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Kuo Chui
by Toby Russell

. .. . the cover of Eastern Heroes Special Edition #5 . .. .

Eastern Heroes
Special Edition #5

. .. .

For those who haven't seen any quality kung fu films from the late 1970's or early 1980's, Kuo Chui (a/k/a Kwok Choy, a/k/a Philip Kwok) is the guy who played the Chinese army general seen briefly in the James Bond film TOMORROW NEVER DIES, starring Michelle Yeoh -- uh, I mean Pierce Brosnan, heh heh. Chui also played the highly-memorable character called "Mad Dog" in John Woo's HARD-BOILED. On the other side of the camera, he was the fight choreographer for the cult classic THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (one of the two chief inspirations for the XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS TV show), directed by Ronnie Yu (LEGACY OF RAGE [Brandon Lee's first film], WARRIORS OF VIRTUE and BRIDE OF CHUCKY), and for TOMORROW NEVER DIES. For fight fans familiar with Chang Cheh's "Venoms" films, Kuo Chui was The Man. He was the most charismatic, athletic, and actorly of the five-man team that has come to be known as the "Venoms": Sun Chien, Kuo Chui, Lu Feng, Lo Meng, and Chiang Sheng. His name is pronounced "quo choy" -- or "kwo choi."

From EASTERN HEROES Special Edition #5, pp. 28-32:

by Toby Russell

Without doubt one of the most gifted performers working in Hong Kong today would have to be Kwok Choy. Whatever your preference -- modern day fantasy, kung fu, Heroic Bloodshed, or even drama -- he has dished out fine performances in the genre. I managed to hook up with Kwok Choy in October '95 in Hong Kong to get more insight into what makes this Venom so deadly. Read on for an Eastern Heroes exclusive interview . . .

Eastern Heroes: When were you born?

Kwok Choy: I was born on October 21st 1951, Year of the Rabbit.

EH: How did you lose your fingers?

KC: It was in 1964, I was working with some heavy machinery and I slipped up and they got cut off.

EH: When did you begin your study in the martial arts?

KC: When I was fourteen my parents sent me to the Lu Kwan Peking Opera school which was sponsored by the army.

EH: What did you learn there?

KC: Because I am of ethnic Taiwanese descent I studied Taiwanese Opera. The basic training is the same as Peking Opera but the plays are sung in Hokien dialect rather than Mandarin. Also make-up and costume differ slightly.

EH: What about martial arts?

KC: I learned what is called Northern Style, like Jackie Chan, which is a combination of kicks, acrobatics and juggling.

EH: What about a combat art like Mantis?

KC: No, I've only ever learnt real martial arts on the movie sets of people like Liu Chia Liang and Leung Ting. Peking Opera or Northern Style is the best basis for any martial art. I can pick up any style just by watching it for a few minutes.

EH: A lot of the other Venom boys like Cheng Tien Chee, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng studied opera; did you hang out with them in your opera years?

KC: Yes, Lu Feng and Tien Chee were in my school although they were studying Peking Opera since they were of mainland Chinese descent, but we lived under the same roof. On weekends we used to go to Taipei Bridge and hang out with the other opera kids from the other schools. Everyone who's in movies now used to go there: Lee Yi Min, Jack Long, Robert Tai, Chu Ker, everyone. We used to practice acrobatics and find out where some shooting was going on so we could go and earn some pocket money.

EH: When did you break into movies?

KC: In the mid '70s I was doing some stunt work for Chang Cheh, who was shooting a lot of pictures in Taiwan at the time with Fu Sheng. We were shooting a film with Fu Sheng called SHAOLIN AVENGERS (aka INVINCIBLE KUNG FU BROTHERS) when the action director Liu Chia Liang told Chang Cheh, "See that kid there, he has a lot of potential. He's got a good look and he's a good acrobat." So Chang Cheh gave me my first big break in his next film, MARCO POLO. I played the light skill exponent.

EH: How did the Five Venoms team concept originate?

KC: We had been working with Chang Cheh for a number of films but only in supporting roles, mostly to Fu Sheng or Lee Yi Min, so Chang Cheh devised a script with the help of Leung Ting and Ngai Hong that would star us five. People were a bit reluctant at first since no big stars were in the picture but Chang Cheh was a god at Shaw Brothers and the picture got the green light, and it was a hit so he stuck with the formula for many more films.

EH: Which is your personal favourite film?

KC: That would have to be SHAOLIN RESCUERS [a/k/a AVENGING WARRIORS OF SHAOLIN]. I got to show my whole repertoire of techniques and I could do some zany acting as well. [This is my favorite Venoms film, as well, and I rank it among my top three fave kung fu films, the other two being SUPERNINJAS and KUNG FU CULT MASTER. -- Steven Feldman]

EH: The end fight of that film is really long and intricate. I notice that in all the Venoms films the final confrontation is really between yourself, Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng. Why is this?

KC: Quite simply it's because we three are all Peking Opera trained so our timing is better suited to each other. Lo Meng and Sun Chien are both great fighters and good actors but they can never perform the number of moves per take that we three can do.

EH: On screen you seem to be very matey with Chiang Sheng. Did this friendship spill over to off screen as well?

KC: Yes, he was my best friend during our time at Shaw Brothers. He was like my brother, we used to do everything together. We could do two man fighting routines with over two hundred moves in them. I was sad when we disbanded in 1982. I told him to stay in Hong Kong and work with me but his wife wanted him to return to Taiwan, and from there he really went downhill. He wasn't getting the movie roles like at Shaw Brothers. This made him sad, he divorced from his wife and he started to drink heavily, and he eventually died of a heart attack but I think it was more of a broken heart. It was very sad, you know he lay dead for three days before anyone knew.

EH: I heard your relationship with Lu Feng was not so good.

KC: No, that's not true, but there was a time shortly after REBEL INTRUDERS that me and Lu Feng fell out. It was over who would be the main choreographer on TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN. I got so mad that I didn't appear in the picture. It was funny because to make things smooth Chang Cheh dropped Lu Feng from the next film, ODE TO GALLANTRY, to even things out. We patched things up after that.

EH: What happened after the disbanding of the Venoms?

KC: Well originally I left with the rest of them back to Taiwan, where I directed and starred in a film called NINJA IN THE DEADLY TRAP [a/k/a THE HERO DEFEATING JAPS]. It was an exhausting experience and I didn't care much for directing and I missed Hong Kong and Shaw Brothers so I left Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng in Taiwan and headed back for Shaw Brothers. I made a few films there until the studio closed in 1984. [If anyone reading this knows anything about these "few films," please contact me via the e-mail address at the bottom of this web page! -- Steven Feldman]

EH: What did you do then?

KC: I worked as a freelance choreographer, mostly at TVB. Sometimes the odd feature. Whatever came along.

EH: You had a supporting part in THE BIG HEAT, very different from your Shaw Brothers characters.

KC: Yeah, that was a good film. I love acting any role, it doesn't matter.

EH: Tell us how you landed the part of Mad Dog in HARD BOILED.

KC: Well originally I was only supposed to have a small role in the film but the lead bad guy Anthony Wong wasn't too hot at handling firearms and he couldn't do any of the dangerous stunts like running through fire and glass. So John gave all his action over to my character.

EH: What's it like working with John Woo?

KC: He's a very good director. We both have the same teacher. I first started working with John when he asked me to be stunt coordinator on ONCE A THIEF. He liked my work on that and called me back for HARD BOILED.

EH: Is it true that he wanted you to work on HARD TARGET?

KC: Yes, I was all scheduled to go and be his stunt coordinator but there was a problem with the stunt union saying that as I was a non union man I couldn't work on the picture.

EH: Their loss. I was told you were asked to play a similar character to Mad Dog on the new James Bond picture GOLDENEYE.

KC: That's right. I got this call and I couldn't understand it since I can't speak any English. The only words I could decipher were 'James Bond 007'. I thought they wanted me to play Bond so I had an English guy ring up the 007 production office and they told him that the director had seen HARD BOILED and really wanted me to play one of Bond's nemeses in the new movie. I was honoured to be chosen but I declined the role since I couldn't speak English and communication would have been impossible.

EH: I was told by Mike Leeder that you were originally in POLICE STORY 3, and choreographing as well.

KC: True, I was, but I walked off the picture after a punch up with Stanley Tong. I was getting pissed off with them, all this great footage I was getting wasn't being used so I said what's the point of this exercise, and walked off.

EH: That must have been great stuff, you and Jackie Chan fighting. KC: Yeah, he's like me, he can do anything.

EH: What other stuff have you done recently?

KC: THE CAT, which I was in, which was terrible, ZEN OF SWORD, and THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR.

EH: So who is your movie idol?

KC: Charles Bronson.

EH: Which type of movie do you most like to make?

KC: Mun Chor (this means Republic Period, 1920's). This genre gives me the most scope for acting and fighting.

EH: What about a remake of the FIVE VENOMS?

KC: Great idea. I'd love to do that but nowadays the audience is very young and you need to have some singing stars or well known actors to open the film. Kung fu actors are nearly all finished except for Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

EH: What are you doing at the moment?

KC: I'm choreographing at ATV. (conversation interrupted by Rainer Czech)

Rainer: Ask him what car he drives. (Toby translates)

KC: Toyota Celeca.

Rainer: Mmmm, good! So, let's take some photos.

EH: Good idea!

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This page first created 10/2/98. Copyright Steven Feldman, 2001. Last update: 2/22/02.