Pan-Asian movie trivia

More precisely, a compilation of Hong Kong movie trivia that I saved for over a decade (since I started browsing the net in 2001). Some of the info is little known since it came from deactivated forums and defunct sites. As such, that info is barely (as in rarely) mentioned by fans on Facebook.


One of Sammo Hung’s mentors was a martial arts director named Han Ying-Chieh. Sam considered him to be his brother because Han’s wife was his Peking Opera master’s daughter. Sam also knew him for a long time because he knew his family. Sam met Bruce Lee via Han. After he met Bruce for the first time, Sam became his friend and advisor. It wasn’t unusual for Sam to be called in to look at footage on Bruce’s productions. Bruce was interested in the movies which Sam was involved in, including one which he was preparing involving a Korean martial art and Korean martial artists. It was called Hapkido.


As an interesting side-note courtesy of Jackie Chan’s autobiography (My Life in Action), before Sam went to Korea to work on Hapkido, himself and Bruce had a discussion on martial arts in one of the hallways of the Golden Harvest studio. Both decided to have a friendly challenge match which resulted in a draw. Like Bruce, Sam had a reputation as a street brawler.

For Game of Death, Bruce wanted to film the Taekwondo floor before the Inosanto one. However, Whang and Sam were situated in Korea because they were filming Hapkido. Ironically, Bruce wanted to film exterior scenes in Korea. Bruce got angry towards Sam until he realized that Sam was bound to contractual agreement as opposed to snubbing Bruce out of fledgling interest. In 1973, they quickly made up and Sam received the privilege of fighting Lee at the beginning of Enter the Dragon.

In hindsight of Bruce’s script notes which were filmed for his version of Game of Death, it’s easy to see how he wrote it to work regardless of who was the Hapkido practitioner i.e. the universal and multi-layered symbolism works on any side of the gender coin. Angela Mao was the second choice in case that Ji Han-Jae turned it down. With her in it, the combination of the red light and the bed on the fourth floor would imply that her character is a hooker. Furthermore, the finale being one long fight indicates that any tired challenger may feel tempted to rest or (in Mao’s case) indulge in sexual gratification (especially if they won and used her as a sex slave to warm up before the brawl with Kareem).

Picture this alternate reality in your mind’s eye: the old axiom “If you can’t beat them, join them” springs to mind when we see the three remaining protagonists enter the fray and notice the female Hapkido expert rise from the bed. Also, seeing Bruce and James Tien frown on Chieh Yuan in a condescending manner implies that not only is Chieh too stiff with his tradition but he just got hit by a woman. Of course, if you read further into it, seeing Chieh and James run up the stairs suggests that they don’t see why they should wait around and be beat around because of a woman, thus their early demise – highlighting that men’s ability to overcome bias against sex is their own downfall.

If you are disappointed that Bruce’s character didn’t proceed to the top of the pagoda to get the treasure, you needn’t be, because he understood what’s at the top of every pagoda: enlightenment. The deeper meaning of Game of Death is the eternal conflict of ascending in one’s own consciousness. The metaphor that Bruce utilizes to convey this message is the ascendancy in the martial arts. Kareem’s floor of the pagoda symbolizes basketball, which is ironically the least dangerous of team sports. Look at how Kareem stops James from going up the stairs that leads to the enigmatic treasure.

The black belt is symbolized by having a black guy be the guardian on the highest fighting floor of the pagoda, which can be seen to represent man’s greatest obstacle: his ego and/or excessive sense of self-consciousness. These two things are what cause suffering and fear. They separate man from connecting in a deeper sense with the rest of the world. Coincidentally, most men are intimidated by the size of most black men’s penises.

This lesson – being fully alive in the moment – is the real treasure that the hero had been seeking all along, but it had taken a bodily pursuit to awaken this realization. As Bruce once told Daniel Lee (one of his students) – what man has to get over is the consciousness of himself. This was actually the same lesson that he would discuss with the wise old monk in Enter the Dragon (the highest-grossing B movie): “There is no opponent because the word I does not exist.”


Japanese martial arts matinee idol Yasuaki Kurata (who became a star in Japan long before Sonny Chiba) was a personal friend of Bruce. The latter gave a pair of plastic nunchakus to Kurata, which he claims to still have to this very day. He was even trying to get Bruce and Sonny to meet each other to discuss a possible film project, but Lee died three days before the meeting could take place. I think that a more inspired project would be if Bruce was to team up with Bolo Yeung for a film called Brain and Brawn. I’m surprised that no-one had thought of this when Bruce and Bolo did those publicity photos for Enter the Dragon.

Serafim Karalexis told a story of amusement about how himself and his partners freaked out when Five Fingers of Death (a Chinese versus Japanese story) opened in the States and did blockbuster business in every venue that it played in. They had to get a hold of more Chinese movies. They had absolutely no clue what to do or where to go. Sensing a good thing, Serafim got on the next plane to H.K. and, within less than 24 hours after first seeing what was originally known as King Boxer, he was having a meeting with Runme Shaw discussing North American distribution.

When Serafim landed in the British colony, he just called around and asked who “in town” made motion pictures! He was that clueless. After finding the Shaw Brothers in the phone book, he called up the studio and basically said: “Hi. I’m Serafim Karalexis. I’m a distributor from the U.S. here to buy films. Please have a limo pick me up and take me to your studios!”

They sent one! What audacity that this guy had. If the situation had been reversed, an American would think that the Chinese man had some nerve. In Kerafim’s scenario, the local movie mogul could say or do nothing but approve of the verve. To make an even longer story even shorter, he ends up releasing The Duel of the Iron Fist in the U.S. to the extent that it makes himself and his partners even more money despite not playing on the theme of racial hatred. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (5 years after the release of 5 Fingers of Death) was one (if not the last) of the martial arts pictures which he imported. That movie would not have been as successful without a Korean bootmaster like Hwang Jang-Lee.


During filming of Stoner, George Lazenby suffered an allergic reaction to the shampoo at his hotel. As a result, he got a condition known as alopecia areata (causing his hair to fall out). Follicle foibles! The role intended for Sonny went to Takagi Joji. Following on from the blazed trail of Hapkido and When Taekwondo Strikes, the tradition of having a Korean martial artist assisting Wong In-Sik was repeated when he was cast alongside Kim Ki-Ju.

When Sammo became interested in becoming a director, it was during the making of The Skyhawk (which he co-starred in and supervised the fight direction for). He asked the director questions after they watched the rushes. The director was a Korean named Jeng Cheong-Woh. When Jeng began directing H.K. movies in the late `60s, he didn’t like the hand-held film-making style of the H.K. directors. He preferred the Hollywood approach. Sam said of him: “He maximized the power of the camera angle.”


Jeng directed Broken Oath, where Sam did some uncredited choreography for his fight with Angela. Uncredited because he wasn’t contracted to choreograph. The movie is a remake of a Japanese film titled Lady Snowblood, which is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite movies. Yuen Woo-Ping and Sam got along so well that it was inevitable that they would work together again (two years later for a comedy called The Magnificent Butcher).

The Last Fist of Fury, a Korean production, foreshadowed Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986) with the idea of wielding a long stick underneath the arms like it could be a nunchaku. As for how it ended up in the latter movie, Tom Cruise is said to be a big fan of Oriental cinema.


Although he doesn’t receive screen credit, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was based in part on a screenplay written by Jackie. The basis of the story, training to fight Roy Horan and Hwang Jang-Lee, was already conceived for when Alexander Fu Sheng was meant to be the star. Fu’s contract with R.R. Shaw (i.e. Run Run Shaw) turned out to be too expensive for the company to buy out, so the director suggested that they use Jackie, and the rest is history. Given how the movie had a semi-remake in the form of The Karate Kid, things would become fully circular when he starred in the remake of the latter.

Another example of the Korean connection – the Korean version of Sammo’s Warriors Two has extra scenes that were shot for the Korean audiences due to the film being a Korean co-production. The Korean version of Jackie’s Spiritual Kung Fu had a different opening because of the movie also being a co-production. The scene is notable for containing one of Jackie’s first kissing scenes.


The Caucasian martial artist that Hwang fights at the beginning of Tower of Death (another Korean co-production) is Graham Ravey. He is a 6th Dan in Goju-Ryu Karate. At one time, he left a life in England to study Karate for many years. He even had a memoir out too (Yoyogi Dojo `74). He trained with the late and great Phil Milner!


An American Kung Fu movie fan remembered seeing a longer version of the final fight in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow when it premiered in a U.S. cinema. There has to be an uncut Taiwanese version available because, prior to the excised segment, Hwang’s character tells Jackie that he will have his teeth before jumping to hit his mouth. After that, the shot goes from Jack’s clothes being intact to them being torn and his body scratched, before he goes about appropriating the cat claw technique. During its U.S. release as Eagle’s Shadow, Hwang was credited as Juan so as to entice the Hispanic market.

The fabled collaboration between Chinese and Japanese stunt teams, Ninja in the Dragon’s Den, had an influence on Reservoir Dogs. How? The scene in question is when a man slices a man’s ear off and callously talks into it. This was the best of the H.K. movies which Hwang had appeared in. All in all, the movie has several Korean actors in it to the extent that someone decided that the Korean version should have extra footage.


Chow Yun-Fat and Ann Hui attended a screening of their Manila-set collaboration (The Story of Woo Viet) at the Cannes film festival. They were invited by the people who ran it.


When Jackie was in critical condition following his head injury in Armour of God, there was brief discussion of having Billy Chong (an Indonesian star) be crowned as the Kung Fu king of comedy. Instead of jettisoning Jack entirely, Bill would play another character who takes leadership of the screen-time. This would, in effect, be akin to Gordon Liu assuming Alex Fu Sheng’s responsibility (instead of role) in Eight Diagram Pole Fighter. Jackie surviving brain surgery was reported in the February issue of Inside Kung Fu. Back to Fu Sheng, Oliver Stone is such a huge fan of him that he named Steve Barredo’s character in Platoon after him.

With the cross-cultural mindset in marketing, Steve James was briefly considered to be the black assassin in Righting Wrongs as Raymond Chow was eager to capitalize on the surprising box office success of American Ninja (it recouped its budget ten-fold). Ste Jim would have made for a far more intimidating (as well as charismatic) nemesis than Peter Cunningham. There is an amusing coincidence concerning the connection between the stars of American Ninja. Steve was in the first film of Tom Hanks (He Knows You’re Alone) in an early sequence where himself and his on-screen girlfriend are questioned by a detective about a murder. Prior to doing American Ninja, Michael Dudikoff was in Bachelor Party.


An uncredited writer for The King of the Kickboxers was John Kay, a Thai-based Westerner who appeared in John Woo’s Bullet in the Head (same year). In the latter, he is the POW who gets shot in the river whilst Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Jacky Cheung and Waise Lee are being violently interrogated for information. He claimed that his Vietnam veteran character had more dialogue with some of the Western soldiers. Another Vietnam vet told a Hong Kong cinema fan that the film captured the atmosphere of Vietnam more accurately than any American film. The scene involving brain damage (as opposed to emotional trauma) probably had a part to play in that perception.

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon (which was filmed in Singapore as well as H.K.) was even more cut than I had imagined it to be when I first saw it on the U.K. Bravo channel in 1999. The melodic melee involving Mark Houghton was more in keeping with the tone of the bout between Chuck Norris and Bruce in The Way of the Dragon (which Sam had also mimicked in Enter the Fat Dragon). During an interview when the film was released, Mark mentioned that he was disappointed when he went to the premiere in H.K. He claimed that half of his fight was missing. Once again, the Taiwan edit provides the source for the longer cut. When Bravo aired the movie, they removed the second half of the metal rods fight and the entire fight with the Thai ladyboys. Also, the finale was almost non-existent (i.e. there was an awkward transition from Sammo’s jump kick at Thomas Sin to when Lau Kar-Wing fires his gun at the barrels).


When he had read the Dragon’s Den U.K. report of Jackie not wanting to do a sequel to Operation Condor (which reminds me of Kim Cattrall not wanting to star in Sex and the City 3), Vincent Lynn told me in a 2005 e-mail: “Interestingly, I came across your info on Jackie’s next H.K. film and deciding not to do Armour of God 3. I was in talks sometime back about being brought back to star in the sequel. As my character didn’t really die, they wanted to use him in the next one. Well, it’s still up in the air. The problem is the script as always. Who knows? It might happen yet.”


It was Ringo Lam’s idea to have a pivotal dog in Full Contact. After the shooting had finished in Bangkok, the dog got a fever and a skin disease. The crew were kind enough to send the dog to a doctor overseas. After being cured, it stayed at Chow Yun-Fat’s house. During the making of the movie, Chow was more brave than he had ever been before in his action movie career. He had a learner’s license, but he had a very serious accident in 1972 (when he was 17). He was almost on his deathbed. His mother made him promise that he would never get back on the metaphysical saddle. Until 1992, he didn’t ride one. His wife doesn’t want him to become a motorcyclist.

Stanley Tong pitched the notion of going to Malaysia for Police Story 3 (instead of being filmed in H.K. like the predecessors). He rewrote 80% of the script. One of the things which he had rewritten was converting the jewel heist into a heroin smuggling operation. Philip Kwok was initially the action director as well as playing one of the villains who Jackie fought. As a director who was previously a stunt co-ordinator, Stan didn’t want to lose face if he allowed himself to let Jack respect Phil’s contributions more than his own. Things got so bad between Phil and Stan that they had a fight, therefore Phil resigned.


It’s only when you watch the English dubbed version of City Hunter that you can tell that there are moments where Jackie Chan and the Japanese actress, Kumiko Goto, are actually speaking English.


It’s only when you watch the English dubbed version of Drunken Master II (i.e. The Legend of the Drunken Master) that you can tell that Ho-Sung Pak (another Korean kicker) is actually speaking English for the most part.


Robin Shou and Russell Wong were two of several actors who were sought after to replace Mark Dacascos after he initially decided that he didn’t want to star in Drive, which was choreographed by a Japanese fight choreographer. The reason for the alternate casting choices was because the president of Overseas Film Group (Robbie Little) had disparaged him with his all-business attitude. Steve Wang was artistically grateful that Mark returned, but commercially grief-stricken because there was always the hunch that Drive would’ve been theatrically released in the U.S. to cash in on Mortal Kombat.


There was a scene in Jackie’s Who Am I? where he wanted to make a point about how there’s good and bad in every race. For example, Mirai Yamamoto plays a friendly character. Anyway, the scene was on the lines of “Why do Chinese have to fight Chinese?” but then Jack had to cut that scene out. Why? Because the movie was too long. In spite of this, he said that he would put it into one of his other movies with the hope that the Chinese government will see it; or as Jack put it: “That means, China don’t fight Taipei; Taipei don’t fight China.”

Jack went on to say: “Of course, I put in a little comedy. I don’t want to always say political things. I put a little politics in and then I put in a little comedy. That’s why when the bad guy is fighting me, I say, “Come on, why Chinese have to fight Chinese?” Then he says, “No, I don’t hold a Chinese passport!” Then he starts fighting with me. Then, when I start to beat him up, he says, “No, no, no. I’m Chinese.” And I say, “Now you say that you’re Chinese.” That’s my philosophy.”


A J.C. film that’s unlikely to be made is one where he was set to play a character who is an ex-member of the Chinese national gymnastic team. The athlete was forced to retire because of an injury. Despite all hardship, he competes in a triathlon-like Iron Giant Challenge to win the prize money, which is needed by his friend Minako. She was to be played by Gigi Leung (a pop idol who was in Jet Li’s Hitman a.k.a. Contract Killer). The sports movie was to be called The Giant. It was to be lensed in Japan and Shanghai.


When crafting In the Mood for Love (which originally began as a comedy before the director sensed other tones and possibilities in the material), the craftsman known as Wong Kar-Wai began to rethink his shooting methods and decided to reshoot the film in Bangkok instead of H.K. as there weren’t any locations in contemporary H.K. that could pass for `60s H.K. This had lead to a rift between Christopher Doyle and himself as Chris had been responsible for all of the original H.K. shoot, yet was dismayed that very little of it was used in the finished film. He left. However, a generous sampling of the original H.K. footage was included in one of the supplements on the DVD published by the Criterion Collection (who are based in New York).

It’s fairly extraordinary that the film as completed could have evolved from such humble and farcical beginnings. Most of the new film as now known was shot by the Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee, with occasional fill-ins by Yu Lik-Wah, Kwan Pan-Leung and others. But back to Christopher Doyle, he proved to be missing from the production of 2046 in Bangkok. Doyle patched things up with Wong well enough to begin shooting 2046, but more than half of that film was eventually shot by Kwan or Doyle’s assistant, Lai Yiu-Fai. The Doyle-Wai split, this time, seems definitive.

Doyle has written (when correlating notes for Happy Together) that Wong’s constant refrain during the end of takes was “Is that the best you can give me, Chris?” – a small, needling humiliation designed to provoke him into coping up with different and better ideas for individual shots. When the In the Mood for Love reshoot began in Bangkok though, Wong suddenly found he had very clear ideas of his own about framing, lighting, colour and camera movement.

The space for Doyle to contribute ideas was abruptly curtailed as Wong became, in effort, his own DP or DoP (director of photography). Tony Rayns (a H.K. film critic) is under the speculation that Doyle found this abridgment of his contribution to the films intolerable, and that this was an important factor behind the split. But the full story remains to be told by Wong Kar-Wai (memoir, anyone?).


The white uniform that Christian Bale wears in Equilibrium was inspired by Bruce Lee’s mourning uniform in a Pan-Asian movie that was primarily known in the U.S. as The Chinese Connection, which in turn was inspired by David Chiang’s outfit in Vengeance. Chang Cheh noted this in a 1999 book titled titled The Making of Martial Arts Films: As Told by Filmmakers and Stars“In Peking Opera, the heroes in an action scene invariably wore white to signify the image of a hero. When I made Vengeance, which was set in the early Republican period, David Chiang wore a white student uniform which influenced Bruce – he wore a similar style in Fist of Fury.”


After working with H.K. action directors (i.e. Dion Lam in Exit Wounds and Tony Ching in Belly of the Beast respectively), Steven Seagal tried to get Nu Image to purchase the rights to a Thai martial arts movie titled Ong-Bak. This wouldn’t be a bad thing in of itself, but he wanted to re-shoot sequences with himself playing Tony Jaa’s teacher!


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