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"Hong Kong:
Wushu Warriors"
[excerpt], plus

. .

about this book
Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas
286k
. .

"Let the Blood Flow,"
"Chang's Gang," and
"Chang's Masterpiece"



  • "Hong Kong: Wushu Warriors" [excerpt]
  • "Let the Blood Flow"
  • "Chang's Gang"
  • "Chang's Masterpiece"

    "Hong Kong: Wushu Warriors" [excerpt], "Let the Blood Flow," "Chang's Gang," and "Chang's Masterpiece"
    [from pages 61-80 of]
    Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas
    by Richard Meyers, Amy Harlib, Bill Palmer and Karen Palmer (Citadel Press, 1985)


    Hong Kong: Wushu Warriors . . [return to index]
    Pages 61-64

    The first hint of things to come was in 1967. There had been years of Huang Fei Hong films, but also other movies like 1964's The Young Swordsman. Swordplay movies had been a regular staple in Chinese cinema since the beginning, ranging in quality from predictable to awful. They were also marked by a ponderous artificiality. So audiences weren't expecting anything special when the lights went down and the screen lit up with The One-Armed Swordsman.

    No one was prepared for what they saw. People stared in amazement as a supreme swordsman is saved from a murderous attack by his servant, who dies in his master's place. The swordsman takes the servant's son, Fong Kong, as his own, teaching him everything he knows. Years later, the swordsman is ready to retire, and plans to turn his martial arts school over to Fong. All the attention Fong has received has turned the swordsman's daughter bitter and hateful. With two male students, she plans her revenge.

    The trio confront the confused Fong, and, in the ensuing fight, the daughter hacks Fong's right arm off herself. Blood pouring out of his shoulder, Fong falls into the arms of a girl named Shiu Min, who slowly nurses him back to health. But by that time the situation has only grown worse. A rival martial arts school, led by the "Long-Armed Devil," wants to destroy the elder swordsman's school utterly.

    They find the one-armed man and the girl. He manages to fight them off but is again badly beaten in the process. Bloody, exhausted, despondent, Fong is inspired by his woman's love. It is she who tells him to start again. Laboriously, he learns to master the One-Armed Sword.

    But time stands still for no one, one-armed of not. The villain kills the two men who conspired with the evil daughter and holds the girl as captive. Fong rescues her, instigating a series of bloody retributions. Fong goes to join his master, but is confronted by the villain's henchmen. He wipes them out.

    He returns to his master's school to find the elder swordsman wounded and his students killed. Completely alone, Fong marches into the Long-Armed Devil's headquarters and massacres everyone. With the screen littered with bodies, Fong Kong sets off to settle down with his woman.

    The audience was not the same when the lights came up. They had viewed a cathartic experience. After years of Confucian morality and bloodless, unconvincing, stagy fights, The One-Armed Swordsman showed them a tortured anti-hero who thought nothing of slaughtering his enemies. And after all the abuse he had taken, the viewers went along with the slaughter -- in fact, cheered it.

    And the slaughter was realistic. None of this swinging a sword and having the opponent fall down. Here, things were chopped off, blood spurted, and victims fell writhing. Suddenly producer Runme Shaw, director Chang Cheh, writer I Kuang, and star Wang Yu had the first million-dollar-grossing movie in Hong Kong history.

    A sequel was called for and made. Not surprisingly, it was called The Return of the One-Armed Swordsman and premiered in 1969. The production team was the same, as was the film's point of view. Fong Kong is living peacefully in the country with his wife. An invitation to a dueling contest arrives, which Fong declines. Then the Eight Demon Swordsmen capture all the contestants, demanding an arm from each. As if that nastiness weren't enough, they kidnap Fong's wife. Now that was a mistake. That gets the One-Armed Swordsman angry. From there on, it is slaughter time.

    The filmmakers had found a formula: Take a quiet, unassuming hero, heap incredible abuse on him, then have him fight back with equally incredible rage and bloodlust. But more than that, Cheh and Kuang liberally littered the film with sensitive touches and telling actor's movements -- which build audience sympathy for the put-upon, otherwise noble hero. They also set striking backgrounds for the action, such as the snowy woods where Fong's arm is chopped off.

    Naturally, in a realistic movie, none of this could have been possible. The arm could not have been so easily and cleanly hacked off, Fong would have fallen, screaming, to the ground instead of stumbling away, and he would have died within minutes from the shock and loss of blood. But taken as a superhero film, it works, and works beautifully.

    Not content with this extreme statement of their theme, the same team goes even further with 1968's Golden Swallow, which is a sequel to one of King Hu's films called Come Drink With Me. Both were about a swordswoman named Cheng Pei Pei, but the Shaw Brothers Studio production cast Wang Yu as the white-garbed swordsman Silver Roc, who is a walking, two-armed death machine.

    Here the writer, director and star went for broke, mounting riveting scenes of wholesale mayhem, marked by an extremism that bordered on the supernatural. Silver Roc takes on the Dragon Gang with sword and darts, with traps and weapons of all kinds, complicating matters until Silver Roc stands, mortally wounded, blood all over his white outfit, defiant to the end.

    The name of the game here was hysteria. Wang Yu, a small, unimpressive-looking actor, played an obsessed man in all his films, and the fans loved it. It was an image Yu himself promoted, and cemented in 1970 by writing, directing, and starring in The Chinese Boxer. [. . .]

    LET THE BLOOD FLOW . . [return to index]
    Pages 67-70

    The same fate was not to befall Chang Cheh. He was too experienced to let youthful enthusiasm overwhelm him. He was almost fifty years old at the time, and had been toiling in the Oriental film industry since 1947. He had been working for Shaw Brothers for ten years. When Wang Yu left the studio, the contract director seemed to realize that the day of the non-martial arts actor in action films was over. He started looking for stars who matched the charisma, attitude, and handsomeness of Bruce Lee. As it turned out, no one man could match Lee's popularity. In this case, it took two.

    They were David Chiang and Ti Lung. Their first major effort came in a bleak, intense 1970 drama, Vengeance. Many consider it Cheh's best piece of "serious" kungfu cinema. There is no doubt that his and scriptwriter I Kuang's juggling of ancient (represented by the Ti Lung character's involvement with a Peking Opera troupe) and modern images made for some of the director's most impressive relevant visual statements. As his career was to progress, his visuals would become more and more cartoonish.

    But trying to pigeonhole Chang Cheh is difficult, considering he has made about a hundred movies in the last twenty-two years. His period of greatest fluctuation came in the years immediately after Wang Yu's departure. He made historical action films with Lung and Chiang as well as modern sagas featuring that duo and another young newcomer named Chen Kuan Tai. All three deserve attention.

    David Chiang was born the year Chang Cheh started in films, 1947. His parents were both actors, so he made his initial appearances in child roles. He grew to be a slight, short young man, but he was quick and accurate in the martial arts. He started as a stuntman for movies, but graduated to acting when Cheh discovered him.

    In the early years, he specialized in wily, con-artist characters -- perfectly matched with Ti Lung's matinee-idol attitude and looks. He is sometimes known to U.S. fans as "Rover," the street-thief character he played in The Savage Five (released in America in 1979). In the later years, he played what parts he could, but was never completely convincing as a supreme kungfu master because of his size and slight build.

    Ti Lung, on the other hand, is probably the most majestic of all kungfu movie stars. He has matured into a regal personage, a versatile actor with a staunch respect for, and a seemingly effortless ability at, the martial arts. This ability derived from studying karate, hung gar, tae kwon do, and Mantis Fist since 1961. His screen presence was honed by a year-long Shaw Studio course that sharpened his acting and fighting skills.

    Both Chiang and he seemed to be naturals, and played off each other well. In the early films, Lung was often cast as the regulation hero with Chiang as the anti-hero. It was this sort of part which best suited Lung and has followed him throughout his continuing career, a career that includes over seventy martial arts movies. No one ever said the Shaw Studios didn't put their actors to work.

    Chen Kuan Tai was the third wheel on this Chang Cheh bicycle, and didn't stay riding with the duo for long. Unlike the other two, he was known as a martial artist before his film career, winning the 1969 light-heavyweight championship at the East-Asian Tournament at Singapore. He started learning Monkey style kungfu when he was eight and displayed how powerful the art could be in several films [including the original, now-classic Iron Monkey]. Unlike other screen Monkey stylists, he never resorted to prancing monkey impersonations.

    While Ti Lung was featured in Wang Yu's Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, Kuan Tai was in The Chinese Boxer as well as Huang Fei Hong Bravely Crushing the Fire Formation -- the last Huang movie of the early seventies. He achieved stardom with Chang Cheh's Boxer from Shangtung (U.S. title: Killer from Shangtung -- 1972) in which he played a naive martial artist in the corrupt, danger-fraught city of Shanghai on the eve of the Sino-Japanese war.

    The most notable film the trio made together under Cheh's direction was Blood Brothers (US title: Dynasty of Blood -- 1973), one of the director's more ambitious attempts at combining martial arts action with a meaningful story. The story was about the dangers of power and friendship. It is set in the mid-nineteenth century during the Taiping Rebellion and is based on actual people and events.

    Chiang and Kuan Ti are highwaymen until Lung convinces them to join the Imperial Army. As Lung excells, his absolute power begins to corrupt him absolutely. He has an affair with the Kuan Ti character's wife, then has Kuan Ti killed. Chiang takes revenge for his dead friend on his ex-friend, then willingly gives himself up and is executed.

    The film well represents the Shaw Brothers movie of the early seventies. The brothers, Run Run and Rumme, own a gigantic studio with sound stages, standing exterior sets, and a costume warehouse. Sets and costumes are meticulously designed in intricate detail, covering a cross-section of Chinese history. They have a school on the premises, complete with dormitories. In this, what is called "Movietown," they are able to film massive productions with sweep and pageantry.

    They also have a waterfront, where Chang Cheh filmed Deadly Duo, another early seventies kungfu adventure that represents a regular Chiang/Lung team-up. This featured the pair as noble heroes of the Yuan Dynasty, trying to save their prince from the Mongol hordes. Naturally, Lung is nobler than crafty Chiang, but it is Chiang who give up his life in the finale to save Lung and the prince.

    Deadly Duo was also a good example of what was wrong and what was right about Cheh's early kungfu output. Although the film was full of interesting characters and esoteric weapons -- Lung had a battle-ax, Chiang a steel whip, and the villains were Fire, Earth, Tree Men -- time between fights crawled like a snail. In one particularly ludricrous scene, the main heroes' associates discuss crossing a treacherous drawbridge at length before each in turn tries it and falls to his death.

    The ending, however, is worth the price of admission. Chiang and Lung chop away at the Mongol hordes until Lung is safely at sea with the prince on a raft while Chiang stands, dead, on the warf, blocking the surviving Mongols. To paraphrase the final line by the Mongol general: "If the Chinese have other warriors of this quality, we're in deep trouble."

    In 1972, David Chiang was given the distinction of playing The New One-Armed Swordsman, who must avenge Ti Lung's character's death inside the Tiger Fort. This One-Armed Swordsman was named Lei Li, and he supposedly chopped off his own arm when defeated in a fight, but no one was fooled. Chiang's intensity was not the alienated, obsessive kind Wang Yu's was, and while Chang Cheh puts in some wonderfully clever visuals and handles the bloody battle scenes exceptionally, these proposed new adventures did not take off.

    Where Chang Cheh distinguished himself from the directors who followed was in his use of blood. He has never shirked from its use while those around him sought a cleaner, less ugly format with which to display their martial arts expertise. Chang has also been fortunate in his ability to scout and promote talent in both his actors and martial arts instructors.

    He broke the mold in 1972 with The Water Margin (U.S. title: Seven Blows of the Dragon), in which he introduced a protracted-fight-scene filming style that has remained vital to this very day. Although crude at that time, this movie marked the end of the razzle-dazzle editing style which made non-martial artists look decent in fight scenes. Although the camera work can still be eye-straining, from this feature on the best kungfu battles were filmed without technical "juice."

    The Water Margin/Seven Blows of the Dragon was based on the classic novel by Shi Nai-an called Outlaws of the Marshes, written in the fourteenth century. It concerned the 108 Mountain Brothers -- a famous band of righteous mercenaries in the eleventh century (Sung Dynasty) who fight bad guys where they find them. It, and the sequel, All Men Are Brothers, gave Chang Cheh a chance to film kungfu fights just for their own sake.

    But he truly found his niche in 1975 with Five Shaolin Masters (U.S. title: Five Masters of Death), the fourth in Cheh's Shaolin series. As far as critics were concerned, this movie marked the start of Cheh's decline. As far as this book is concerned, it marked the start of his finest martial arts movies. Indeed, he no longer seemed to be looking for relevant images. Now he seemed intent on producing one hundred percent superhero entertainment. He seemed to stop taking his movies' histrionics seriously, and got down to some serious mayhem.

    CHANG'S GANG . . [return to index]
    Pages 70, 72, 74-75

    Five Masters of Death was based on the famous story of the Shaolin Temple's destruction and the survival/vengeance of its escaping students. It followed Heroes Two (U.S.: Bloody Fists), Shaolin Martial Arts, and Men from the Monastery (U.S.: Disciples of Death) -- all 1974. In these preceding films, Chang introduced Chi Kuan Chun, a dark-skinned actor with high cheekbones and a ferret face, as well as Fu Sheng, a lively acrobat/martial artist who was in the first class of the studio's newly conceived project -- The Shaw Training Center for Young Actors and Actresses.

    The 1975 Shaolin movie teamed Ti Lung and David Chiang with Chun and Sheng, then added a cute-looking fellow named Meng Fei to fill out the Five. Together, they take on early eighteenth-century enemies led by actor Wang Lung Wei -- a brutish, mustached presence who was to become one of the most versatile villains in the kungfu genre.

    Here is a telling distinction of martial arts movies. Wang Lung Wei is not a versatile actor. He is a versatile fighter. It is his paricular skill that he can make defeats by everyone from Fu Sheng to David Chiang look believable. When Wang Lung Wei is ultimately defeated, whether it be by a hundred-and-fifty-pound lad or a hulking muscleman, the beaten fighter makes it work.

    To beat him this time, Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun learned the Shaolin animal styles, Meng Fei learned the "rolling" style (a form of wrestling that looks artificial on screen -- David Chiang did it in Seven Blows of the Dragon), Ti Lung became master of the staff pole, and Chiang used the steel whip with deadly accuracy (he hurls the sharpened point through two men at once during the climactic free-for-all).

    Only Sheng, Chiang, and Lung survive at the fadeout, but this film's success was to lead to many other Shaolin movies made by Chang Cheh over the next two years. At this time, he got the first of two brainstorms. That was to give Fu Sheng his due. In a very short time, this personable actor had won over audiences with his boyish, impish, charm. Even when playing a straight character, he had a wit and prickly style unmatched by any other action star working.

    Cheh secured Fu Sheng's future by starring him in The Chinatown Kid (1977) and the Brave Archer series (1978-79). The former film was probably one of the best modern-day martial arts movies made. In it, Sheng plays an impoverished troublemaker who is forced to flee the Orient for San Francisco. There he slaves in a Chinese restaurant, meeting up with a quiet student (Sun Chien).

    Because he is such a good martial artist, he runs afoul of two warring street gangs, led by muscular Lo Meng on one side and sophisticated Kuo Chui on the other. All Sheng's character wants to do is be good, so when Sun Chien's character becomes addicted to the drugs supplied by the gang, Sheng sees the error of his ways. Although a successful and rich member of the gang, he attacks, killing all his enemies, but dying himself.

    The Chinatown Kid was more realistic than most modern-day chop-socky pictures and the filmmakers pull off one of their cleverest symbols in the form of a digital watch. It represents the brave new American world to Sheng's character, and his actions all revolve around attaining and sustaining the watch. At the end, as he's dying, he offers it to Chien . . . who doesn't take it. The whole business of obvious, but extremely effective.

    Sheng proved his mettle in period pieces directly afterward with The Brave Archer (U.S.: Kung Fu Warlords), in which he played a Sung Dynasty hero named Kuo Tsing, who did precious little archery. But Chang Cheh dazzled audiences with his sunny, brightly colored scenes of astonishing mayhem. This stuff went far beyond the Bruce Lee style of hurling around grossly inferior martial artists. These were duels between fighters of at least equal ability, in sumptuous period costumes on exact, intricately detailed period sets.

    Following quickly came The Brave Archer Part II (U.S.: Kung Fu Warlords Part II), Brave Archer Part III (U.S.: Blast of the Iron Palm), and Brave Archer and His Mate. All promoted Chang Cheh's interest in extremely complicated plots that involved liberal doses of stunning fight scenes in which characters routinely flipped, kicked, chopped, and leaped with the greatest of ease. His films required exceptional acrobats and athletes. Although all the actors did almost all their own stunts, these sequences can be literally unbelievable to Western eyes.

    But Eastern audiences loved it, which led to Chang Cheh's second brainstorm. Taking the "team" concept of Five Masters of Death, why not film a series of lively kungfu movies starring the same actors in basically the same roles? This gave rise to Chang Cheh's Teams. The first team was David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Fu Sheng, and Chi Kuan Chun -- even though those five rarely all played in the same film.

    He introduced his second team in the preceding Fu Sheng starring vehicles. The first team had split up to work with other directors and other studios, so the second team premiered on its own with The Five Venoms (U.S.: Five Deadly Venoms -- 1978). In the fifteenth century, a dying teacher taught five masked students the deadliest forms of kungfu known -- Snake, Centipede, Lizard, Toad, and Scorpion. None of the students knew each other at the time, but now several had teamed up to become criminals. The teacher tells his last student [Chiang Sheng], who knows a bit of all five arts, to find the students and stop their crimes.

    From this simple premise, Cheh extracted martial arts extremism. The villains practive esoteric, nasty killing styles. They defeat each other with a solid gold, knife-lined casket, pins in noses, knives in ears, as well as their own unbelievable skills. In the finale, when the venoms fight, the heroes literally walk up the walls and stand there. It is all done with bold, unapologetic style

    The second team, formally introduced: Kuo Chui was always the main hero, and always played a street-smart supreme fighter who hid behind a guise of a beggar or a transient or a criminal. Chiang Sheng is known by fans as "cutie-pie," and indeed he is -- just as small and thin as David Chiang, but almost always playing the acrobatic partner to Chui. Sun Chien was the kicker; sometimes hero, sometimes villain. Lo Meng is the thick-headed muscleman, and Lu Feng is almost always the insidious traitor who lures heroes into his traps.

    Chang Cheh also used a variety of regular actors in secondary roles, but these five were the main unit for at least ten adventures that were unique in their extremism. The tone was set by their second movie, Crippled Avengers (U.S.: Mortal Combat -- 1978). Chen Kuan Tai played a Ming Dynasty kungfu master driven mad by his wife's death and son's disfigurement. Some of his enemies chopped off the boy's forearms and the mother's legs.

    Years later, Kuan Tai has taught his son (Lu Feng) Tiger style and replaced his limbs with metal arms that can elongate and shoot darts. From then on, the wealthy man cripples whoever he doesn't like. He blinds a trinket salesman (Kuo Chui), deafens a blacksmith (Lo Meng), chops the feet off a passerby (Sun Chien), and makes retarded a hero who wants to avenge them (Chiang Sheng), by tightening a steel band around his skull.

    The four unite, find the retarded hero's teacher, and learn new kungfu techniques. The disfigured man is given metal feet. The crippled masters return to town during a birthday party for their oppressor -- which many of the country's great, but wicked, kungfu masters attend. The four wipe them all out, a climactic moment coming when Sun Chien puts his metal foot into the chest of one of them.

    The Chiang Sheng character is killed by the metal arm's darts, but the others survive to take their vengeance on their insane tormentor. There is hardly a believable second in this adventure, but as a martial arts movie, it works. As does such following adventures as The Daredevils (1978), an early Republic of China conflict in which street performers revenge themselves on a corrupt general (about the only second team film in which the Kuo Chui character dies), and The Kid with the Golden Arm (1979).

    Here Kuo Chui plays a Drunken style master who aids a hero-laden escort service trying to get a wagon of gold to a famine area during the Ming Dynasty. The ax-, sword-, spear-, and winejug-carrying heroes face masters of the Iron Palm (which here leaves a black imprint that slowly kills the victim), the Iron Fan (a gigantic, sword-edged, steel war fan), the Iron Head (really, a man with a steel forehead shield), and the infamous Kid with the Golden Arm himself [Lo Meng] -- a master of an art which makes him invulnerable to blades.

    To see any of the Chang Cheh movies of this period is not to believe them, but to enjoy them for the kungfu craziness and exuberant bloodiness. The director started searching out new talent while teaming his second team with Fu Sheng and Ti Lung for Ten Tigers of Kwantung (1979), a Cheh mess which juggled two stories through flashbacks, involved Huang Fei Hong's father and cousins, and had a man's head kicked off at the climax.

    That out of his system, he took the second team through The Spearmen of Death (1980) and Masked Avengers (1981). Kuo Chui fought spear-topped flags in the former and tridents in the latter, both about eight feet long. The two films were baroque and bloody.

    The final complete second team movie was House of Traps (1981), which pushed all Chang Cheh's concepts to the razor's edge. In the Sung Dynasty, an evil man hides incriminating evidence in a death-filled pagoda and hires kungfu criminals to guard it. Kuo Chui is the "Black Fox," a tarnished knight-errant who signs on as a guard but actually intends to secure the evidence for honorable Judge Pao (an actual Sung Dynasty lawman made famous in literature along with Judge Dee).

    But first his associates must be slaughtered by the house of traps' spike-growing floors, spear-hurling walls, ax-swinging supports, arrow-shooting panels, and, most incredibly, razor-lined stairs which take off toes and parts of feet. The Black Fox masters them all, wondering at the fadeout at the evil that greed causes.

    CHANG'S MASTERPIECE . . [return to index]
    Pages 76-77, 80

    The second team was no more. Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, and Ku Feng left the Shaw Brothers Studio. Sun Chien remained behind, but for some reason he was never given much to do in any of Cheh's pictures even though he showed himself to be an accomplished leg fighter. Only Lo Meng, the strongman, remained, and he was the only second unit "regular" who appeared in the director's most grandiose, possibly best structured, certainly bloodiest, superheo saga.

    Five Element Ninja (U.S.: Super Ninjas -- 1982) starred Chien Tien Chi as a virtuous member of a kungfu clan attacked by the most insidious power for evil the martial arts world has ever known: the Japanese Ninja. The film can be divided into four sections. Section one: the virtuous clan is challenged by an evil clan who have hired Ninjas to do their dirty work. The good guys go to the five prearranged contest locations only to be massacred by the Ninjas who work within the five elements.

    The sun Ninjas use golden shields to blind their victims, the wood Ninjas use camouflage, the water Ninjas deal fiery death, and the earth Ninjas burrow underground. With all their main fighters dead, the good clan rallies around their leader, expecting an attacck at any moment. Unfortunately, a sympathetic clan member (Lo Meng) takes in a supposedly abused young woman (Chen Pei Hsi) who is actually a Ninja spy.

    Section two: The Ninjas attack, using their spy for information. She also wounds Lo Meng, but it doesn't stop him from fighting like a man possessed, only to be speared to the smoking door of the locked house where the Ninjas burn the clan leader alive. The Ninjas then turn on their employers, killing the other clan, to become the masters of the martial arts world themselves.

    Section three: Chien's character, Hsaio, escapes to find an old sifu who knows all the Ninja tricks. Hsaio joins this teacher's other three students to be laboriously taught new forms of kungfu while voice-over narration traces the Ninja arts (Ninjutsu) back to 200 A.D. After that they traveled to Japan during the Tang Dynasty, which is where this sifu had to go to learn them.

    Section four: Revenge! The four students, complete with metal axes that have more hidden weaponry than Batman's Utility Belt, face the five elemental Ninja on the same sites where their Chinese associates were executed, and do the bad guys one better. They reflect the sun back at the golden-garbed Ninjas and hurl the villains onto a cliff face. The wood and water Ninjas are also dispatched, while the poles sprout flags which sweep away the flame and smoke of the fire Ninjas.

    Finally the four take on the supreme Ninja, who is the earth fighter. He erupts out of the ground time and again, slashing with his knife-covered boots, until the hero forces the knives into his own chest to hold the villain still while his co-fighters literally tear the bad guy in half. The last freeze-framed image is of the surviving good guys smashing the Ninja emblem, which has been cut into a boulder, to pieces.

    After this elaborate phantasmagoria, Chang Cheh seemed to step back for awhile. Like Wang Yu before him, he seemed to have gone just as far as he could go in one direction. His second team had dispersed and the director really didn't have a third team [although he would in the early 1990's, with the "Baby Venoms" -- so-named by the UK's Eastern Heroes magazine -- fronted by Peking Opera performers Tu Yu Ming and Tung Chi Wah]. Although he had many young actors to choose from, most of them didn't want to be tied down to one director or one kind of film. By the early eighties, the Hong Kong film industry had exploded with new concepts and new possibilites, both in the technical and creative areas.

    Chang Cheh seemed to figure that since he had been essentially doing fantasies for the last few years, why not go all the way? His next few films were flat-out, old-fashioned supernatural kungfu adventures with ghost children, avenging spirits, and demi-gods who could fight on water and in the air. Attack of the God of Joy (1983) and The Nine Demons (1984) were "anything goes" pictures, with explosions, colored lights, and horrors bursting in at any moment. [Hey, sounds good to me.]

    Interestingly, his second team's first independent feature was The Hero Defeating Japs [aka Ninja in the Deadly Trap] (1983), a decent Ninja film that guest-starred Ti Lung and Shoji Kurata [aka Yasuaki Kurata], a man who has made his living playing evil Japanese martial artists in Chinese films. Kuo Chui (who also directed), Chiang Sheng, and Lu Feng [the three Venoms who were Peking Opera-trained] were in place as the heroes who fight Ming Dynasty Ninja invaders to protect a book called Summary of Fighting Skills. Although the movie had fine kungfu and a workable plot, it was inferior to their previous master's wild, scarlet-soaked visions.

    © copyright Richard Meyers, Amy Harlib, Bill Palmer and Karen Palmer
    reprinted by permission of Richard Meyers




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