shaw brothers

In addition to appearing in three Bruce Lee classics, Tony Liu portrayed in four films a Chinese emperor who had a great impact on the way the martial arts evolved in China and around the world.

This blog post will test your knowledge of kung fu films, challenge your understanding of who’s had the greatest impact on the development of Chinese martial arts movies and maybe even cause you to examine your kung fu film “nerd quotient.” My first question is, What ever happened to Tony? Tony the Tiger? No, but he was g-r-reat! Tony Jaa? Too much of a suit-and-Thai guy to be linked to Chinese cinema. How about To Ni? Nah, he was a background actor often seen in old films but rarely credited. My question refers to the first actor to bear the brunt of Bruce Lee's iconic death blow: Tony Liu, aka Liu Yong.

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Find out where the Five Venoms came from, how they evolved in subsequent fight films and why they ruled drive-ins and cable television in the 1970s and '80s.

We all love martial arts movies. Right now, let's test your knowledge of one part of this vibrant genre: kung fu films. Your first task is to name the Five Venoms. For extra credit, tell me how many films the actors who played them made together. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I bet most of you didn’t get the answers right. If that’s the result of a lack of interest in Chinese martial arts movies, all I can say is you don’t know what you’re missing. If it’s the result of the confusion that was created by the way the movies were marketed in the United States, you have a valid excuse. But let's continue. It all started in 1978 when cameras rolled to make a Shaw Brothers kung fu film titled The Five Venoms. It also would be known as The Five Deadly Venoms and Five Poisons, the latter being a direct translation of the movie’s Chinese title. Now here’s the rub: Five Venoms actually featured eight venoms. So if there really were eight venoms, why are only five reflected in the title? The answer is complicated — and confusing. The five venoms and the actors who played them were Scorpion Gai Ji (Sun Chien), Toad Liang Shen (Lo Meng), Centipede Zhang Yiao-tian (Lu Feng), Snake Qi Dong (Wei Bai) and Gecko Meng Tian-xia (Kuo Chue). The other three venoms didn’t have associated animals. They were Yang De (Chiang Sheng), the head of Venom House (Dick Wei) and the bookkeeper (Ku Feng). The actors who portrayed the five venoms appeared together in only three other films: The Kid With the Golden Arm (1979), Invincible Shaolin (1978) and The Brave Archer II (1978), the last of which was shot before Five Venoms. Yet an additional 16 movies were released in America under the banner of “films that featured the five venoms.” Keep reading to find out how that came to be. Read all about the Five Venoms and the other films mentioned in this article in Dr. Craig D. Reid's book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors. Order it now on Amazon.com! In the late 1970s, kung fu films were on the decline. After all, the king of martial arts cinema — Bruce Lee — had died in 1973, and no one had been able to fill his shoes. Furthermore, drive-ins — the outdoor theaters where kung fu films ruled — were waning. Then out of nowhere, cable TV appeared. Scores of just-launched channels began searching for programs to attract audiences, and they were willing to accept movies that network-TV execs would never deem acceptable. Cable distributors decided the solution to this problem lay with the studio that started the kung fu craze in the USA: Shaw Brothers. They immediately began asking which English-dubbed offerings were available. At the top of the list were Five Venoms, Golden Arm, The Master Killer and Chinatown Kid. Each one wound up getting lots of cable-TV airtime in the afternoon and late at night, but it was Five Venoms that had the biggest impact. Download a free guide titled “Jim Kelly: Martial Artist and Co-Star of the Bruce Lee Movie Enter the Dragon — A Vintage Interview.” Just click here! American video distributors quickly keyed into that popularity and began buying rights for films that featured those kung fu stars. The sixth venom actor, Chiang, became a replacement for one of the original five, Wei Bai. So the first follow-up film that was advertised as featuring the five venoms — Crippled Avengers in 1978 — was conveniently renamed Return of the Five Deadly Venoms. Wei suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder that causes uncontrollable motor and vocal tics. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to control the outbursts on camera. Consequently, his last appearance with the four venoms was in Golden Arm, and even by then, his martial skills were fading. It was fortuitous that Wei used a sword during his fights in Golden Arm because it minimized the direct body contact he had with the stuntmen. That, in turn, lowered the frequency of tics on the set.

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An acclaimed Taiwanese filmmaker has directed a different kind of martial arts movie, and it's about to hit theaters. In the title role is Shu Qi, co-star of Jason Statham's The Transporter.

If I walk into a crowd and mention A Summer at Grandpa's (1984), Café Lumière (2003) and Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), I’ll probably be met with a sea of blank faces. If I do that with a bunch of Chinese-movie aficionados, no doubt many will immediately think of Taiwanese film auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. “Film auteur” is the term used to describe a director whose personal creative vision is so strong and recognizable that not even the studios behind his or her movies can eliminate the distinctive cinematic signature. There are more film auteurs than you might guess — in the Chinese martial arts movie genre, we have, among others, Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Zhang Yi-mou (Hero) and Wong Kar-wai (The Grandmaster). My goal with this blog is to introduce you to one more. Normally, I don't discuss martial arts films that I haven’t seen or that are pitched to the media as a “work in progress.” The reason: How many times have we all bought into the hype surrounding some martial arts movie star who’s in talks with so-and-so to make such-and-such a film — and it never happens? In this case, however, I carefully considered the impact the aforementioned martial arts films have had, then looked ahead to the potential popularity of the motion picture that’s being helmed by Hou Hsiao-hsien — and promptly made an exception to my own rule.

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Read the conclusion of our film critic's examination of the martial arts in the latest installment in the Furious franchise.

In the first part of my Furious 7 blog, I noted that action-based movie franchises that feature martial arts have a tendency to act like the month of March: Enter like a lion and exit like a lamb. In other words, each sequel usually has fewer and fewer fight scenes, with the Taken and Bourne films being prime examples. However, since the release of Furious 5, this franchise has made fantastic fights and awesome automotive duels a staple. The formula seems to be working — Furious 7 became the fastest film in history to earn $1 billion globally. Photo by Scott Garfield/Courtesy of Universal Pictures For those who came in late, in Furious 7, villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge against Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and his family, along with CIA agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), for what they did to his brother in Fast & Furious 6. An explosive early scene in the latest movie pits Hobbs against Shaw — two military-trained he-men overflowing with self-confidence — in an all-out test of strength, technique and mental acuity. Being athletic and in possession of profound pugilistic skills, Johnson and Statham were committed to perfection during the filming. "When it comes to fighting action, Jason brings authenticity to this franchise,” Johnson said. “He’s a pretty tough guy, and he’s legit. He's all about wanting to make every scene incredible, and with the action sequence put together, I was happy. It’s Jason showcasing his well-versed martial arts and me inflicting Hobbs’ very straightforward, hard-core way of fighting." Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures One of the most challenging fights in Furious 7 is set inside a speeding, out-of-control bus. It features Paul Walker and Tony Jaa — a tricky task for Jaa because running, jumping and flipping are integral parts of his style. On the subject, fight choreographer Jeff Imada shared the following: "My goal was to utilize the tight confines and give audiences a feeling of great action and have Tony show off his signature moves. It was nice to use traditional techniques but to also allow improvising while incorporating their precarious environment.”

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