To the victor go the spoils

First, I’d like to point out that the cover of Anthrax’s first album was inspired by the below 1981 poster of a 1979 Billy Chong movie whose original English title was Crystal Fist. The title of Anthrax’s first album, Fistful of Metal (1984), was inspired by a later Billy Chong movie called A Fist Full of Talons. When Crystal Fist was released in Hong Kong cinemas, it only earned H.K.$ 864,483 from September 6 to September 11 in 1979. This didn’t put off the Eternal Film company because the movie did well enough in other territories that Billy could complete his six picture deal.

It also didn’t change the fact that the movie established Billy as a tour de force to be reckoned with in the eyes of Jackie Chan since Billy could kick higher and had a physique that was more comparable to the late Bruce Lee (check out the below lats). Like how Jackie used to be spelled with a Y, Billy was known as Willy Dozan in his home country of Indonesia. The man who discovered Billy also discovered Jackie i.e. Ng See-Yuen. By 1979, Ng was already established as one of Hong Kong’s most prominent film-makers in terms of writing, directing and producing. Although he started his own company, Seasonal Film Corporation, Ng was still an affiliate of Eternal. For example, Anti-Corruption was a 1975 collaboration between Eternal and Seasonal.

The producer of Anti-Corruption, a woman named Pau Ming, not only produced Ng’s films for Eternal but she would be the only producer of Billy’s H.K. films including a seventh film that wasn’t part of the six picture deal – A Fist Full of Talons. Through Ng, Jackie starred in two movies which laid the foundation for Crystal Fist i.e. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. Both were released in 1978, but Ng wasn’t able to make more movies with Jackie because the latter was on loan from Lo Wei (who previously flopped as Jackie’s director). Ng set about finding the next Jackie Chan who would benefit both the Eternal and Seasonal companies. It was decided that Yuen Yat-Chor would star in Seasonal’s Dance of the Drunk Mantis since Yuen’s big brother, Yuen Woo-Ping, was going to direct this sequel to Drunken Master. Like in Crystal Fist, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin played the hero’s teacher.

As was the case with Dance of the Drunk Mantis, Crystal Fist has the same team of fight choreographers: Brandy Yuen Jan-Yeung, Yuen Shun-Yi, Chin Yuet-San and Corey Yuen Kwai. The difference is that Hau Chiu-Sing was an extra choreographer for Crystal Fist. That’s a fistful of talents. Hau had previously co-starred in Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow (1979). This creative rip-off earned more money than Crystal Fist by taking in H.K.$ 1,300,458 at the local box office despite the fact that Wilson Tong was less talented as a choreographer. The monkey style of Kung Fu stood out from the snakes and drunks. It’s often been suggested that Eternal was a satellite company of the Shaw Brothers film company (this Chinese page refers to Billy’s Kung Fu Executioner as one of the movies that Shaw Brothers had produced), but it would appear that Seasonal was Eternal’s satellite.

Both Dance of the Drunk Mantis and Crystal Fist had Jonathan Ting as the art director, Pau Kwok-Lan as the costume designer, Poon Hung as the editor along with Frankie Chan Fan-Kei as the composer. Dance of the Drunk Mantis was released three months earlier than Crystal Fist and earned more money by raking in H.K.$ 2,865,504. Instead of doing another period movie that took place in China, the Eternal team decided that Billy’s next period movie should take place in the Old West. While director Hua Shan and writer Lin Chan-Wai remained on board to guide Billy, the choreographer was going to be Leung Siu-Chung because he already had the experience of working in America for Eternal’s Bruce Lee – True Story (a 1976 movie a.k.a. Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth).

In the December 1981 issue of Martial Arts Movies, Eternal sales representative Alice Hsia talked about a martial artist who appeared in this Bruce Lee biopic – Carl Scott. At the time of publication, he was under exclusive contract to Eternal for an additional three years except he didn’t do any more movies. Despite being 20 by the end of 1981, Eternal thought he was too young to be exposed to the press; so he wasn’t allowed to do any interviews. When talking about his humbler beginnings, Alice said: “We used him as an extra. During a break while filming, he and his friends were practicing a few Kung Fu movements. Our choreographer saw them, and knew Scott had something. We began training him. He’s got a baby face and he’s very sweet. We spoil him rotten. My mother, the producer, use to take his hand to cross the street. In her heart, he’s still the baby.”

After the 1976 biopic came another movie starring Bruce Li – The Last Strike (a.k.a. Soul Brothers of Kung Fu). Carl was given his first meaty role. Made in 1977, he was 15 years old at the time. This seems awfully young until you learn that he had been studying Kempo Karate since the tender age of 5. His instructor was Steve Sanders, who played Jim Kelly’s instructor in Enter the Dragon. Steve was the co-founder of the Black Karate Federation. When Carl signed up with Eternal, he studied the leopard style of Kung Fu under the tutelage of choreographer Leung Siu-Chung (Tony Leung Siu-Hung’s father). Alice said: “When he was working on The Last Strike, he seemed just like a kid to us, but he felt he was older and didn’t always like how he was treated. But inside of him, he understood why we were treating him that way.”

At the time of Lou Salome’s writing, Carl was planning to attend a U.S. college. His mother wanted to make sure that he had a safety net in case that his film career didn’t pan out. His contract to Eternal had stipulated that he could only work summers. Alice talked about his past, present and future: “He only studies in the summers. The other times he’s not supervised, but he’s supposed to study on his own. He’s already become very popular. I give him credit as a very hard worker. If a scene is no good, he retakes it until it’s right. We’re working on a script for him now, but we’re not starting on the film for two years. We want to prepare Carl very well first.”

Sun Dragon (a.k.a. A Hard Way to Die), was intended to be a crossover vehicle for the overseas market but it never quite materialized. Even in Hong Kong, it wasn’t a big hit since it only earned H.K.$ 787,490 in its 7 days of release from October 25 to October 31 in 1979 (this Chinese site delivers where HKMDB often does not). Nonetheless, Willy’s Wild West adventure may have inspired Jackie Chan to do better since his concept for a Kung Fu Western was something that he would have done in 1991 if it wasn’t for Operation Condor being a financial headache for the Golden Harvest film company. By comparison, Eternal were in a similar bind as Sun Dragon cost almost a million U.S. dollars to make but only grossed a tenth of that in H.K. cinemas. This is why Eternal didn’t go through with their plan of having Billy shoot a movie in a contemporary U.S. setting.

Two decades ago, someone on the Kung Fu Cinema forum (i.e. Kung Fu Fandom) remembered that the production of Sun Dragon was followed closely by the local media in Arizona. Not only did a local TV station shoot some footage of Billy, but Carl did a short interview for a radio station in Phoenix. In the February 1980 issue of Fighting Stars, Billy was represented by Alice because his English wasn’t up to scratch. The two were visiting the U.S. on a five city promotion tour for Sun Dragon and Crystal Fist. The article claimed that the budget for Crystal Fist in U.S. currency was 400,000 dollars. For the budget of Sun Dragon to be more than twice the amount would suggest that there was an issue with permits (especially for when they were filming inside the Grand Canyon).

Louis Neglia explained how he was cast in the Kung Fu Western: “When I won the world championship in 1978, Alice Hsia was impressed with my fighting skills and asked me to appear in the movie. When I signed a contract with Alice, I made it clear that the stunt choreography wouldn’t include the exaggerated stuff. I didn’t want to be part of nonsense, and I wouldn’t have done it. And she stuck to her word. They only used a trampoline once or twice, and I didn’t have to do anything very unrealistic. Basically, we just used realistic techniques. I’ve seen some martial arts movies where there’s too much fighting. How much can a person take? It goes on for far too long. Americans can’t digest that.”

As for what else that Neglia had to say about the making of the movie: “I was a full-contact fighter, and never went in for demonstrations. It’s strange to hold back and get into the groove of hitting without making contact. Once, I kicked Carl Scott by accident. He knew it was unintentional. It was just difficult to adjust my speed and power, to hold back on what I’ve been conditioned to release. Neither Scott nor Chong are professional fighters. They’re at a high level at what they do, but it’s a different category, as different as night and day. I would try to get Chong to actually hit me to the stomach with force. I was in training for a fight, so I could take it, and it made the shots more realistic.”

Since director Hua Shan flopped even harder with Sun Dragon, a fresh crack of the whip was needed for the director’s chair of Billy’s third movie: Super Power. Eternal decided that writer Lin Chan-Wai should try his hand at directing. To freshen things up a bit even more, a pair of new choreographers were brought in. Wong Chi-Ming and Tang Tak-Cheung had previously worked with John Liu on The Dragon, the Hero – a 1979 film that was more of a hit in Taiwan than H.K. since John is Taiwanese, so he spoke Mandarin instead of Cantonese. The law of diminishing returns was still plaguing Billy as Super Power only took in H.K.$ 768,458 from June 17 to June 25 in 1980. When it was released in Hispanic territories, Billy was billed under a different name: Jackie Chong. Like when Hwang Jang-Lee was known as Juan Jan Lee for the American release of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Willy’s second stage-name never really caught on like Billy did.

In spite of Lin Chan-Wai bombing with his directorial debut, he returned to the director’s chair for Kung Fu Executioner. Despite not being popular with local audiences, it was perceived that Lin would bring something new to the chemistry between Billy and Carl Scott. Sun Dragon choreographer Leung Siu-Chung (Bruce Leung Siu-Lung’s father) was brought back since he could speak English. This was his final film as a choreographer in general. As a writer, Lin Chan-Wai definitely did bring something new to the table because Kung Fu Executioner grossed H.K.$ 1,220,998 from May 8 to May 14 in 1981. The reason for this is that the story takes place in China circa the twenties. This type of setting was rarely done in a H.K. movie. Before Kung Fu Executioner, the closest example was the thirties-set Challenge of the Gamesters (which premiered in H.K. on April 30 in 1981). Kung Fu Executioner avoids being a carbon copy.

The fifth movie in Billy’s contract was a copycat that managed to be a cool cat. Kung Fu Zombie was influenced by a Sammo Hung movie that had been released towards the end of the previous year. Encounter of the Spooky Kind was a unique take on the Kung Fu genre. It resulted in a ground-breaking level of financial success for Sammo as leading man and director. As such, fortune smiled upon Billy because Kung Fu Zombie earned H.K.$ 2,237,587 from October 1 to October 8 in 1981. It’s too bad that it wasn’t released on Halloween. The movie certainly had an impact on Sam Raimi’s sequel to The Evil Dead. The way that the invisible man’s hat moves as he laughs is reminiscent of the laughing objects in Evil Dead II. Even the first movie is one that you could say was inspired by the pacing of Kung Fu Zombie.

The original version of The Evil Dead lasted for 117 minutes but was cut down to 85 minutes. To understand how it was possible for such an influence to occur, muse on this for a moment: Raimi’s movie premiered in his home county, Michigan, on October 15 in 1981 whereas it got re-released in cinemas two years later. In between the two years, Hua Shan’s movie was released in U.S. cinemas on April 14 in 1982. Sam Raimi has long been a fan of H.K. movies as I’ve noted several times on my site. Even Encounter of the Spooky Kind could be said to have imparted an influence on The Evil Dead with the sinister mirror scene. In Sammo Hung’s movie, there is a scene where his hand is possessed but it involves more fighting than the scene in Evil Dead II. There have been too many times where people (fans and critics) have attributed the hand gag in Raimi’s remake/sequel to The Addams Family.

Back to Kung Fu Zombie, while popular wisdom may have dictated that Carl Scott should return…it was not to be. Instead, Eternal brought back one of the choreographers from Super Power so as to see what directorial chemistry would form with Hua Shan. Tang Tak-Cheung’s style of action is so different from the static rhythms of traditional Kung Fu movies. The pace of the choreography and editing has more in common with the stylings of Ching Siu-Tung than the Yuen clan. Coincidentally, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (released in H.K. on September 18, 1987) has ideas that were influenced by him visiting the set of Ching’s A Chinese Ghost Story (released in H.K. on July 18, 1987). Because Billy reached a new level of popularity from Kung Fu Zombie, Shaw Brothers poached Hua Shan so that he could be one of their directors. This meant that Billy’s sixth movie needed new blood altogether.

Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave was directed by Lee Chiu, who directed a classic 1980 movie called Two on the Road (starring Leung Kar-Yan and Phillip Ko Fei). As for who the writer was, Liu Fung only had one prior credit and he never wrote again. His first credit was for the story of One Way Only (a 1981 Shaw Brothers drama whose story is primarily credited to Wong Jing). As for who choreographed Billy’s sixth movie, Addy Sung Gam-Loi (the sitting man in the above poster) had choreographed Two on the Road whereas Alan Chui Chung-San had done exemplary work on two 1980 movies – War of the Shaolin Temple and The Rebellious Reign. As for Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave, the desire to do a movie of the same genre without being a sequel was too original to be taken respectfully for the Eternal Film company.

Eternal were copying what Sammo Hung was doing. Instead of doing a sequel to Encounter of the Spooky Kind (whose Chinese title is Ghost Fights Ghost), Sammo decided to start afresh with a new character in The Dead and the Deadly (whose Chinese title is People Scare People). While not as profitable as Kung Fu Zombie, Billy’s non-sequel managed to earn H.K.$ 1,696,758 from February 19 to February 25 in 1982. Jackie Chan’s Dragon Lord had already been released from January 21 to February 13, so you would be forgiven in thinking that Billy’s seventh movie had nothing to do with Jackie’s sports movie. In fact, Billy remembered seeing Jackie in Taiwan as he was filming A Fist Full of Talons. It’s fitting that, like Crystal Fist, Billy’s final lead role in a H.K. movie is one which shares cast and crew members with another movie.

Like Dragon Lord, Billy’s last hurrah features Tien Feng in a paternal role, Cheng Kang-Yeh as the clueless sidekick, Whang Ing-Sik as the villain and Ma Chin-Ku as an adversary. Throw in Chang Chung-Kui for good measure and you have a fistful of talents. The official story has always been that Billy returned to Indonesia after A Fist Full of Talons had flopped (i.e. it only recouped H.K.$ 684,913). The H.K. release span was April 14 to April 18 of 1983, yet Billy’s Indonesian comeback movie (i.e. Pendekar Liar) begins with a title card whose copyright notice happens to date it as having been made in 1982. This tells me that A Fist Full of Talons had been shelved. This would be ironic for reasons that can be completely counted on one hand. For one thing, Billy was given his most worthy foe: a top-tier Hapkido master who played the villain in Jackie’s The Young Master.

Billy also had a highly regarded writer (the legendary Barry Wong) and a classic Shaw Brothers director at the helm (Sun Chung). As for the choreographers, Billy was choreographed by Robert Tai before Tony Leung Siu-Hung took over for the rest of the production. Robert was fired because he got into an argument with the director. According to Toby Russell, martial arts actor Alexander Lo Rei studied film-making under Robert’s wing during the making of A Fist Full of Talons. I had to do research by browsing Chinese web-pages so that I get more depth as to what happened to Billy after this ill-fated movie. A few Chinese sites claim that he left H.K. because he was too stubborn, too proud, too controlling and he had a bad temper. After he returned to Indonesia, a rumour had circulated that he ran a snooker parlour. His scene in Sun Dragon had left one Hell of an impression. Another rumour, according to this Indonesian blog, is that he needed to escape from the Hong Kong mafia. This was confirmed a year later, in 2014, on this Indonesian forum.

It’s the norm for a blacklisted H.K. actor to be on the blacklist for five years, especially if you’re the spoiled son of a wealthy businessman. Conan Lee was blacklisted in the same year that marked Billy’s exit – 1982. Conan even found himself appearing in the same movie as Billy – Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit (1989). Billy originally had a bigger role in the movie until a moment of quarrelling with the director, Liu Chia-Liang, resulted in him having a smaller role than Conan. Even more embarrassing is that (according to Paul Ng in the comment section of this Chinese article) producer Tsui Hark had fired Billy as the star of Once Upon a Time in China IV (1993) when they were halfway through filming. In the May 2000 issue of Hong Kong Superstars, it was claimed that Billy lost the role because he was demanding too much money.


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