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"A Way
of
Saying"
by Chun Ming,
an article from

. .
Black and white photocopy of 
cover to Influence Magazine #13
173k | 360k
. .

Influence Magazine
#13 (April 1976),
roughly translated
by Michael
Min-Chi Wong



KEY:
(#) indicates a link to a footnoted comment made by the translator
<#> indicates a page break in the magazine's original Chinese text
<missing a line here> indicates a line of text that was illegible to the translator
[green text] indicates a comment made by this web page's editor (Steven Feldman)
[brown text] indicates a comment made by the translator (Michael Min-Chi Wong)
blue text indicates a difficult-to-translate, questionable passage
red text indicates a comment found to be of great importance by this web page's editor


From Influence Magazine (Taipei, Taiwan) #13 (April 1976), pp. 32-34:
<32>
A WAY OF SAYING
by Chang Ngai

We talk often about Chang Cheh. He has been making and releasing movies non-stop, so you can't forget him.

But most of us aren't aware that the sheer number of films Chang Cheh made is almost the most among Chinese directors. You probably don't remember clearly which of his movies are about what -- with the exception of just a few of the more memorable ones. However, you will remember there are several special trademarks of his movies: many men, few women; a lot of fighting, little dialogue; many die, few live; but, to be honest, all these together aren't really sufficient to use "Machismo", "action is superior to logic" etc. as a thesis on which to base an essay. Chang Cheh doesn't think a lot, and he doesn't think deeply. He just keeps moving, and moving, making movies Once he latches onto a small subject, he will blow it all out of proportion. This is his way, but not strictly his belief, so, in general, he himself is the type of person whose "action is superior to logic".

So, we are willing to say this: Chang Cheh and his movies are very different in meaning. When talking about Chang Cheh, if we get into the nitty gritty, maybe it's not really like him. In this case, let us talk about Chang Cheh this way.

The difference between individual Chang Cheh movies aren't quite significant from each other. The themes that he wanted to focus on are also often different from one to another. Because of this, the whole series of Chang Cheh movies, from the early stage play-like martial arts films (Butterfly Cup) to the period sword fight films, to the early fist fight films, to the kung fu films he makes nowadays, the "fighting" hasn't changed. There was a certain style that he employed.

This style, when we think about it, is also quite simple. That is, Chang Cheh films are just like fungus [please don't quote this phrase out of context, okay?], where the rules of survival are simple, and the internal structures are also simple. Because of this, a primitive style was formed unconsciously.

This type of primitive style doesn't really need any outstanding performances or skills, it is only passing on some ancient evolutionary strong prey-on-the-weak type of <33> change, using various combinations of time periods and locations as illustrations. Even under the societal restrictions, Chang Cheh's movies still follow a strict path -- power. The powerful victimizes the weak, and when the weak victimized people learn a powerful form of Kung Fu to make themselves stronger, they in turn victimize the powerful that originally victimized them. In this vicious cycle, Chang Cheh never places emphasis on the idea that "man" could have the possibility of thought or feelings in this process.

Looking at this from another angle, Chang Cheh has been the same for over ten years, and bases everything on "kung fu fighting." This only illustrates the fact that Chang Cheh is satisfied and feels that this is right up his alley, so he is willing to constantly tread over and over on this subject ("fighting" and "fighters" couldn't possibly be a very common thing in average life, right?). So, this situation locked Chang Cheh's movies on the same unchanging level, and has no bearing on realistic life anymore.

Let us examine several Chang Cheh films: Wong Yu in "The One-Armed Swordsman", David Chiang in "Vengeance", David Chiang and Ti Lung in "The Duel", Chan Kwun Tai in "The Boxer from ShanTung", and Fu Shing in "The Hung Boxing Kid." These characters all look as if they are meaningful characters in their respective movies at first sight, but the important part was only in their response to a certain stimulant. They are all pushed into response by a certain type of stimulant, like: revenge, lust, ego -- any one of the above. As long as it is used on the character, they will automatically "enter the mode" without thinking. The result of "entering the mode", every audience can tell before the movie ends, because this type of process doesn't require thinking, and doesn't have a changing variable to add to the suspense, so since the viewer doesn't need to treat all the various guises employed in individual movies as anything unique, what is left?

Chang Cheh himself said, "I put great emphasis on feelings." Then, what kind of feeling is this? Fifteen people surrounding one person and fighting for 15 minutes, two people fighting from early dawn till noon, or even more ridiculous: a person is struck by axes over ten times, but still holds onto his spilling guts, and keeps fighting on . . . and on. Is this Chang Cheh's idea of feelings? For over 10 years, viewers are still enjoying these films and not gotten tired of them yet. This also has become the main theme of Chang Cheh; it takes precedence over all else, and eventually these movies became something beyond intellection; they became a type of style, a type of lollipop style. You hold it in your mouth, suck on it, chew on it, and taste it subconsciously, without paying real attention to it, but you don't remove it from your mouth. A lollipop is a lollipop. No matter whether it is coffee-, chocolate-, or cherry-flavored, it is nothing more than a lollipop!

But, is that really all Chang Cheh amounts to?

The value of Chang Cheh's movies is at the otherside -- that is, Chang Cheh's success in the movie industry, what we consider "movies", is multifaceted and can't be covered from any single angle or position. The difficulty of making Chinese movies is undisputed, but people in the movie industry who are passionate never shy away from such challenges. Whoever pushes forward in both filmic quality and marketability is the only one who can make the next movie, and being someone who can get a movie made, to be truthful, is the real life goal of people in the movie industry!

Chang Cheh has, for over ten years running, has been without equal among his colleagues and been the most outstanding. He kept making new movies continuously in the Mandarin market. This is Chang Cheh's personal accomplishment in movie history, and can never be taken away. Although Chang Cheh sometimes complained of many "constraints that make things difficult" and discussed the various restrictions and difficulties, he never backed down from the challenge. He still successfully releases his new films. This, in Chang Cheh's terms, has a profound meaning and effect, making him -- in the Chinese movie industry -- a strong and fit specimen in the evolution of filmmakers.

Such being the case, we will discuss the reasons for this:

1) CHANG CHEH'S PRODUCTS HAVE A SUCCESSFUL TARGET MARKET

Movies are just like products and goods: they need a market, they need a quality roadmap. The manufacture of a product has in mind a target consumer level. An unwisely chosen target demographic will keep the product from selling, and leads to the death of the product.
Chang Cheh understands this point. He knows where to find the consumer for Chinese movies. He didn't get too artsy and he didn't make the quality too poor, he just clearly aimed for his target and kept making films at the same level of quality. Because of this, Chang Cheh continued to do well. First, he set up his leading position in the market, and when his movies occasionally went in the wrong direction -- like the case with "Blood Brothers" -- Chang Cheh became aware of it immediately, and corrected his mistakes in the next movie, quickly becoming successful all over again [by making "The Generation Gap"].

2) CHANG CHEH'S SUPERIOR ABILITY TO ADAPT TO THE MARKET

In regards to this, Chang Cheh's sense of marketability is first class. He never goes against fashion and is always up-to-date. Chang Cheh's movies often follow the latest fashion. "The One-Armed Swordsman" was running in the shadows of "The Admiral with Broken Saber"; "The Golden Swallow" came out when "The Lone Hero" [actually, I think this is a typo, as "Come Drink With Me" would be more suitable] was popular; "Duel of Fists" came out at the time Thai boxing and karate was fashionable; "The 4 Riders" was reminiscent of the Vietnam war; "The Delinquent" and "The Generation Gap" played with the generation gap; and "Heroes Two," "Men from the Monastery," "Shaolin Martial Arts," "Five Shaolin Masters" and "The Hung Boxing Kid" all took advantage of the kung fu craze.

All of this decided the direction of Chang Cheh's movies. Chang Cheh observes and analyzes how to target the needs of the market, the will of the market, and tailors his productions to suit it. This way, how can his movies fail to appeal to the taste of the general public?

3) EXCELLENT PROMOTIONAL EFFORTS

Looking at the Chinese movies industry as a whole, today, promoting a movie is very important. It can make an obvious dud a hit, but it seems that many movie producers do not understand this. At least, they don't count it as an important part of movie-making. Not so for Chang Cheh. He never let his movies just appear in the the market without proper promotions. He wants to "lead the advertisements", like sending out news items endlessly; he also wants to "produce the advertisements," <34> like printing up preview ads in the newspapers long before a movie is actually released. Finally, he placed great emphasis on the release dates. He will never release a movie at a time when the market has been historically bad unless he is confident it will do well. After all these years of making films, he never let interesting gossip news go. If it's not about the travels of the movie's stars, then it's small stories about the making of the film. The most important thing is -- in Chang Cheh's movies, the stars are more important than the film. Every star has to play himself in the movie, and these stars all have strikingly different characters, and differing styles from one another -- Wong Yu, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chan Kwun Tai, Fu Shing, Chik Kwan Kwun. They are all superbly strong, good at hand-to-hand fighting, and appear on the screen as if they are fighting for real. Even their first move is impressive. Besides these fighters, Chang Cheh also has in his possession some of Hong Kong and Taiwan's best martial arts choreographers to design crisp and nice looking fight moves, which is also why Chang Cheh's movies are so popular among the general movie-going public.

4) CHANG CHEH'S SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

In regards to this point, Chang Cheh's qualifications are literally without peer in today's Chinese films. His production team, when it comes to executing a project, is incredibly efficient. Once a movie is done, another movie starts. When making a film, the next film is planned at the same time. No time is wasted in between, and the production crew's "team work" with Chang Cheh has been working together for years, and basically they are the same script writer, camera crew, editing crew, music, and arts and crafts. They are all familiar with each other, and the work is divided neatly among them. While they are all used to working with each other, even when it comes to the actors -- from the main stars to the secondary actors -- they perform the same, and work immediately when called upon, making Chang Cheh's movie filming and movie producing a complete standardized package, superbly efficient -- even when other people are taking a break from filming -- keeping themselves busy, and improving non-stop, which is why they are in such a strong position when compared to others.

Utilizing these advantages, Chang Cheh is not afraid of making movies in the "B" movie fashion. He kept releasing new pictures non-stop, and made himself an established power in Chinese films. So, Chang Cheh wound up with some expectations for his films. Therefore, he started his "change. For example: "Child in Red" [The Fantastic Magic Baby] and "Hell" [Heaven and Hell, aka Shaolin Hellgate], but both these projects were ill-fated. "Child in Red" was a box office failure, and "Hell"'s release date kept getting postponed.

But, from our view of Chang Cheh, we don't find this as a failure of Chang Cheh to improve the quality of his films. It's an error Chang Cheh made on his market analysis. He had forgotten the target market for the product "Chang Cheh films."

Not unexpectedly, Chang Cheh learned from his mistakes, and immediately released "Marco Polo" and "The Seven Daredevils", trying to turn back the tides.

Because of this, Chang Cheh sees movies as a type of commercial product. His performance, his production, are all in service of making a product a "good seller." His movies -- no matter if it's from picking a subject, or structure -- are all for pleasing the taste of the viewers. Maybe under the theory of the few "film connoiseurs", this is too lowbrow. But, in our thinking -- nobody has the right to restrict a movie to a set format, and a set quality level. Chang Cheh's choice of going this route was his personal decision. His works don't have a profound meaning, they are loosely structured, the characters are flat, the plot is simple -- or they may even sometimes be out of control. These are all problems with the quality of the "Chang Cheh movie" as a product, but if they are still selling well, and are box office hits, then it's a problem with the market, and the problem with the viewer, not the problem of Chang Cheh alone. Chang Cheh as a moviemaker. His first and foremost decision is he needs to make movies, he needs to keep making movies continuously. In the face of an industrial society with viewers that are highly desensitized, he doesn't need to shyly do things halfway, he has the right to grab all the advantage he can, and make himself standout successfully.

Because of this, we find Chang Cheh to be a very typical "exploitation filmmaker." His chosen path leads to his success, and his success is his box office numbers, not profound philosophy, imagery, or symbolism. He will not reflect anything from current society, and he won't make an in-depth analysis of the human psyche, but it is a business investment, and this type of investment should have been an acceptible way to make movies a long time ago.




This page first created by Steven Feldman <scfeldman@juno.com> 1/21/08. Last update: 4/16/08.
Copyright Steven Feldman, 2008.