. So to get that point across to those that don’t know the implications of buying a pirated product is essential.”

 

 

The Shaw Brothers Studio was built by Sir Run Run Shaw in 1958.

With a studio lot of two million square feet located in

 

Clear Water Bay Hongkong ,

 

Shaw Brothers pushed the Hong Kong film industry to new heights.

 The Shaw Brothers Studio quickly became a movie empire and South East Asia’s most prolific producer of a wide array of films: from renowned martial arts films to historical adventures,

 

from

 

shaw brothers horror fantasies film

 

to slapstick romantic comedies film,

from action thrillersfilm

to enchanting musicalsfilm

and unforgettable period dramas film.

It also earned worldwide recognition and won numerous international awards. It was largely due to the remarkable success of

 

 the Shaw Brothers films

 

that Hong Kong became known as “Hollywood East”.

READ MORE INFO

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Behind the Studio & Shih Szu, Shaw’s Swordswoman Supreme

 

Shaw Brothers Studio circa 1972

This edition of Shaw Brothers Cinema spotlights the studio itself and the various jobs and functions of

the fabled Shaw Movie town.

From

 

shaw brother  set construction

 

, to sword training

 

, to horse riding

, to the canteen and to the man himself,

Sir Run Run Shaw, a number of these photos give insight into the inner workings of what was once Shaw Brothers Studio of Hong Kong.

 

Paï Meï sort tout droit des films produit par la Shaw Brothers entre les années 60 et 80. Tueur de moine shaolin dans ces films médievaux (ce qui explique l’age avancé du personnage), on retrouve dans Kill Bill ses attribus principaux : des sourcils et une barbe blancs, la main portée à cette dernière, une toge blanche, la botte secrète visant à rentrer ses testicules… A noter qu’il est joué par Gordon Liu qui combattait jadis Paï Meï dans Les Exécuteurs de Shaolin.

 

The Magic Touch (December 3, 1958)
Director: Li Han-hsiang
Cast: Betty Loh Tih, King Hu

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Tragedy at Shaw Studio & Rare Productions

 

Shaw Brothers spy actioner, OPERATION LIPSTICK (1967) starring Cheng Pei Pei. Image from back cover of Southern Screen April, 1967.

 

the scenes photos from Shaw productions from the late 60’s through the early part of the 1970’s.

There’s also some interesting bits and pieces of Shaw Brothers movies that never made it out onto DVD including

 

Chang Cheh’s coveted TIGER BOY (1966).

There’s also an interesting

 

 David Chiang

 

kung fu flick that never got finished.

 

 

SHAW FLICK WITH THE KUNG FU KICK: THE BLACK ENFORCER (1972)

In the middle of 1969,

 

Ho Meng Hua

and his crew went to Korea to begin production on a very good swordplay saga entitled

 

 THE BLACK ENFORCER

 With location shooting being done in Korea, the film was finally finished in 1971 and saw release the following year.

 

Hu ma hua the black enforcer 1972

These are various clips from a four page spread of the announcement of Ho Meng Hua’s new Wuxia picture, THE BLACK ENFORCER (1972).

SHAW BROTHERS RARITIES: DOWNHILL THEY RIDE (1966)

Here’s an interesting article on a lively looking western film shot by Shaw Brothers entitled DOWNHILL THEY RIDE (1966).

 

Huang Chung Shun,

 more familiar as a bad guy, appears to be playing a hero in this movie. This film was never announced for a DVD release to my knowledge, but I’d definitely love to see it surface someday, should it still exist. It was released in HK in February of 1966.

SHAW PROFILE: Helen Ko

Helen Ko

 

 was a super sexy Shaw starlet.

She frequently appeared in erotic movies, action films and dramas often as a prostitute, or some sexbomb character. You’ll find her in

 

 GENERATION GAP (1973),

 

 SEX FOR SALE,

In the early 70s, many martial art films focused on epic journeys of heroism. At the same time some directors focused on sexual journeys of desire as evident with Sex For Sale, an Asian version of Midnight Cowboy where Chin Han plays a male model thrust into sexual situation he wasn’t prepared for. Joined by a cast of stellar eroticism, like the feline Ai Ti and the alluring Tina Chin Fei, the film broke new ground touching upon issues of homo-sexuality.

This product is no longer available for ordering. Item listed for information only.

 

KIDNAP (both 1974)

 

and THE SNAKE PRINCE (1976)

 

 

among others.

SPOTLIGHT ON: Chen Wo Fu

Chen Wo Fu was an aspiring young actor at Shaw Brothers. His first and only lead role was THE SHADOW BOXER from 1974. Tragically, Chen would take his own life for undisclosed reasons (unless a probable cause is mentioned in the Chinese text) by gas poisoning shortly before the movie was released. Below are images from his one shining moment as a lead actor on screen as well as images after his death.

SHAW PROFILE: Chen Ping

Here’s a nice bikini shot of the then premier Queen of Asian exploitation, Chen Ping. She had just headlined in her first lead role, THE KISS OF DEATH (1973), a movie that led to many more sleazy and fast paced action spectacles. After her divorce later in the decade, she abandoned her sex bomb image.

SPOTLIGHT ON: Lo Lieh

Here’s a color photo from a four page spread on Lo Lieh’s wedding to Grace Tang in May of 1976.

SHAW BROTHERS RARITIES: TIGER BOY (1966)

Above is a page from the January, 1966 issue of Southern Screen promoting Chang Cheh’s first stab at directing. Sir Run Run Shaw took a gamble on this experiment to see if Cheh could handle a film on his own since he, unlike others, never worked as an AD before becoming a director. The gamble paid off and the rest is history.

BEHIND THE SCENES: David Chiang & Ti Lung

Above is an image from the 19th Annual Asian Film Festival in Singapore. Pictured are David Chiang (left) and Ti Lung (right) holding their awards for THE GENERATION GAP and BLOOD BROTHERS respectively.

Here, the two recipients and frequent co-stars get their picture taken with their boss, Sir Run Run Shaw. The two images above and one below are from the June, 1973 issue of Hong Kong Movie News.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Ti Lung

Above is a behind the scenes photo from THE PIRATE (1973) starring Ti Lung and David Chiang and directed by Chang Cheh.

BEHIND THE SCENES: SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984)

Above are a couple of behind the scenes shots from one of my favorite Shaw Brothers productions, the dramatic and ultra violent SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984). These images are from the April, 1984 issue of Southern Screen magazine.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: THE WHIRLWIND KICK

Actor, David Chiang had become a director earlier in the decade when Chang Cheh gave both him and Ti Lung the opportunity to see what they could do behind the camera. After completion of THE CONDEMNED (1976), Chiang began doing double duties on a movie called THE WHIRLWIND KICK.

Unlike THE CONDEMNED, David Chiang would be fighting in this movie. Unfortunately, the film was never completed for whatever reason. These images are from a spread in Hong Kong Movie News, September of 1975.

Above is the original HK poster for NEW TALES OF THE FLYING FOX (1984). It’s a retelling of the popular Wuxia story previously filmed by Chang Cheh as LEGEND OF THE FOX (1980). The image is from the back cover of the April, 1984 issue of Southern Screen.

That’s all for now, but look out for the upcoming Halloween special that highlights Shaw Brothers horror movies. Upcoming entries will include a loving tribute to one of HK’s most beloved stars, Alexander Fu Sheng. Also, there’ll be more co-productions and an entry dedicated to what is without doubt, the most famous kung fu team outside of Asia, the Five Venoms!

 

 

In addition,

 

there’s a nice sampling of images of one of Shaw’s most popular queens of action cinema, Shih Szu.

This entry is for

Fang

from

 

 the Trivia Wing of Shaolin who is a big

 

Shih Szu fan

. Young People (1972),

starring David Chiang, Ti Lung and Chen Kuan-tai.

Directed by Chang Cheh.

 

WHOEVER is still holding out on purchasing a copy of Young People for non-economical reasons, let me reassure you that as widespread as the opinions are on the Shaw Brothers film, this is a special release from director Chang Cheh and script co-writer Ni Kuang worth getting. After its availability as a download (and an illegal one at that), what are the chances this will seriously be reissued again on DVD or VCD (even BD) after it goes out-of-print? Even though Cheh has a following around the globe, it’s not a huge one, so it’s probable his lesser-known releases shall fade away into the ages, while newer generations of fans and film scholars will dissect a selection of his movies (like One-Armed Swordsman, Vengeance!, The Duel or The Five Venoms) ad nauseam. If you feel my theory has some merit, then buy Young People now, ‘cuz the window of opportunity may be closing.

 

Flavored with a lot of location filming at Chung Chi College (a Christian college founded in 1951, affiliated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong), YP is Cheh and Kuang’s scattershot attempt to understand college-age young adults. (Our heroes are never seen in classes, by the way.) They are all over the map when comes to their presentation of what they think makes the minds of men and women in their earlier twenties tick. YP can only be safely classified as a Cheh movie; to categorize it as something else is pointless because it’s fragments of genres and homages to other films, all of them tied together with a very basic plot.

 

To simplify the story, which has been re-counted many times in other reviews, it’s the jocks (led by Ti Lung) versus the martial arts club (led by Chen Kuan-tai), with the performing arts club (led by neo-hippie David Chiang) somewhere in the middle. While the basketball players and purveyors of kung fu vie for the school’s honor (not to mention Lung and Kuan-tai competing for the charms of fickle Irene Chen), the dancers and “band geeks” prepare for the school’s anniversary celebration. How does Chiang unite these two hot-headed guys in friendship? Through peace, go carts and dance choreography!

So, what is there to enjoy in YP? Let’s start with some intentional things:

 

1) Irene Chen! From her first scene onward, she makes you want to see the movie to the end. Anyone who has said there isn’t any comedy in this wasn’t paying attention to her work. The sequence where she barges into the mens’ locker room before the big basketball game is a riot; her facial ex-pressions as the guys hurriedly cover up are priceless. She goes from Kuan-tai to Lung (and back to Kuan-tai) without much thought put into it beyond the fact they won trophies, which seems to be what draws her to them. When she loses both guys, you know she deserves this comeuppance, yet you can’t help but feel sorry for her because for all her charms, she’s still a ways off from being  a mature woman. Chen’s combination of sexiness and fine acting in the role of Princess is one of the better peformances of a leading lady in any Cheh movie out there.

 

2) Bolo Yeung! One favorite Bruce Lee nemesis is (mostly) cast against type as one of the jocks. Not only can he play basketball, he is also adept at comedy; his scene where he and Wang Chung make fun of Kuan-tai’s speech patterns (he speaks no more than three words at a time) is pure goofy fun. He’s a sight to see with his crewcut and wearing those way-out ’70s fashions. (Dig that visor!) He’s not a constant prescence in the picture, but when he’s on, he easily catches your attention in an atypical part.

 

3) “The Blood Brothers”! Well, at the time, Lung, Chiang and Kuan-tai were yet to be in that ’73 film, but if you happen to watch TBB after seeing YP, you’ll never look at the former movie again in quite the same way. The guys are cast to type; Lung is the BMOC, Kuan-tai is the soft-spoken karate expert and Chiang is the drummer who feels all the world needs now is love, sweet love. As silly as the film is, the trio give their all and make the situations feel somewhat plausible. (If you think Lung is bad in this, please reacquaint yourself with his spot-on John Cassavettes imitation in Black Magic [1975], and stand corrected!)

What elements enhance YP by accident, if not design? They would be:

 

1) The music! For a flick that’s designed to appeal to youthful moviegoers, the sound-track is as big as Woodstock: Snoopy’s friend, not the festival. After the opening where Chiang does an “edgy” drum solo, we get three watered-down folk” songs from Agnes Chen, the younger sister of Irene. She’s cute and competently sings (in English) “The Circle Game”, “You’ve Got a Friend” and a bad lyrical rip-off of “What the World Needs Now is Love”. Except for an ambitious MTV-like interlude in “YGaF” (pictured), she’s showcased with meaningless background dancing and a finale (set during the great anniversary assembly) where she seemingly enters and exits by way of crane or hot air balloon! Another performer (even a mere dude with a guitar) would’ve added variety to the production, but since Agnes got a HK hit with “TCG”, somebody thought she was all the film needed (and could afford). To top it all off, the recordings she lip-syncs to are of a lower fidelity than the rest of the incidental music; to hear how her songs sound, you’d swear records were directly dubbed onto the film’s audio track.

 

2) The “big events”! Besides running too long, the basketball game suffers from bad foley work; where are all the squeaking tennis shoes? (Also, Fan Mei Sheng gets a billing in the movie, yet he’s barely seen in his sole appearance as a bench-warmer in the game! Fu Sheng gets more screen-time in all his little cameos combined.) The go cart competition is slightly better with some filming taking place during a real race. Chiang, Lung and Kuan-tai are actually driving in many parts, which is a big plus; only the race’s conclusion will make you roll your eyes. The anniversary show is just bizarre, featuring dancing inspired by West Side Story (and a precursor to the dancing in the “Earth” portion of Heaven and Hell), more drumming by Chiang, and little Agnes; it’s the HK version of a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musical! The karate tournament comes off best as Kuan-tai dazzles all with his skills; Lau Kar Wing and Tong Gaai co-ordinated the fighting action, so all the other principals who had to bust a move here (or in other parts of the picture) were well trained to do so.

 

3) The “hip” script! Whoever did the lion’s share of work on the story, Cheh or Kuang, doesn’t matter; there’s plenty of blame to go around about the using whatever it took to make YP appear on the “cutting edge” and “with it”… by 1972 standards. The clothes, the “walkie talkies”, a David Cassidy poster (in Agnes Chen’s room), the music (kinda), product placement (7Up, Schweppes and Viceroy cigarettes), go carts and a dune buggy add to your viewing enjoyment by being so woefully out of date from the first day YP played in HK cinemas right into the 21st century. Anyone who has attended college in the past 30 years knows the only bit of college they got right in YP is when Chiang and his friends take a beer break!

 

 

Though the main characters in YP are stereotypes, all that unfolds in almost two hours’ time doesn’t stoop to the level of an Archie comic. (Wu Ma with a “crown” like Jughead’s would be too much.) The plot (and the humor) seems to have been inspired (or stolen) from American International’s “beach” movies (with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello), especially Beach Blanket Bingo. (Observe the comedic fight of the jocks against the martial artists, and substitute go carts for skydiving.) In fact, this is the only Cheh movie that could be rated PG (PG-13 if you think the violence harsh) by today’s standards, so if you have to play a Chang Cheh film with your grandma present, this is the one. Those who prefer their “yang gang” fix with Shaw blood all over the widescreen will want to pass on this.

 

The IVL DVD is the usual slick, bare bones package. An original HK trailer would’ve provided some insight in how YP was sold to movie patrons back in ’72, but all the promos on the disc are produced by Celestial. The new English subs are hilarious in two spots where the Mandarin translator throws in more recent slang; relish Ti Lung saying “homeboy” and “hommie” (SIC)!

After Susanna, YP is one of my favorite Shaw “guilty pleasures”. If you don’t try to compare it to Animal House or The Paper Chase, you’ll have a good time wondering how Chang Cheh became the unofficial spokesman for the younger generation of Hong Kong…if not the world!

 

 

In the above two photos, you’ll see a small orchestra in a soundtrack session. The photo directly above shows some of the actors dubbing their lines. It’s popularly thought that all the films were dubbed by different voice performers, but this wasn’t always the case. Ivy Ling Po, for example, dubbed her own lines.

Above, fight choreographer, Liang Shao Sung trains some female trainees, fresh out of the Shaw acting school, in the art of the sword.

 

The construction of one of many Shaw Brothers sets.

 

 

Touring the studio.

 

The early 1970s were incredibly prosperous for the then largest privately owned studio on the planet. Kung Fu movies took the world by storm with the release of KING BOXER aka FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (1972). The above article attests to the wild success of Kung Fu films abroad.

 

Shaw Brothers expanded their empire by opening theaters all over Asia and even in North America. The above photo displays an image of their Canadian theater.

 

The Shaw’s have had the popular stigma of being Iron Fisted tyrants when it comes to the treatment afforded their talent pool especially in regards to monetary compensation. The Brothers Shaw were definitely not scrooges as they frequently gave to a number of charities including gifts of money, food and clothing to the elderly every Chinese New Year as seen above.

Above is a Chinese New Year’s celebration from March, 1971. Note Shaw with his then wife in one of the images. Below is another Chinese New Years party from March, 1973. It features a number of stars as well as Shaw’s grandchildren.

And now it’s a collection of images from various movies and portraits of Shih Szu, a Taiwanese beauty who took over the mantle vacated by Cheng Pei Pei as Swordswoman Supreme.

Above is a behind the scenes photo from LADY OF THE LAW (1975) from March of 1971. Director Shen Chiang discusses the script with Shih Szu. In addition to LADY OF THE LAW, the (at the time) new to Shaw actress was also working on THE IRON BOW (a segment of the swordplay anthology TRILOGY OF SWORDSMANSHIP), THE YOUNG AVENGER, an unknown film entitled THE LITTLE POISONOUS DRAGON and THE SWIFT KNIGHT. The busy actress would soon have even more movies on her already full slate.

 

More shots from the filming of LADY OF THE LAW

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

This is an unfinished production entitled THE NOCTURNAL KILLER. It’s possibly an aka for the above mentioned THE LITTLE POISONOUS DRAGON. It’s just one of many unfinished films that were started at Shaw’s and abandoned for whatever reason. With between 40 and 50 movies being scheduled throughout 1971 and 1972, some productions were scrapped, or morphed into an entirely different picture. Curiously, the plot and Shi Szu’s attire appears similar to HEROES OF SUNG (1973; it was filmed under different titles as well), a film that did starred the actress and Lo Lieh, but not the Taiwanese actor, An Ping.

 

Below is a spread on THE BLOODY ESCAPE (1975), then titled as simply THE ESCAPE. You’ll notice the film is touted as “Chang Cheh’s next production”. Another page mentions it as a joint effort between Cheh and Sun Chung. The following two photos are from the February 1973 issue of Southern Screen. Apparently this film was handed over to Sun Chung entirely considering Chang Cheh was busy setting up camp in Taiwan during this time. THE BLOODY ESCAPE was shot over the course of the next couple of years before hitting HK screens in late 1975 where it died a quick death at the box office.

 

Above you’ll see Shih Szu demonstrating her musical talents during a meeting discussing the production of THE BLOODY ESCAPE. Chen Kuan Tai and Sun Chung are also present.

Above and below are two photos from one of the Shaw Brothers’ numerous co-productions; this one being the ridiculous and childish fantasy actioner SUPERMEN AGAINST THE ORIENT (1974). Heavily promoted in Shaw’s publications, the movie failed to capture much of an audience, but likely fared better in European markets where the ‘Three Supermen’ series was bewilderingly popular.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS???

 

This is an unusual production; unusual in that it features Shih Szu in a modern setting as a female detective. Titled THE WARRANT, it would be interesting to see what the queen of swordswomen can do with a gun. The following photos are from the March 1973 issue of Southern Screen magazine. Oddly enough, this movie seems to be a true Shaw Brothers rarity….

 

None of the Hong Kong movie sites such as HKMDB, or HKcinemagic list this film among the credits of either Shih Szu, or Ou Wei. A friend of mine has informed me that this film does in fact exist and even posted screen caps from the picture taken from an old Chinese VHS tape. It no doubt will be interesting to find out what became of this film and why it’s seemingly been swept under the rug as there’s virtually nothing about it outside of old magazine articles.

Coming up next time are more unfinished movies, some independent features, Chang Cheh’s Iron Triangle, Chen Kuan Tai and more behind the scenes images from Shaw Brothers Cinema!

 

The launch celebration included two very special events. The first was a “Shaw Film Week” program at JP Causeway Bay Cinema where seven well-known films of various genres and from different eras were re-released on the big screen: “The Kingdom And The Beauty”, “Come Drink With Me”, “The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin”, “The Empress Dowager”, “The Blood Brothers”, “Hong Kong Nocturne” and “Let’s Make Laugh.”

To honor the truly remarkable achievements of Shaw Brothers and Executive Chairman Sir Run Run Shaw himself, Celestial Pictures next hosted a gala party. Sir Run Run Shaw, Asia’s unparalleled movie producer and studio chief, and Lady Mona Shaw were the guests of honor of the evening. “On that night, we paid tribute to the incredible impact that the Shaw Brothers Studio has had on Chinese culture and, indeed, the cinema industry worldwide. To have Sir Run Run Shaw, the creator of, and indeed the creative genius behind, the Shaw kingdom with us here is both a blessing and an incredible honor,” Pfeiffer tells.

Special performances of Shaw songs by Karen Mok and Ivy Ling Po, who flew in from Canada for the event, captivated and deeply moved the audience. Many of the key creative talents and celebrities of the Shaw Brothers Studio were also present. They included Cheng Pei-pei, Gordon Liu, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-tai, Ching Li, Liu Yung, Hui Ying-hung, Chiao Chiao, Chin Ping, Ho Meng-hua, Liu Chia-liang and Chu Yuan. Many of these stars shared their fond memories of working at the Shaw Brothers Studio and expressed their gratitude to Sir Run Run. It was an evening of pure golden magic.

At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Cheng Pei-pei and daughter Marsha, an up-and-coming star in Asia, were featured guests. As part of the honor, they attended the first “official” screening of the new 35mm print of “Come Drink With Me.” The kick-off at Cannes included big-wig cocktail parties, the red carpet treatment for Pei-pei and of course the fully restored film print exclusively reserved for the Theatre Bunuel. This event was of particular importance because it confirmed once and for all the rumors floating around the world that the Shaw Brothers films were finally coming back.

Pfeiffer finally notes, “We’re also striking new 35mm prints for limited theatrical re-releases for festivals with special retrospectives, then on video and our TV channel to be launched worldwide later this year.”

That is good news for Lim Cheng-Sim, programmer at the University of California-Los Angeles Film and TV Archives, which is responsible for curating film exhibitions. For years Lim has been working with John Woo trying to put together an ambitious travelling film festival of martial arts classics.

“We want to show 20 film in LA highlighting the genre development from its silent roots in Shanghai through the early ’80s,” Lim says, adding that the exhibition would then tour nonprofit film museums and festivals in the United States and Canada. “People say they love Hong Kong martial art films, but in truth they haven’t really seen them,” Lim points out. “Celestial’s move is very significant because now it’s possible to see them again.”

In an exclusive for kungfumagazine.com, Lim reveals the line-up of great films, as well as special appearances by filmmakers who will speak about their involvement in these films. People such as John Woo, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Liu Chia-liang, Gordon Liu, Yuan Woo-ping’s brother Yuan Cheung-yan, Quentin Tarantino and the Queen of Kung fu cinema herself, Cheng Pei-pei. Starting with the classic silent films “Red Knight-Errant” (1929) and “Swordswoman of Huangjiang” (1930), they’ll be followed up by “The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part I” (1949) starring the actor synonymous with the character Kwan Tak-hing, the far-out “Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute, Part I” (1965), the Shaw Brothers masterpieces “Come Drink with Me” (1965), “Golden Swallow” (1968), “The One-Armed Swordsman” (1967), “Vengeance” (1970), “Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan” (1972), “Blood Brothers” (1973), “Killer Clans” (1976), “Executioners from Shaolin” (1977), “36th Chamber of Shaolin” (1978), John Woo’s “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” (1978) and “Return to the 36th Chamber” (1980.) Topping it all off will be several important independent films: King Hu’s “Dragon Inn” (1968), “Escort over Tiger Hills” (1969), “From the Highway” (1970) and possibly Jet Li’s “Shaolin Temple” (1982).

In closing, we are privy to share with you Shaw Brothers martial arts films as they break free of the cobwebs of time to become available on DVD and VCD. Coming are such classics as “Come Drink With Me,” directed by King Hu and starring Cheng Pei-pei; “The Heroic Ones,” “The Anonymous Heroes” and “The Blood Brothers,” all directed by Chang Cheh and starring David Chiang and Ti Lung; “Killer Clans,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Yueh Hua; “The Tea House” and its sequel “Big Brother Cheng,” both directed by Kuei Chih-hung and starring Chen Kuan-tai; “The Magic Blade,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Ti Lung, Ching Li and Lo Lieh; “Clans of Intrigue,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Ti Lung, Nora Miao and Yueh Hua; “Temple of the Red Lotus,” directed by Kuei Chih-hung and starring Jimmy Wang Yu; “Death Duel,” directed by Chu Yuan and starring Derek Yee; and “Heroes Two,” directed by Chang Cheh and starring Alexander Fu Sheng and Chen Kuan-tai.

You may not have heard of some of these directors and stars, but over time they will grow familiar. You may even discover that you’ve been watching their films for years, even seen them in Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films, without knowing it. If you don’t currently own a DVD player, now is the time to invest, because Shaw Brothers is coming to town.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw Brothers Horror: Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio Part II

Caution: The following article contains material and images that may not be suitable for the workplace or appropriate for minors. Reader discretion is advised.

Part 2: The Arrival of the Exploitation Era

 

Japanese Pink films, such as Sex & Fury (1973), influenced the changing face of Asian exploitation

Come the latter bracket of the early seventies, Japanese exploitation cinema had rounded out its influence on the Asian regions and shown to be a formidable force amongst local cinema patrons. Accordingly, the Shaw studios starting spicing up (and, to a more notable degree, “splattering” up) their domestic product to compete with the more startlingly excesses of their former war-time rulers. It could be argued, quite accurately, that the Shaw studios had already made inroads into upping the ante of onscreen gore with their successful swordplay and kung fu films of the late sixties and early seventies, where revered director Chang Cheh had strove for Peckinpah-like realism in the depiction of screen violence in the production of his many early works. Swords would cleave bodies, heads would roll, limbs would be hacked off and gallons of stage-blood would squirt over sets and extras alike, once the benchmark had been set. Come the time Ho Meng Hua’s  The Kiss of Death (1973) hit the big screen, the era had arrived where the oft-uneasy mixture of sex and violence would start pushing the boundaries in the exploitation realm for local audiences.

 

Five years before I Spit On Your Grave, Kiss of Death (1973) pushed the rape-revenge thriller to shocking new extremes

 

Ho Meng Hua used the new permissiveness to add extra spice to his exploitation shocker

The Kiss of Death wastes no time in setting up its grim premise: factory worker Chu Ling (Chen Ping, in her premiere leading role) is gang-raped by a quintet of thugs and, on visitation to a GP post-trauma, discovers she has contracted a virulent sexually-transmitted disease known by the ominous moniker Vietnam Rose (which, in broader company we won’t go into, but is rather unpleasant cinematic/fictional strain of syphilis). Vowing revenge on her attackers, Ling quits her job and takes up new employment as a bar girl in the club frequented by the criminals in question. Owned by Wong Ta (kung fu superstar Lo Lieh of King Boxer fame), who takes Ling under his wing and trains her in various forms of self-defence, the club becomes the perfect foil for her to set the wheels of her revenge plot in motion culminating in an all-out bloodbath in the final act.

 

Chen Ping delivers the unkindest cut of all in her bloody revenge

As much a “horror” film per se as

 

Diary of a Lady-Killer

 had been before it in the late sixties (i.e.: in name only),

 

The Kiss of Death

exhibits the Shaw studios as very much a production house well aware of the changing tastes of its marketplace, and one willing to run with far more exploitative elements to appease its growing adult audiences.

 

Chen Ping

 makes a dynamite debut in her first leading role as the put-upon and vengeful Ling, going so far as not to shy away from the copious nudity and adult situations that the role required, much unlike the majority of her A-list peers who engaged the de-rigueur entourage of body doubles available to keep their modesty and career images intact.

However, copious displays of blood and boobs aside, the one failing of the film comes at its finale, where it ends up aping the studios’ martial arts epics by transgressing the climax into one endless, over-the-top, and ultimately yawn-inducing brawl; like many martial arts films, what kicks off well and could have been a punchy, violent wrap-up to a rather sleazy thriller, drags out into a punch-up-cum-kick-fest that just drags on, and on…and on.

 

Her Vengeance (1988)

 

 is the best known of the many contemporary variations on Kiss of Death (1973)

Yet the film made its mark and remains a favoured exploitation thriller with fans of the genre, as well as spawned a number of remakes over the years the most famous of which was

 

 Simon Nam’s

 

 Her Vengeance (1988)

starring the remarkable

 

 Pauline Wong

 and substituting the late

 

Lam Ching Ying (of Mr. Vampire fame) in the

 

Lo lieh

was a Hong Kong actor in martial-arts films. His real name is Wang Lap Tat. He was hired by the Shaw Brothers Studio in 1962, and went on to become one of the most famous actors in kung fu films in the late 1960s and 1970’s. He died of a heart attack in

Lo Lieh role.

 Personal opinion dictates that The Kiss of Death is far greater film than its successor, however it’s so inexplicably difficult to track down Her Vengeance in its original full-strength theatrical variant (the subsequent Hong Kong DVD release being the much-modified “soft-cut” of the film) that comparisons between the two become virtually impossible. Should the name not sound familiar, Simon Nam is the English name of Lam Ngai Choi,the director of such juicy gore-laden spectacles as

 

 

The Seventh Curse (1986)

 

 

and The Story of Ricky (1992);

 in its uncut form, Her Vengeance is a fan favourite amidst second-tier Nam.Disaffected youth, poverty, urban crime, domestic abuse, S & M fantasies: all give rise to

 

The Killer Snakes (1974)

 

Helen Ko:

one of the many temptations and bedevilments that create

 

 Chi Hung’s psychoses

In the wake of their burgeoning contemporary and crime thrillers, with heavy pushes towards more adult content, the Shaws produced what is often cited as one of their sleaziest and grittiest horror-thrillers of their collective canon, Kuei Chih Hung’s The Killer Snakes (1974).

Already a well-known quantity with his outrageous women-in-prison epic

 

Bamboo House of Dolls (1973)

 and stark juvenile crime thriller

 

The Delinquent (1973)(co-directed with Chang Cheh),

1973’s The Delinquent is another Chang Cheh-codirected feature starring Wong Chung and Lily Li. This tale of gangs in modern Hong Kong begins with a very dated/very trippy credits sequence with Wong Chung bursting through cardboard backdrops of the city of Hong Kong with wild negative lighting warping the picture.

The film opens with Wong Chung delivering food from a restaurant to a place on Temple Street. The street scenes of 1973 Hong Kong are a treat but there are too many close-ups to get a sense of place. The food is delivered to a martial arts school in an apartment and John (Wong Chung) has to try his hand at it again — seems he took kung fu lessons but quit sometime earlier.

John goes home to his small apartment and his dad berates him. Codirector Kuei Chih Hung could be the reason that the early scenes in this film don’t feel too much like another Chang Cheh film. Yes, there’s the emphasis on a man’s place in the world — machismo and all that jazz — but the early scenes here feel quite naturalistic despite bursts of music or a telegraphed melodramatic moment.


Fan Mei Shang is some kind of gang boss who bullies the same kids who are bullying John at his restaurant — there’s some fights in a junkyard but they are largely uninteresting — and the gang boss spends his time with hookers in dayglo clothes as he gives orders to his gang.

In a scene like something out of a Hollywood film of the 1930s, Tung Lam and Betty Tei Pei pull up in a sportscar as Wong Chung is fighting in the street. They observe the boy and make plans to woo him with a girl and money — for what, we in the audience don’t quite know yet. It’s silly but The Delinquent is frequently silly in its attempts to say something “Big” about the state of youth in 1973 Hong Kong.


Fan Mei Shang takes the kid to a brothel and there’s a fair amount of nudity in this scene which is otherwise laughable — we see the guy’s father sitting at home waiting for the kid even as he’s in a garish apartment whorehouse with some Chinese hooker. It’s a riot of 1970s conventions in this flick.

It turns out that John’s dad works for Tung Lam and so Fan Mei Shang has been tasked to recruit the boy to settle some score.

There’s more fighting and a dirtbike fight/chase on a beach. The kid gets arrested, his dad won’t bail him out, and some gangsters wearing suits out of Dick Tracy (1990) show up to rough up Fan Mei Shang.

The second half of the film turns largely dramatic as John gets further involved with the gang lifestyle but rest assured there are still more fights to be endured.

Really, The Delinquent bored the crap out of me; not campy enough to be 1970s fun and not realistic enough to be watched with a straight face, this was a case of 100 minutes feeling like 300.

And Lily Li is in this thing for less than 10 minutes. I guess Chang Cheh has plenty of time for a nude scene with some unknown actress playing a hooker but not enough time to give Lily something to do in her small part.

No, this is a guy’s film and while that could work for me, here it didn’t. The action just felt tired and drab.

Sure, Wong Chung’s final assault on the apartment brothel had some intensity to it but, by that point, I didn’t really care who survived the brutality.

Without giving away the ending, I did like the very final segment of the film where the 1970s techniques seemed to match the action unfolding on the screen but, by then, it was too late to win me over.

 

Kuei seemed just the man to bring a sweaty, realistic urban edge to screenwriter I Kuang’s unsettling story of a boy and his snake. Borne of an abusive domestic environment, Chi Hung (Kam Kwok Leung) lives in squalor in an abandoned room at the rear of a Hong Kong restaurant that specialises in snakes. His parents’ sado-masochistic sex life scarred him profoundly, finding him fantasising over Japanese bondage magazines and lusting after local prostitute Zhang Jinyan (Helen Ko). Erstwhile, he finds a friend in pretty young street-hawker Xiao Chuan (Maggie Li) before he forms an unnatural bond with an escaped snake, whose gall-bladder has been cut out, and hatches a plan in his warped psyche to avenge himself against all those that have mistreated with the aid of his scaly new buddy.

 

Kam Kwok Leung made an impressive debut as the sociopathic Chi Hung

Make no bones about it, The Killer Snakes is as gritty, grimy and perhaps unpleasant as they come, unique in its gaudy, oppressive permutations on the lifestyles of slum-dwellers and the down-trodden, as well as unsettlingly frank in its wallowing in the depravities and mean-spiritedness of its protagonists. Kuei engages a bleak, naturalistic (almost documentary) style that manages to capture the squalor and despair of proceedings that places the viewer uncomfortably close to characters you’d much rather not know or be privy to their world. There is a nary a character the audience can root for, excepting maybe the titular snakes, as Kam’s central performance literally drips with the kind of social maladjustment unseen in almost any screen anti-hero, and even his love interest Li finds her character arc steering into a squalidly grotesque twist by the final act.

 

Terry Liu screams for her life in Chi Hung’s slum of depravity and murder

But as much as the film proves again and again throughout its duration more an endurance exercise than lively exploitation entertainment, its compulsive tone and striking excesses (that run bondage, humiliation, masturbation, prostitution and stomach-turning live animal abuse) suck the viewer into its deliriously ugly world and grip them in its hold right up to the shock epilogue. The Killer Snakes is thoroughly recommended as indicative of the Shaw horror machine at full strength, and for fans of shock-cinema, but it should be noted that there are quite a number of scenes involving animal cruelty that will shock those unaccustomed to the more haphazard attitudes towards such material that is prevalent in Asian cinema (sadly, even to this day).

 

The late Chan Shen, filling for Christopher Lee, who refused a return to the series

In the middle of the studios’ exhilarating and prolific output, a joint venture with the Shaws (now) declining British cousin, Hammer Films, would see the production of two Hong Kong-British features: crime thriller Shatter (1974) headlining Stuart Whitman, Peter Cushing and Shaw superstar Ti Lung, and the more widely internationally seen The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) which proved to be the final chapter in Hammer’s popular Dracula series. It’s safe to say that, due to the marquee value of Hammer attached to it, there’s probably less than a handful of veteran horror fans worldwide that haven’t heard of or seen The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (and with its wide availability on home video formats globally that’s perhaps more true now than ever), yet more often than not the part that Shaw Brothers studios played in its production seems almost peripheral detail as the years roll on.

 

The lair of the Seven Golden Vampires: built entirely on the Shaw soundstages!

Shot on location in Hong Kong, as well as on the Shaw soundstages (of which British director Roy Ward Baker later expressed his despair at working in the Hong Kong studio system, as features were largely shot “wild”, or without sound, which went well against what the British technicians and filmmakers had been accustomed to with closed stages utilising production sound) the co-production featured a bevy of popular Shaw stars, inclusive of martial arts icons David Chiang and Shih Szu, boasting uncredited Hong Kong direction from veteran Chang Cheh and fight choreography by the respected Liu Chia Liang and Tang Chia. On many grounds, it can be argued that the film was as much a Shaw Brothers production as it was a Hammer Film. Although the film wasn’t particularly well received on original release (and belatedly released on the American circuit in a heavily truncated form years later) due its blend of kung fu and straight horror, it has gained something of a cult following over the years which has spawned countless volumes of verbiage as to its merits, or lack thereof, in the horror press, thus we press on…

 

Even a simple visit to the optometrist can lead to a nightmare journey into the unknown

 

All-purpose bad-guy Antonio Ho as the devilish Shi Jongjie

Encoring director Kuei Chih Hung followed up his spectacularly grim The Killer Snakes with the impressively disturbing Ghost Eyes (1974) later the same year. Predating the Pang Brothers The Eye (2002) by almost three decades, the construct of Kuei’s story of ghostly possession centre itself on bespectacled manicurist Wang Baoling (Chen Szu Chia) who, one evening before closing, finds herself briefly entertaining handsome newcomer Shi Jongjie (Antonio Ho). On the occasion that she breaks her glasses, Shi offers to fit her out with new contact lenses, which she takes up only to be visited at home by Shi later that night and, when she awakes in the morning, remembers nothing of the evening before although there are tell-tale signs that she slept with her late-night caller. Thereafter, strange things begin to occur and Baoling starts “seeing” phantoms of the dead at every turn. When she goes to confront Shi, his premises turn out to be abandoned, having burnt to the ground years beforehand. Ultimately, Baoling’s new contacts are the catalyst for a deadly journey into her own personal hell, one that the forces at work may prove impossible to escape.

 

Wang Baoling (Chen Szu Chia) becomes trapped in a terrifying world of the paranormal

It can be said with confidence that Ghost Eyes is one of the great unsung gems of the Shaw Brothers horror library, and a quite markedly disparate turn for Kuei Chih Hung, being that his previous titles had been heavily laced with quite potent amounts of sex and violence, while herein he winds down the more exploitative elements of his prior works and instead focuses on creating an enveloping atmosphere of dread and mounting fear. Like many of her predecessors, Chen Szu Chia makes an impressive debut (going on to become an actress of some note and suitable range hereafter) and Antonio Ho’s antagonist unexpectedly evokes the spirit of Barry Atwater, as there are strong similarities between his unstoppable ghost and Atwater’s role as the vampire Janos Skorzeny in American telemovie The Night Stalker (1972). Kuei definitely shows that he had done his homework as there is a palpable sense of terror pervading the film, and by the climax one wonders if Baoling will ever truly escape her demonic tormentor which only serves to highlight the ongoing hopelessness of her situation and the ghostly malevolence lauding over her.

 

Ku Feng and severed head: invoking a deadly curse in Black Magic (1975)

 

Taking advantage of relaxing censorship, Ku Feng casts a fertility spell

Ho Meng Hua returned to the exploitation genre, after a short spell of martial arts titles including The Master of Kung Fu (1973), Ambush (1974) and The Golden Lion (1975) with now legendary Shaw horror opus Black Magic (1975). This time out the Shaws drew on the heavy influence that their years working out of their Singapore facilities had had, inturn entwining their time as the foremost producers of Malay-language films for the Peninsula, which led to a horror production positively influenced by the folktales and superstitions of Malaysia and surrounding South East Asian regions. Xu Nuo (Ti Lung) is a high profile architect working in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, steadfastly approaching his planned marriage to the beautiful Wang Chu Ying (Lily Li), when they bump into wealthy woman of leisure Luo Yin (Tanny Tien Ni). While Luo Yin is busy eyeing out her opportunities of snatching Xu Nuo away from Chu Ying, shunned suitor Liang Chia Chieh (Lo Lieh) turns to witch doctor Shan Chien Mi (Ku Feng) to win over Luo Yin. Once Liang’s façade is exposed, Luo Yin sees the use of black magic as the perfect vessel to make Xu Nuo her own. Shan agrees to her demands, but makes a few of his own, and as we all know engaging the services of a witch doctors to cast a love spell never really ends up for best of any party involved, except maybe the magician himself. And when things get ugly, Shan turns out a lot more cunning, as well as powerful,  than he first appeared.

 

Ti Lung and blue screen backdrop from Black Magic’s effects-laden climax

 

Xu Nuo experiences horrifying visions under the sorceror’s curse

Although predominantly set-bound like the majority of Shaw productions, Black Magic benefits enormously from some gorgeous location shooting in and around Kuala Lumpur and its surrounds (retrospectively viewing as a regular visitor it’s a revelation just how explosively and spectacular the region has advanced in the last thirty years), and the perfect casting of veteran Shaw character actor Ku Feng as the wily “bomoh” (Malay for shaman). In hindsight it’s easy to determine why Black Magic drew the cult following that it has, as well as made such a lasting impact on Hong Kong horror films in general. Per its adult-flavoured pedigree, Ho peppers his story with more than enough nudity, sex and the prerequisite use of body doubles with his lead actresses, but ups the ante in the shock stakes with onscreen gore and carnage while engaging the varied black arts rituals of his eponymous sorcerer. A severed head and body fat are boiled down to oil, tongues are cut, people dissolve into putrescent puddles of gore, human milk is drawn as an ingredient for a love potion, worms wriggle under skin and possessed victims are fed centipedes as antidotes. It’s definitely one wild and grisly ride from beginning to end, but as the initiator of the whole “South East Asian black magic” cycle it’s a compulsory viewing experience as well as great introduction to the sub-genre, even if time has managed to dull some of its shocks.

 

Snake Prince director Lo Chen made his name with 60s musicals such as much loved classic The Shepherd Girl (1964)

 

What better way to open a fantasy-horror-musical than a poppy dance namber?

Moving forward, one of the most bizarre offerings of the period is Lo Chen’s The Snake Prince (1976), a wholly psychedelic cocktail of more genres than you can poke a stick at and perhaps one of the most unusual hybrid-oddities that the Shaws ever produced. Taking its lead from popular folklore, The Snake Prince delivers three snake-gods (Wu Hang

Taking its lead from popular folklore, The Snake Prince delivers three snake-gods (Wu Hang Sheng, Wong Yue and Ti Lung as the prince) who have perfected the art of transmogrifying into human form after centuries of practice. Spying charming village girl Hei Qin (Lin Chen Chi), the Prince is immediately smitten with her and offers the drought-stricken villagers vital irrigation from his eternal lake in trade for her hand in marriage. Reluctantly the village head, and Qin’s father, agrees and the village is saved. But jealousies and mistrust between the snake and human world continue to seethe, and things go awesomely pear-shaped when Hei Qin’s sisters discover their new brother-in-law is awash with riches beyond their wildest dreams.

 

When the village folk turn against them, the Snake Princes reveal their true colours

In the sixties Lo Chen was renowned for his musicals, inclusive of the trendsetting The Shepherd Girl (1964), and romantic dramas such as Between Tears and Laughter (1964) and Too Late for Love (1967), so its presents as somewhat eclectic that he eventuated The Snake Prince later in his career as it’s an odd hybrid: part pop musical, part romance, part martial arts, part horror and part giant monster movie. The various pieces of the pie never come together wholly enough to make for a satisfying (cinematic) meal, but it sure is nothing like you’ve ever seen! The giant snakes, when the three leads switch back to their native form, are effective in a Godzilla kind of way, but the sight of Ti Lung in snake-form making love to Lin Chen Chi’s body double is way out there, as is the completely unnecessary and gratuitous killing of a pair of live infant snakes onscreen (which goes on way too long as they are trampled under foot, the camera lingering on every dying convulsion of the poor animals). The Snake Prince isn’t a film that anyone could wholly recommend, but is definitely something almost impossible to top if one is looking for an experience well off the beaten path as it is unique in its own absurdity.

 

Danny Lee as the Oily Maniac, about thirty seconds away from becoming Castrol’s poster boy

 

Angela Yu Chien discovers there are worse things than a flagging career…

Returning to South East Asia, Oily Maniac (1976) saw Ho Meng Hua return to his more exploitative roots and the Shaws dig into Malaysian superstition to bring us another region-specific monster of populist folklore: the “Orang Minyak” (literally, from Malay, meaning “Oil Person”). For those unfamiliar with Malaysian folklore, the Orang Minyak is an oil-covered male phantom with a predilection for raping female virgins, often slipping into homes under the cover of darkness, which can only be warded off by biting its left thumb or covering it in batik (a patterned fabric created through the use of dyes and wax). Rather than taking the literal route of traditional folklore, Ho’s “oily man” is an altogether different creation, much more a distinct supernatural avenger than the predatory monster of superstition.

 

Chen Ping lends the Oily Maniac a generous amount of nudity in her role

When a dispute over the sale and ownership of a palm-oil factory leads to the accidental death of the new owner’s thugs, Ah Ba (Ku Feng) attracts the death sentence, but before his execution he imparts a powerful Malay spell to his polio-crippled son Sheng Yung (Danny Lee). Working for the lawyer who played a hand in his father’s death, Sheng witnesses injustice upon injustice day after day in his workplace (where money changes hand for satisfactory judicial outcomes), all the while pining for the beautiful Xiao Yue (Chen Ping) who only sees him as friend due to his disability and ignoring the interest of co-worker Xiao Ly (Lily Li), who sympathises with his plight. Eventually, Sheng’s temper boils and he invokes the spell, transforming into an oil-covered vigilante monstrosity that serves down throat-crushing, head-smashing justice on those that he determines have escaped their just deserts.

 

Even canoodling lovers aren’t safe from the Oily Maniac!

Ho Meng Hua’s Oily Maniac is one of those films, much akin to Lo Chen’s The Snake Prince, that really demands to be seen to be believed as, in its own way, it almost predates as a straight Chinese predecessor to Troma’s The Toxic Avenger (1985) being that both films feature monster vigilante protagonists who mete out gory justice on those they’ve determined have escaped punishment through the avenues of the judicial system. As was the norm of the period, the film is awash with nudity and salacious sexual interludes, which would appear at odds with the Malaysian locations as Malaysia itself is predominantly a conservative Islamic country, but all of the racier content was filmed domestically in the Shaw’s Hong Kong studios. Lee’s oily maniac takes two forms throughout: that of a rubber-suited humanoid creature and in stealthier moments an animated optical oil-slick, that is usually accompanied by John Williams’ Jaws theme(!). For all of its clunky monster-suit moments, as well as prurient diversions, Oily Maniac is an enjoyably engaging and entertaining slice of exploitation/horror cinema, with enough splashy treats and chunky head-crushing surprises to keep many a horror fan happy.

 

Lo Lieh shows just how hardcore he is when the shaman casts his spell in Black Magic 2 (1976)

 

Adopting the more is better adage, Black Magic 2 is a whole lot raunchier than the original

Continuing on in the same vein, Black Magic 2 (1976) returned the reigns to Shaw regular Ho Meng Hua, transplanting the action this time to Singapore (visitors to the region will immediately recognise locational footage of iconic landmark, The Merlion) and pressing on with a modestly more gruesome sequel than its predecessor. Two doctors (Ti Lung and Lin Wei Tu) and their wives (Tanny Tien Ni and Lily Li), whilst vacationing in Singapore (noted as the anonymous “A Tropical City” in the screen titles) investigate local beliefs in black magic and its direct effects on patients and their treatment at the city’s major hospital. This immediate raises the ire of the outlying bomoh (Lo Lieh) who has been responsible for a number of the medical cases as well as a series of inexplicable and mysterious deaths in the region. The shaman quickly zombifies Li, and places an adulterous spell over Ti’s wife (Tien) and his colleague (Lin). Expectedly, things go from bad to much worse, and the survivors call in the help of a rival shaman to escape with their lives.

 

Before you can face my enemy you must…EAT MY EYES!!!

Driving well beyond its already gruesome predecessor, Black Magic 2 pulls in some heavyweight black arts rituals and a whole plethora of suitably grisly sequences to delight and disgust its prospective audience. As with many sequels, Ho adopted the “more = better” adage and fills out this scenario with some astoundingly nauseating set-pieces, including but not limited to: naked native girls devoured by crocodiles, longevity potions derived from breast milk and pubic hair, lengthy iron nails driven into skulls to control zombie armies, worms disgorged from oozing sores, a victim’s sex partner turning from pert young-thing (ala Terry Liu) into withered old crone, and the ingestion of human eyeballs as a measure to channel supernatural energies. The sheer inventive outlandishness of it all is stupefying in the extreme, but again everything becomes a rich course in South East Asian superstition and ritualistic beliefs, leaving the film well beyond anything in the oft-pallid arena of most Western folklore. Akin to its predecessor though, Black Magic 2 ends up stunting itself somewhat with a climax that is underwhelming after the frenzied momentum of all that preceded it; that aside, it’s still more than worth a watch and expectedly gory to boot.

 

Shaw sexpot Dana spices up the otherwise dreadfully dull Fangs of the Cobra (1977)

Mention is worth being made of the modest thriller Fangs of the Cobra (1977) helmed by Shaw martial arts veteran Sun Chung which, although largely sold as a gender reversed successor to The Killer Snakes, is far removed from the production it shares a theme with nor is it a horror film at all. Rather it’s a modestly convoluted tale of a familial spat over a prized estate where one party, the naively innocent Ah Fen (Hsiao Yao) harbours a pet snake who does a bit of a land-borne Flipper by saving her from various near-misses and dastardly deeds set about by conniving couple Hu Lin (Frankie Wei) and Man Ling (Dana, best remembered for top-lining delightful sex-comedy Girl With the Long Hair a couple of years earlier). Other than numerous gratuitous nude scenes from co-star Dana, who was quite a doll in her heyday, there’s precious little to recommend this minor thriller, especially if one is expecting a retread of Kuei Chih Hung’s sleazy cult classic.

 

Wong Yue plays peekaboo with Gordon Liu: when is a corpse not a corpse?

 

…and to make matters worse, there’s a killer on the loose as well!

On the other hand, there is much to recommend in Liu Chia Liang’s The Shadow Boxing (1979) (aka: The Spiritual Boxer Part II), an in-name-only sequel to Liu’s similarly titled martial arts comedy of 1975 where hucksters Wong Yue and Chiang Yang feigned the channelling of spirits and deities as a means of tricking superstitious rich-folk out of their fortunes. The Shadow Boxing immediately crosses the parameters of the mortal world into the spirit realm by introducing us to its heroes, “Corpse Herders” Master Chen Wu (Liu Chia Yung) and his apprentice Fan Zheng Yuan (Wong Yue, 1955 -2008). “Corpse Herders” are specialist mediums responsible for delivering the wayward dead to their home for burial in jiang shi (literally “stiff corpse”, or zombie) form. Yes, you’ve guessed by now, this is the film that introduced the “hopping vampire” character into popular Hong Kong screen culture!

 

Not just one or two, The Shadow Boxing (1979) features a whole host of jiang shi!

Add in a dash of political intrigue, with a rebellious government soldier, Zhang Jie (Gordon Liu) masquerading as member of the jiang shi troupe so as to avoid government blockades, and the overall make-up becomes one of a resoundingly entertaining horror-comedy-kung fu hybrid. Much of the humour inherent derives from the Corpse Herders themselves, as they find themselves less than impressed that their tag-along body might hinder their delivery schedule, and the fact that they have constructed a whole martial arts philosophy based upon the vampires themselves. Essentially, there’s enough humour, light horror high-jinks, and patented spectacular fight choreography that one would expect of a Liu Chia Liang production that there ends up being something for everyone; especially worth checking out if you want to see where the jiang shi genre originated from.

 

Lo Meng: wondering why Chang Cheh stuck him in the middle of some very phallic spikes

Though not released theatrically until January 1980, Chang Cheh’s Heaven and Hell (1979) commenced production under the shooting title The Hell in 1975 before financing fell through and the film was temporarily shelved. In 1977 Chang  returned to the title with a new cast (for further details see our long-form review), eventually wrapping up in ’79 with an end result that’s an almost “experimental” side-step from the blood-drenched wuxia and action pieces he was more widely known for. Though not what many would define as a horror film by definition, Chang’s adoption of colleague Li Han Hsiang’s anthology format and a climactic (hour long) descent into Chinese Hell and its various torments and tortures assuredly makes the work a horror-hybrid by design if nothing else.

 

Yet another first for modern cinema: kung fu as interpretive dance

Utilising a single thread to tie its segments together, Chang takes his principle protagonist Xin Ling (Li Yi Min) through a journey of the reincarnating soul. Xin Ling starts out life as a Heavenly Guard who cast out to the mortal world when he assists two love-lorn deities (David Chiang and real-life wife Maggie Li) to elope, is reborn as a taxi-driver on Earth who is shot dead in a scuffle championing another couple (Alexander Fu Sheng and Jenny Tseng), and finally ends up the chivalrous protector of a young girl (Lin Chen Chi) in Hell. Though proceedings sometimes become an ordeal in viewer endurance, thanks to Chang’s predisposition towards interminably long martial arts bouts, the visualisation of Hell itself more than makes up for the film’s patch-work flaws.

 

Chiang Sheng cameos as Na Cha: don’t laugh at his glitter and feather boa

As much a Chinese variant on Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” (from Divine Comedy) or Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku (1960), Chang spares his audience none of the horror. Bodies are frozen, boiled in oil, ploughed asunder, split in two, hung from ceilings and skinned, tongues are torn out, fingers lopped off and tormented souls fed white-hot liquid gold or sold into slavery in the underworld’s brothels. Combining such jarring visuals with lengthy kung fu battles, musical numbers, teenage romance and high-wire fantasy throughout can, more often than not, produce a polarising effect. However, once one gets past the inspired lunacy of cobbling so may disparate genres together under the one umbrella, Heaven and Hell proves an effective genre piece as well as one that manages to operate well beyond its troubled production history.

 

Watch who you pick as a mistress – she may just steal your heart

 

Wang and Hua share an unnatural connection, though Wang is unaware of his ghostly host

Rounding out the decade in style, legendary Shaw director Li Han Hsiang once again turned his attentions from the kinds of historical dramas that had brought him accolades over the decades to the more commercially exploitative anthology pieces that had also brought him notice in that field. With raunchy sex comedies such as Sinful Confession (1974), Forbidden Tales of Two Cities (1975) and Crazy Sex (1976) under his belt, Li adopted their successful anthology form and applied it the horror genre. First of the two productions was The Ghost Story (1979), pairing two sexy ghost tales, a thousand years apart (with the core plot contrivance being reincarnation), commences with the humorous tale of three gorgeous spirits (Shirley Yu, Hu Chin and Lin Yang Yang) who lure men to their remote travellers’ inn, entertain them with food, wine and song, then transform them into cows at the height of sexual pleasure as a means to on-sell to local merchants for their financial benefit. When General Wang (Yueh Hua) and his platoon of soldiers arrive, the soldier to bovine ratio begins to alarm him, until he figures out a cunning trick to reverse the equation.

 

Hau transforms into a giant, multi-armed false Guanyin at the climax of The Ghost Story

A thousand years on Wang is reincarnated as a lecherous scholar, and inn-keeper Hua (Hu Chin) as a wandering ghost intent on seeking revenge in her new life. Once Hua insinuates her way into the Wang household, there seems nothing capable of preventing her from taking the heart of her former-life foe, unless of course the local Taoist priest can intervene. The opening story is played strictly for laughs, and cheeky ones at that due to the presence of Shaw’s superstar scarlet siren Shirley Yu, but the second story (although aggressively light in tone and similarly raunchy) harbours its fair share of ghostly antics including Hu rebuilding her phantom face from nothing as well as the aforementioned heart-devouring highlight. It goes orbital when Li wraps things up with a mind-boggling duel between the Taoist monk and a twenty-foot tall multi-armed Hu and her bevy of topless sword-wielding minions. Collectively, The Ghost Story is an effective blend of horror motifs and the sex-comedies that Li had made his own as well as a lot of ribald fun.

 

Towards the end of the 70s, Li Han Hsiang filled his anthologies with a wealth of prurient material

His follow-up anthology, Return of the Dead (1979) retained the headier adult-flavour of its predecessor, but plays its horror angle far straighter than the lighter tone of the previous film. Engaging three tales, related between the patients of an asylum, Return commences with a Chinese variant on W.W. Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw” supplanted to turn of the (20th) century Hong Kong with husband and wife bean-curd vendors (Ku Feng and Wang Lai) visited by a traveller who offers them a mystical amulet that can grant them three wishes. The consequence being that for each wish granted, an opposing misfortune must follow, so it’s with great carelessness that they wish for money to pay off their business when their son works at the local steel mill. The second tale relates the misfortunes of friends Jiang Tao (Yueh Hua) and Lin Kun Quan (Antonio Ho), who wash up on the shores of Blue Lake. Jiang is unconscious, and Lin dead. When interviewed by police Jiang explains how, one drunken evening, his meeting with a naked young woman swimming in the lake brought disaster to them both.

 

Would you believe…a naked female jiang shi? Crazy…but true!

The closing tale concerns a young beauty, Xiao Yun Yun (Linda Chu), who was rumoured to have died in the throes of pleasure in her marital bed-chamber. One evening a local rickshaw driver picks up a passenger who bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Xiao. She claims to be Xiao’s twin sister, but is she? Seemingly unrelated at first glance, further elucidation reveals that each story is linked by the consequences of seeking wealth with little forethought with which those ends are achieved. The first story is surprisingly effective, even if the subject matter is well-worn, and its conclusion especially unnerving. The twist in the second story most will twig to at the introduction of a primary character, however Li offsets this by having his female lead appear throughout the entirety of the tale sans wardrobe. The final episode ends the film on a lighter note, again with a healthy injection of gratuitous nudity, but the introduction of a grave-robbing necrophile succeeds only in transmuting the light tone to one of pitch black (comedy). Overall an impressive little anthology, and not without its merits.

 

 

SHAW BROTHER HISTORY

CHAPTER 1:- WELCOME TO MOVIETOWN (1957-1970)

 

Run Run Shaw

and his family had generated extensive wealth since the 1920s from various theatre and production companies spread across South East Asia, but rivals in Hong Kong were competitively ahead of them.

So in 1957,

Run Run Shaw went to personally oversee production and reinvent the company (Shaw and Sons) for modern times. He realised that this studio was primarily focused on exhibition rather than production and could not possibly compete with larger firms such as MP&GI. So on March 1958, he announced the establishment of a new company called Shaw Brothers and engaged in the construction of a modern Hong Kong film studio (1).

INDUSTRY

In 1961, Shaw Brothers’ studio “Movietown” was completed. To compete with rivals such as MP&GI, Run Run Shaw based his company on the Classical Hollywood mode of producing films where he “introduced a series of reforms to facilitate the implementation of the big studio system, that is, centralisation and systemisation of film production (2)” (Chung, 2003:9). For instance, his actors and staff were given fixed contracts, working on numerous pictures exclusively that allowed them to create and build on their successes at the Hong Kong box office (using director/star combos such as Jimmy Wang Yu and Chang Cheh repeatedly (3)). Through this system, the company was structured as a production line allowing films to come out fast and efficiently with 300 pictures in the company‘s first twelve years (4).

Yet despite mass producing films, each one would have high production values. The film industry in Hong Kong before the major studios arrived was primarily Cantonese cinema which was the dominant language spoken in the area and at the time relied only on the local market as its main source of exhibition. But Shaw Brothers favoured the Mandarin language (5) as it was spoken in other Asian countries such as Singapore and Taiwan and so this would allow them a larger market share internationally. Shaw’s were able to invest more money in their Mandarin films as the returns would be higher than if it were just for a local audience and so this devalued the Cantonese features with their lower production values which could only compete for a smaller market. Because of this, Shaw could comfortably invest HK$800,000 into every feature against the average Cantonese movie budget of about US$20,000 (6).

But Shaw Brothers had a major rival during the 60s that was in competition for the audiences. Before Run Run Shaw arrived in Hong Kong, its future rival MP&GI (later renamed to Cathay) flourished due to its westernised approach to filmmaking. Its manager, Loke Wan-tho adopted a “Fordist style” company similar to Shaw Brothers (featuring a patriarchal power structure (7)). Shaw knew that Loke would be his toughest competitor and made sure that Shaw Brothers would exclusively compete with the films of MP&GI, so “from the start, Shaw Brothers specifically targeted MP&GI and rushed to produce films that had been scheduled by their rival” (Zhang, 2004:168). However Shaw had the advantage since he had moved to Hong Kong to run his company allowing decisions to be made instantly. MP&GI on the other hand were based in Singapore and this caused MP&GI to drop various films just because Shaw Brothers could outpace their production or negotiate better deals with the local Hong Kong talent. As MP&GI’s headquarters were in Singapore, the line of communication was longer so decisions took longer to reach Hong Kong while Shaw was right at the top of his hierarchy (8).

With MP&GI struggling to compete, being outpaced by the efficiency of Shaw Brothers (and further set back by the unfortunate passing of Loke Wan-tho), Shaw’s created a virtual monopoly with no other major competitors since the local studios didn’t have the money to produce films of Shaw Brothers quality or the venues to distribute them such as the cinema chains that Shaw owned. “The professionalism, lavishness, rational management, advanced technology and aggressive marketing enabled Shaw Brothers to dominate the Hong Kong (and Southeast Asia) cinema” (Fu, 2000:79).

To consolidate its market, Shaw Brothers capitalised on generic trends and it was the martial arts picture that quickly became the most popular form of entertainment in Hong Kong. Shaw Brothers had originally found fame with their lavish wenyi melodramas and huangmei diao musical films such as The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959) and The Love Eterne (1963). Yet it is stated that “the huangmei diao musical was a monotonous form” (Law, 2000:131) which recycled old Chinese legends and tales so the audience desired new energy in their films. It was the wuxia (9) film which quickly gained the audience’s interest and when this genre proved successful, Shaw Brothers with their production line techniques quickly adapted to the trend with an increasing percentage of the studios assets and focus used on the “swordsplay” genre in particular (10) as their most important sector calling it the beginning of “the wuxia century“.

AESTHETICS

Two directors in particular represent the dominance of the Shaw’s wuxia genre and demonstrate the evolving martial arts film in the 1960s. The first is King Hu whose most famous work for the studio was Come Drink With Me (1965) which was Shaw Brothers first major wuxia box office hit and with this success led to a flood of sword fighting films with the genre becoming Shaw‘s most predominant. King Hu managed to fuse both Western and Eastern styles of filmmaking to create his own innovative approach. He had studied Peking Opera and incorporated this style into his films where “King Hu developed a unique style of motion and a film aesthetic grounded in traditional Chinese painting, literature and theatre” (Zhang, 2004:178). King Hu brought visual sophistication and energy to the new-style martial arts picture, for example his fighting scenes are synchronised with a percussive beat (drums and gongs) reminiscent of Peking Opera aesthetics. But to make the fights seem even more spectacular, King Hu fused these Eastern concepts of dance with Western forms of filmmaking.

King Hu had studied American styles of editing where “using Chinese cinema as a base, he endeavoured to include Western style of thinking and technology” (Zhang, 1999:17). King Hu was not an expert of fighting styles, yet his fights incorporate fast and fluid movements and to achieve this just like constructive editing, he broke the scenes down and called this technique “The Glimpse“. For example “Hu also frequently stages, shoots, and cuts his action so that it becomes too quick, too distant, or too sidelong for us to register fully” (Bordwell, 2000b:118). He would put in just enough of a comprehensive shot to make the audience think they have seen something spectacular but it is so quick to register that it plays with the audience’s imagination. These techniques allowed films such as Come Drink With Me to be huge successes as King Hu had created these magnificent martial arts heroes through tricks of the camera without using special effects such as wirework that can cheapen the action (11). This style was extremely successful because early martial arts films were shot statically. The camera would be motionless with long uncut takes, distanced from the action where two men perhaps would improvise a fight consistently for a few minutes (12) while King Hu used dance choreographers to plan the stylised action. It was the beginning of a progression into realism with directors appreciating the value of the fight scene. King Hu had managed to incorporate a sense of fantasy and energy in his films along with sophistication to the genre, which allowed it to become popular, but over time, the audiences wanted more realistic action aesthetics and this is where the second director arrived (13).

Chang Cheh was Shaw Brother‘s most successful wuxia director with his film The One Armed Swordsman (1967) being the first swordsplay film to make HK$1 million at the box office (14). Just like King Hu, Chang Cheh‘s “combat scenes seem strongly influenced by Japanese techniques” (Bordwell, 2000b:115). Shaw Brothers expansion into the wuxia genre could perhaps be seen in relation to the  popularity of the Japanese chanbara films flooding into the Hong Kong market such as Yojimbo (Kurosawa:1962) which became popular through their violence and realistic fight choreography (along with the strong leading man such as Zatoichi). Run Run Shaw was aware of the trend in Japan and the USA’s action cinema and influenced his directors by “scheduling mandatory screenings of Japanese and yakuza films for his staff” (Ho, 2000:115) to try and influence their style through the popular and more advanced Japanese cinema. Shaw had been influenced to such a degree from Japanese filmmakers that not only did he hire directors and technicians such as director Inoue Umetsugu, but he also sent his staff to Japan to learn various filmmaking techniques such as efficient set design and camera work. Shaw realised he could make money off this style of film and this helped boost the investment in Shaw’s wuxia films. For example Chang Cheh borrowed techniques used in chanbara (15) films such as Yojimbo featuring tracking shot‘s which follow the combat as a lone fighter proceeds to kill his opponents one by one and prolonged death sequences. Instead of the peaceful long shots that played a part in the Wong Fei-hung (Various:1955) series from the 1950s, Chang’s films were chaotic and full of quick cuts, handicams and fast zooms adding to the energy and innovation in the martial arts genre.

As mentioned earlier, realism was what the audience wanted in these martial arts films and Chang Cheh exploited this. Along with technological advances, his films used other various techniques to make them seem more “real”. Firstly Chang Cheh’s films used fake blood to make the fights appear more visceral instead of King Hu’s bloodless combat. Also weapon props were replicas made from metal, heightening the realism but most importantly, “the 1950s kung-fu films had simply allowed actors to improvise their fights, but now the martial-arts instructor became an important crew member” (Bordwell, 2000a:206). Chang Cheh was aware that the 1950s martial arts could never satisfy the tastes of the progressive 1960s audience due to its stilted combat and even King Hu’s action was more focused on dance traditions. So Chang Cheh used trained martial artists to choreograph the fights where Shaw‘s promotion stated that “the fake, fantastical and theatrical fighting and so-called special effects of the past will be replaced by realistic action and fighting that immediately decides life or death” (Ho, 2003:115). Choreographers enabled untrained actors to mimic actual martial arts moves and so the action began to move away from the style of dance choreography associated with Peking Opera to grittier, livelier and bloody aesthetic, reflective of the mood of the audience.

REPRESENTATION

When Shaw Brothers had started production and were competing with their rivals MP&GI, it was their huangmei film with high end production values which set them apart and allowed them to dominate the market. But with changing times and audiences, the studio’s focus as it began moving into the 1970s altered from a female focused studio into one that was more male orientated (in both audience and stars). Shaw Brothers and Chang Cheh specifically tried to cater for the audience of 1960s Hong Kong by creating heroes and plots reflective of the times and mood of the 60s, mentioned earlier by incorporating a sense of realism into the aesthetics. This can be pinpointed to 1967 with the Hong Kong Star Ferry riots (16). Hong Kong became a state of chaos and rebellion where violence and unrest went on for seven months. Young people in particular were challenging dominant patriarchs and rebelling against the system and the turbulence led to changes in entertainment. The audience needed escapism from the anarchy in reality but the current trends in romantic musicals could not possibly satisfy this new rebellious audience that needed a hero to represent these uncertain times (17). The trouble was the male characters of the 1950s were often scholarly and effete. The audience could see reflected in the films “characters to symbolise China’s subjugated and weak condition which prevailed for about a hundred years from the Opium Wars to 1949” (Teo, 1997:77). So there needed to be a change from the weak (such as the male lead of The Love Eterne (Han:1963)) or one dimensional heroes (such as Wong Fei-hung who critics claim lacked individuality or emotions) and Chang Cheh was the director to create the new heroic male version (18) who would embody the colony’s newly acquired self confidence and individuality rather than the older conservative Confucian values represented by Wong Fei-hung. “Young audiences were captivated, seeing the new trend towards violence as a purging of repressed emotions” (Teo, 1997:100).

Chang Cheh’s heroes suffer from living in their violent worlds and are usually self-reliant individualist’s (19). The character Fang Gang in The One Armed Swordsman for example, is a flawed hero (handicapped with one arm) that through sheer determination and the will to rise up against his violent surroundings turns his weakness into strength and makes his one arm powerful enough to defeat all of the villains (20). He starts the film off as a working class man who is not respected by his classmates due to his poor background but eventually rises to become respected and powerful (something which the young working class audience would associate with and so Shaw Brothers were able to exploit this as a character trait in their wuxia films). But occasionally even the villains overwhelm the hero and in these circumstances the hero dies a tragic death (unheard of before Chang Cheh‘s films). At the end of Vengeance! (Chang:1970), the main character battles hordes of enemies who easily outnumber him. But even with blood pouring from his wounds (heightening Chang‘s realistic aesthetic) and despite finding it difficult to stand, he fights to the bitter end until eventually dying, but not before vanquishing the villains so that he can rest in peace. These heroes are willing to sacrifice themselves for their “brothers” and for a better world (with slow motion shots to make their sacrifice more poignant). This conclusion could be accepted during the 1960s, as there was a lack of moral standards within the chaotic society. With themes of brotherhood and the betrayal of the patriarchy is a clear reflection of how Shaw Brothers could mass produce films which spoke directly to the Hong Kong audience and shows how in the late 1960s, they were the top of the Hong Kong film industry.

The aesthetics and representation of early Shaw Brothers films are due to the fact that “Zhang also said that violence was portrayed in films only because violence existed in society” (Teo, 2003:152). But as the violent wuxia hero was a portrayal of the feelings of late 1960s Hong Kong, could it still be popular in the 1970s as the violence in Hong Kong became subdued and economic stability arrived?…
 

ENDNOTES FOR CHAPTER 1

(1) Information from The Shaw Screen (Chung, 2000:7)

(2) For example, Shaw scheduled weekly production and script meetings to ensure every stage of filmmaking was systemised and that everything met his high standard of approval. Shaw Brothers films were practically Run Run Shaw’s films exclusively (every Shaw Brothers film has his name as a producing credit).

(3) For example the first time Chang Cheh and Jimmy Wang Yu worked together was on Temple of the Red Lotus (1965) but subsequently worked together again on Tiger Boy (1966), Magnificent Trio (1966), One Armed Swordsman (1967), The Trail of the Broken Blade (1967),  The Assassin (1967), The Golden Swallow (1968) and many others. Shaw Brothers realised that once a combination had success, they would repeatedly use them to make a “safe” profit.

(4) Information from Planet Hong Kong (Bordwell, 2000a:63)

(5) 90% of Hong Kong citizens speak Cantonese instead of Mandarin (Information from Cinema of Hong Kong (Desser, 2000:78). Mandarin is spoken by mainland Chinese.

(6) Figure from Planet Hong Kong (Bordwell, 2000a:62) (US$20,000 is around HK$100,000)

(7) Information from The Shaw Screen (Chung, 2003:8 )

(8) His business was almost like an empire with Run Run Shaw firmly in control. His actors and directors lived in apartments on his 65,000 square feet of land and he even had his own police force and bank for his staff.

(9) Wuxia is roughly translated as “Sword-fighting” (Cinema of Hong Kong, 2000: 97)

(10) Shaw Brothers is known primarily for their martial arts films despite making other popular genre films like Hong Kong Nocturne (Umeji: 1966), a musical but  “in 1968, Shaws released 12 wuxia films out of a total of 29. In 1969, 17 out of 35. In 1972 26 out of 37” (Law, 2003:138) showing that the wuxia film was priority for a long period.

(11) This filmmaking was related to constructive editing and enabled King Hu to portray spectacular feats without using acrobatics. With constructive editing, the action is broken down into stages for example a character would jump up into the air in the first shot. The second shot would be the man flying against the background of the sky and the final shot would be the man landing on a higher platform.

(12) Also the wuxia films of the 50s such as Buddha’s Palm featured magical feats such as fireballs. The wave of swordsplay films led by King Hu featured less magic though still exaggerated moves such as vaulting.

(13) King Hu had started as an actor with Shaw Brothers but in the mid 1960s he had begun co-directing work with Li-Han-hsiang with various huangmei diao films before eventually making the move to become a full time director. The success of Come Drink With Me was marred by the fact that Shaw was not happy with Hu’s filmmaking methods. Shaw Brothers was a company built on the principles of production line techniques so that films should be made fast and efficiently. Yet King Hu took his time with his filmmaking and this naturally didn’t fit with the structure of Run Run Shaw’s studio so it was no surprise that they parted ways after Come Drink With Me, while prolific directors like Chang Cheh lasted for a long period with the company.

(14) Information from Chinese National Cinema (Zhang, 2004:177)

(15) Chanbara (a.k.a. Chambara) is the name for the Japanese Samurai Action film

(16) Information from http://www.britains-smallwars.com/RRGP/HongKong.htm

(17) Which also links with International cinema with starts like Steve McQueen, Sean Connery and Toshiro Mifune dominating screens. Just as Run Run Shaw had observed the trends in popularity of the chanbara genre, he was also aware of the youth generations influence in cinema, especially in America. “While Chang and Shaws’ switch to a youth-orientated cinema was a response to a larger movement that originated from the West, the swing from a female sensibility to one of male took place at about the same time as -even ahead of- a similar trend in Hollywood” (Ho, 2003:118). Male characters such as James Dean and James Bond represented the fine line between good and bad with anti heroes popular in Chambara and Spaghetti westerns. But while these characters rebel against social conventions, it is Chang Cheh’s characters who must suffer if they are to succeed.

(18) Chang Cheh‘s heroes were predominantly male because “Zhang considered that the male image had suffered for nearly twenty years because of the long reign of female stars in traditional soft genres such as the wenyi (literary art) and melodramas….The female dominance had come about because of the conservatism of the female audience that made up the majority of cinema-goers” (Teo, 2003:148). It was Chang’s opinion that this situation was as it was because conservative women could not openly admit to liking male stars (so females watched females). Chang Cheh wanted to reform this by creating a hero that both men and women could enjoy through the strong male hero character.

(19) Chang Cheh’s often favoured themes of individuality but there were also strong themes of brotherhood where men would sacrifice themselves for other heroic men out of loyalty, respect and honour. Chang Cheh even coined a term for this brotherhood, calling it “yang gang”.

(20) The villains in Chang Cheh’s films such as The One Armed Swordsman or Golden Swallow are clearly representational of the patriarchy which the 1960s youth were challenging in reality. The villains of these films are overtly corrupted and devious who can only defeat the heroes through tricking them such as the villain of The New One Armed Swordsman using his former status as a hero to betray the martial arts world. It is only when the younger noble heroes arrive that the corrupted older hero/villain representational of the old establishment is punished and replaced.


 


CHAPTER 2: ENTER THE DRAGON (1971-1973)

After consolidating their power in the late 1960s by defeating MP&GI and striving to make films for the rising youth generation, Shaw Brothers met a new threat in 1970. Raymond Chow, a former production chief for Shaw Brothers, left the company to form his own called Golden Harvest. His biggest move in the industry was undoubtedly bringing Bruce Lee to Hong Kong and it was this arrival that marked the beginning of many problems for the Shaw organisation.

INDUSTRY

Golden Harvest formed as a response to the studio system of Shaw Brothers. Raymond Chow had reportedly left the company due to Run Run Shaw’s militaristic approach to running the studio (1) by how “he stressed not so much artistic innovation as standardization, rationalization, mechanization and efficiency” (Fu, 2000:79). Because of Shaw’s aggressive attack on MP&GI, Chow found luck in being able to buy the studio lot of Shaw Brothers former rivals. This posed a major problem for Shaw Brothers as a major company with MP&GI’s assets was once again challenging Shaw but this time the management was in Hong Kong so the ability to outpace production like they could with MP&GI was no longer feasible.

Golden Harvest’s mode of production was the opposite of Shaw Brothers. Instead of fixed contracts, Golden Harvest decentralised production, working through a system of independent organisations that “contrary to Shaw Brothers’ emphasis on huge scale and absolute control, which was typical of the studio system, Golden Harvest preferred “an independent production system where stars and directors could agree mutually profitable deals with the studio” (Zhang, 2004:179). For example, Golden Harvest would maintain “satellite” companies such as Concord Productions where Bruce Lee had broken records with his breakthrough film The Big Boss (Lo:1971), this arrangement put Lee on an equal footing with Raymond Chow, as opposed to simply being a hired actor. The result undermined Shaw Brothers’ studio system where actors began to realise that fixed contracts were potentially fatal to their careers. Before Golden Harvest, Shaw Brothers had a virtual monopoly on the industry with no real threats to their dominance but with Golden Harvest supporting independent studios, stars knew they could make more money elsewhere.

It was this offer of creative control that tempted Bruce Lee to join Golden Harvest. Lee had originally approached Shaw Brothers with a demand of US$10,000 a title but Shaw only offered US$2,000 per film and a 7 film contract. Shaw Brothers, despite Lee‘s potential, had fixed rates for offering new actors contracts and Shaw was not going to change that stance. Golden Harvest on the other hand countered with an offer of US$7,500 per title (2). While less money than what Bruce Lee wanted from Shaw Brothers originally, it did mean that Lee would gain the creative control that he desired and commercial stakes in his enterprises. Creative freedom was something that Run Run Shaw was not likely to give to his actors (3) as mentioned in the first chapter, he systemised and centralised the studio so that his decision was always final on matters such as script approval.

Using the talent of Bruce Lee, Golden Harvest capitalised on his potential and garnered the highest revenues seen at the box office. Originally The One Armed Swordman was one of the most profitable films in Hong Kong making over HK$1 million, however Bruce Lee’s debut film; The Big Boss made HK$3.2 million (4) and its success “ultimately resulted in the rise of a quasi-independent production mode in which a big studio such as Golden Harvest made deals with big stars to produce mega-hits and share profits” (Teo, 2000:97). While Shaw Brothers at the time had better production values, Golden Harvest now had greater star power and the Shaw studio system showed its first signs of weakness.

AESTHETICS

With creative control, Bruce Lee was able to escape the confines of formulaic production line films and form his own style. He was not only an actor but most importantly he was a highly skilled martial artist. Wuxia films had gone out of fashion with a further desire for realism and change from ancient Chinese tales, so kung fu had become the most popular genre of film in Hong Kong. Just as Shaw Brothers had continually recycled old stories for the huangmei diao genre, they fell into the same trap with the wuxia film, reusing old tales and themes and eventually it become monotonous.  However what this genre did was pave the way for another type of martial arts film. Kung fu was seen as modern compared to the fantasy and myth associated with previous Chang Cheh period wuxia films. Bruce Lee was an instant sensation starting a kung fu trend featuring “real” fighters using their own strength to fight without the gadgets and flying accustomed to many titles featured in the wuxia genre.

Run Run Shaw was aware of the hype being created by Bruce Lee and so Shaw Brothers’ own kung fu film, The Chinese Boxer (Wang:1971) was released ahead of Lee’s film The Big Boss. This demonstrates the keen business sense and ingenuity of Run Run Shaw, by making Shaw Brothers the first company to release a kung fu movie, taking away the spotlight from Lee’s arrival. At the time of being released, this move had worked because the audiences were experiencing a new type of action movie. The Chinese Boxer had more gritty realism than even Chang Cheh’s films with the lead character played by Jimmy Wang Yu using his raw strength to rip peoples eyes out and snap necks. But it also exhibits evidence of a rushed project to pre-empt Lee’s arrival. The film sacrifices artistic innovation, recycling the tired revenge narrative along with the typical heroic bloodshed styled character archetype from the 60s featured previously in many Shaw films (5) (a result of production line methods) which was further weakened by the insufficient physical ability of it‘s star.

Jackie Chan notes that Bruce Lee was a different kind of martial arts fighter. He says that “the film [Big Boss] showed a different kind of hero and a harder, faster, and more exciting kind of martial arts fighting- as quick and lethal as a cobra strike, pared down to the bare essentials” (Chan, 1999: 165). This fighting style was new to the audience mainly because they had been accustomed to actors performing martial arts but not martial artists performing the moves. Jimmy Wang Yu for example was never formally trained in fighting and required the choreographer to break down the moves for him one step at a time and he would mimic the actions (6) (learning the skills when required). Whereas Bruce Lee had trained since a young age in a form of martial arts called Wing Chun (7), so the audience was seeing a real fighter executing moves and the difference was clearly noticeable. For instance in the climatic battle of The Chinese Boxer, the hero executes five separate kicks on the villain and for those kicks, the shots are broken down into five separate shots along with various flips and somersaults, making the fight theatrical rather than realistic and breaking the motions. This disrupts the action and fluidity, and places into question the natural talent of Jimmy Wang Yu. On the other hand, “Bruce Lee insisted on longer takes and more distant views to assure viewers that his feats were real” (Bordwell, 2000a:214). Instead of broken down shots, Bruce Lee would position the camera so that the audience could see his whole body and know that there was no stunt double, executing numerous kicks in quick succession. For instance in Fist of Fury (Lo:1972), Lee when battling enemies in a Japanese dojo, proceeds to kick eight or nine of his foes in one take without pausing or editing the action/film into smaller shots.

Unlike King Hu’s filmmaking which uses constructive editing to create illusion, the lack of cuts emphasises natural ability as you can see Bruce Lee’s entire body performing kicks and punches as Bordwell notes, “the future belonged to a style that made constructive editing ever more crisp, legible and expressive” (Bordwell, 2000a:135). While King Hu was more interested in camera movements and trickery, Bruce Lee emphasised choreography and this led to a new form of realistic aesthetic, far away from the “dance-like” Peking Opera traditions of Shaw Brothers early kung fu films and wuxia epics. Bruce Lee’s approach was that “you learn kung fu in order to win real fights” (Bordwell, 2000a:52) which emphasises the gap between Lee’s realistic fights with King Hu’s dance theatrics and Chang Cheh‘s “artificial” fighters. So while Fist of Fury does reuse the revenge motif as its central theme, the story is allowed to often take a backseat since the addition of Bruce Lee’s charisma and talent allowed it to become a showcase of new forms of inventive choreography and editing which updated the genre.

Through independence, actors and directors had the chance to be inventive and escape the confines of the studio system. As previously mentioned Shaw always had to be kept up to date with film developments in his company and so productions usually took place in Movietown where he could monitor everything and have absolute control (alongside being cheaper than moving his cameras on location). But a company like Golden Harvest allowed creative freedom so stars like Bruce Lee could make their films wherever they wanted. Way Of The Dragon (Lee:1972) for example was the first ever Hong Kong film to be shot in Europe and not only did it give the audience exciting new visuals with the sights of a foreign country (instead of stock footage and painted sets) but it also indicated that kung fu films were moving into modern settings.

REPRESENTATION

Hong Kong society was beginning to change. No longer was there violence on the streets and the economy was improving so martial arts heroes began to change too (8) however the city and its people were still fragile from the past turmoil. Governor MacLehose (9) had just come into power and was starting to make changes to society such as economic stability and social welfare yet the violence of recent years was a close memory and this was a time of uncertainty if the changes could actually work. The steady transition in Hong Kong society from chaos to prosperity allowed change in the hero where training and victory were new themes instead of sacrifice and suffering. Shaw Brothers biggest kung fu successes of the early 1970s were The Chinese Boxer and King Boxer (Jeong:1973), both set in feudal Chinese eras with the Manchurians and Japanese as the villains. What Bruce Lee achieved outside the studio system was the ability to easily set his film in modern times and create a modern hero that could be more significant for the audience. While the themes of the period martial arts film may relate to the current times, as Chang Cheh’s violence was representational to the post 1967 moods, in The Big Boss and Way of the Dragon this was a hero fighting in present day scenarios, so perhaps the audience could see the direct link.  Teo suggests “the fact that Hu has stuck to period subjects almost always set in the Ming dynasty indicates that he is a director who relies on conventions of genre and myth. His affinity with ancient history is a sign of his alienation from the present” (Teo, 1997:88). Shaw films created mythical Chinese pasts while Bruce Lee represented modernity and his efforts helped begin to produce a modern Hong Kong identity moving away from the tradition of wuxia (which is typically seen as an ancient China tradition of storytelling) to create a sense of individuality and uniqueness. “Golden Harvest was less mechanised and China-centric….Golden Harvest’s productions gained vitality and freedom as they shifted from the ‘China dream’ to ‘Hong Kong sentiments” (Kei, 2003:43).

Lee’s characters were far from the self-suffering hero of Chang Cheh’s films like in The Boxer from Shantung (1972) or The Heroic Ones (1970). This was a regular man put into irregular situations and foreign lands (10) as Chan says; “Lee’s hero wasn’t a stoic noble soul, living his life in search of honourable revenge. He was a street brawler, a juvenile delinquent, sent away from home because of his love of fighting. In short he was a real guy” (Chan, 1999: 165). For instance the heroes of The Heroic Ones are princes and in The Chinese Boxer, the hero is a highly accomplished martial artist who learns near supernatural powers to defeat the enemies. While on the other hand in Bruce Lee’s Way of the Dragon, the hero is regarded as a “country bumpkin” by other characters. This is an everyday working class man who connected with the youth more than a wealthy prince could. “(Bruce Lee’s) arrogant and narcissist manners appealed to the young generation….the kung fu of Bruce Lee are demonstrations of a perfect body” (Lau, 1999:32)

The characters that Lee played were developments on Chang Cheh’s characters. For instance in The Big Boss, Lee plays a youthful and arrogant character that challenges the patriarchy (a drug lord) and fights for the innocent (the working class). Bruce Lee’s characters fight for the everyday man rather than the larger cause such as the Manchurian invasions. In The Big Boss and The Way of the Dragon the only reason that he has to fight is to protect his working class family. This was no longer the Chang Cheh model of a hero that must suffer for living in troubled times but a hero that could deal with his problems and succeed reflective of the transition from suffering to prosperity that Hong Kong was developing into during the MacLehose Era. Bruce Lee stood for a modern day martyr of Chinese self-respect, an updated version of the heroic model from Chang Cheh films that attempted to destroy the effete leading man. Bruce Lee emphasises that his fighting is real, (often demonstrated through real life tournaments) and the audience “are aware that his kung fu skills are not the result of supernatural strength or special effects” (Teo, 1997:114). Since his skills are available through training and fitness (11), the audience can take pride that Lee injects self-confidence into the common man who can achieve anything and destroys the “Sick man of East Asia” (12) stereotype with his body (instead of King Hu‘s heroes with artificial agility by “the glimpse”). Shaw Brothers representation of the leading hero was behind the times and trailing the much more relevant hero figure of Bruce Lee and this along with the cracks formed in the studio system, put Shaw Brothers behind their rivals for the first time.

However tragedy came to the Hong Kong film industry with the passing of Bruce Lee. With Golden Harvest losing their star, this was an opportunity for Shaw Brothers to capitalise and once again find their dominance in the Hong Kong film industry; however another type of hero was about to arrive which once again would upset the balance…

ENDNOTES FOR CHAPTER 2

(1) Information about Raymond Chow from I Am Jackie Chan (Chan, 1999:165)

(2) Information about Bruce Lee deals from Chinese National Cinema (Zhang, 2004:178)

(3) Jimmy Wang Yu for example asked Shaw Brothers for changes in his contract and the right to direct but Shaw didn’t agree and when refused, he left for Golden Harvest where he would be guaranteed creative control. *Information on Jimmy Wang Yu from The Cinema of Hong Kong (Desser, 2000:101)

(4) Figures taken from Chinese National Cinema (Zhang, 2004:178)

(5) For example, Chang Cheh in 1971 made The New One Armed Swordsman, which was partly a remake and an attempt to make money off the popularity of his own film 4 years previously, The One Armed Swordsman featured similar themes of revenge and mass bloodshed as does The Chinese Boxer.

(6) Noted in Planet Hong Kong (Bordwell, 2000a:207), Wang Yu was a trained swimmer.

(7) Information on Bruce Lee from Kung Fu Cult Masters (Hunt, 2003:30)

(8) Sourced from The Shaw Screen (Lui, 2003:172) which discusses the improvement of Hong Kong citizens lives after the troubles of 1967.

(9) Information on Governor MacLehose from The Shaw Screen (Lui, 2003:172)

(10) Bruce Lee sets himself out as “Chinese” against foreign oppressors. The Way of the Dragon features opponents highlighted as being from Japan, Rome and America and they are all defeated by Lee’s natural speed and strength. His characters are specifically Chinese and “Bruce Lee stood for…Chinese nationalism as a way of feeling pride in one’s identity” (Teo, 1997:110)

(11) This is especially demonstrated in the warm up scene before the final fight in The Way of the Dragon where for a long period of time, Lee warms up and physically stretches showing off his body that emphasises to the audience that his skills are a result of his training.

(12) Chinese in cinema had often been given the image of weakness, especially after Japan’s occupation in World War 2 and in Fist of Fury this is emphasised in two scenes. One where the Japanese villains call the Chinese, the “Sick Men of East Asia” and the second where Lee’s character tries to visit a park but a guard stops him, pointing to a sign saying “No Dogs and Chinese” humiliating his nationality. But Lee’s character uses his strength to physically destroy both signs and overcomes this prejudice and in doing so becomes a strong representation for China and Hong Kong in particular. Instead of battling the Manchu’s of Wuxia films, Lee was bringing an updated battle to contemporary audiences.


 


CHAPTER 3: INNOVATORS AND IMITATORS (1973-1985)

Shaw Brothers in the late 70s were still active and occasionally producing popular films such as Legendary Weapons of China (Liu:1982)  and House of 72 Tenants (Yuen:1973) however, box office revenues were not overall matching Golden Harvest‘s. Also independent studios were trying to capitalise on the kung fu phenomenon set out by Bruce Lee and this began to devalue the uniqueness of the genre. This was a chance for Shaw Brothers to capitalise and regain their dominance in the industry.

INDUSTRY

The death of Bruce Lee had put the Hong Kong film industry into a unique position. There were two major studios to produce high quality films but no major martial arts stars to rival the appeal of Lee in the still popular genre. Through the success of films such as Way of the Dragon, Golden Harvest now had the money to rival Shaw Brothers and compete on the same level of quality and “by 1975, [Raymond Chow] controlled the largest theatre circuit along with scores of screens throughout Asia” (Bordwell, 2000a:68). The kung fu genre was at its peak after Bruce Lee’s dominance and companies tried to exploit this with a wave of cheap movies but by having no strong star power, the quality began to dip. Shaw Brothers in particular as mentioned in the previous chapters capitalised on popular generic trends (in this case martial arts) and tried to saturate the market with similarly styled films like in 1972 where twenty-six out of thirty seven films from Shaw Brothers output were wuxia (1). Yet by putting most of their energy into one particular genre, once the kung fu film began to lose popularity they had few other stars groomed for stardom.

The rise of local television networks in Hong Kong however produced a new wave of stars into the industry yet Shaw Brothers failed to capitalise. For a period in the early 70s, production of Cantonese movies severely dropped (zero in 1972) in the face of the dominant Mandarin studios like Shaw Brothers (2) because small local based studios could not possibly compete with the quality and exportability of Mandarin films as mentioned in Chapter 1. Top Cantonese directors such as Chor Yuen were forced to produce films in the Mandarin language when Cantonese cinema vanished from the screens, demonstrating the impact the big studios of Hong Kong had on the industry and its talent. However during this period, television became popular (3) where local networks could specifically target the Hong Kong audience as its prime demographic.

As these TV shows were directed at the local audience, the programs were broadcast in Hong Kong’s most common dialect; Cantonese and when television stars moved into filmmaking such as Michael Hui they opted to make Cantonese movies over Mandarin (with one reason being that the local audience had become accustomed to these local entertainers speaking Cantonese through television drama series and variety shows). These television performers could achieve this at Golden Harvest which supported local independents such as Michael Hui‘s company. Hui had worked briefly for Shaw (4) but the creative freedom at Golden Harvest had enabled him to focus on Cantonese features where this language associated with the local audience allowed a sense of identity not present in the Mandarin films of Shaw Brothers. With the fear of the 1997 handover to China looming, Hong Kong was a colony with an identity crisis but with the rise of Cantonese cinema this led to a local voice being formed which spoke directly to the Hong Kong audience. This contrasts with how Shaw Brothers were trying to target a wider Chinese market by focusing on the Mandarin language and so their films tended to stay away from Hong Kong themes and politics to appeal to the larger audience without a clear identity (with narratives set in unspecific historical pasts such as in King Hu’s wuxia entries). Previously Cantonese films could not compete with Shaw’s wealth and so there was no comparison in quality, but with access to funds from Golden Harvest and its support of independent satellite groups, the local industry could flourish and the Hong Kong audience would stray away from Shaw‘s wider Chinese marketed films in favour of local varieties.

The interesting thing is Shaw Brothers had actually helped start the resurgence of Cantonese films in part by owning majority shares in the local television network HK-TVB and releasing the film House of 72 Tenants (5) but failed to capitalise on this revival because Cantonese stars and filmmakers like Michael Hui refused to work for the studio system when they could produce films for independent companies with freedom and better money. Also with the return of a strong Cantonese cinema, Hong Kong companies could make local films cheaper without the worries of competing in an international market (leading to many independents rising) and be without high studio overheads that burdened the prestigious Shaw Brothers (6) and the running of Movietown.

Shaw’s rivals in Hong Kong after the Cantonese resurgence were numerous and powerful unlike the days of the big studios where Shaw Brothers’ only major threat was MP and GI. This revival which Shaw had played his part in was another element in the studio’s demise and evidentially led to a dependence on their television department. Of course this rise in the popularity of television meant big budgeted studio features were at risk with the possibility of audience’s staying at home. So Run Run Shaw at least realised that the days of the studios in Hong Kong were numbered and was prepared to move into this new format by owning shares in a network.

Along with the wave of cheaply made independent kung fu films exploiting the legacy of Bruce Lee, the rise in quality of local regional specific films support by Golden Harvest and Cinema City weakened the status of Shaw Brothers whose high budgeted features had been a selling point to audiences. The success of Michael Hui’s Cantonese films (and later Jackie Chan) proved that the local market was dependable to make a profit from and so Hong Kong specific films could rise (7).

AESTHETICS

If it was Michael Hui who consolidated the new trend of Cantonese films in the industry, it was Jackie Chan who successfully combined the waning martial arts film with social comedy to create a new style of film. As previously noted, the kung fu movie was in crisis since “in terms of genre, it is true that the 1970s was unbalanced by the tendency of the industry to mass-produce martial arts pictures” (Teo, 2000:100). Many independent companies were searching for the “next” Bruce Lee with many clones such as Bruce Li and Bruce Le performing in cheaply made kung fu films, trying to cash in on the star power of Lee. This was simple to achieve through small independent companies since the kung fu film was much easier to make than the wuxia film before. There was no need for special effects or props as the spectacle was in watching men fight with their own strength. So this allowed a wave of poorly made kung fu films from independents which devalued the quality of the high budgeted Shaw Brothers output as people were growing sick of these Bruce Lee imitations and the constant barrage of kung fu films based on the tired motif of revenge. Shaw Brothers themselves were far from being inventive, reusing successful older formulas that were selling for example Chang Cheh’s films “were increasingly mechanical, running like clockwork, with action sequences and characters being repeated” (Teo, 1997:103). Chang’s films such as 5 Shaolin Masters (1974), Shaolin Temple (1976), and Two Champions of Shaolin (1978) repeatedly dealt with the basic narrative of the destruction of Shaolin Temple by the Manchus and the subsequent avengement by Shaolin masters (but typically still featuring the self sacrificing hero styled from The One Armed Swordsman). Chang Cheh’s films often still featured characters based on the turbulence of the late 60s not updating this model for modern audiences. Also if any upstart film company could make an average kung fu film, then to save the popularity of this genre, the model had to be updated.

The want for change clearly paved the way for the Cantonese comedy and more specifically the kung fu comedy. This was not exactly a realistic form of fighting but an over extended style of Peking Opera since “Chan and his contemporaries drew on the Peking Opera influence. Indeed, they intensified it, partly by absorbing Lee’s lesson that the action should be filled with emotion, partly by creating long routines displaying varied techniques and presenting a smoothly accented rhythm” (Bordwell, 2000a:56). This was the perfect balance that the Hong Kong audiences needed. The mix between the traditional arts and the modern themes represented in characterisation and comedy created a unique event to rejuvenate the genre from the cheap exploitation films which had devaluated it. While Chan’s outlandish moves on screen couldn’t be mistaken for real fighting moves, it is the fact that he is performing the stunts and sequences which differentiate him from King Hu and Chang Cheh actors (and even Bruce Lee who required a stunt double for acrobatics such as flips (8)). With the 15 minute fight at the end of Drunken Master (Yuen:1978) filled with athleticism and comedy, Chan had re-energised the martial arts fight scene building on the advances Bruce Lee made such as erasing constructive editing to demonstrate that there was no camera trickery involved.

Shaw’s output of the time was making profit but not on the same level of Golden Harvest’s in terms of box office. For example one of Shaw’s most popular films of the 1980s was Legendary Weapons of China making HK$9,913,000 at the box office. But compare this to Jackie Chan’s Project A (Chan:1983) which came out the following year with HK$19.3 million (9) and the tastes were clearly in favour of Cantonese kung fu comedy. Other examples include The Private Eyes (1976) from Michael Hui making 8.5 million HK dollars compared with Shaw’s martial arts film The Killer Clans (1976) making 1.5 million HK dollars. I do want to stress that box office receipts are not necessarily a sign of quality and while a great deal of Shaw Brothers later output could be seen as bland and repetitive (especially Chang Cheh’s reluctance to move away from formula), there were undoubtedly some classic films still being made by the studio, especially from an auteur such as Chor Yuen. His films such as Clans of Intrigue (1977) and The Magic Blade (1976) reinvented the wuxia genre when it was virtually moribund and of course as mentioned earlier, his film House of 72 Tenants revitalised Cantonese cinema. So it is true that Shaw Brothers had some energy left but the market was no longer theirs to dominate and the tastes of the audience were generally elsewhere with contemporary Cantonese comedy.  Perhaps part of the reason for this contrast could be that Shaw realised that they could cut costs by using martial arts choreographers to shoot whole movies, losing trained directors like Chang Cheh who privileged story as much as the fight scenes. The choreographers on the other hand would focus on the fights, with Shaw Brothers films becoming production line fight scenes losing quality and any need for “actors”.

Jackie Chan however realised the importance of narrative and characters to match the action and so created an interesting hero that would not face his problems with violence but with self-mockery and endurance. This was a regular person who beat his opponents through luck and determination, rather than natural kung fu talent and so this was a hero that working class Hong Kong audiences could relate to unlike the advanced Shaolin masters of Shaw‘s late 70s output like in Executioners From Shaolin (Liu:1977).

REPRESENTATION

Hong Kong society had been constantly progressing while Shaw Brothers were in production. The late 1960s were times of chaos and through Chang Cheh’s hero, there was an embodiment of violent sacrifice. But the late 1970s “was an unsettling time of double-digit inflation, economic recession, stock market crash, rampant crime and corruption” (Zhang, 2004:180). There was no violence in the streets and living was generally improved under Governor MacLehose but uncontrollable problems such as the stock market crash presented discomfort. This was a time when comedic relief was needed and Michael Hui and Jackie Chan in particular exploited this.

 This type of hero progressed further from Bruce Lee’s character type which had become a stereotype with the “clones”. Lee’s character in The Way of the Dragon (discussed in Chapter 2) is portrayed as a “country bumpkin” but is still an intense kung fu fighter. In Jackie Chan’s Young Master (Chan:1980), the hero is also a naïve buffoon but importantly, he lacks fighting skills and a “hard body”. He only defeats the villain by luck and in the end credits he is covered in bandages, victorious but only through determination (10). Shaw Brothers heroes like Jimmy Wang Yu created the illusion of them being masters through effects and choreography but Chan created the opposite illusion of being a regular working class hero. Whereas a film like Shaw Brothers The Heroic Ones punishes the hero for being a working class shepherd (who dies from jealously of others due to his rise from lower status to riches), the new comedy films focused on turning weakness into strength and class did not dictate power (11).

As the economy improved “the advent of the affluent lifestyle and the emergence of the middle class led to the belief that the institutionalisation and regulation of society (in 1976, the dream of hitting it rich was institutionalised with the introduction of the lottery) could bring about new opportunities for the people” (Lui, 2003:172). Economic development created self confidence (unlike the late 60s) so Chan’s characters that use luck and brawn to head off disaster were more accepted than violent sacrificing heroes. Since in the 60s there was no consensus for social order, to sacrifice yourself for greater goals was part of the ideology but in the 70s with economic stability, there were other ways to win battles.

Chan even reinvented classical Cantonese tales to relate to the wave of localised films targeting specifically the Hong Kong audience. His comedy take on the Cantonese popular series, Wong Fei Hung in Drunken Master was an indicator of Cantonese cinema moving into modern times and eventually in Police Story (Chan:1985) he set the action in the present day city and with this sense of time and place, Jackie Chan represented modern Hong Kong. On the other hand some of Shaw’s biggest directing names over the decades such as Inoue Umetsugu from Japan or Chor Yuen from Guangzhou, China could not infuse their films with the same levels of Hong Kong familiarity such as the natives Hui and Chan. Even their stages and sets in the studio helped add to distance the audience from the social realism of Hong Kong.

Shaw Brothers were quickly becoming trend followers with output such as The Master (Lu:1980) copying the storyline almost identically of Chan’s film Snake in Eagle Shadow (Yuen:1978), reflecting a lack of innovation. This left Shaw’s Mandarin period films (which avoided local politics in favour of myths and sentiments) trailing the infused local spirit of Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong films. Shaw’s films were still often featuring their China focused plots which on some levels worked for the International Chinese market but suffered in the local territory where Michael Hui with his political/social satires reigned supreme at the box office. Even Bruce Lee’s image was often more about Chinese empowerment than specifically Hong Kong but it had been important because it signalled change and the new wave stars developed on that. With Michael Hui’s and Jackie Chan’s success, it allowed the local Cantonese-dialect pictures to flourish and with the local language being represented on screen, the audience could see heroes who represented Hong Kong rather than the more generic Chinese sentiments of Shaw Brothers.

By this stage Shaw Brothers rivals were numerous and powerful and the days of the studio system were truly over. In 1985 they stopped production, moving their resources into television…

Horror, Humor and Hopping in Hong Kong

by Ian Whitney

Movies were made for horror. In North America and Europe, frightening films appeared not long after the first narrative films. The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, considered the first psychological horror film, was made in 1920 and less than 10 years later, horror films were an established genre. Whatever the reason – World War I, industrialization, immigration or other unnerving assaults on the status quo – westerners wanted movies to frighten them. The feeling was not universal.

 

Leslie Cheung on the verge of succumbing to the tempation that is Joey Wong in A Chinese Ghost Story.

In Hong Kong, horror films were not big business; or, at least, no native filmmakers embraced the genre. Before 1980, all of the icons of western fears – the creeping vampire, the lumbering undead, the misunderstood freak – had little impact on films in the British colony. The Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s and the Hammer remakes of the 60s did not inspire, as they did in so many other countries, endless knockoffs. Hong Kong, it seems, simply didn’t want to be scared.

One reason, perhaps, is that Chinese mythology and religion have a radically different idea of the afterlife. Although it’s typically called “Hell,” the afterlife in China is usually described as an endless shadow world that’s more of a waiting area than a torture chamber. More important and frightening than the western notion of a fiery underworld were souls that had lost their way or corpses who had absorbed too much energy from the moon. These creatures, while dangerous, simply needed the guidance of a Taoist priest towards reincarnation. These creatures of legend made few appearances in Hong Kong film before 1980, either because no one was interested or because the audiences were perfectly happy with their operas, romances and swordplay films.

 

The Enchanting Shadow, an early supernatural romance from Shaw Brothers.
Not exactly scary, it it?

It wasn’t until the late 70s that Hong Kong made a serious attempt at western-style horror. As Shaw Brothers, the dominant Hong Kong film studio, faced real competition from upstart companies like Golden Harvest and western imports, they responded by adding horror films to their lineup of period kung fu and romance films. After co-producing Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1973) with England’s Hammer studios, Shaw released a few films like Human Lanterns, and Black Magic – psycho meldings of period kung fu and western third-generation horror imports like Italian zombie films. These films went on to inspire a slew of Asian exploitation horror, eventually evolving into films like Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome, but for most of the 80s, these films were on the fringes of the Hong Kong cinema industry. In 1983, Shaw Brothers ceased movie production and focused on TV; apparently kung fu killers wearing monkey costumes were not more lucrative than soap operas.

During the late 70s, Hong Kong audiences were more interested in laughing than screaming. New filmmakers like Sammo Hung found increasing success with a mishmash of kung fu, slapstick, bathroom humor and word play. Hung, who had been working in films since 1969’s A Touch Of Zen, used his Chinese opera school classmates Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao in a series of revolutionary comedies like Fearless Hyena (1979), Drunken Master (1979) and Knockabout (1979).

Based on the broad physical comedy of the stage, the films were juvenile (it’s not a true comedy until someone gets kicked and/or punched in the testicles), sexual and unsubtle. They were also incredibly successful. Throughout the 1980s, a river of comedies poured from Hong Kong studios, probably outnumbering the bullet-blasting ballets and fist-filled films that most western audiences identify with Hong Kong filmmaking.

Sammo Hung is an innovator in a film industry that’s more than willing to repeat past triumphs. While he has made his share of straightforward comedies, he is also willing to try something untested and bizarre. In 1981 (or 1980, depending on the source) he took his potent mix of bizarre comedy and elaborate fight choreography and added a third element, Chinese myths of the supernatural. With Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind (aka, Spooky Encounters) a new genre, the vampire comedy, was born and Hong Kong finally discovered a love for being scared.

 

Sammo has spells painted onto his body by Chung Fa in Spooky Encounters,
one of many films in which Sammo shows off his butt.

Like most genres, the vampire comedy is bound by specific rules, many of which came from Chinese folklore and were set in celluloid stone by Spooky Encounters. Knowing the rules is vital to understanding the films.1

Rule 1: Vampires Hop. Stiffened by death, the undead are not known for their agility. Instead, they hop, arms outstretched. Obviously, hopping monsters are not all that threatening, which is probably the main reason Hung used them for comic effect.

Indeed, Chinese vampires (sometimes called gyonshi or jiang shi by fans) are not what most people consider vampiric. They generally don’t suck blood; instead, they stab their victims with long blue/black fingernails. They don’t transform into bats or fear garlic. They don’t have bug-eating assistants or chase after long-lost loves. They are often blind and use their nose to find their victims, who can be treated with sticky rice and snake wine. They aren’t killed by crosses or stakes, but by a combination of magic and kung fu. And no monster is truly dead until it explodes.

 

Gyonshi at rest.
The paper that looks like a post-it note is a spell that immobilizes them.

These rules, however, are far from concrete; each movie gives its vampires a unique set of skills, often mixing in aspects of Dracula-style vampirism. Some films, in order to stage more elaborate fight scenes, grant their vampires greater mobility. Other rules are added or dropped for comic effect. Sometimes the film takes a break to explain how their vampires work, but in most cases you have to figure it out for yourself.

Rule 2: Beautiful women want to kill you. Hung’s first spooky encounter with a female ghost in a mirror updates a common Hong Kong rule for the supernatural world. In many Shaw Brothers classics, scheming women sent men to their doom. In Spooky Encounters and its offspring, ghosts and demons disguise themselves as attractive women in order to lure young men, whose energy the ghosts consume, to their deaths. Invariably the young men think with their crotch and take the bait, only to discover the ghost’s true, horrible form after a heavy make-out session.

 

I kissed that?!
A ghost shows her deadly side in Mr. Vampire.
Did I mention they can also detach their heads?

Rule 3: Spells, not fighting skills, rule the afterlife. Vampire comedies feature a lot of fighting, but, like all of those army attacks on Godzilla, brute force often proves useless. Fighting the undead requires a different type of weapon, the magical knowledge of a Taoist priest. Although they are only supporting characters in Spooky Encounters, the yellow-clad priests (Chung Fa and Chan Lung) steal the show. Writing with chicken blood, chanting over a coin sword and performing gymnastic rituals, these priests quickly became the whirling, dynamic center in nearly every supernatural comedy, once the right actor was discovered.

Spooky Encounters was a success, but did not inspire a lot of imitators. Perhaps because the comedy revolution in HK was still in its early phases; or perhaps it was just five years ahead of its time. In 1982, Sammo produced another horror comedy, The Dead And The Deadly. Featuring the same cast as Spooky Encounters, it also wasn’t followed by a horde of knock-offs. In 1984, he tried again with Hocus Pocus. Again, no takers. In 1985, the genre finally took hold with the release of the Sammo-produced Mr. Vampire, the first in Hong Kong’s longest series of vampire comedies. The film is a radical change from Hung’s earlier attempts, and the vampire comedy genre emerges from Mr. Vampire fully-formed, as if it had just emerged from a cocoon – or a coffin.

 

Ricky Hui burns incense to placate the dead in Mr. Vampire.
Taoist priests use more incense than a class of college freshman at Berkeley.

Mr. Vampire added two new rules to the genre, solidifying the basic formula that would be followed by all of its progeny.

Rule 4: The Taoist priest is the star. Lam Ching Ying, a gifted actor, thrilling fighter and opera student (watch 1981’s The Prodigal Son for a full sampling of Lam’s abilities) had a roles in Sammo’s earlier horror comedies, but in Mr. Vampire, he finally assumed the role of the Taoist priest, a role that controlled the next twelve years of his life (he died, at the age of 45, of liver cancer in 1997).

In nearly every film, Lam’s priest is a combination of magician and stern kung fu master. Grumpy, but hiding a tender heart, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the spells and rituals that became increasingly complex throughout the development of the vampire comedy. He’s also recognizable by his bizarre eyebrows (or, more commonly, unibrow). Lam would go on to star or appear in at least 15 vampire comedies before his death, and his priest is often cited as a highlight of every single film.

 

Lam Ching Ying in the costume, and eyebrow, that would define the last twelve years of his life.

Rule 5: The Priest will have two bumbling assistants. One will be especially bumbling and ineffectual, the other will be somewhat irresponsible but have kung fu skills when the need arises.

Really, a Taoist priest’s life would be so simple without his students. He captures an evil vampire and their silly games free it again. He starts a ritual and they’ve bought the wrong kind of rice. He tells them not to fall prey to beautiful women (see Rule 2) and they go off and get possessed. Almost invariably it is the assistants’ mistakes that free the villainous vampire and set the plot in motion.

But the second, less ineffectual assistant is always there with an impressive kick or stunt when the time is right. Mr. Vampire follows the example of Spooky Encounters by interweaving impressive fight choreography with the vampires and comedy, another reason the physically gifted Lam Ching Ying was so popular in the priest role.

 

Fighting and stunts, like this one by Siu-hou Chin in Mr. Vampire, added excitement to the vampire comedy genre.

By 1985, the rules were set and a genre was born – an incredibly popular genre. Hong Kong rarely goes halfway; if an idea is popular, hordes of producers will seize on it and sequels will appear at a dizzying pace. Exact numbers are hard to determine, but a conservative estimate is that between 1985 and 1990, at least 45 horror comedies were released, including three sequels to Mr. Vampire.2 Almost one third of these films were released in 1990, the peak of vampire comedy production. Hong Kong at this time was one of the world’s largest film producers, turning out an incredible amount of films. But, even if these 45 films were only a small portion of the total output, that’s still a lot of vampire comedy and the genre quickly began to wear out its welcome.

Many of these films replicated the Mr. Vampire formula: Fighting + Horror + Comedy = Box Office Gold! But not all of the films were simple retreads. In 1987, Tsui Hark, who combined western effects and traditional Chinese wuxia pian swordplay stories in Zu, Warriors of The Magic Mountain (1983), produced Chinese Ghost Story, updating the Shaw Brothers 1960 supernatural melodrama The Enchanting Shadow. Tsui’s movie uses some of the established conventions, such as the Taoist fighter played by Hong Kong veteran Wu Ma, but is more interested in the lush visuals and the combination of Evil Dead-style effects and weepy Chinese romances. Less slapsticky and better acted, thanks to the late Leslie Cheung, Chinese Ghost Story is no less bizarre than its bawdy brethren; few movies sport tree demon villains who kill with thousand-foot-long tongues. The film, like nearly all films in Hong Kong, was followed by sequels.

 

The influence of western horror films on the creatures of Chinese Ghost Story is obvious.

 

But western influences can’t explain the giant tongue that has encircled Leslie Cheung.
That’s pure Tsui Hark.

Even the films that copied directly out of the Mr. Vampire book added new twists that make each film a unique, bizarre experience. A later, non-supernatural Hong Kong film captures the genre perfectly with its title Expect the Unexpected (1998). Disembodied onanism? That’s in Spooky Spooky (1986). Spiritual opera battles? Check out Hocus Pocus (1984). Zombies who look like members of Flock Of Seagulls? Go straight to Ultimate Vampire (1987). Lumpy, alien-like ghosts that can be distracted by menstrual blood? The Dead and the Deadly (1982), of course! All Chinese vampire films may start with the same set of rules, but each mutates them to create a constantly surprising genre.

After 1990, the production of vampire comedies began to wane and producers were obviously trying to find wacky ways to renew interest. Crazy Safari (1991) is a Mutt & Jeff pairing of vampire comedy and The Gods Must Be Crazy. One review captured the essence of the film in a single phrase, “Holy shit!”, which is exactly what most people say after watching Lam Ching Ying ride an ostrich.

 

Political subtext fills the screen when Taoist priest Lam Ching Ying meets Catholic priest Wu Ma in Exorcist Master.

In another attempt at innovation, Chinese vampires met western vampires in films like Vampire vs. Vampire (aka, One-Eyebrow Priest, 1989), Doctor Vampire (1990) and Exorcist Master (1993). These films, along with Tsui Hark’s Chinese Ghost Story films, transform readings of the vampire comedy genre from lewd comedies to an attempt to salvage traditional Chinese mythology from encroaching western media. Hong Kong’s conflicted feelings over British rule and the impending handover to China manifest themselves in the various treatments of western and Chinese vampires. In some films, all vampires are villains and must be destroyed. In others, the western vampires are an invading army, defeated by Chinese vampires or the power of Chinese Taoism.

 

Mr. Vampire gave gyonshi fangs, although many vampire comedies left them out.

Imitation, overexposure, the decline of the Hong Kong film industry and the early death of the genre’s greatest star sent vampire comedies back to the grave. Between 1991 and 1994, about a twenty vampire comedies were made; still a lot, but a significant drop off from the vampire-mad late 80s. After 1994, in which only two vampire comedies were released, the films disappear from Hong Kong theaters.

Of course the undying gyonshi continue to hop up from time to time; 2001 saw the release of Vampire Controller, and Tsui Hark returned to the genre with the animated version of Chinese Ghost Story (1997) and The Era of Vampires (2002, released in the US as Vampire Hunters) but, more often than not, vampires in today’s Hong Kong films, such as 2003’s The Twins Effect (to be released in the US as The Vampire Effect), are of the western, non-hopping variety. Perhaps the political subtext of the battles with western vampire were spookily prescient.

Hong Kong’s appetite for horror didn’t disappear along with the gyonshi. Cheap and quick horror compilations, featuring two or three self-contained stories, took the place of vampire comedies in the mid-90s. Troublesome Night, the best known horror compilation series, has pumped out 20 installments over the last six years. Beyond these quickie compilation films, Hong Kongies were increasingly finding their scares in a new wave of Asian horror.

Footnotes

1: Many people have used “The Rules” in order to explain vampire comedies. I am indebted to Stephan Hammond and Mike Wilkins, authors of Sex and Zen: A Bullet In The Head, for introducing me to the commandments of comedy horror.

2: These numbers are just short of wild-ass guesses. Searching through IMDb and the Hong Kong Movie Database turns up around 40 vampire horror comedies. But a quick skim through reference guides like Asian Trash Cinema turns up several dozen films that don’t appear in any other film database. Many of these films were made on the super-cheap by companies that have long since disappeared, taking the films with them. In this primer, I’ve mostly stuck to talking about the available horror comedies, but there are dozens more films available to the dedicated searcher.

 

GreenCine Recommends…

For a complete list – plus comments – of films to check out here at GreenCine, please see, well, this list. As for furthering your exploration:

The holy trinity of vampire comedies is available on DVD. Start with Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind and Mr. Vampire. These two films will ground you in an understanding of the Chinese supernatural comedy.

If those only whet your palate, pick up The Dead and the Deadly to complete your undergraduate degree in gyonshi studies. This overlooked film is light on the supernatural, instead focusing most of its plot on shysters who take advantage of superstition. But it makes up for its lack of vampires by featuring one of Sammo Hung’s finest fight scenes. Truly amazing. Technically, this film is Lam Ching Ying’s first appearance as a Taoist priest, but he’s a peripheral character and not the dominant force he would become in Mr. Vampire.

 

Many a vampire film ends with magical frogs. Don’t ask why.

All of the Mr. Vampire movies can be found on DVD, although you may not want to watch them all. Mr. Vampire 2 (1986) is a treacly story of a family of vampires set in the modern day. Radically different from Mr. Vampire, it led to a kiddie vampire craze in Japan, but is otherwise awful and should only be seen by the masochistic completist. Mr. Vampire 3 (1987) returns to more traditional vampire fighting, adding Richard Ng as a Taoist sham artist who works with a father-son vampire team. Mr. Vampire 4 (aka, Mr. Vampire Saga, 1988), arguably the best in the series, is an odd couple story of a fussy Taoist priest and his laid-back Buddhist monk neighbor. It’s one of the few great vampire comedies that does not star Lam Ching Ying.

Almost every vampire movie starring Lam Ching Ying is fun; unfortunately, many of them have not been released on DVD. Of those that are available, the best are Magic Cop (1990), which successfully transports the genre to modern Hong Kong and Exorcist Master (1993), which takes a while to get moving but is one of the better Western vs. Eastern vampire movies and features a hilariously schizophrenic ending. The one vampire comedy he directed, Vampire vs. Vampire (1989), is sadly forgettable. Movies unavailable on DVD can still be found on VHS if you’re fortunate enough to live near a Chinatown or a video store that specializes in obscurity.

All four Chinese Ghost Story movies (CGS 1, CGS 2, CGS 3 and CGS Animated) are available, many in unspectacular “Special Editions.” The third, despite the presence of Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung (Hard Boiled, In The Mood For Love), should be avoided as it’s nothing more than a poor remake of the first CGS. However, all of the films feature the lush visuals, beautiful actresses and insane monsters that made the original an international hit.

While New Mr. Vampire (1986) isn’t a great movie, the DVD release is notable for including an English commentary track by Rick Meyers who not only describes the genesis of gyonshi movies, but who also traces the career of every actor in the movie. It’s a great set of lessons about the often unnoticed but prolific Hong Kong actors like Wu Ma and Chung Fa. However, not even Meyers can bear sitting through the entire movie, leaving 10 minutes before the end.

Doctor Vampire, a comedy with invading western vampires, is full of great gags as Bowie Lam fights his conversion from a lazy doctor to a western vampire. It’s also one of the few vampire comedies that features no Chinese vampires.

Ian Whitney is the editor and designer of The Dual Lens, as well one of the site’s four authors. A long-time fan of Chinese vampire movies, he has organized showings of gyonshi classics and worked with Asian Media Access, one of the few remaining regular exhibitors of HK film. Sitting in his closet is a Taoist priest costume that is anxiously awaiting Halloween.

 

ENDNOTES FOR CHAPTER 3

(1) From (Law, 2003:138). This also led to a lot of repetition of narrative.

(2) Information from The Cinema of Hong Kong (Stephen Teo, 2000:91).

(3) The popularity of local television was due to the fact that ”in 1972, 72 percent of households had television sets” (Teo, 2000:91 ) which allowed for the rise of new Hong Kong talent. Many Cantonese performers were forced to work on television, since they were moved away from the film industry by Mandarin features and television was cheaper to produce.

(4) They had worked together on the film The Warlord (1972). But losing Michael Hui to the rivals just as they had failed to sign Bruce Lee, showed again the weakness of Shaw’s rigid studio system against independent satellite companies and also their failure to predict star potential

(5) House of 72 Tenants was an extremely popular Cantonese film from Shaw Brothers and helped bring prestige back to the language in cinema.

(6) So Shaw’s with their high costs of running Movietown had to produce these extravagant films for the international Chinese market rather than the domestic market, as they needed the larger returns. Independent companies could easily just make films for the local public as they could be made cheap but Shaw Brothers required more than that market for profit.

(7) Kung fu is heavily associated with Cantonese cinema (with the kung fu series of Wong Fei-hung being a famous Cantonese entry). The rise of comedy kung fu can clearly be seen linked with a return to Hong Kong traditions.

(8) Chan highlights the difference between special effects and realistic aesthetics by advertising the danger of the stunts he performs and that he does not use camera tricks like King Hu. Chan utilises outtakes in his films to prove that no stuntman was involved, creating an off-screen persona that is as powerful as his on-screen characters.

(9) Box Office figures taken from www.hkcinema.co.uk

(10) If Bruce Lee’s hero could be related to because his body had become perfect through training, Jackie Chan’s hero who doesn’t need any abilities but luck and adaptability to win, could be even more closely related to by the audience.

(11) Chan’s persona who could relate to both children and adults. The rebellious nature of Chan’s character and his slapstick comedy targets the youth demographic while his characters confidence projected the vision of Hong Kong entrepreneur spirit who refuses to give up despite the odds against him, unlike the self sacrificing hero or immortal warrior.


 


CONCLUSION

At the end of one of Shaw’s last films, Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (Liu:1984) the hero wanders off into the sunset claiming he has lost his place in the world. This self-reflective scene seems to acknowledge that by 1984, Shaw Brothers had completely lost their market and by 1985 they stopped production forever.

This work has explored the unique rise and fall of a studio, emphasising the chain of significant events which shaped Hong Kong cinema and explaining Shaw Brothers importance in film history. Each chapter has explored key moments from 1957 to 1985,  identifying how Shaw Brothers came to power and subsequently lost their dominance. For instance Chapter 1 looked at the late 1960s where Shaw Brothers consolidated power. Through production line methods, Shaw could mass produce popular films to defeat slower competition. No other rivals had the money or star power to match these films that exploited the violence in society through realistic aesthetics and self-sacrificing heroes. King Hu’s Peking Opera traditions had given the martial arts genre visual sophistication and Chang Cheh had rejuvenated the genre with gritty realism. Shaw Brothers in their early stages were incredibly astute to the market being able to spot international trends like the growing popularity of the action film and reinvent it in a Chinese form.

Yet as Chapter 2 demonstrates, Shaw Brothers faced their biggest challenge with Golden Harvest and Bruce Lee. Despite practically creating the craze for martial arts films in the 70s, issues such as losing Raymond Chow and not being able to sign Lee clearly left an impact and were the first signs that the industry giant could be faulted. Through localised independent companies, stars like Lee could update the genre for modern times and replace actors who mimic martial arts moves for genuinely trained fighters. Shaw’s violent self sacrificing hero was less relevant in calmer times, replaced by Lee’s rebellious hard bodied youth; a martyr for modern Chinese pride and respect.

As Chapter 3 concludes, the rise of Cantonese cinema marked the return of a local voice represented by Jackie Chan whose heroes spoke directly to the Hong Kong audience instead of the generic universality of Shaw’s attempt to appeal to International markets and its generic Chinese studio style stories. While the company had once been a frontrunner for new exciting aesthetics and genre’s, new companies with smaller overheads and local talent could easily outpace the large studio. Losing touch with the modern market by recycling older narratives featuring violent self-sacrificing heroes from the 1960s, Shaw Brothers had lost their dominance to “flexible” local companies who could easily adapt to changes in the industry. It became impossible for a studio like Shaw Brothers to run in this market.

Though despite their fall, Shaw Brothers have left a lasting impression in Hong Kong and indeed world cinema. Their films such as The One Armed Swordsman and Come Drink With Me are rightly recognised as genre making classics and directors such as Chang Cheh set in motion the need for realistic aesthetics of martial arts, paving the way for stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan to develop and shape a unique industry. Shaw Brothers influence and trend setting of the late 60s have enabled the creation and development of a powerful Hong Kong cinema.



FILMOGRAPHY

· The 72 Tenants (Chor Yuen: Hong Kong 1973)
· 5 Shaolin Masters (Chang Cheh: Hong Kong 1974)
· The Big Boss (Lo Wei: Hong Kong 1971)
· The Boxer from Shantung (Chang Cheh: Hong Kong 1972)
· The Chinese Boxer (Wang Yu: Hong Kong 1971)
· Come Drink With Me (King Hu: Hong Kong 1966)
· Drunken Master (Yuen Woo-ping: Hong Kong 1978)
· Fist of Fury (Lo Wei: Hong Kong 1972)
· The Heroic Ones (Chang Cheh: Hong Kong 1970)
· King Boxer (Jeong Chang-hwa: Hong Kong 1973)
· Legendary Weapons of China (Liu Chia-liang: Hong Kong 1982)
· The Love Eterne (Han Hsiang Li: Hong Kong 1963)
· The Master (Lu Chin-ku: Hong Kong 1980)
· The One Armed Swordsman (Chang Cheh: Hong Kong 1967)
· Police Story (Jackie Chan: Hong Kong 1985)
· Project A (Jackie Chan: Hong Kong 1983)
· Shaolin Temple (Chang Cheh: Hong Kong 1976)
· Snake in Eagle Shadow (Yuen Woo-ping: Hong Kong 1978)
· Two Champions of Shaolin (Chang Cheh: 1978)
· Vengeance! (Chang Cheh: Hong Kong 1970)
· Way Of The Dragon (Bruce Lee: Hong Kong 1972)
· Wong Fei-hung (TV series, Various: Hong Kong 1955)
· Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa: Japan 1962)
· Young Master (Jackie Chan: Hong Kong 1980)
 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

· Bordwell, D. (2000a)  Planet Hong Kong  Harvard University Press

· Bordwell, D. ‘Richness through Imperfection’ in Desser, D. (2000b) Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity  Cambridge University Press

· Chan, J. (1999)  I Am Jackie Chan  Ballantine Books

· Chung, P. ‘The Industrial Evolution of a Fraternal Enterprise’ in Ain-Ling, W. (2003)  The Shaw Screen  Hong Kong Film Archive

· Fu, P. ‘Modernity, Youth Culture and Hong Kong Cantonese Cinema’ in Desser, D. (2000) Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity  Cambridge University Press

· Ho, S. ‘One Jolts, the Other Orchestrates’ in Ain-Ling, W. (2003)  The Shaw Screen,  Hong Kong Film Archive

· Kei, S. ‘Shaw Movie Town’s ‘China Dream’ and ‘Hong Kong Sentiments’’ in Ain-Ling, W. (2003)  The Shaw Screen,  Hong Kong Film Archive

· Lau, T. ‘Conflict And Desire’ in Leung, R. (1999)  The Making of Martial Arts Films  Hong Kong Film Archive

· Lui, T. ‘Intrigue Is Hard to Defend’ in Ain-Ling, W. (2003)  The Shaw Screen,  Hong Kong Film Archive

· Teo, S. (1997)  Hong Kong: The Extra Dimensions  BFI Publishing

· Teo, S. (2002) ‘Movement and Transition’ in Desser, D. (2000) Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity  Cambridge University Press

· Teo, S. (2003) ‘Shaw’s Wuxia Films’ in Ain-Ling, W. (2003)  The Shaw Screen,  Hong Kong Film Archive

· Zhang, C. ‘Creating The Martial Arts Film’ in Leung, R. (1999)  The Making of Martial Arts Films  Hong Kong Film Archive

· Zhang, Y. (2004)  Chinese National Cinema  Routledge

 

THE END @ COPYRIGHT 2012

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