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A Study of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Film
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Special thanks to Richard Meyers for supplying a photocopy of this article!

From the 4th Hong Kong International Film Festival:
A Study of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Film, 1980
pages 167-168:

Chang Cheh

Name in pinyin: Zhang Che

Chang Cheh was born in Qingtian, in Zhejiang Province, in 1923.

During the Sino-Japanese war, he took part with other exiled students in drama and cultural work in Zhongqing, forming a social education team organised by the local Department of Education. After the war, he went to Shanghai to work in the promotion of cultural affairs for the government. He became manager of a theatre called Wenhua Huitang (Cultural Hall), which staged plays and Peking operas as well as showing films.

In 1947, he wrote his first film script (literally, The Girl with the Mask) for the Shanghai Cathay Film Production Company. The film made from this script (directed by Fang Peilin and starring Gu Lanjun and Yan Hua) was the first Mandarin film shot in Taiwan, and it was well received in both Taiwan and Shanghai. He went to Taiwan in 1949, and there wrote, co-directed (with Zhang Ying) and distributed the film Storm Cloud Over Alishan, the first Mandarin film produced by a Taiwanese company. His romanticism and his taste for action films with predominantly male casts were already evident in this film, made at the age of 26. The film's theme-song, Gao Shan Qing, written by Chang himself, was a great popular success in its own right.

The political change that occurred in mainland China shortly afterwards cut short the burgeoning film industry in Taiwan: China was closed to outside productions as a market, and it was no longer possible to obtain equipment from China. Chang remained in Taiwan, working in literary and cultural fields in both civil and military circles. His stage productions, The Recovery of Gou Jian's Kingdom and Genghis Khan, had some impact at the time.

In 1956, he wrote the script for the suspense film, The Cruel Heart of My Man, which was directed in Taiwan by Xu Xinfu and starred Li Mei. The following year, Li Mei invited him to come to Hong Kong to write and direct another starring vehicle for her, Wild Fire. Although this film had little success, he stayed in Hong Kong, writing romance novels under the name Zhang Yi, film reviews under the name He Guan and a column for a Taiwan newspaper under the name Shen Si. He also wrote some martial arts novels at this tilme.

He entered the Motion Picture and General Investment Company (MP & GI, later Cathay) as a scriptwriter in 1960, and wrote numerous scripts, notably, Song Without Words (1961) for Lo Wei. He also wrote scripts for some independent companies. In 1962, he moved to Shaw Brothers, where he was chief scriptwriter until 1967. He wrote more than 20 scripts during this period, but also began to direct again: in 1963, he co-directed The Butterfly Chalice with Yuan Qiufeng, then in 1964 he wrote and directed Tiger Boy, which starred Wang Yu and Lo Lieh. He went on to write and supervise Temple of the Red Lotus (1965), The Twin Swords (1965) and The Sword and the Lute (1967), all directed by Xu Zhenghong, who was cinematographer on Tiger Boy.

When he directed The One-Armed Swordsman in 1966, he both established his position as one of the foremost directors in Hong Kong and began an extended period of collaboration with the scriptwriter I Kuang. Like King Hu (his contemporary at Shaw Brothers in the mid-1960s), he pioneered a new style of martial arts film which was instrumental in changing the face of Mandarin cinema in Hong Kong. The fact that he worked extremely prolifically, and frequently collaborated with up-and-coming directors like Wu Ma, Pao Hsueh-Li and Kuei Chi-Hung (Gui Zhihong), gave him a special prominence in the industry.

Mandarin films of the 1950s and early 1960s were generally romances, and had more female stars than male. Chang's new-style, violent kung-fu films withnew male stars reversed this position. The actors whom Chang helped propel to stardom included Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Fu Sheng and Chen Kuan-Tai. Chang also worked with a number of martial arts instructors who had been active in the Cantonese cinema of the 1950s, and who transferred to the Mandarin industry when the market for Cantonese wu xia pian declined in the 1960s. The most notable such figures were Liu Chia-Liang and Tang Chia.

After Bruce Lee had made his impact on martial arts cinema in the early 1970s, Chang originated another new style of martial arts film, focussing on various authentic martial arts forms and training techniques. In 1974, he established his own quasi-indepedent production company (Chang's Film Company) within the Shaw Brothers organisation, based in Taiwan. The commercial failure of a number of costume epics led to the closure of the company, and he returned to Hong Kong in 1975. The new approach to authentic martial arts found in such films as Heroes Two (1973) has been taken up by Liu Chia-Liang, who now works as a director in his own right.

Chang has directed over 70 films in the past 15 years, averaging over four a year. The standard of his work varies widely. His most notable films include The One-Armed Swordsman (1966), Golden Swallow (1968), The Invincible Fist (1969), Vengeance (1970), The Boxer From Shantung (1972), Man of Iron (1972), The Blood Brothers (1973), Shaolin Martial Arts (1974), Five Shaolin Masters (1974) and Disciples of Shaolin (1975).

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