The Lost Liner Notes

For years I’ve been advising the DVD industry that they need to put their Hong Kong Cinema releases into context … in their cover copy, in audio commentaries, and/or in liner notes. I’ve been maintaining that only a dwindling pool of middle-aged “Black Belt Theater/Drive-In Movie” fans would truly appreciate what they’re releasing.

But noooooo — a handful of companies continue to distribute a spotty variety of errantly chosen titles with nary a word of what the audience is watching and why they should care.

But, finally, a fine little company called BCI bought a bunch of Shaw Brothers Studio titles and asked me to write liner notes for them. Again, their selection seemed to have no rhyme or reason, but I hoped to give them both with their enclosed booklets.

We got close … very close … in fact, BCI even sent me advance images of the DVD box and liner notes design (see above). Then, a week later, just days before the DVD was supposed to go into production, BCI was closed by their media masters. Eventually the DVDs were released by FUNimation … but, again, without my, or anyone’s, historical context.

In my Inside Kung Fu column, I promised to post these “lost” liner notes in an early incarnation of my website, but now that ricmeyers.com is a reality, you finally get to partake of my research and experience at the Shaw Studios.

So now you get to decide: would knowing all this stuff enhance your viewing experience or just go in one eye and out the other?

Enjoy?

OPIUM & THE KUNG FU MASTER

COVER QUOTE:

“A legitimate kung-fu masterpiece, and one of the most effecting martial arts movies Shaw Brothers Studio ever produced.”
— Ric Meyers
Inside Kung-Fu

BOX COPY:

The Shaw Brothers Studio produced hundreds of the greatest, most influential, exciting, and important kung-fu movies ever made. Unseen for almost two decades, these timeless classics are finally available in remastered editions. They are an absolute must for any martial arts movie fan.

LINER NOTES:

THE SHAW BROTHERS STUDIO STORY

The Shaw Brothers Studio is considered the most venerable in South China, if for no other reason than being in continuous operation for more than eighty years. Starting out as Unique Film Productions in 1925, the company has always been controlled by the Shaw Brothers, four siblings who also shared the name Run: Runje, Runde, Runme, and Run Run.
While it has long been believed that the latter two monikers were somewhat condescending nicknames given to the youngest brothers by peers impressed with their errand boy skills at another Hong Kong studio, their handles were actually bestowed to them by their father, Shaw Yuh-hsuen, because the name meant “benevolence.” In fact, the Runs carried on the family tradition by naming their own sons with variations of “Vee,” which means “virtues.”
By 1934, the Shaws had already established a full-fledged studio consisting of sound stages, film processing facilities, editing bays, screening rooms, and office space — while also managing an extensive circuit of cinemas throughout Southeast Asia. In the long-term scheme of things, World War II was a minor blip as the brothers protected their investment by diversifying in banking, real estate, and amusement parks.
It was in 1949 that Runde finally renamed the operation Shaw Studios, but it wasn’t until 1957, when the then-fifty-year-old Run Run Shaw decided to take the reins — that the company entered its golden era. Buying forty-six acres of land in the scenic Clearwater Bay area (for a mere forty-five cents per square foot!), Run Run announced the creation of Shaw Brothers (HK) Limited, and the internationally influential studio we know today was off and running.
It didn’t reach full flower, however, until a full decade later when there were editing, dubbing, special effects, and film processing facilities, a dozen sound stages, and more than five hundred full-time writers, technicians, and staff members who worked in three eight hour shifts, twenty-four hours a day. In addition, Run Run instituted the Shaw Actors Training School, complete with on-lot dorms for the graduates. At their best, the Shaw Brothers Studio could produce forty films a year, or a completed movie, from start to finish, every ten days.
For the next eighteen years, the Studio produced more than seven hundred films, of which approximately three hundred and fifty were martial art movies (both kung-fu and wuxia [heroic chivalry]) – cementing the subgenres, traditions, and stereotypes which the rest of the industry would exemplify, develop or elaborate upon. But no one could match the unmistakable Shaw Brothers “look.”
By the early seventies, their fame was international. U.S. studio interest led to a testing of American box office waters with the theatrical release of select, retitled, and dubbed studio fare just prior to the ascension of Bruce Lee (who worked for the Shaw competitor, Golden Harvest Studios). First, director Chang Ho-cheng’s King Boxer became the cleverly renamed Five Fingers of Death. Then director Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin and All Men are Brothers were hacked together as Seven Blows of the Dragon.
There was even a fitful co-production with Hammer Films, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (a.k.a. Seven Brothers Versus Dracula) in 1974. All were washed away in the Bruce Lee phenomenon, whose 1973 death (months prior to Enter the Dragon’s premiere) led to years of shoddy exploitation, even by Golden Harvest. The Shaw Studio, however, remained above the fray, with one glaring exception (Lo Mar’s tacky, vengeful, decadent Bruce Lee and I, produced in 1975, and starring Betty Ting Pei, the woman in whose apartment Bruce died).
By the early 1980’s, when competition between South Chinese movie studios was at its height, Shaw agreed to edit, pan-and-scan, and dub some of its kung-fu films for a small New York based company called World Northal, who hoped to sell the broadcast rights to independent television stations as part of the “Black Belt Theater” package. Much to the Studio’s reported surprise, these films became a big success, leading to five more seasons of the program, encompassing more than one hundred of the studio’s best martial art thrillers.
The acceptance of the films in the U.S. could not have come at a worse time for the studio. Much of its film unit earnings were reaped from keeping production costs down, which became increasingly difficult as the casts and crews discovered how popular they were in the rest of the world. There was even a rumor that Run Run threatened to fire any actor who followed the example of Alexander Fu Sheng and Gordon Liu and gave themselves an English name.
The combination of employees’ demands for profit participation, government pressure to break up their production-exhibition connection, and the overwhelming success of Golden Harvest’s Jackie Chan led to Run Run’s decision to shut his Studio’s film units in the mid-1980’s.
Although the Shaws continued to benefit from its domestic television production and other businesses, Run Run flatly refused to allow a Black Belt Theater VI to be compiled or to release his Studio’s films to the burgeoning home entertainment market, despite the extra money it could reap the participants … although many grumble it was because of that (allegedly the Studio didn’t like to share the wealth, and was excellent at holding a grudge).
For whatever reason, regardless of national and international demand, the Shaw Brothers Studio library of innovative, important, influential, and integral films remained legally unseen for fifteen years. But finally, at the dawn of the new century, the vault doors were cracked open, and remastered digital versions of their influential motion pictures were slowly made available on DVD. Over the next eighty-four months, the films trickled throughout the world, finally making it to America, which still longed for a revisit to its long dormant Black Belt Theater.
The enclosed DVD contains one such classic Shaw Brothers Studio film.

OPIUM AND THE KUNG FU MASTER: BEHIND THE CAMERA

The year was 1984 and the mood on the Shaw Brothers Studio lot was appropriately Orwellian. The film units were just months away from being closed down, which, ironically, led to a spirit of daring creativity hitherto fore avoided on the occasionally staid sound stages. The encroaching end of an era weighed particularly acutely on the shoulders of Tang Chia, the “action director’s action director.”
Born in 1938, he had been working in show business since he was fifteen. His martial arts training in Peking Opera performances led to kung-fu work in early Cantonese cinema, and even some appearances in several Wong Fei Hong films (one of the longest running series in movie history – more than a hundred and counting, over a sixty year period — and the integral action hero of Chinese cinema).
Chia officially started action directing in 1963, beginning a ten-year partnership with martial arts movie master Liu Chia Liang. The two joined the Shaw Brothers Studio as a team and were soon serving as exclusive choreographers for director Chang Cheh’s influential “yang gang (staunch masculinity)” kung-fu films featuring pre-Bruce Lee superstars David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, (Jimmy) Wang Yu, and (Alexander) Fu Sheng, among many others. But once Liang moved on to create his own inspiring kung-fu films, Chia eschewed the director’s chair, satisfied to remain choreographing films for other Shaw Studio directors — predominantly the (at times) absurdly prolific Chu Yuan, and the artful Sun Chung.
His work was prized for its inventive seamlessness and versatility. Chia seemed as comfortable working with two actors as he was with two dozen, and was equally adept at empty-hand fighting as he was with virtually any legendary wushu weapon. He was also known as an exceptional collaborator, willing to work closely with the director rather than insist that his fight scenes be filmed traditionally. The results were films that pushed the envelope of classical wuxia.
Even so, as the epoch of the Shaw Studio film units drew to a close, the opportunity to create his own films became more pronounced. Chia tested the waters with Shaolin Prince (1982) and Shaolin Intruders (1984) – two elaborate phantasmagoricals which reflected the independent influence of Yuen Wo Ping, who, when left to his own devices, created similar wire-wrought extravaganzas. Although colorful and imaginative, they came as quite a surprise to audiences used to Chia’s previous, smooth, sophisticated work.
As the sun set on the Shaw’s film units, Chia was no doubt aware that his time in the director’s chair was limited, and that his next choice for a personal project could be his last. For whatever reason, Opium and the Kung Fu Master was as different from Shaolin Prince/Intruders as Iron Man was from Iron Giant. Working in tandem with planner Ling Yun from a scenario by Huang Ying, Chia decided to deconstruct the classic Cantonese kung-fu action comedy.
Inspired by a tale of the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung leader’s alleged addiction, Chia was going to symbolize the drug culture’s insidious influence by letting its presence in his film destroy everything audiences had come to expect from the genre. As the film starts, all the clichés and stereotypes are in place: from the artificial-looking sets to the goofy Cantonese comedy characters to even the Peking Opera-esque “Mr. Spock-style” eyebrows painted on the hero.
But as the title opiate takes hold, audience expectations begin to break down. The comedy becomes tragedy, the love story is shattered, and the student/teacher relationship is turned upside down. Tang Chia himself plays the kung-fu master’s blind sifu, who is forced to become his doctor and counselor as cold turkey is attempted just in time for the hopeful, action-packed finale.
To accomplish his goal, Chia called upon many of his friends. There are no fewer than a half-dozen martial art directors on the film, including, of course, Chia himself, his longtime assistant Huang Pei Chi, as well as co-star Li Hai Sheng (not to mention Yuan Pin, Yuan Hua, and Chiang Chuan). Knowing the end was near may have inspired Chia to give as many associates as much behind-the-camera experience as possible to help them in future endeavors.

OPIUM AND THE KUNG FU MASTER: BEFORE THE CAMERA

When considering the cast, Li Hai Sheng (who plays secondary villain “Coach”) is a great place to start, considering his remarkable career. Starting in the late 1960’s, he became equally adept at playing the scoundrel or the fool. But embodying the humanity of his villains was his specialty. Although instantly recognizable for his bald pate and eager expression, his presence was always welcome because of his skill with kung-fu, dramatic dialog, and, especially, comedic timing. Although he doesn’t get to use much of that here, his witty work in Jackie Chan’s Project A (1983) is exceptionally memorable.
In fact, he’s one of the few actors who made the transition from Shaws to the outside movie world with nary a stumble, continuing to work with Jackie as well as box office comedy king Stephen Chow. As of this writing, he’s still working in South China television, after having appeared in nearly one hundred movies. Ironically for such a well-known heavy, he’s probably best remembered internationally as the constructively challenging butterfly sword master in 36th Chamber of Shaolin (also known, ala “Black Belt Theater,” as Master Killer).
Joining him as a major secondary villain is the great Kao Fei (who plays “Chin Szu Miao” here), a.k.a. Phillip Ko. He is, if anything, even more versatile and skilled than Sheng. Equally at home with hair or without, playing a hero or a villain, Kao has appeared in at least a hundred and twenty-five films, and went on to direct and/or produce at least thirty more. He worked alongside Sheng in 36th Chamber of Shaolin, and, among many other career highlights, I find his work in Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983), Eastern Condors (1987), and Dragons Forever (1988) particularly effective.
The chief villain, however, is Yung Feng, played by kung-fu film mainstay Chen Kuan Tai. Unlike many kung-fu film stars, Chen started as a martial artist, not an actor. He began his training at the age of eight, and became extremely proficient in what was known as the “Monkey-King Split and Deflecting Arm” style. So proficient, in fact, that he won the light heavyweight championship at the South-East Asian Chinese Martial Arts Tournament in 1969.
He made his way into movies via Wong Fei Hong films, but achieved stardom both in and out of the Shaw Studio system – maintaining his vehement streak of independence throughout his long career. By starring in both Ng See Yuen’s independently produced milestone The Bloody Fists and Chang Cheh’s The Boxer from Shantung in 1972, his fame, and reputation, was ensured.
Since then, he happily starred within and without Studio walls for a myriad of directors. He was as welcome on Chang Cheh films (The Blood Brothers, etc.) as he was on Liu Chia Liang’s (Executioners from Shaolin, et al) He was equally unforgettable in He Meng Hua’s The Flying Guillotine (1975). He was as great an honorable sifu in Lu Chin Ku’s The Master (19080) as he is here as the hissable villain. He continues to work in major productions, one of the most recent being Donnie Yen’s Dragon Tiger Gate (2006).

As talented as these villain portrayers are, the actor who towers above all else is the man known as the “most majestic in Hong Kong movie history,” Ti Lung. Born in China in 1946, then educated at the Eton School in Hong Kong, he originally went to work as a tailor. But finally, the man born with the name Tan Furong auditioned for a part in Chang Cheh’s Dead End (1968). One look at the tall, sensitive, intelligent, well spoken, handsome young man and Cheh fell in love. Ti Lung was created and nurtured by Chang, who showcased him in dozens of movies — mostly teamed with David Chiang, an actor who suitably served as clever, brisk yin to Ti’s sincere, imposing yang.
Finally, in 1972, Cheh’s groundbreaking, influential The Blood Brothers established its three stars (Lung, Chiang, and Kuan Tai) as separate forces in their own right, as well as much more than teen idols or the director’s ingénues. Although he went on to star in many more Chang Cheh productions, Lung also became the go-to guy for several other Shaw Brothers directors, most particularly Chu Yuan and Sun Chung. Among the many classics he made in that period were Five Shaolin Masters (1974), The Empress Dowager (1975), The Magic Blade (1976), The Sentimental Swordsman (1977), The Avenging Eagle (1978), The Kung Fu Instructor (1979), and The Convict Killer (1980) – all which displayed his dramatic chops and commanding charm.
It also established him as Shaw’s main leading man in the mind of Tang Chia. Although Ti’s off-stage kung-fu bona fides have never been established beyond a shadow of a doubt, virtually every major martial arts choreographer sings Lung’s praises in terms of his on-set skills and abilities. When it came time to embody the conflicted soul of Tien Chiao San, Chia knew Ti Lung was the one. Besides, he played essentially the same role in Chang Cheh’s slapdash Ten Tigers of Kwangtung back in 1980.
Lung only made a few more films for Shaws Studio after that (heck, everyone only made a few more films for Shaws after that), but his transition to the outside HK cinema world was made effortless by a lucky masterstroke. In 1986, Lung starred in a little gangster flick made by a man best known before then for his comedies and kung-fu films. That flick was called A Better Tomorrow and that director was John Woo. The international audience reaction fire-stormed a genre, and kick-started the wildly influential “New Wave” Hong Kong action era.
Turns out that Lung was as adept at “gun-fu” as he was with “gung-fu,” so his filmography was soon bullet-ridden with the likes of A Better Tomorrow II (1987), City War (1988), Just Heroes (1989), and A Killer’s Blues (1990). But, as before, directors learned that Lung was capable of anything, so he was soon called upon to add his strong, soothing, charisma to Johnnie To’s Bare-Footed Kid (1993) and Jackie Chan’s kung-fu masterpiece, Legend of Drunken Master (a.k.a. Drunken Master II) – playing Wong Fei Hong’s magnificent father, Wong Kei Ying (although he is only seven years older than Jackie).
As of this writing, Ti Lung is still working – most recently in Daniel Lee’s Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008), alongside Andy Lau, Sammo Hung, and Maggie Q. And he is as majestic in it as he is here.

Ric Meyers, the author of these liner notes, has been called “America’s leading expert on the Asian action film” by the Boston Globe. Author of the first major book on the subject in 1985 (updated in 2001 as Great Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan and More), he has been writing film columns for Inside Kung-Fu and Asian Cult Cinema magazines for decades. Inducted into four national and international Martial Art Halls of fame, Meyers has discussed kung-fu films on A&E, Bravo, the Discovery Channel, and Starz Encore, as well as at colleges, cinemas, and conventions throughout the world.

LIFE GAMBLE

COVER QUOTE:

“The Venoms are back in kung-fu action for legendary director Chang Cheh’s mind-boggling martial art murder mystery.”
— Ric Meyers
Great Martial Art Movies book author

BOX COPY:

The Shaw Brothers Studio produced hundreds of the most influential, exciting, and important kung-fu movies ever made. Unseen for almost two decades, these timeless classics are finally available in remastered editions. They are an absolute must for any martial arts movie fan.

LINER NOTES:

THE SHAW BROTHERS STUDIO STORY

The Shaw Brothers Studio is considered the most venerable in South China, if for no other reason than being in continuous operation for more than eighty years. Starting out as Unique Film Productions in 1925, the company has always been controlled by the Shaw Brothers, four siblings who also shared the name Run: Runje, Runde, Runme, and Run Run.
While it has long been believed that the latter two monikers were somewhat condescending nicknames given to the youngest brothers by peers impressed with their errand boy skills at another Hong Kong studio, their handles were actually bestowed to them by their father, Shaw Yuh-hsuen, because the name meant “benevolence.” In fact, the Runs carried on the family tradition by naming their own sons with variations of “Vee,” which means “virtues.”
By 1934, the Shaws had already established a full-fledged studio consisting of sound stages, film processing facilities, editing bays, screening rooms, and office space — while also managing an extensive circuit of cinemas throughout Southeast Asia. In the long-term scheme of things, World War II was a minor blip as the brothers protected their investment by diversifying in banking, real estate, and amusement parks.
It was in 1949 that Runde finally renamed the operation Shaw Studios, but it wasn’t until 1957, when the then-fifty-year-old Run Run Shaw decided to take the reins — that the company entered its golden era. Buying forty-six acres of land in the scenic Clearwater Bay area (for a mere forty-five cents per square foot!), Run Run announced the creation of Shaw Brothers (HK) Limited, and the internationally influential studio we know today was off and running.
It didn’t reach full flower, however, until a full decade later when there were editing, dubbing, special effects, and film processing facilities, a dozen sound stages, an Actors Training School, cast and crew dorms, and more than five hundred full-time writers, technicians, and staff members who worked in three eight hour shifts, twenty-four hours a day. At their best, the Shaw Brothers Studio could produce forty films a year, and release a new movie every ten days.
For the next eighteen years, the Studio produced more than seven hundred films, of which approximately three hundred and fifty were martial art movies (both kung-fu and wuxia [heroic chivalry]) – cementing the subgenres, traditions, and stereotypes which the rest of the industry would exemplify, develop or elaborate upon. But no one could match the unmistakable high-quality “Shaw Scope look.”
By the early seventies, their fame was international. U.S. studio interest led to a testing of American box office waters with the theatrical release of select, retitled, and dubbed studio fare just prior to the ascension of Bruce Lee (who worked for the Shaw competitor, Golden Harvest Studios). First, director Chang Ho-cheng’s King Boxer became the cleverly renamed Five Fingers of Death. Then director Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin and All Men are Brothers were hacked together as Seven Blows of the Dragon. There was even a fitful co-production with Hammer Films, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (a.k.a. Seven Brothers Versus Dracula) in 1974.
All were washed away in the Bruce Lee phenomenon, whose 1973 death (months prior to Enter the Dragon’s premiere) led to years of shoddy exploitation, even by Golden Harvest. The Shaw Studio, however, remained above the fray, with one glaring exception (Lo Mar’s tacky, vengeful, decadent Bruce Lee and I, produced in 1975, and starring Betty Ting Pei, the woman in whose apartment Bruce died).
By the early 1980’s, when competition between South Chinese movie studios was at its height, Shaw worked with a small New York-based company called World Northal to edit, pan-and-scan, and dub some of its kung-fu films, hoping to sell the broadcast rights to independent U.S. television stations as part of the “Black Belt Theater” package. Much to the Studio’s reported surprise, these films became a big success, leading to four more seasons of the program, encompassing more than one hundred of the studio’s best martial art thrillers.
The acceptance of the films in America could not have come at a worse time for the studio. Much of its film unit earnings were reaped from keeping production costs down, which became increasingly difficult as the casts and crews discovered how popular they were in the rest of the world. There was even a rumor that Run Run threatened to fire any actor who followed the example of Alexander Fu Sheng or Gordon Liu and gave themselves an English name.
The combination of employees’ demands for profit participation, government pressure to break up their production-exhibition connection, and the overwhelming success of Golden Harvest’s Jackie Chan led to Run Run’s decision to shut his Studio’s film units in the mid-1980’s.
Although the Shaws continued to benefit from its domestic television production and other businesses, Run Run flatly refused to allow a Black Belt Theater VI to be compiled or to release his Studio’s films to the burgeoning home entertainment market, despite the extra money it could reap the participants … although many grumble it was because of that (allegedly the Studio didn’t like to share the wealth, and was excellent at holding a grudge).
For whatever reason, regardless of national and international demand, the Shaw Brothers Studio library of innovative, important, influential, and integral films remained legally unseen for fifteen years. But finally, at the dawn of the new century, the vault doors were cracked open, and remastered digital versions of their pioneering motion pictures slowly trickled out on DVD. Over the next eighty-four months, the films seeped throughout the world, finally making it to America, which still longed for a revisit to its long dormant Black Belt Theater.
The enclosed DVD contains one such classic Shaw Brothers Studio film.

LIFE GAMBLE: BEHIND THE CAMERA

Life Gamble (whose original Chinese title could be translated as “Life & Death Struggle”) originally premiered on February 22nd, 1979, and proved to be something of a gamble for its legendary director, who had become known as the “godfather of the kung-fu film.”
Chang Cheh was born in 1923, but only began his film career after World War II. He started as a scriptwriter but was soon writing, directing, and even scoring films he made in Taiwan. Even when China shut its cinemas to Taiwanese productions, Chang continued to write and direct, only this time for legitimate theater.
Finally, in 1957, an actress named Li Mei invited Chang to Hong Kong to write and direct a film for her. The resulting effort, Wild Fire, was something of a box office bomb, but it served to establish Chang in South China, where he explored all his skills by writing martial arts and romance novels, film reviews, and a newspaper column – all under different pseudonyms.
He returned to the film industry in 1960, again as a scriptwriter, but with even more success. Two years later, he was invited to join the Shaw Brothers Studio, where he served as chief scriptwriter for five years, churning out more than twenty screenplays in that time. It was at the end of this initial tenure that he really hit pay dirt, by writing and directing Tiger Boy, starring (Jimmy) Wang Yu and Lo Lieh, in 1964.
He cemented his burgeoning fame and reputation in 1966 by directing and co-writing The One-Armed Swordsman. The audience reaction to that milestone movie was tremendous. With it, and the ones immediately following, Chang established a new tradition that has become known as “yang gang (staunch masculinity).”
Up until Chang’s ascension, kung-fu films often starred women, even in men’s roles. Even when men did star, they were unskilled in kung-fu, amply aided by special effects, stand-ins, and stuntmen. Chang insisted on manly, macho protagonists, and, with the help of choreographers Liu Chia-liang and Tang Chia, more believable fights and acrobatics.
Although The One-Armed Swordsman (which Chang maintains was inspired by Bonnie and Clyde as well as Rebel Without a Cause) made a star of Jimmy Wang Yu, the director and actor fell out after Return of the One Armed Swordsman (1969). Chang quickly compensated by promoting Lo Lieh to a starring spot, and introducing David Chiang, Ti Lung, and Chen Kuan-tai, among many others.
Pressing his advantage, Chang made more than four films a year for the next decade, including such lauded, influential highlights as Vengeance (1970), Duel of Fists (1971), Boxer from Shantung (1972), The Blood Brothers (1973), Heroes Two (1974), Five Shaolin Masters (1974), All Men Are Brothers (1975), Boxer Rebellion (1976), and Shaolin Temple (1976). During that era he established his own semi-independent studio – Chang’s Film Company, headquartered in Taiwan – within Shaws. There the director found fresh new faces with fresh new skills that he was eager to incorporate into his movies.
But by 1978, familiarity was breeding contempt, especially with the overwhelming success of rival studio Golden Harvest’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Monkey in a Tiger’s Eye (a.k.a. Drunken Master) – both starring the revelatory and refreshing Jackie Chan. Although Cheh kept churning them out, the critical and box-office reaction was diminishing, to say the least. His original innovation had turned inflexible from mannered repetition, and his “yang gang” had changed from commanding to campy. In fact, the monotonous nature of his themes, stars, and approach was leading to him being considered a “fallen idol.”

It was at this juncture that Life Gamble appeared. For reasons that were perplexing to both audiences and critics, Chang had bet his continuing success on five men who became known as “the Venoms” (so named because they played the five masked members of the Venoms clan in Cheh’s 1978 landmark Five Venoms): three Taiwanese Opera acrobats (Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, and Lu Feng), a leg fighter (Sun Chien), and a Chinese muscleman (Lo Meng). When asked why he was depending upon such supposed “ugly” actors, Chang reportedly replied, “They become beautiful when they move.”
Already, he had featured them in the aforementioned Five Venoms, quickly followed in the same year by the similar Invincible Shaolin and Crippled Avengers — which were beloved on “Black Belt Theater” in America, but all but dismissed in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, Chang planned to grind out even more grand guignol adventures featuring the five.
But first he wanted to take advantage of his relationship with box office king Alexander Fu Sheng. Although his supporting performance as “knifeslinger” Yun Hsiang is somewhat stiff, Sheng was always good for drawing a crowd. As with Chinatown Kid (1977) and The Brave Archer (1978) before it, Chang was also utilizing Sheng to introduce his “Taiwanese Boys” to different audiences.
This time Chang fashioned a complex tale of “Jiang Hu” (which refers to the mythical martial arts world, although the term literally translates to “rivers and lakes”) — complete with quadruple crosses, esoteric weapons, and more characters than you can shake a spear at. Although mind-whirling by American standards, the Chinese audiences were used to these multiple mystery melodramas through hundreds of novels, as well as the wildly prolific, Peking Opera-influenced, work of fellow Shaw Studio director Chu Yuan (Killer Clans, Clans of Intrigue, et al).

The wordy script was taken in tow by the amazing I Kuang, whose copious work puts even the seemingly inexhaustible Yuan to shame. Born in Shanghai in 1935, Kuang moved to Hong Kong in the 1960’s to pursue a successful career as a science fiction and martial arts novelist. Although several of his books were adapted to movies, his first original screenplay was for The One Armed Swordsman, and he rapidly replaced Chang Cheh as the Shaw Studio’s top scripter.
In addition, his independent contract allowed him to work for other studios and directors – an opportunity he took ample advantage of. Not only did he write the bulk of Chang Cheh’s best films, but also those of Liu Chia-liang (Executioners from Shaolin, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho, etc.) and even Bruce Lee (The Big Boss and Fist of Fury)! At last count, Kuang has supplied well over three hundred scripts to studios throughout China, and that isn’t even including the many screenplays he has produced under pseudonyms.

Life Gamble’s martial art choreography is credited to Liang Ting and Hsu Lu-hua, which was unusual, since Chang usually used Hsieh Hsing and Chen Hsin-yi to fill the gap between the departure of Liu Chia-liang/Tang Chia and the ascension of the Taiwanese Boys, who soon took over those duties for the bulk of their “Venoms” films.
In fact, the fight scene between the uncredited, guest-starring, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng bears their own unmistakable teamwork and choreography. In addition, this film features gimmicks that Cheh had already used (the iron glove also figured predominantly in Crippled Avengers) and would go on to use (the climatic weapons would become the base of his 1980 “Venoms” film, The Flag of Iron).
Taken in context, Life Gamble would be Cheh’s final film bridging his “Golden” and “Venom” eras. He was already becoming aware of the on-coming storm, which resulted in his leaving the Shaw Brothers Studio several years prior to the closing of its film units. But, by then, his increasing cinematic indulgences (evidenced by the aptly named Weird Man [1983] and the unapologetically titled Dancing Warrior [1984]) led to an estrangement with audiences who had flocked to his films just a few years before.
The final ignominy came with 1984’s Shanghai 13, an inexpensive but action-packed tribute film starring many of the actors he helped, or wanted to help, make famous (including Jimmy Wang Yu, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Chen Kuan-tai, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Cheng Tien-chi, Danny Lee, Chen Sing, and even Andy Lau). Although made as a celebration of his entire career, “creative” bookkeeping put its ownership in doubt, so it has never been legally shown in Hong Kong.
Even so, Chang Cheh rightfully spent his final years suitably celebrated as a living legend of Chinese cinema, writing his memoirs, appearing at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and called upon by many journalists and writers. He died in 2002, at the age of 79.

LIFE GAMBLE: BEFORE THE CAMERA

Alexander Fu Sheng was a remarkable actor, having, at different times, been referred to as the Bob Hope, or Jimmy Cagney, or even the James Dean of Hong Kong. He was equally adept as a lecherous comic, a pugnacious, wise-cracking hero, or as a brooding rebel (who, coincidentally, died way too young in a tragic car crash). Like Cagney, he was also a beloved collaborator who elicited nothing but praise from every director and actor he worked with. His untimely death in 1983 so affected his friend, master martial art moviemaker Liu Chia-liang, that the director’s work has never been the same.
Born in 1954, Sheng enrolled in the very first year of the Shaw Studio’s Actors Training School when he was only sixteen years old. Chang Cheh immediately took to the budding teen star and made him a major star in such films as Men from the Monastery (1973) and Shaolin Martial Arts (1974). There began an impressive run of starring in almost two dozen Chang Cheh films before his natural charm, grace, and ability brought him to the attention of other directors.
He soon became a favorite of Sun Chung and Chu Yuan as well, who featured him in Avenging Eagle (1978), Deadly Breaking Sword (1979), The Proud Twins (1979), and Return of the Sentimental Swordsman (1981), among others. But it was the Liu Chia family who encouraged his comedic skills, especially in the wake of some ominous on-set accidents which ultimately left him with two broken legs.
In his comeback film after recuperating, The Treasure Hunters (1982), then in The Fake Ghost Catchers (1982), Cat vs. Rat (1982), and Legendary Weapons of China (1982) – directed either by Liu Chia-liang or his brother Liu Chia-yung – audiences delightfully discovered Sheng’s mischievous, clever, witty side. Other directors, such as Hsu Hsia, and comedy specialist Wong Jing, rushed in to take advantage of his ingratiating humor for, respectively, Ghosts Galore (1983) and Hong Kong Playboys (1983). His future outside Shaw Studio walls seemed assured.
Sheng participated in Wits of the Brats (1984) for Liu Chia-yung and was working on Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983) for Liu Chia-liang when he was killed in an car accident on July 7, 1983, at the age of twenty-eight. Liang barely managed to finish his film (by giving most of Sheng’s role to Hui Ying-hung’s character), and his heartache is apparent in the finished product — which is the most bleak and brutal of any film he’s made. The out-pouring of grief from Fu Sheng’s fans and peers was enormous and lasting. His loss to the film industry as a performer and a friend is still considered incalculable.

Four of the five “official” Venoms appear in Life Gamble: two top-billed and two not billed at all. Kuo Chui (a.k.a. Kwok Chun-fung a.k.a. Kwok Choi, a.k.a. Philip Kwok Choi a.k.a. Philip Kwok) leads the cast list, as he would for every Venoms film he appeared in. Born and raised in Taiwan, his father was a comic actor, but Kuo was only interested in action. Soon he was training in Taiwanese Opera as an acrobat and stuntman, where Chang Cheh and his choreographer Liu Chia-liang discovered him in 1973.
Because he could do things almost no other Taiwan stuntman could, and was about the same height as Fu Sheng, Chang Cheh brought him to Hong Kong, and made him the leader of what he called “The Third Class” (following the likes of first class man Jimmy Wang Yu, and second class man David Chiang). Chang renamed Chun-fung using a variation of his nickname (which in Taiwanese means “cute”), and off Kuo went on more than twenty Cheh films, culminating with House of Traps in 1982. Afterwards. Chang went off to make Five Element Ninja (1984) with Lo Meng, while Kuo returned to Taiwan with the other “Boys” to direct Ninja in the Deadly Trap (1985), co-starring Ti Lung.
But the director’s chair was not to his liking, so Kuo embarked on a career that was light on acting, but heavy on action choreography. Among his achievements are superlative work in such classics as Ching Siu-tung’s A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), The Big Heat (1988), Story of Ricky (1992), John Woo’s Hard Boiled (where he memorably played “Mad Dog” and reunited with Lo Meng, in 1992), and Ronny Yu’s The Bride with White Hair (1993), among many others.
Even his international “Black Belt Theater” fans got to enjoy his work, first in Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), and then in the 007 thriller Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Presently, he’s considered one of the film industry’s top action choreography talents.

His two Taiwanese friends and co-workers, Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng (a.k.a. Chao Kang-sheng), also appear in this movie as, respectively, a duplicitous metal-handed maniac and a lusting, betrayed whip master — but neither are mentioned during the opening credits or on the official cast list. Like Kuo, they were discovered by Chang in Taiwan and brought over to star in Hong Kong, but unlike Kuo, they did not have the luck to make a go of it outside Shaw Studio walls.
While Lu, who was always saddled with the villain roles, was an intensely private man, Chiang (known as “cutie pie” by his adoring “Black Belt Theater” fans) took things more personally. When his work as Chang’s co-choreographer and assistant director didn’t lead to bigger things, Chiang reportedly turned bitter and self-abusive. He died in 1991, at the age of forty, of a heart attack. Kuo Chui has been widely quoted saying that his friend was alone, depressed, drinking heavily, and actually died of a broken heart.

Lo Meng (a.k.a. Lo Mang) shares top billing with Kuo Chui in this film, among other things. Like Kuo, he was able to create a career for himself away from Chang Cheh, but unlike Kuo, he stayed within Shaw Studio walls when the Taiwanese Boys headed home – giving a memorable performance in the director’s last great film, Five Element Ninja (1982).
Born in China, Lo started kung-fu training in his early teens, and takes pride in working out every day. He also takes just pride in many of his non-Chang Cheh performances, including such stand-outs as Lion vs. Lion (1981), Clan Feuds (1982), Bastard Swordsman (1983), Secret Service of the Imperial Court (1984), Magnificent Warriors (1987), and Ebola Syndrome (1996), as well as appearances in the Sex and Zen and Troublesome Night film series. He has also supplemented his on-going livelihood with television work.

Finally, Life Gamble boasts performances by two of Shaw Studio’s most impressive artistes. Wang Lung-wei portrays the treacherous gambling boss Mao Kai-yuan while Ku Feng plays the undercover lawman Hsaio Tzu-chin (and father to Liu Chia-liang’s discovery/protégé Hui Ying-hung, who was delighted to play a totally feminine role rather than the woman wushu warrior she usually enacted in such classics as 1981’s My Young Auntie).
Ku was undoubtedly Shaw’s finest supporting actor — a multiple award-winner who has played everything from venal martial arts masters (as in 1978’s Avenging Eagle) to handicapped cuckolds (as in 1982’s Tiger Killer), and everything in between during more than two hundred and fifty performances. Wang was undoubtedly Shaw’s finest kung-fu film villain, able to realistically battle virtually every martial art movie star in more than seventy-five films, yet still be convincing when he inevitably loses (although a notable exception is one of his favorite roles, in Liu Chia-liang’s Martial Club [1981], where he plays a honorable martial art mercenary).
Both men left the Shaw Brothers Studio with heads held high. Of Ku’s subsequent work, his corrupt passive-aggressive lawman in Tsui Hark’s Peking Opera Blues (1986) stands out, while Wang became best known for directing such films as City Warriors (1988) and Bloody Brotherhood (1989) while still taking on Jackie Chan in Project A II (1987) and Twin Dragons (1992). Their contributions here are top-notch, as always.

Ric Meyers is honored to have visited the Shaw Studios, spoken to Run Run, and met many of the people discussed here. Author of the first major book on the genre in 1985 (updated in 2001 as Great Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan and More), his columns for Inside Kung-Fu and Asian Cult Cinema magazines span decades. Inducted into four worldwide Martial Art Halls of fame, Meyers has celebrated kung-fu films on A&E, Bravo, the Discovery Channel, and Starz Encore, as well as at colleges, cinemas, and conventions throughout the world.

SHAOLIN HAND LOCK

COVER QUOTE:

“A crazy, kinky, Bangkok-flavored kung-fu cult classic.”
— Ric Meyers
Asian Cult Cinema magazine

BOX COPY:

The Shaw Brothers Studio produced hundreds of the most important and exciting kung-fu movies ever made. Unseen for two decades, these timeless classics are finally available in remastered editions. They are an absolute must for any martial arts movie fan.

LINER NOTES:

THE SHAW BROTHERS STUDIO STORY

Shaw Brothers may well be considered the most vital production facility in South China, and not just because it has been in continuous operation for more than eighty years. Starting out as Unique Film Productions in 1925, the company has always been controlled by the Shaw Brothers, four siblings who also shared the name Run: Runje, Runde, Runme, and Run Run.
While it has long been believed that the latter two monikers were condescending nicknames given to the youngest brothers by peers impressed with their errand-boy skills at another Hong Kong studio, their names were actually bestowed on them by their father, Shaw Yuh-hsuen, because “Run” means “benevolence.” In fact, the Runs carried on the family tradition by naming their own sons with variations of “Vee,” which means “virtues.”
By 1934, the Shaws had already established a full-fledged studio consisting of sound stages, film processing facilities, editing bays, screening rooms, and office space — while also managing an extensive circuit of cinemas throughout Southeast Asia. In the long-term scheme of things, World War II was a minor blip as the brothers protected their investment by diversifying into banking, real estate, and amusement parks.
It was in 1949 that Runde finally renamed the operation Shaw Studios, but it wasn’t until 1957, when the then-fifty-year-old Run Run Shaw decided to take the reins, that the company entered its golden era. Buying forty-six acres of land in the scenic Clearwater Bay area (for a mere forty-five cents per square foot!), Run Run announced the creation of Shaw Brothers (HK) Limited, and the internationally influential studio we know today was off and running.
It didn’t reach full flower, however, until a decade later when there were editing, dubbing, special effects, and film processing facilities; a dozen sound stages; an Actors Training School; cast and crew dormitories; and more than five hundred full-time writers, technicians, and staff members who worked in three 8-hour shifts, twenty-four hours a day. At their best, the Shaw Brothers could release a new movie every ten days.
For the next eighteen years, the studio produced more than seven hundred films, of which approximately three hundred and fifty were martial arts movies (both kung-fu and wuxia [heroic chivalry]), cementing the subgenres, traditions, and stereotypes which the rest of the industry would exemplify, develop, or elaborate upon. But no one could match the unmistakable “Shaw Scope look” of both high quality and hyper-artificiality — perfect for their larger-than-life martial arts, comedy, drama, romance, and musical extravaganzas.
By the early 1970s, their fame was international. U.S. studio interest led to a testing of American box office waters with the theatrical release of select, retitled, and dubbed studio fare just prior to the ascension of Bruce Lee (who worked for the Shaw competitor, Golden Harvest Studios).
By the early 1980s, when competition between South Chinese movie studios was at its height, Shaw worked with a small Manhattan-based company called World Northal to edit, pan-and-scan, and dub some of its kung-fu films, hoping to sell the broadcast rights to independent U.S. television stations as part of the “Black Belt Theater” package. Much to the studio’s reported surprise, these films became a big success, leading to four more seasons of the program and ultimately encompassing more than one hundred of the studio’s best martial arts thrillers.
The acceptance of the films in America could not have come at a worse time for the studio. Much of its film unit earnings were reaped from keeping production costs low, which became increasingly difficult the more popular the stars and directors became in the rest of the world. There was even a rumor that Run Run threatened to fire any actor who followed the example of Alexander Fu Sheng or Gordon Liu in adopting an English name.
The combination of employees’ demands for profit participation, government pressure to break up their production-exhibition monopoly, and the overwhelming success of Golden Harvest’s Jackie Chan led to Run Run’s decision to shut his studio’s film units in the mid-1980s. Although the Shaws continued to benefit from its domestic television production and other businesses, Run Run flatly refused to allow a Black Belt Theater VI to be compiled or to release his studio’s films to the burgeoning home entertainment market.
Regardless of regional or international demand, the Shaw Brothers Studio library of innovative, important, and influential films remained legally unseen for fifteen years. Finally, at the dawn of the new century, the vault doors were cracked open, and remastered digital versions of their pioneering motion pictures slowly trickled out on DVD. Over the next decade, the films seeped throughout the world, finally making it to America, which longed to revisit its long dormant Black Belt Theater.
The enclosed DVD contains one such classic Shaw Brothers film.

SHAOLIN HAND LOCK: BEHIND THE CAMERA

1978 was another one of those landmark years that Shaw Brother aficionados remember with fondness and studio employees remember with fear. For this year sounded the first death knell for the film units. Although they would still toil a little more than five years, this was truly the beginning of the end.
And it all started so well…! Since the passing of Bruce Lee in 1973, the Shaws were kings of the Hong Kong martial art world. Bruce’s studio, Golden Harvest, soldiered on with Angela Mao vehicles, but even she couldn’t match the Shaw success of Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Temple series (showcasing youthful, rebellious, beloved Alexander Fu Sheng) and the ascension of Liu Chia-liang’s even more authentic kung-fu classics, such as The Spiritual Boxer and Challenge of the Masters.
But signs of studio weakness were clouding the scene. Although the Brothers Shaw had galvanized audiences with the first Flying Guillotine movie, they couldn’t prevent independent producers from featuring the decapitating contraption in their own, competing, pictures. Then there was that weird, albeit promising, 1977 Golden Harvest offering, The Iron Fisted Monk, created by an ambitious, though hardly handsome, first-time director named Sammo Hung Kam-po, who had been a friend and contemporary of Bruce’s … he even fought him in the prologue of Enter the Dragon.
No matter. As 1978 dawned, the Shaws premiered an “official” sequel — Flying Guillotine Part II — in January, as well as Liu’s hugely successful 36th Chamber of Shaolin in February. But then, on March first, a cheap, little, independent flick opened, produced by Ng See-yuen, directed by Yuen Wo-ping, and starring Sammo’s fellow Peking Opera schoolmate, who had been declared “box office poison” after more than a dozen failures for producer Lo Wei.
At one time, Wei, credited as director on Bruce Lee’s first two films, had high hopes for this young man — even giving him Bruce’s part in New Fist of Fury. But after a string of uninspiring flicks that failed to register even a flicker at the box office, he was willing to lend out the loser to Ng’s Seasonal Films.
The movie Ng, Yuen, and this young fellow made was Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and its star was known as Sheng Lung (“Little Dragon”). Wei’s initial enthusiasm for the former stuntman’s chances even inspired him to give the kid, who had doubled Bruce in Fist of Fury (US: The Chinese Connection) an American name: Jacky (sic) Chan.
The public’s ecstatic reaction to the film surprised everyone, especially after Game of Death, the universally reviled abomination Golden Harvest made of Bruce’s remaining footage, was premiered just twenty-two days later. By then Jacky was a star, and Bruce’s abused memory was, if not fading, then ripe for replacement.
It was into this confusion, and transformation, that Shaolin Hand Lock appeared on June 10, just two weeks before Liu Chia-liang’s superior Shaolin Mantis, a month before a pair of Sammo Hung crowd-pleasers (Enter the Fat Dragon and Dirty Tiger Crazy Frog), two months before Chang Cheh’s Five Venoms, and four months before Drunk Monkey in a Tiger’s Eyes (US: Drunken Master) changed the game for good and made the soon-to-be-renamed Jackie Chan a superstar.
In retrospect, Hand Lock’s timing may not have been propitious, but the reaction to this makeshift martial arts melodrama probably would have been the same no matter when it appeared. After all, it was only the latest film directed by Ho Meng-hua, whose career and reputation had been winding down in the thirty years since his entry into the film industry.
Born Ho Moon-hwa in 1929 Shanghai, he grew up in Guangdong but attended the Shanghai Municipal Experimental Drama School (now known as the Shanghai Theater Academy), where he learned from some of the most respected playwrights of the time. At the age of nineteen he headed to Hong Kong to make his fortune, and, with referrals from his profs, was soon working as a screenwriter. By 1956, he had become an assistant director, and, by 1958, he had been hired by the Shaw Brothers as a full-fledged director.
Once firmly ensconced at the studio, Ho seemed to take a look around and realize that he would never achieve the reputation or respect of Li Han-hsiang (The Love Eterne, etc.), King Hu (A Touch of Zen, et al), or even Chang Cheh, so he deemed himself a “commercial director,” and plunged into whatever genre he was assigned.
At first they were all modern day dramas, but he came into his own in the mid-1960s with his award-winning tearjerker Susanna (1967). His ultimate commercial fate, however, was sealed by The Monkey Goes West (1966), the first in his profitable series of fantasy films adapted from the classic literary saga, Journey to the West. After a string of monkey king phantasmagoricals, it was natural for him segue into wuxia (heroic chivalry) movies – ones which fulfilled audience expectations but rarely, if ever, challenged or broadened them.
After the success of his baroque and esoteric Flying Guillotine (1975), he became the go-to guy for a few bizarre-weapon flicks, such as The Dragon Missile (1976). But he moved quickly to reestablish himself outside that realm, with forays into horror (Black Magic) and crime noirs (The Criminals). His descent into total kitsch, however, came with 1977’s The Mighty Peking Man, the studio’s campy, woe-begotten attempt to “ape” King Kong (in the shadow of Dino De Laurentiis’ equally misguided 1976 remake).
As the job to helm the second “official” Flying Guillotine film went to Cheng Kang (The 14 Amazons) and Hua Shan (Super Inframan, Shaw’s homage/rip-off of Japan’s legendary superhero Ultraman), Ho headed to Bangkok for the lewd, crude, contrived vacation that is Shaolin Hand Lock.
Hong Kong filmmakers had a well-established history of on-location filming in Thailand. It was already appreciated as a welcoming locale with even less expensive production costs (and values) than South China. As a matter of fact, Bruce had been sent down there for Golden Harvest’s first, tentative, trial with him (The Big Boss, a.k.a. Fists of Fury). Of course Shaolin Hand Lock could have been easily filmed entirely on a Shaw studio sound stage, but there were economic advantages to getting away from it all – not the least of which was using Thai box office profits that may have only been useable locally.
Whatever the reason, Ho’s combination of a Thai travelogue and convoluted family kung-fu saga, complete with a simplistic, impractical title technique, was his third-to-last for Shaw Brothers, followed by Shaolin Abbot (1979) and The Swift Sword (1980). He subsequently made some middling action movies in Taiwan and Hong Kong before retiring to Canada in 1994.

Shaolin Hand Lock also brings into effective focus a director’s relationship with his martial arts choreographer. The great Tang Chia is credited with the action direction of this film, but his prosaic work here is virtually unrecognizable from his consummate contributions for such other directors as Sun Chung (Avenging Eagles, etc.) and Chu Yuan (The Magic Blade, et al).
As such great choreographers as Yuen Wo-ping and filmmakers such as Chang Cheh have stated: it’s the director’s vision that even the most accomplished crewmember should adhere to, and no matter how superlative a job a craftsperson could do, it’s the director’s wishes that count. Such was obviously the case on Shaolin Hand Lock, and Tang was only as good as Ho wanted.
Born Huang Tang in 1937 Macau, to a family headquartered in Guangdong, the man who would also be known as Huang Longji, Tong Kai, Tang Jia, and Tang Chia came to Hong Kong in 1952. He studied Cantonese Opera and worked with a theatrical troupe while practicing Northern style kung-fu. Within two years he was already appearing in movies, and making his influence felt as a stuntman.
While working in a Wong Fei-hong film — part of a long-running, integral series starring Kwan Tak-hing as a venerable scholar/healer/fighter — Tang met Liu Chia-liang, and the two hit it off enough to present themselves as a choreographing team. They got their first shot at action directing in 1963’s South Dragon North Phoenix, but it wasn’t until 1966 that their promise paid off in The Jade Bow, which brought them to the attention of Chang Cheh.
They became part of Chang’s gang, and were instrumental in the director’s fame, choreographing such career-making films as The One Armed Swordsman, The Blood Brothers, and Shaolin Martial Arts — all of which established the benchmarks for great cinematic kung-fu. Apparently feeling that Chang’s increasingly staid approach was holding him and the industry back, Liang broke off to create his own landmark films in 1975, leaving Tang to fend for himself.
Tang was more than up to the challenge, and was eagerly sought as collaborator by Shaw Brothers’ most prolific as well as artistic kung-fu directors. For Chu Yuan he created lyrical ballets of sword-fighting masses (Killer Clans, Full Moon Scimitar, etc.) while for Sun Chung he designed fluid, powerful kung-fu confrontations (Kid with a Tattoo, Killer Constable, et al). At his height, Tang led a hundred-man stunt team, ready, willing, and able to accomplish even the most complicated combats.
As the Shaw Brothers studio film units started to slow in the 1980s, Tang was at something of a loss. He finally tried his hand at directing, but after three films — Shaolin Prince (1982), Shaolin Intruders (1983), and Opium and the Kung Fu Master (1984) — he apparently didn’t find it to his liking. Ultimately, when Run Run Shaw closed the film units, Tang found it as good a time as any to retire from choreography. Even so, he will always be considered the “action director’s action director,” and as a major figure in the development and success of the Hong Kong action film.

SHAOLIN HAND LOCK: BEFORE THE CAMERA

David Chiang was part of a show business dynasty. His father was a popular star while his mother was a well-known actress. Eventually, both his brothers, Paul Chu and Derek Yee, would also make their mark in movies. David, meanwhile, was born in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, on May 11, 1947, and given the name Jiang Weinan. Although educated at Chu Hai College in Hong Kong, no one doubted that he’d follow in his parents’ footsteps, and, by the time he graduated he had already appeared in many films, most notably The Call of the Nightbirds.
Nevertheless, action called to him, and, once on his own, he presented himself as an agile, clever martial arts instructor on film sets. It wasn’t long before the charismatic, stylish young man, then known as John Chiang Dawei, came to the attention of Chang Cheh, who invited him to join the Shaw studio in 1966.
As the director remembered in his memoir, “Chiang was only (a) supporting actor in (his first Shaws film) Dead End, playing … a garage repairman, but his ‘cool’ demeanor was second-to-none. So, (while) in (his second Shaw film) The Duel, Ti Lung was … in the leading role, in (his third film) Vengeance, it was Chiang who played the lead….”
Once Cheh decided that David had the “lean and hungry” look he wanted to showcase, the smaller, more angular young man took precedence in the director’s films over the increasingly more majestic Ti Lung. It wouldn’t be long before both men would chafe against Chang’s predilections, but five years in “Cantowood” is like an entire career anywhere else. David made more than two dozen movies for Cheh in tandem with Ti, the best of which were, arguably, The Water Margin, Blood Brothers, Five Shaolin Masters, and All Men Are Brothers.
In 1974, David started to break away from Cheh and Ti by starring in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires — an awkward Hammer Films co-production directed by Roy Ward Baker and co-starring Peter Cushing. Once he tasted fresh blood, as it were, Chiang never looked back. Although respected and respectful as a team, Ti Lung, especially, blossomed as a solo. Chiang, always the more unusual-looking of the pair, entered into a second, less hip, somewhat more solid, phase of his career.
He tried his hand at directing (Mad World of Fools and Drug Addict in 1974, and The Condemned in 1976), but he seemed to find acting more rewarding – going on to appear in about a hundred movies for a wide range of directors, including Sun Chung (Judgment of an Assassin in 1977) and Liu Chia-liang (Shaolin Mantis in 1978). It was immediately after those two landmarks that he teamed with Ho Meng-hua for Shaolin Hand Lock and then Shaolin Abbot.
Finding his “teen idol” status blunted by age and weight (and Shaw directors seemingly more interested in Ti Lung’s powerful presence), Chiang sought rewards outside the studio walls. In both the Hong Kong and Taiwanese film industries Chiang established himself as a dependable, capable action star in such entertaining efforts as The Lost Kung Fu Secrets (1980), Deadly Challenger (1980), and Six Directions Boxing (1981).
He entered his venerable third phase once the Shaw film units closed, joining with Sammo Hung for such successes as Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985) and Where’s Officer Tuba (1986). Soon he was nimbly skipping from movies to television productions, putting in memorable performances in such fine films as Liu Chia-liang’s Tiger on Beat (1988), Jackie Chan’s Twin Dragons (1992), and especially Tsui Hark’s classic Once Upon a Time in China 2 (1992), starring Jet Li.
The actor continued working in drama, comedy, and action under a variety of names, including John Keung and John Chiang. As of this writing, David Chiang is working still, and each appearance is like a refreshing visit from a welcome friend.

Lo Lieh plays the bad guy in Shaolin Hand Lock, as he would in so many other movies. In fact, any list of Shaw’s great villains would have to include Lo, but his exceptional ability to enact evil is not what he’s best known for. Actually, Lo is a master of “firsts.” He was the first true international kung-fu star, sneaking into America as the hero of Five Fingers of Death (a.k.a. King Boxer) months prior to Bruce Lee.
He was one of the first, if not the first, Shaw star to make his English-speaking debut — in Blood Money, a 1974 “American spaghetti western” starring Lee Van Cleef. And he was the man who made the white-browed traitor Pai Mei so memorable in Executioners from Shaolin that the character returned twice more (in Clan of the White Lotus and Shaolin Abbot) before Quentin Tarantino borrowed his infamy for Kill Bill.
Born in Indonesia on June 29, 1939, with the name Wang Lida, Lo moved to Hong Kong as a teenager, and miraculously avoided the standard operating racism that favored Hong Kong-born Chinese actors in the competition for parts. Despite Lieh’s exotic looks, his talent led to him securing both heroic and villainous roles shortly after his Shaw Acting School training.
Starting his nearly forty-year career in 1965, he was such a valued contributor that the Shaws allowed him the rare freedom to move between their productions and movies made for his own company, as well as independent producers. Although, like David Chiang and Tang Chia, he directed a few films himself, he made it known that being behind the camera was not to his liking.
With more than two hundred performances to his credit, it’s hard to narrow down a “best of,” but perhaps his most revered appearances came in Liu Chia-liang’s 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Dirty Ho (1979), and Mad Monkey Kung-Fu (1979), Billy Chong’s Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave (1982), Sun Chung’s Human Lanterns (1982), Jackie Chan’s Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (1988), John Woo’s Just Heroes (1989), Donnie Yen’s Tiger Cage 2 (1990), and Jackie Chan’s Super Cop (1992, a.k.a. Police Story 3).
Lo worked until the end, supplementing his movie career with an extensive Hong Kong television resume. He died November 2, 2002, in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, China, having played a vital part in the golden age, new wave, and beyond. No matter what the role and cost of production, Lo Lieh always brought his best — whether it was to give an extra gleam in his eye, sneer on his lips, or quantum of humanity to even the basest of characters.

Ric Meyers has been called the “dean of kung-fu film journalists” and is credited with a notable share of the genre’s success in America — through his writing, consulting, and contributions to books, magazines, television documentaries, DVDs, and films as diverse as Once Upon a Time in China and Kung Fu Panda. He presently serves as sifu for Inside Kung-Fu magazine’s “36th Chamber of Ric” Entertainment Section.

14 AMAZONS

COVER QUOTE:

“An award-winning kung-fu adventure, historical drama, war epic, and feminist fantasia, all in one action-packed package.”
— Ric Meyers
Asian Cult Cinema magazine

BOX COPY:

The Shaw Brothers Studio produced hundreds of the most important and exciting kung-fu movies ever made. Unseen for two decades, these timeless classics are finally available in remastered editions. They are an absolute must for any martial arts movie fan.

LINER NOTES:

THE SHAW BROTHERS STUDIO STORY

Shaw Brothers may well be considered the most vital production facility in South China, and not just because it has been in continuous operation for more than eighty years. Starting out as Unique Film Productions in 1925, the company has always been controlled by the Shaw Brothers, four siblings who also shared the name Run: Runje, Runde, Runme, and Run Run.
While it has long been believed that the latter two monikers were condescending nicknames given to the youngest brothers by peers impressed with their errand-boy skills at another Hong Kong studio, their names were actually bestowed on them by their father, Shaw Yuh-hsuen, because “Run” means “benevolence.” In fact, the Runs carried on the family tradition by naming their own sons with variations of “Vee,” which means “virtues.”
By 1934, the Shaws had already established a full-fledged studio consisting of sound stages, film processing facilities, editing bays, screening rooms, and office space — while also managing an extensive circuit of cinemas throughout Southeast Asia. In the long-term scheme of things, World War II was a minor blip as the brothers protected their investment by diversifying into banking, real estate, and amusement parks.
It was in 1949 that Runde finally renamed the operation Shaw Studios, but it wasn’t until 1957, when the then-fifty-year-old Run Run Shaw decided to take the reins, that the company entered its golden era. Buying forty-six acres of land in the scenic Clearwater Bay area (for a mere forty-five cents per square foot!), Run Run announced the creation of Shaw Brothers (HK) Limited, and the internationally influential studio we know today was off and running.
It didn’t reach full flower, however, until a decade later when there were editing, dubbing, special effects, and film processing facilities; a dozen sound stages; an Actors Training School; cast and crew dormitories; and more than five hundred full-time writers, technicians, and staff members who worked in three 8-hour shifts, twenty-four hours a day. At their best, the Shaw Brothers could release a new movie every ten days.
For the next eighteen years, the studio produced more than seven hundred films, of which approximately three hundred and fifty were martial arts movies (both kung-fu and wuxia [heroic chivalry]), cementing the subgenres, traditions, and stereotypes which the rest of the industry would exemplify, develop, or elaborate upon. But no one could match the unmistakable “Shaw Scope look” of both high quality and hyper-artificiality — perfect for their larger-than-life martial arts, comedy, drama, romance, and musical extravaganzas.
By the early 1970s, their fame was international. U.S. studio interest led to a testing of American box office waters with the theatrical release of select, retitled, and dubbed studio fare just prior to the ascension of Bruce Lee (who worked for the Shaw competitor, Golden Harvest Studios).
By the early 1980s, when competition between South Chinese movie studios was at its height, Shaw worked with a small Manhattan-based company called World Northal to edit, pan-and-scan, and dub some of its kung-fu films, hoping to sell the broadcast rights to independent U.S. television stations as part of the “Black Belt Theater” package. Much to the studio’s reported surprise, these films became a big success, leading to four more seasons of the program and ultimately encompassing more than one hundred of the studio’s best martial arts thrillers.
The acceptance of the films in America could not have come at a worse time for the studio. Much of its film unit earnings were reaped from keeping production costs low, which became increasingly difficult the more popular the stars and directors became in the rest of the world. There was even a rumor that Run Run threatened to fire any actor who followed the example of Alexander Fu Sheng or Gordon Liu in adopting an English name.
The combination of employees’ demands for profit participation, government pressure to break up their production-exhibition monopoly, and the overwhelming success of Golden Harvest’s Jackie Chan led to Run Run’s decision to shut his studio’s film units in the mid-1980s. Although the Shaws continued to benefit from its domestic television production and other businesses, Run Run flatly refused to allow a Black Belt Theater VI to be compiled or to release his studio’s films to the burgeoning home entertainment market.
Regardless of regional or international demand, the Shaw Brothers Studio library of innovative, important, and influential films remained legally unseen for fifteen years. Finally, at the dawn of the new century, the vault doors were cracked open, and remastered digital versions of their pioneering motion pictures slowly trickled out on DVD. Over the next decade, the films seeped throughout the world, finally making it to America, which longed to revisit its long dormant Black Belt Theater.
The enclosed DVD contains one such classic Shaw Brothers film.

THE 14 AMAZONS: BEHIND THE CAMERA

The year 1972 was an unsettling transition for the studio. Having let Bruce Lee slip through their fingers, the Shaws, like the rest of the industry, were reeling from his power and impact. Fist of Fury (US: The Chinese Connection), arguably Lee’s best film, had premiered March 22 to unprecedented effect, and while the lot’s wuxia (heroic chivalry) film directors were working as hard as they could, Bruce was uniquely talented, and no one else could match his kung-fu skill or filmmaking savvy.
And that wasn’t all. In addition to Lee, the box office was also being shaken by upstart independent producer/director/writer Ng See-yuen, whose The Bloody Fists appeared in May to break the big-studios’ stranglehold on the audience. To add insult to injury, Bruce’s parent studio, Golden Harvest (run by Shaw defector Raymond Chow) was still reaping dividends by showcasing Angela Mao, whose Lady Whirlwind appeared in June.
Shaws soldiered on with such traditional, and still popular, fare as The Water Margin (US: Seven Blows of the Dragon) and King Boxer (US: Five Fingers of Death), both of which were to have international influence. Meanwhile, they were prepping several projects to show the world that they weren’t as chauvinistic as supposed. Chu Yuan’s spectacularly successful Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan was to premiere September 7, but first The 14 Amazons appeared at the end of July.
The screen story was well known via history, legend, and entertainment. Tales of the famous Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) Yang family were legion in books, movies, and especially the Peking Opera, where The Women Generals of the Yang Family was an oft-performed perennial among forty other Yang adventures that became standard repertory fare.
Shaw employee Kao Yang reportedly wrote a staunch script based on this most popular story, but that all changed when the project was put in the hands of studio autocrat Cheng Kang. What he and collaborator Tung Shao-yung had in mind was a pulse-pounding, tub-thumping, knee-jerking, hero-cheering, villain-hissing martial arts melodrama done in stalwart, albeit bloody, Mainland propaganda style, complete with patriotic songs on the soundtrack.
Kang was well suited to understand the average man’s taste. Born in 1924, he left school when he was thirteen, learning instead at a library where he worked as an intern. He left the book stacks, in turn, to tour the provinces as part of a theater troupe that specialized in virulently anti-Japanese plays. It was during this run that he saw what effect good exploitation can have on an audience — a lesson he never forgot.
He continued acting until his mid-twenties, when he wrote his first play, Night Rain in the Empty Garden, to great acclaim. That inspired him to return to school, specifically the Shanghai College of Fine Arts. He moved to Hong Kong in 1949 and continued his writing ways, only now for the burgeoning film industry. After scripting for several companies, he joined the Shaw Brothers Studio, where he wrote extensively but directed prudently, helming on average only one film every few years.
His first for Shaws was 1968’s The Sword of Swords, and Kang followed up with such crowd-pleasing fare as The Magnificent Swordsman, Gun Brothers, Killers Five, The Twelve Gold Medallions, and Pursuit. Although all his films were profitable, his careful consideration led to his being overshadowed by the far more prolific Chang Cheh, who toiled in the same genres.
According to Cheh, known as the “godfather of the kung-fu film,” Kang’s relatively short filmography came from a strictness bordering on the unreasonable. In his autobiography, Chang relates a tale that when Kang was inspired at 3 A.M., he was so intent on immediately filming his idea that he broke down his producer’s door. His “unyielding character made him hell-bent on making life difficult for others and himself,” Cheh declared.
According to Cheh, only Run Run Shaw could tolerate Kang’s behavior, and only a big studio like Shaws could afford him — especially since, unlike Cheh and every other director, Kang never had a film fail at the box office. But after the company’s film units were shuttered, Kang would not change his tempestuous, authoritarian ways. Things got so heated on the set of his first non-Shaw film that star Alan Tang slapped Kang in the face – leading to the shutting down of the production and the director being effectively blacklisted. Kang retreated to Taiwan, became a movie consultant, and never completed another film.

His legacy continued, however, since he was the father of action choreographer supreme Tony Ching Siu-tung. But just because Ching was his son didn’t mean Kang made it any easier for him on set. He gave his then-nineteen-year-old progeny co-stunt-coordinator status on The 14 Amazons (with Liang Hsaio-sung, who also got his middling kicks on Billy Chong’s A Hard Way to Die and Bruce Li’s Iron Finger), but made him kneel and ask for forgiveness if he deemed that the teen made a mistake.
The father’s faith and discipline was well-founded, as Ching took his responsibility very seriously. In fact, the battlefield action in this film clearly set a pattern in the young man’s mind, which anyone can see echoed in such later work as Hero (2002) and especially The Warlords (2007). After getting his feet wet with The 14 Amazons, Ching used his experiences growing up in Master Tang Di’s Eastern Drama Academy to hone his skills on Hong Kong television programs.
When he was ready to direct his first film, he eschewed the then-shrinking Shaw Brothers Film Units to make Duel to the Death (1983) for Golden Harvest. His inventive visual flair brought him to the attention of Tsui Hark, who teamed with him on a series of phantasmagoricals for Cinema City, including the Chinese Ghost Story series, the Swordsman series, and Dragon Inn (1992).
Ching soon discovered that shifting from kung-fu choreographer to director on a variety of projects was a great way to salve his ego and protect his creative equilibrium. So he embarked on a remarkable career, leading or contributing to such landmark productions as Stephen Chow’s Royal Tramp 1 and 2, Tsui Hark’s Peking Opera Blues, John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow II, Jackie Chan’s City Hunter, Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio, Andrew Lau’s The Storm Riders, Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers, and many others.

Together, the father and son team put their inventive stamp on The 14 Amazons, and the child had much to admire and emulate (as well as avoid and eschew) in the parent, who not only scripted and directed the passionate, energetic, slightly crazed film, but wrote the lyrics to the movie’s songs as well. Despite competition from Bruce, Angela, and encroaching independent productions, it went on to become the fourth-highest-grossing film of the year as well as rabid award bait.

THE 14 AMAZONS: BEFORE THE CAMERA

To truly put The 14 Amazons in perspective, the Shaw Studio announcing that Lily Ho was to play the child of Ivy Ling Po in this film was tantamount to an American studio announcing that Elvis Presley was to play Frank Sinatra’s son (or to be more accurate, daughter, but more on that later) in an old-fashioned musical to be coincidentally released just after the Beatles invaded the U.S.
Although hindsight dictates that being the fourth largest grosser of the year seems pretty good, this news back in 1972 must’ve set off death knells across the lot. “Only” fourth? For legendary Ivy and red hot HK idol Lily? The aforementioned shadows cast by Bruce Lee, Angela Mao, and Ng See-yuen was dark that day indeed. Just as the Beatles were to lessen the power of Sinatra and Presley on baby boomers, Bruce and his buddies were relegating the Sixties’ superstars to the back of the bus.
Even so, neither time nor odd Asian cinematic traditions could diminish the devotion fans have for these two major female stars. Way back when action films began to captivate Chinese audiences, the accepted adage was that movies were, literally, just for women. Men were too busy bringing home the barbeque pork to waste their time watching films, so only housewives went to theaters. And since no wage-earner wanted his pregnant cook swooning over handsome heroes, every major character on screen was played by a woman.
Naturally, this state of affairs didn’t last long, but even so, it cast a gender-bending spell over the history of South Chinese cinema, which, in turn, set the stage for Po’s amazing ascension. Just like so many “overnight sensations” who had been toiling years before their big break, the girl who would become Ivy Ling Po already had more than forty films under her belt by the time she got to Shaw Brothers.
Born Jun Hai-tang on November 16, 1939, in Shantou, China, the fiercely talented girl had already appeared in her first film by the time she was twelve. Under the name of Xiao Juan, she not only acted in many more, but dubbed singing voices for many others. In fact, she was supplying the singing voice for starlet Jen Chieh in The Dream of the Red Chamber (1962) when director Li Han-hsiang caught sight of her.
Talk about timing. Li was looking for a fresh face to cast as the main character for a traditional “Huangmei” Chinese Opera musical called The Love Eterne (sic). Huangmei, a two-centuries-old form of rural folk song and dance, is typified by a kind of singing that sounds, to Western ears, like scratching a cat across a blackboard. Nevertheless, it was hugely popular in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and the movie musicals made in this lush style were equal to the effect of The Sound of Music. The big difference, of course, is that, in The Sound of Music, Captain Von Trapp was not played by a woman.
In The Love Eterne (a.k.a. The Butterfly Lovers), Ivy Ling Po played the guy in a “guy-meets-girl, guy-loses-girl, guy-dies-from-grief, girl-throws-herself-into-earthquake-chasm, guy-and-girl-love-eternally-as-butterflies” story. To say the movie was well-liked is like saying Stars Wars did okay. Many people saw it more than a hundred times. By the second month of its marathon run, the entire audience sang along with every song. Its biggest hit, a tune called 18 Miles Away, remains a universal touchstone, recognized by everyone who ever heard it.
And, overnight, Ivy Ling Po went from being a dependable actress/singer to being a worshipped household name. Her work was so effective that a special “Outstanding Performance” Award was created just for her at the Chinese equivalent of the Oscars. Sometimes people are prepared to handle such sudden, overwhelming attention, and, thankfully, Ivy was one of those people. She followed up by playing a woman disguised as a male warrior in 1964’s Lady General Hua Mulan, winning another Best Actress Award in the process.
More awards and cross-dressing followed. Although queen (or maybe king) of the Huangmei Opera genre, Ivy spotlighted her versatility with roles in such swordplay films as Temple of the Red Lotus (1965) and “straight” dramas like Too Late for Love (1967), which won her another acting statuette. It wasn’t long before she was being voted top movie star year after year after year.
Following The 14 Amazons, Ivy continued her winning ways. She reestablished her stardom playing the title role in 1975’s The Empress Dowager. Despite the fact that it was essentially a supporting performance, she so dominated her scenes that she won more awards. Seeing no way to top herself, she left the Shaw Studios on a high note, choosing to forge her own way alongside her husband, actor/director Chin Han.
She kept putting in great performances in a wide variety of films, winning more awards as well as accolades, until her semi-retirement in 1987. Fittingly, Ivy returned to the spotlight with a long-running touring stage version of The Love Eterne in 2002, which has led to a spectacularly successful concert career that continues at the time of this writing.

The next “big shocker” Shaw Studio had for its 14 Amazons audience was that Ivy Ling Po wasn’t going to be in drag, but “the Ann Margaret of the East,” Lily Ho, was. She got to play the extremely unconvincing son of Po’s character, going wildly against type, not to mention gender. When she was first swept up into the studio crop of promising starlets nine years prior, she was termed “an adorable (15 year old) student” who had been discovered in Taiwan and brought over to Hong Kong for grooming.
That grooming turned out to be more successful than almost anyone imagined. Free-spirited and fascinated by fashion, Lily was willing to do what now might be termed “a Miley Cyrus.” But exposing your back for Knight of Knights in 1965 Hong Kong was even more controversial (and attention-getting) than doing it in a 2008 magazine. By the time she blossomed in the tearjerker My Dream Boat (1967) she had developed into an attractive, capable actress who could be both sweet and sultry.
She was also very versatile, and whatever Shaws threw her into — be it kung-fu (1967’s Angel with Iron Fists), thriller (1968’s The Brain Stealers), musical comedy (1969’s The Millionaire Chase), romance (1970’s A Time for Love), swordplay (1971’s Lady with a Sword), or uncategorizable (1972’s The Casino) — she acquitted herself admirably. But 1972 was the year that cemented her superstardom. Not only did she win the “Outstanding Lead Female Performance” award for playing a boy in 14 Amazons, but she scandalized, tittilated, and delighted fans via her “hot-girl-on-girl action” with Betty Ting Pei in Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan just a few months later.
The resulting furor had little effect on her, since she also appeared in a half dozen other films that year, was already working hard on three more, and had a plan for her future which didn’t include the phrase “movie star.” After more than forty films in just a decade, Lily married a shipping magnate and waved farewell to the Shaw Brothers in 1975, having already established herself as a tastemaker and clothes shop owner.

Although the cast of 14 Amazons is filled with other notable stars, it would be remiss not to mention the main villain, whose task it was to most viciously demonstrate the mindful sadism of the evil invaders. That task fell, as it had and would so often, to Lo Lieh. Although Johnny Wang Lung Wei might be considered the studio’s greatest “pure kung-fu villain” in terms of his fighting skill, Lo’s versatility, acting ability, martial arts chops, and longevity can’t be matched.
Born in Indonesia on June 29, 1939, with the name Wang Lida, Lo moved to Hong Kong as a teenager, and miraculously avoided the standard operating racism that favored Hong Kong-born Chinese actors in the competition for parts. Despite Lieh’s exotic looks, his talent led to him securing both heroic and villainous roles shortly after his Shaw Acting School training.
Starting his nearly forty-year career in 1965, he became an international superstar in 1972’s King Boxer (a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death), and never looked back. He was such a valued contributor that the studio allowed him the rare freedom to move between their productions and movies made for his own company, as well as independent producers.
Although he directed a few films (most notably 1979’s The Clan of the White Lotus), being behind the camera was not to his liking. With more than two hundred performances to his credit, it’s hard to narrow down a “best of,” but perhaps his most revered appearances came in Liu Chia-liang’s Executioners of Shaolin (1977, where he indelibly stamped the role of white-haired Shaolin betrayer Pei Mei, who Quentin Tarantino borrowed for Kill Bill), 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Dirty Ho (1979), Mad Monkey Kung-Fu (1979), Billy Chong’s Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave (1982), Sun Chung’s Human Lanterns (1982), Jackie Chan’s Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (1988), John Woo’s Just Heroes (1989), Donnie Yen’s Tiger Cage 2 (1990), and Jackie Chan’s Super Cop (1992, aka Police Story 3).
Lo worked until the end, supplementing his movie career with an extensive Hong Kong television resume. He died November 2, 2002, in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, China, having played a vital part in the golden age, new wave, and beyond. No matter what the role and cost of production, Lo Lieh always brought his best — whether it was to give an extra gleam in his eye, sneer on his lips, or quantum of humanity to even the basest of characters.

Ric Meyers has been called the “dean of kung-fu film journalists” and is credited with a lion’s share of the genre’s success in America — through his writing, consulting, and contributions to books, magazines, television documentaries, DVDs, and films as diverse as Once Upon a Time in China and Kung Fu Panda. He presently serves as sifu for Inside Kung-Fu magazine’s “36th Chamber of Ric” Entertainment Section.