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. .. . . .

"Men Behind
the Masks," by
Toby Russell

. . the cover of Eastern Heroes Special Edition #3
197k | 380k
. .

An Article from
Eastern Heroes
Special Ed. #3

. .. .

From Eastern Heroes Special Edition #3, pp. 25-27:

Men Behind the Masks

With the Venoms finally unleashed onto the UK market, Toby Russell delves deep into the characters who made Five Deadly Venoms one of the all time cult classics.

The long awaited release of Five Venoms last month has caused great excitement in the martial world and has set a high standard for the future of martial arts home video entertainment. It is inevitable that the ensemble cast, collectively known as the `Venoms,' will gain an ever-increasing audience as their films move from the underground into the mainstream.

The Venoms were the brainchild of their mentor and self-proclaimed godfather, Chang Cheh, who directed them in ninety percent of their movies. In 1976 whilst on location in Taiwan shooting Naval Commander [sic], Seven Man Army and New Shaolin Boxer, Chang Cheh noticed the talents of half a dozen stuntmen. He offered these young men the chance to fly back to Hong Kong with him and sign a three year contract with Shaw Brothers. The chance to live in sunny Clearwater Bay was far more appealing than grey, smoggy Taipei, so the young men set off for Hong Kong and the Shaw Brothers studio. They were Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Robert Tai, Yu Tai Ping and Sun Shao Pei. Later, they were joined by Sun Chien and Yang Shung.

On arrival the team were assigned to a mammoth production entitled Shaolin Temple, starring Fu Sheng. Next came Chinatown Kid, Life Gamble and Heaven and Hell. Chang Cheh was impressed by his new pool of acting talent and asked scriptwriter Ni Kung (Ngai Hong) to develop a script for them. It was then modified by wing chun master Dr Leung Ting, who was a martial arts director for Chang Cheh. He suggested that they deviate from the traditional kung fu screenplay by adding some mystery and plot twists. Chang Cheh didn't care for the idea, but was persuaded otherwise by Leung Ting, Robert Tai and most importantly Ni Kung himself, and the script became Five Deadly Venoms (1978).

The film was a hit and so were the Venoms, but only as a unit. Individually, they were nothing. A string of hits followed: Invincible Shaolin, Mortal Combat, Kid with the Golden Arm, Shaolin Rescuers and Daredevils. Studio executives Chua Lam and Mona Fong were very pleased with the speed at which this Taiwanese work force could churn out quality pictures, and memos were sent to Liu Chia Liang telling him to buck up his ideas -- these guys were making four pictures to his one! This upset Liu and a fight between the two groups actually occurred. According to Robert Tai, the Venoms won.

At this point there was a change in the camp. Robert Tai, the brain behind the fighting scenes, grew bored of the Shaw Brothers and was offered a more lucrative deal with Taiwanese movie mogul Lam Tien Hung to work on Kung Fu Mission and Thundering Mantis. The position for leading action director became vacant, and a quarrel broke out between Lu Feng and Kuo Chui which took months to settle.

In 1980, two new faces were introduced to the Venoms, Chu Ker and Ching Tin Chee. They disbanded in 1983 but did carry on acting in pictures in Taiwan: Ninja Deadly Trap [sic], Attack of the Joyful Goddess and Fighting [sic] Among the Supers. Sadly, in 1991, Chiang Sheng died of a heart attack. He had always been a happy-go-lucky sort with a sharp mind, and he is probably the only Hong Kong/Taiwanese actor I've ever met who really couldn't give a damn about what people thought of him. The word face didn't exist in his vocabulary. He was a totally genuine person.

During his last months, I was lucky enough to act with Chiang in a TV series, and it was obvious he was in very poor health. A short while later, I was in Hong Kong with Robert Tai when he got a call from Kuo Chui telling him that Ching Tin Chee had discovered Chiang dead in his apartment. Later that afternoon, I went with Robert to tell Chang Cheh the news. Robert wrote it on a piece of paper since Chang's hearing is somewhat impaired. On reading the note, Chang looked up and shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, muttered something to himself and carried on drinking his coffee. Later, Robert told me that Chang must have been really upset since both his favourite godsons, Chiang Sheng and Fu Sheng, were now dead.

click for 129k image of Kuo Chui KUO CHUI

A native Taiwanese, Kuo was trained in street acrobatics and Peking Opera before turning his hand to stunt work and eventually starring roles. Kuo is one of the most versatile action actors in the Orient, being proficient in straight and comedy, modern day and villainous roles. His best work would have to be Magnificent Ruffians, Masked Avengers and Hard Boiled (as the eyepatch wearing Mad Dog). If you look closely you can see that Kuo Chui is missing the middle two fingers on his left hand. I'm not sure how this happened but it was in Taiwan in his teens. He is very touchy about it and hasn't let anyone exploit it in the many movies he has made. He is very in demand as an action choreographer, recently having worked on Hard Boiled, Treasure Hunt, The Bride With White Hair and The Cat.

click for 180k image of Lo Meng LO MENG
The son of a construction company boss, Lo has a hot temper and is a kung fu fanatic specialising in the Southern Mantis style. He still makes cameo appearances in movies and on TV. If you look closely, you will see him in Hard Boiled.

click for 76k image of Sun Chien SUN CHIEN
This placid kicker first appeared in Chinatown Kid and stayed with the Chang Cheh troupe till the end. A Tae Kwan Do expert, Sun still lives in Hong Kong where he now works for TV and the movie company IFD.

click for 81k image of Yang Shun YANG SHUNG
The Pumpkin Man is considered the Bolo of Taiwan where he has featured in just about everything from game shows to TV commercials. He also runs a health club.

click for 127k image of Tam Jun Tao TAM JUN TAO
A Tae Kwan Do master from Hong Kong and chief instructor of the largest Tae Kwan Do school in Hong Kong, Tam often imitates his screen exploits, getting himself into serious trouble on more than one occasion. One of the original members of the famous Hong Kong stuntman gang, Tam will never be without work.

click for 245k image of Sun Shao Pei SUN SHAO PEI
Another product of the Fu Shing opera school, Sun left the Shaws shortly after Invincible Shaolin, finding plenty of work in Taipei as an actor and choreographer. He was the unlikely star of Dreaming Fists Slender Hands (Kung Fu Kids). His best film is Two Roving Heroes, and he now teaches acrobatics at the Fu Shing opera school.

click for 157k image of Lau Shi Kwong LAU SHI KWONG
Commonly known as Jaws. He lent his talent to countless pictures for the Shaws. He assisted Tsui Hark on Better Tomorrow 3 and is still active in the modern day genre.

see Peking Opera Blues, EH special edition #1

See Kings of Kung Fu, EH Vol 2 #4

See Peking Opera Blues part 2, EH special edition #2

Volume 2 #4
the cover of Eastern Heroes Volume 2 #4
166k | 345k
Special Edition #1
the cover of Eastern Heroes Special Edition #1
176k | 329k
Special Edition #2
the cover of Eastern Heroes Special Edition #2
203k | 379k
Special Edition #4
the cover of Eastern Heroes Special Edition #4
197k | 388k
Essential Guide
the cover of the Essential Guide to Eastern Heroes
189k | 358k

From "Kings of Kung Fu," by J.J. Brennan and Toby Russell, from page 121 of The Essential Guide to the Best of Eastern Heroes (originally printed on page 18 of Eastern Heroes, Vol. 2, No. 4):

click for 157k image of Yu Tai Ping YU TAI PING
Taiwan-opera trained, he was actually from a hardcore traditional background before entering the movie business. Yu Tai Ping, along with fellow classmates Kwok Choy, Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng toured the world with their retrospective opera troupe. Although never a big star, he is undoubtedly one of the best supporting actors to have sprung from the stables of Shaw Brothers. Usually playing chief lackey, he is noted as being the only man to be featured in all the Chang Cheh Venom films (Flag of Iron, aka Spear Man, Master Avengers [sic]). Not totally away from the scene like some, Yu Tai Ping is now working in television.

click for 129k image of Kuo Chui KWOK CHOY [aka Kuo Chui aka Philip Kwok]
From opera player to medicine hawker to tool maker (where he actually lost a couple of his fingers) here stands one of the most versatile actors you will ever see. From bit parts and some good supporting, Kwok Choy became a major player for director Chang Cheh, achieving stardom with the classic Five Deadly Venoms in 1979. Nearly all the films that followed featured him as the central character from the Venom crew. He is also respected for his uncanny skills with weaponry. There really are many great films one could mention: Kid with the Golden Arm, Flag of Iron aka Spearman, Master Avengers [sic], and Legend of the Fox are a select few that really stand out. Currently one of the biggest paid action directors in South East Asia, Kwok Choy is not short of work. He recently completed work on Touch of Zen Part 2, and also worked on John Woo's terrific Hard Boiled, in which he plays the righteous villain Mad Dog.

From "Peking Opera Blues," by Toby Russell, in Eastern Heroes Special Edition #1, page 19:

click for 163k version of image 8. WANG LEE
He worked as a stuntman for Seasonal Films before landing a memorable role in Chang Cheh's Shaolin Rescuers. Since that performance, he found himself a permanent member of the Venoms team and works very closely these days with Kwok Choi (Mad Dog in Hard Boiled), assisting him in fight choreography. He still makes occasional cameo appearances in front of the camera.

From "Peking Opera Blues Part Two," by Toby Russell, in Eastern Heroes Special Edition #2, pages 28-29:

click for 76k image of Tin Chee 1. TIN CHEE
One of the best all-rounders from Taiwan. Renowned in opera circles for his monkey king. Chang Cheh signed him up in 1980 to add a spark to his awesome troupe. Best films: Five Element Ninjas, Seven Steps.


click for 168k image of Chu Ker 1. CHU KER
After many years as a stunt player and bit part actor, Chu was selected from over 200 hopefuls to travel to Hong Kong and work with the Venoms in 1980. Chu is also a respected choreographer and opera performer and still goes up on stage when he gets the chance.


click for 157k image of Chiang Sheng 11. CHIANG SHENG
This cheeky fella was expelled from the school when he was caught smoking in the principal's office. He had no trouble finding work and became a member of Chang Cheh's group. Sadly, he died from a heart attack in 1981. Best films: Five Deadly Venoms, Shaolin Daredevils, Invincible Shaolin, The [Magnificent] Ruffians.

click for 237k image of Robert Tai 12. ROBERT TAI
A close friend of Chiang Sheng, but chose to stay behind the camera rather than in front of it. Renowned in the film world for his vivid style and insane filmmaking and choreography. Best films: Five Deadly Venoms, Shaolin Vs. Ninja.

click for 167k image of Lu Feng 13. LU FENG
This robust performer was snapped up by Chang Cheh in the seventies and hasn't left him since. Best films: Five Deadly Venoms, Magnificent Ruffians, for which he won an award.

From "Villains Past and Present," by Toby Russell, in Eastern Heroes Special Edition #4, pp. 44-45:

click for 137k image of Shoji Kurata Shoji Kurata [aka Yasuaki Kurata]
Kurata San is originally from Japan and master of karate. In the early `70s, he moved to Hong Kong to work on independent productions like Fist of Vengeance and Fist of Unicorn. His cool looks made him a favourite villain of the ladies. He also appeared in several Sonny Chiba films. In 1981, Kurata was arrested by the Hong Kong police in connection with smuggling crimes in which Chan Wai Man was also implicated. They were both found not guilty. Kurata will be best remembered for his part as the kindly Japanese master in Legend of a Fighter, a role which he has recently reprised in Jet Lee's classic Fist of Legend. Best films: Shaolin Challenges Ninja, Legend of a Fighter, Shanghai Express, Fist of Legend.

click for 89k image of Wang Lung Wei Wong Lung Wei
Shaw Brothers' answer to Hwang Jan Lee, Wong first appeared in Chang Cheh's classic Shaolin Martial Arts as a Manchu iron robe master. He subsequently played the villain in over 40 Shaw Brothers films. Wong's villainous exploits go beyond the big screen as he is often involved in gang fights. He is now a director. Best films: The Master, Two on the Road, Martial Club, Two Toothless Tigers.

click for 188k image of Fong Hak On Fong Hak Onn
Fong comes from an acting family specialising in villains. You may remember his father as the old man with the twisted mouth who double crossed Wang In Sik in Young Master. Fong junior started playing villains as a teenager in black and white Cantonese dramas. He slowly worked his way up the ladder of villains with the Shaw Brothers, then on to Samo Hung and finally Jackie Chan. Fong is one of the elite few who can keep up with Jackie. Fong also directs and is a highly paid choreographer. Readers might like to know that he's as mean and lazy off the screen as on it, and good luck to him! Best films: Iron Fisted Monk, Warriors Two, Gold Hunters, Police Story.

click for 153k image of Dick Wei Dick Wei [aka Tu Lung]
Dick Wei is from Taiwan and is a Tae Kwan Do master. He started his acting career in 1977 when he joined the Shaw Brothers using the name Tu Lung, but it wasn't until Jackie Chan and Samo Hung started using him that he gained recognition. He now lives in Taiwan, where he acts and produces. Best films: Project A, First Mission, Code of Honour.

Lu Feng
See Eastern Heroes special edition 2

For more photos of the Venoms, their supporting actors, and co-stars, click here.

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This page first constructed by Steven Feldman <scfeldman@juno.com> 2/22/02. Last update: 11/14/03.
Copyright Steven Feldman, 2002.