Scrap heap

If magazines are the annals of time then unreleased (or unfinished) films are lost to the ravages of time (I will mention as an aside that there is a Chinese comic book called The Ravages of Time). When looking at the Chinese films which never got the chance to be completed, I often wonder if the financing was arranged like this – have enough money to shoot a still (or collection of stills) and see if there are any donors who can increase the funds for actual filming. For example, The Avenging Quartet had its financing secured by the iconic photo shoot. This is sort of like how women’s magazines have endless photos of fashion shoots which make it clear that the products will only be widespread in availability if a retailer picks it up (such as aromatic samples that are supposedly limited edition). At any literal rate, most Chinese film studios were so cheap and prolific that a cancelled film was a hiccup instead of a bump in the road that would cause a lump in the throat for the U.S. equivalents. The Chinese would describe an aborted film as a raw film.

One of the saddest and startling examples of a scrapped movie is The Couple Who Kills. It’s not like the movie was lacking star power – Angela Mao, Chen Sing, Doris Lung and Mang Fei. From a marketing perspective, that’s two men who contrast in personality (machismo versus sensitivity) while two women who do the same (masculinity versus femininity). If I had to hazard a guess, the movie would’ve been the Taiwanese equivalent to Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde except set in Ancient China. The movie was going to have a love triangle between Angela, Chen and Doris. There was going to be a lesbian relationship between Angela and Doris. Maybe the film’s plug was pulled because they didn’t want to go beyond a certain level of intimacy. Only a few stills remain, but you will be hard-pressed to find any outside of issue 91 of Cinemart (i.e. July, 1977). The plot description was: “A homosexual maid who is in love with her mistress. Love becomes the cause of disasters.”

Cinemart is the best magazine for Kung Fu cinema fans. The Chinese title of the mag, 銀色世界 (Google it), translates to Silver World. This is interesting given that Hong Kong cinema is often referred to as the jade screen instead of the silver screen. Reading this article will make you appreciate the bizarre generosity of Godfrey Ho. As bad as his Frankenstein edit jobs are, he saved unreleased movies by mixing them with ninja footage so that a whole generation of Westerners could see reels that not even Easterners were privy to. From 1973 to 1977, Bruce Lee’s Game of Death was the Holy Grail of martial artistry that made the testimonies of those involved all the more important after his death. If Lo Wei succeeded in killing off Jackie Chan, the abandoned Fearless Hyena II would’ve been just as valued and the world would never have known what Jackie had to say about Lo having ties to the Chinese mafia.

The difference is that Bruce would’ve returned to complete Game of Death if it wasn’t for heightened pressure from the Triads following his acrimony with Lo and Raymond Chow (who kept himself afloat by kowtowing to crooks who threatened to rock the boat). When I read about incomplete Kung Fu movies, I think back to what happened with Leslie Cheung almost having his efforts in All’s Well, Ends Well go to nothing when a group of gangsters failed to steal negatives from the studio in 1992. Even if a star isn’t crippled by Triads then the film can still be shut down. The Magnificent Spearman had a lot of the same cast as Five Superfighters but didn’t get completed because the star (Austin Wai Tin-Chi) broke his back during the making of Killer Constable, whose scenes were reshot. The Magnificent Spearman didn’t get reshot because it would’ve been tough to convince audiences that the spear action was as good as that in Odd Couple and Fearless Hyena.

Filming of Quick Step Mantis was ceased after a third of it was in the can, because Don Wong Tao was being cajoled by a director into starring in an award-worthy historical drama, The Pioneers, that could give Don the Taiwanese equivalent to a BAFTA (the Golden Horse). Because he would be shaving his head for a shooting schedule that would last 11 months, he refunded the one million dollars spent on his 1979 movie produced by his company. He was so determined to be taken seriously as an actor that he was even willing to reduce his asking price by half. He was grateful that Quick Step Mantis was a sacrificial lamb, because The Pioneers earned him a nomination for best supporting actor (despite the film being cut from 210 minutes to 130 minutes). The praying mantis style of Kung Fu would’ve lost to Jackie Chan’s The Young Master at the box office since Jackie redefined the Kung Fu genre.

The Girl of Ghost Valley was incompletely directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho. It was going to be an epic period adventure about the Chinese (warriors and otherwise) defending themselves from the invading Mongols in the thirteenth century. One can presume that even if it was finished, there is no record of it being shown in a H.K. theater. There is a copy of the script (dated April 3, 1971), but it can only be read in the Hong Kong Film Archive. This suggests that there is some nostalgia associated with the people attached to the project if not the project itself. Teddy first came to Shaw Brothers in the late `60s. He worked as part of the crew and later as Assistant Director on five of Lo Wei’s films. His S.B. directorial début was The Eunuch, which came out in May of 1971. The Girl of Ghost Valley would’ve been his second S.B. release, but the project was dropped because of Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss hogging the spotlight.

What was supposed to the Chinese equivalent to Spartacus would not have been much acknowledged as such. David Lean could’ve been the director and people would still have flocked to see Bruce in a more modern movie with adult themes which everybody could relate to. The incompletion is made all the more sadder. After Shaw’s abortion, Ted went on to direct The Black Tavern because Bruce’s Fist of Fury made it okay again to make period movies. Ted left the Shaw family business to return to Golden Harvest (the first film that he ever made was The Blade Spares None). I don’t know why he left Shaws, but it is possible that he was lured away by G.H. like many others. He is the son of Yip Yat-Fong – the famous screenwriter for Cathay and S.B who also wrote the script for The Black Tavern, and would go on to write The Skyhawk. Ted would later become known as a comedic actor in the `80s and `90s.

Next up is The Drinking Knight, which began filming in 1969. It was meant to be a sequel to a 1966 swordplay film titled Come Drink with Me, although the Chinese title for that movie was something else as can be read below. As you can see below, it was meant to be more atmospheric by being moody in a way that can only be matched with a slow pace, so as to not kill the somber mood of a romantic drama with subtle humour fueled by the occasional outburst of action (as opposed to the spurts of action with broad humour which happened in the previous film). The problem with it being a sequel is that the female star of the original (Cheng Pei-Pei of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) was already in a 1968 follow-up titled Golden Swallow, whose making was exacerbated by the fact that there was a rival company in 1967 who wanted to make a contemporary movie called The Golden Swallow.

Losing the definitive (i.e. The) afforded a loophole for S.B. to exploit. For The Drinking Knight, the actor who replaced Yueh Hua (not to be confused with Yuen Wah) looked like a cross between Michael Hui (the star of Sinful Confession) and Hsu Hsia (the king of sticks in Drunken Master). Yueh didn’t participate in filming because a populist yet Hellish director (Lo Wei) was Hell-bent in directing him in Raw Courage (which starred Cheng Pei-Pei) and Brothers Five (also with Cheng), which finished filming in the year of its release – 1970. Once Yueh had become available, S.B. decided that it was worth scrapping the production of The Drinking Knight. You shouldn’t feel sorry for the actor who was replaced, because Chung Wah was doing double duty as the star of Ripples – a romantic drama which allowed him to be relatable as a teen idol and universal as an all-round heart-throb for post-pubescent women in a way that allowed him to act in erotic blockbusters (including two Betty Ting Pei movies).

This may seem like a small fry acting in small potatoes, but mark my words (and hold me to it) when I say that he was definitely fully compensated by becoming a popular martial arts actor. This was an easy task for himself and S.B. to accomplish because he already had street cred with his credential being Chang Cheh’s predecessor-topping (artistically as well as fiscally) Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969). Chung Wah went on to to star in two martial arts movies directed by Chor Yuen. He was even choreographed by the Yuen Clan (not related to Chor) for starring roles in Call to Arms (1971) and To Kill a Jaguar (1977). Even Corey Yuen, who isn’t one of the Yuen brothers (despite going to the same school that was run by another unrelated man named Yu Jim-Yuen), had worked on his fights in A Massacre Survivor (a 1979 classic that was the last movie of the decade to be considered a Holy Grail).

Any commercial misgivings or artistic grievances that Chung Wah had about being replaced were thrown way to the wayside. His popularity transcended genres in a way that made other stars seem niche. He even became a fixture of gambling movies in the earty eighties. Hell, his fame as a romantic leading man brought out a good deal of envy (if not irksome ire) out of one particular aspiring actor. This actor went on to be a famous film-maker and character actor in his own right. His name is Wong Jing. When Jing saw Chung star in a military adventure called Super Warrior (a 1982 movie known verbally as Chao Ji Yong Shi), he chose to make his own military movie – Mercenaries from Hong Kong. In 1970, a certain amount of time had to go by to give the impression that S.B. were working hard in securing funds for The Drinking Knight. They had to do this or they would and could get sued for unfair dismissal.

This meant having Yueh Hua star in The Twelve Gold Medallions as a thickly veiled disguise. This epic film also had Yeung Chi-Hing and Huang Chung-Hsin because they were going to be in the new version of The Drinking Knight, whose veil was made all the more thicker by the fact that the rest of the cast was different to that of the original project (shutting down a production is a backhanded way of getting rid of an unwanted actor). The director of the redux version was one of the cinematographers for The Twelve Gold Medallions, which was the film version of a driver’s test. Pao Hsueh-Li was a bit nervous in making the sequel because there was bound to be endless comparisons between itself and the multi-faceted Come Drink with Me. He wasn’t sure if it would be up to the same high standard set by that classic blockbuster.

Having itself being advertised as more of a comedy allowed him to ease the pressure and to also give probable cause as to why the original shoot was shot down. Yueh happened to be working part-time on a movie called Village of Tigers, which was directed by Griffin Yuen Feng. The latter usually had Pao as his cinematographer but couldn’t hire him with Pao wanting to focus his entire energies (mind and motion) on the spin-off. Mentally and motionally, Pao wasted his time. Because Pei-Pei was starring in The Lady Hermit, the co-star for Village of Tigers was Shu Pei-Pei (no relation). Village of Tigers ended up being shelved until 1974, firstly because of other S.B. projects at the time and secondly because of The Big Boss changing the scene in November of 1971. Cutting into the hectic schedule in early `71 was Lo Lieh acting in The Lady Hermit because he was filling in for a role that was initially intended for Yueh Hua, who wanted to take a break from being Cheng Pei-Pei’s sidekick.

They had already been in 9 movies together – the first of which he was the star and she had a small role. This was The Monkey Goes West, which was filmed in late 1965 and released in the second week of 1966. When it was revealed that Cheng wasn’t going to renew her S.B. contract (she wanted to take a hiatus in America), Yueh was quickly strongarmed to co-star with her in The Shadow Whip. In turn, Pao took Lo Lieh and a few other cast members to work on The Oath of Death. This was a crucial project for Pao because he didn’t think that there were enough female writers working at S.B. Katy Chin Shu-Mei previously wrote a script for a Griffin Yuen film which he worked on as cinematographer. It was titled The Younger Generation (1969). Yueh was eventually compensated with a starring role in The Long Chase, which was released on new year’s eve `71.

By this time, The Big Boss finished its theatrical run. Lo Wei’s final film as an S.B. director was Vengeance of a Snowgirl. The release date was delayed so that it could curtail the success of The Big Boss. Being released the day before The Big Boss did nothing to quell the demand for unarmed combat, which S.B. could only quench when Lo Lieh starred in King Boxer circa spring of `72. If The Iron Palm (which became King Boxer) was a response to Bruce’s Fist of Fury (which was released the month before) then The Sword Hand (a Karate technique) was going to be a response to The Big Boss in terms of a restrained protagonist whose lust and rage is unleashed. When it was announced that Bruce’s second martial arts film was going to be about Chinese versus Japanese, S.B. wanted to get in on the action. This was justified by the fact that they had already done a Kung Fu versus Karate movie back in 1970 – Jimmy Wang Yu’s The Chinese Boxer.

The actor credited as Chao Hsiung in the above scan was in Jim’s movie as the villain. Lo Lieh, who played one of the bad guys in that movie, was going to play the hero in The Iron Palm. The planning of the `72 Karate movies progressed to the point that there was talk of making a two hour movie which was essentially going to be the cinema equivalent to attending a double bill at a drive-in theater. This foreshadows the intentions of two Hollywood film directors who proposed a grindhouse project (i.e. Quentin Tarantino proposing Death Race alongside Robert Rodriguez proposing Planet Terror). The `72 project was going to be released in cinemas as Karate, with the previous titles designating the beginning of each movie. Each story would be no longer than an hour. Coincidentally, Lo Lieh starred in a `71 S.B. film (The Protectors) which was too short to be a feature-length film (an experiment that was released in `75).

Both Karate stories were supposed to be one long narrative. This is proven by the fact that Chiu Hung and Wong Gam-Fung (an actress) were in both productions. Ivy Ling Po’s character in The Sword Hand was meant to be the love interest of Ling Yun (the first protagonist who is really a false one). She would be raped and murdered. Wang Hsieh’s villain would then be killed off by Yun, saving Chiu to be finished off by Lo Lieh in the next story. As to why Yun would no longer be in the second story, he would be killed by Chiu (thereby making the second story more suspenseful). John Carpenter, a H.K. film fan, had two protagonists who don’t meet each other in The Fog (1980). After finding out that several Hollywood special effects technicians had worked on Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, he opted to make his own take on the Chinese fantasy genre – a flop titled Big Trouble in Little China.

Also known as The Sign of the Eagle, it was speculated that Alex Fu Sheng’s leg injury in 1979 had caused the film to be delayed so much that it was reformatted as The Convict Killer (a.k.a. Iron Chain Assassin). The implication being that his character was taken over by Anthony Lau Wing. This makes sense because, Ti Lung’s hat aside, the film also known as Iron Chain Fighter was released in 1980. However, the below scan dispells that notion. The Mark of the Eagle began filming in the first week of 1981, but was scrapped when it was revealed that Alex still couldn’t kick properly. The director who is known as Chu Yuan (the Mandarin equivalent to the Cantonese name of Chor Yuen) happened upon the notion that doing a Wuxia (a swordplay movie that usually has fantasy elements in the form of wirework and miscellaneous special effects) would put less stress on any kind of legwork from Alex.

This is why all three participants made Return of the Sentimental Swordsman, which was eventually released on the last day of January in `81. This does seem awfully fast, but then you have to consider that two weeks of filming can result in an entire movie in the same way that two long TV episodes can equate to that of a feature-length running time. Once you learn the making of U.S. television, you will understand H.K. film-making. The Whirlwind Kick was going to be a directorial effort for the star – David Chiang, who was to play a blind tramp who targets a group of malicious burglars who also rob people on the road. Hsiao Yao, the actress, would often laugh because of the dynamic between her deaf damsel and the hero. I can imagine her laughing at See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Despite the unintentional hilarity, the film was dark enough to require the use of squibs (explosive fake blood packets).

The film was set in the early Republic of China (somewhere between 1912 and 1919). The woman’s father is a teacher who is poisoned and cremated. David claimed to have edited the first day of filming after receiving the script on the previous day. It was cancelled in 1977 because of three reasons. The first one is that the main rival studio of S.B. (Golden Harvest) had already produced a Kung Fu movie that had shocking rape scenes (The Iron-Fisted Monk). Any publicity would seem second to the infamy engendered by Sammo Hung’s directorial début. The second problem is the difficulty that had engulfed Liu Chia-Liang and Tong Kai in choreographing fight scenes with a blind character (something that even Rutger Hauer had found difficult when starring in Blind Fury). Lastly, David became too busy to direct as proven by the fact that he didn’t direct again until 1981.

A paramount development in the history of film-making had its wings clipped before it could fly. Given the track records of the crooked smiles of the other actors, it’s easy to deduce that they are playing rapists who inspire rage in the tramp who really does have nothing to lose. With David playing a blind martial artist, the tragedy is searing. She can’t call out to him, so he can’t hear her. Time is of the essence. She has to make other kinds of sounds to get his attention and lead the way – a guiding hand that can be imitated to lead him into a tricky trap. Regardless of whether the deaf woman lives or dies, the ending was bound to be a tragic one where the surviving protagonist conveys grief in a disabled capacity. The only solace that can be provided is that Chang Cheh got wind of Liu’s brief involvement, so he keenly exploited the dynamic between the deaf alongside the blind in Crippled Avengers.

To cheer you up, Ten Tigers of Kwangtung is what happens when a film is no longer uncompleted. Chang Cheh started production back in late `77 but shelved it in early `78 due to Fu Sheng’s leg injury and Wei Pei’s abrupt departure (which turned out to be because he had Tourette’s syndrome). When filming resumed in 1980, gone were Sun Chien (the Taekwondo specialist) and Lo Mang (the Chinese Schwarzenegger). In their places were the next batch of Venoms. Ti Lung was too busy with Chu Yuan while Fu Sheng (now completely recovered) began working with Liu Chia-Liang and would only work with Chang’s gang one more time in The Brave Archer and His Mate circa `81. The previously filmed sequences became flashbacks told by the new younger group resulting with an incoherent film that’s still better than a sitcom’s clip show. By the way, S.B. had a magazine called Southern Screen.

The Hell (the three leaf clover photo in the above scanned page) began in 1975 over at Chang Cheh’s film company in Taiwan between filming 7 Man Army and Marco Polo. Originally, Li Yi-Min meets up with Fu Sheng to rescue Shih Szu (as Red Dress) from Hell. The film was put on hold after Chang ended his partnership with Liu Chia-Liang (the choreographer). In `76, it was modified to accommodate Fu’s fiancée (i.e. Jenny Tseng) as his love interest and was retitled Heaven and Hell. Because her contract expired, Shih Szu prompted Chang Cheh to return to S.B. in `77. She wasn’t coming back, so they weren’t able to finish the rest of her scenes. She had to be recast. The film was delayed until `78. The Venoms were promoted to new roles. They were previously stuntmen on this film before The Five Venoms made them stars in `​78. Wang Lung-Wei, the chief villain in that movie, replaced Chiang Tao as the villain in the second act. The film was shelved again due to Fu’s head injury. In `79, it got completed. It was released in the following year.


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