In 2004, PIFF (i.e. Puchon International Film Festival) featured the second Shaw Brothers Retrospective thanks to the success of Tarantino’s Kill Bill duology. David Chiang served as a guest. On the 16th of July in that year, he showed up briefly at a Blood Brothers screening and gave a generous time to fans that evening. Ryoo Seung-wan (director of Arahan) and fans asked half a dozen appropriate questions, so David answered in a masterly manner. They asked in Korean and he replied in Chinese…
Q: First I have to say that you looked neat in white clothes in ’70s movies. And you were definitely outstanding in acting – so vivid in every detailed facial expression and body movement compared with other players of those days. I wonder how you achieved it.
A: I agree that white outfit looks great on screen. So I am wearing white today. This visit to Korea is the first one in 30 years – when I did film shooting 30 years ago – and if I have a chance to visit again after 30 years, I will wear white again. For acting, it may be owing to my youth. In those days, director Chang Cheh did not say much about acting on shooting spot but before the start we did have discussions.
Q: You appeared together with Ti Lung in so many movies. What do you think your peculiar appeal is compared with his?
A: I guess you can say so yourself when viewing these movies.
Q: In your heyday movies your image was rebellious. How about your real character?
A: I was rather shy but also had rebellious energy. I like the rebellious image of those movies.
Q: Which do you prefer – the modern flicks like Duel of Fists or historical flicks like Blood Brothers?
A: I like the whole art of movies but if you ask, I say I prefer the historical one. They give you the world that can not be experienced in other movies and they feel more romantic.
Q: If your children want to work in the entertainment industry, would you allow them?
A: I would not interfere with their decision, and let them do whatever they choose (he has two daughters and one son who is very young, about 9 years old; he lives in Vancouver. He spends a couple of months a year in Hong Kong usually for TV work.
Q: What is your favourite among your works?
A: The New One-Armed Swordsman, The Heroic Ones, The Wandering Swordsman and, also I would like to recommend The Empress Dowager for the other side of my acting.
In the last week of June in 2004, there was a Cheng Chang-Ho retrospective where they were showing five of his films in Paris. After each one, he would enter the auditorium and answer questions (of which were asked via a mike). Some movies were shown in a small room – less than 50 seats. After the screening of King Boxer, he was talking during one hour about his movie career. He went on to direct many low budget flicks in Korea. He worked on Chinese/Korean co-productions, so the Shaw Brothers hired him to make King Boxer (a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death).
He said that there was a lot of people making fun of him because they think only a Chinese director could direct a Chinese martial arts movie. His Korean name is Jeong Chang-Hwa. After directing this movie, he was getting ready for making a new swordplay movie produced by the Shaw studio but the second wife of Run Run Shaw agitated him greatly. She wanted to cut the budget and they gave him bad materials e.g. smaller swords and blades in general. Then he said:
“I don’t want to work with you anymore.”
He joined Raymond Chow to create the Golden Harvest company. He then said the second wife of Run Run didn’t know anything about film-making. She was only interested in budget cuts, so the Shaws went down because of her management. It should also be noted that this is the reason why Raymond left as the Shaws were interesting in spending 50% of finances on TV productions and being more traditional, whereas Raymond was vying for more crossover appeal. Cheng (who was 75 years old and lived in the U.S. at the time) said:
“The heyday of Hong Kong and Japanese cinema is over; only Korea can still produce some great movies in Asia.”
There was a lot of racism among the Shaw studios. For example, he wanted the best fight choreographer but they gave him his brother – a beginner by the name of Liu Chia-Yung (a.k.a. Lau Kar-Wing). He didn’t want Lo Lieh as the star. After the movie was released, Lo Lieh became a huge star. Cheng apparently doesn’t like Chinese movie directors and the Shaw Studio that much.
“Raymond Chow was the business director of the Shaw Brothers but he was fired, though he was going to quit anyway. Mona Fong replaced him, so Chow left the company and he bought the old Cathay studio to create the Golden Harvest.”
Of course, he went on to make what Bey Logan calls a remake of Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss (i.e. The Skyhawk). Cheng said that he, himself, didn’t know anything about Chinese Kung Fu, so he prepared the shooting of the movie by consulting Chinese martial arts books in the studio’s library. In the movie, when you see a guy bouncing on another guy for tearing out his opponent’s eye, that’s the eagle style. He said that when he entered into an agreement with the Shaw studios, Sir Shaw was already an old man – he didn’t know anything about making movies either. His second wife was the one who pulled the strings.
He watched a lot of Westerns when he was young, he found that the old Asian movies don’t have a good pacing; so when he directed a martial arts movie, he tried to have the same pacing of the Western. He studied Chinese, he had two Korean assistants on the set and a translator as well. He had a lot of pressure during the movie shooting and the other Shaw directors weren’t very nice with him – they prevented him from using the fight choreographer or the right actor. He didn’t like Lo Lieh, that’s why he wanted to hire another actor for the leading role but the Shaw impresario refused because of the budget, so Lo Lieh was elected since he didn’t cost that much.
About the differences between H.K. and Korean film-making:
“When I was in Korea, there weren’t any distributors so the cinema owners distributed the movies by themselves. If the audience loved the movie, they kept on showing it. When I directed a Korean swordplay movie, I didn’t have any cable for the fighting scene or the fight choreographer or a stuntman, the actors and I had to do stuff by ourselves.”
“Shaw Brothers were the opposite. When I worked with them, they already had more than 1500 cinemas and they could distribute any movie they want. Shaw Brothers had a lot of specialists like stuntmen and fight choreographers. I just concentrated on director’s work.”
Cheng was asked about the difference between making movies in the ’60s and today. He was additionally asked to philosophize on what he thinks a good director is before being asked what his favourite movie was:
“Nowaday, there’re so many new movie making techniques, the directors can do anything they imagine. When I was a filmmaker, I didn’t have a lot of financial and material means but I think a good director should surpass himself even if he doesn’t get enough money or material means. I love Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a lot, I already watched this movie many times. In my opinion, Ang Lee is a very good director.”
Q: How long did it take you to make a movie?
A: Around 3 months.
Q: Well, in your movie (King Boxer), the Japanese were portrayed as the evils, they looked very caricatural. There are still a lot of people in Korea and China that don’t like Japanese that much. I would like to know if you thought about Japanese atrocities against the Chinese when you directed your movie?
A: You’re right. Korea was a colony of Japan, so the Japanese history is still hanging over Korea; but I have many good Japanese friends. Racism rears its ugly head here, yet I never have an anti-Japanese feeling. I was in Pusan, and we created a new Asian movie co-production association, I think the future of Asian movie depends on that kind of production. I hope every one of you in this cinema can support those new co-production movies, and thanks in advance.
One week after Cheng Chang Ho attended a retrospective of his films in Paris, Cheng Pei Pei attended a Golden Swallow screening in the same capital. After the film was over, she came into the cinema with her 3 daughters, and people could ask her questions…
Q: What’s your favourite movie?
A: My favourite movie was Come Drink with Me since the movie was a big hit at the box office, and I became a huge star, that’s why I starred as a swordswoman in many swordplay flicks.
Q: In Golden Swallow, Wang Yu got an important part, your character wasn’t that important as Wang Yu was, you’ve just got a second part. Did you make a lot of effort during the movie’s shooting to compete with Wang Yu.
A: Well, Chang Cheh, Wang Yu and Lo Lieh weren’t very nice. For example, when the shooting started at 11:00 am, I was already on the set, Chang Cheh came nearby 12:00 pm then Wang Yu arrived at 13:00 pm. Wang Yu said:
“Sorry, I had a dinner party tonight. So I had to do my scene before you.”
Then we did the scene, after that Lo Lieh arrived, and he wanted to leave the set before me as well. So I was always on time but the others didn’t care about that. After the shooting, I said to the director Chang Cheh:
“I don’t want to work with you anymore! Period!”
Q: Golden Swallow, where was it shot?
A: Well, at the time, Shaw Brothers sent me to Japan for training. When Chang Cheh arrived, he wanted to direct a sequel to Come Drink with Me. At first, I didn’t want to play in his movie since Golden Swallow belongs to King Hu, but we were walking around Tokyo during 8 hours, I finally accepted the project but I didn’t want a Come Drink with Me 2, so the character played by Yuen Hua was withdrawn and we shot in Japan.
When she came into the screening room, she said there was a scene THAT you would never have seen if she didn’t have a slanging match with Chang Cheh. In a scene taking place in a restaurant, Wang Yu fought against some baddies, then Lo Lieh did the same thing, and they escaped from restaurant by jumping outside the windows. After that she arrived in the same restaurant, fought against some baddies as well, Chang Cheh wanted her to walk through the door. She said:
“No, why those two guys could jump through a window, and not me, I can do it myself!”
Chang Cheh answered:
“You can’t do that since you’re a woman. If you don’t want to act like a woman, no one wants to marry you!”
Finally, after a bawling out, she said:
“If I wanted to get married, I won’t marry you.”
She then said to the audience:
“At the time, Wang Yu was the huge male star and I was the well-known female actress, so there’s a lot of competition on the set between us. Wang Yu was my neighbour when we lived in Shanghai and I never liked that guy because he was too violent. He liked to fight a lot, he didn’t like me either but he couldn’t beat me since I’m a woman and I’m very proud because I have 3 daughters. He had 3 daughters as well, but fortunately…”
She points to her daughters:
“…they aren’t his daughters. I also had a boy but Wang Yu has just 3 chicks and, for the Chinese people, it’s very important to have a boy in the family, so I finally beat him!”
Yuen Hua said Cheng Pei Pei was always punctual for work and Run Run Shaw gave her a gold watch as an award for her punctuality. In regards to the reception of Golden Swallow, she started to thank everybody since the cinema was between being full and bursting, she said:
“I’m so happy seeing the French are interested in an old martial arts movie made 30 years ago.”
One of the viewers from the defunct Kung Fu Cinema message board reported:
“My God, I was ashamed! During the screening, there were a bunch of jackasses. They couldn’t stop laughing every time they saw Wang Yu fighting and massacring hundreds of guys!”
Back to Pei-Pei, she went on speaking about Wang Yu:
“My god, this guy played a handsome character, but in fact he was too ugly, he’s got small eyes, so I never saw this movie when it was released. Finally, I saw this movie years ago with Wang Yu in a French retrospective. When I left the set, he was seriously wounded. I thought that he was dead but he wasn’t and he went on fighting; yet many people mock at him during the screening. I laughed at him too, so he got damn upset.”
However, she comes to a nicer conclusion:
“When Wang Yu was in Hong Kong, every week he fought against someone, nobody liked him. Unfortunately, he isn’t here, otherwise he can confirm everything I said here is true. This guy wasn’t handsome but he was a great actor.”
She shares some noteworthy insight:
“Chang Cheh filmed Wang Yu wearing a white suit, his body soaked in blood, and he went on fighting, the audience loved that stuff, they wanted more and more violence. That’s why Chang Cheh’s works became more and more bloody, and violent!”
Q: What’s the difference between Chang Cheh and King Hu?
A: Chang Cheh considered the woman as the vase, something that is just beautiful to watch. He didn’t care much about the actress but, in the ’60s, women got an important role in the Hong Kong movie industry. I was quite happy about that.
Q: You don’t have a martial arts background, was it difficult to act in a swordplay movie?
A: Making martial arts movies were so easy for me since I know how to dance to jazz, director King Hu told me:
“You must fight as you dance, you should use the same rhythm as a dancer.”
When King Hu left Shaw Brothers to direct Dragon Inn, he made some costumes for me but I couldn’t follow him because I was under contract with the Shaws for 7 years. So King Hu took another actress – she was smaller than I am so they had to shorten some costumes. If I followed him for Dragon Inn, I could have become a huge star. This also applies to A Touch of Zen.