The World of The Shaw Brothers: Feature Films at the Egyptian Theatre Hollywood

Recollections of Hollywood Grauman's Egyptian Theatre
Recollections of Hollywood Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre by Jim Van Schaack

The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is bringing Shaw Brothers Feature Films to the Threatre for the 40th Anniversary of the films FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (1978) and THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978) which will be seen as double features. Also playing will be a triple feature of BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976), HUMAN LANTERNS (1982), and THE BOXER’S OMEN (1983) and a double feature of CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978) and MASKED AVENGERS (1981).

THE WORLD OF THE SHAW BROTHERS
In the mid-1920s, brothers Runje, Runde and Runme Shaw owned a theater in Shanghai. After deciding to film a hit play running at their venue, they became enamored with movies. They created a distribution arm in Singapore (operated by another brother, Run Run Shaw) as well as a growing chain of their own cinemas, the Shaw movie empire quickly spread throughout South East Asia. In the following decade, the brothers moved their studio to Hong Kong after a Nationalist government ban on martial arts films.

The Shaw Brothers’ 1,000 or so films include drama, romance and other genres, but it is their martial arts and exploitation films that are best remembered in the West. By the mid 1960s, the company was the largest privately owned studio in the world, and kung-fu films were an increasing focus of production. With a logo patterned after the logo of Warner Bros., the Shaw Brothers employed a business model straight out of Golden Age Hollywood which was to put talent under exclusive contracts and when something works, make a sequel. Chang Cheh was one of the studio’s most reliable directors, and after his FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (1978) became a box office hit, he was teamed with the same group of actors (known as “the Venom Mob”) for such action-packed follow-ups as CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978) and MASKED AVENGERS (1981).

New elements were continually added to keep the formulas fresh. Horror was popular during the Shaws’ heyday, and ever-more-outrageous twists were used to spice up supernatural sagas including BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976) with its skull-nailed zombies, HUMAN LANTERNS (1982) with its skin-peeling psychos, and THE BOXER’S OMEN (1983)  with its killer bats, dismembered heads and more. These films were unforgettable by millions of viewers before the studio shifted to television in 1986. Many fans were influenced by the world of the Shaw Brothers including hip-hoppers the Beastie Boys and the Wu-Tang Clan who named their debut album after THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN.

Series compiled by Grant Moninger, William Morris and Jim Branscome. Program notes by John Hagelston.

FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (1978) / THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)

Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028 Map
Thursday, June 28, 2018 7:30pm

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In FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (1978), a dying clan leader sends his favorite student off to find out whether five skilled martial arts fighters are good or evil. In THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978), a student finds refuge from government oppression in the Shaolin temple, where he trains to become a kung fu master.

FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (1978)
WU DU
1978, AGFA, 98 min, Hong Kong, Dir: Chang Cheh
The film that launched generations of kung fu acolytes, a popular film series and a few thousand rap songs, this iconic film will also have KILL BILL fans experiencing serious déjà vu. Five skilled martial arts students – the Centipede, the Scorpion, the Lizard, the Snake and the Toad – are mysterious, masked disciples of a clan leader whose dying wish sends his favorite student off to find out whether they intend to carry on for good or evil. The climactic five-way battle is the stuff of legend.

THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)
SHAO LIN SAN SHI LIU FANG
1978, Celestial Pictures, 115 min, Hong Kong, Dir: Liu Chia-Liang
Starring the indomitable Gordon Liu, THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978) quickly became a defining statement in the film industry in Asia while establishing a new standard in martial arts cinema. When the Manchu government brutally crushes a local uprising, a student (Liu) escapes the carnage and finds refuge in the Shaolin temple. Determined to seek revenge, he begins training in the temple’s 35 chambers, soon becoming a kung fu master. English dubbed version.

BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976) / HUMAN LANTERNS (1982) / THE BOXER’S OMEN (1983)

Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028 Map
Friday, June 29, 2018 7:30pm

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Shaw Brothers Triple Feature! In BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976), skeptical city doctors visit a small village as reports pour out of bizarre unexplained maladies plaguing the townspeople. In HUMAN LANTERNS (1982), a clawed, skull-masked village psycho is on the loose, swiping young women to peel off their skin in his grisly workshop of the damned. THE BOXER’S OMEN (1983) is easily the most notorious film in the entire Shaw Brothers catalog, a Wizard Battle movie to end all Wizard Battle movies.

BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976)
GOU HUN JIANG TOU
1976, AGFA, 85 min, Hong Kong/Singapore, Dir: Ho Meng-Hua

Ho Meng-Hua’s sleazy, hilarious, creep-tastic, bonkers, turned-up-to-11, sorcery-vs-science sequel to his own BLACK MAGIC weaves the absurd tale of skeptical city doctors visiting a small village as reports pour out of bizarre inexplicable maladies plaguing the townspeople. The madness includes spell-induced zombification inflicted via squeamishly long nails in skulls, skin worms, puss, oozing sores, pulsating wounds, a breastmilk-eternal-life-elixir-consuming sorcerer, necrophilia and even more! Elevated by periodic hypnotic surrealism, gothic decor, voodoo dungeon lairs, an effortlessly cool performance from Shaw regular Lo Lieh (DIRTY HO, THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN), and a funkadelic soundtrack featuring the likes of Nicolas Flagello’s absurdly catchy theme song “Wailing Wail,” plus “Last Bongo in Belgium” by Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band (later sampled by the Beastie Boys for the track “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”). Assuredly one of the wackiest, most unhinged slices of exploitation horror heaven from the gloriously trashy days of the Shaw Brothers, you’d have to be a mindless zombie yourself to miss this one!

HUMAN LANTERNS (1982)
REN PI DENG LONG
1982, AGFA, 95 min, Hong Kong, Dir: Chung Sun

Martial arts and no-holds-barred horror make for a seriously wild experience in this ’82 slice of Shaw Brothers mayhem. A clawed, skull-masked village psycho is on the loose, swiping young women to peel off their skin in his grisly workshop of the damned. Could the murders be connected to a brewing town rivalry over the upcoming lantern festival? The rowdy scenes of the hairy, hyperactive maniac going to town turned this formerly obscure genre mash-up into a cult favorite among Hong Kong fans.

https://youtu.be/9k9fO_ROlTo

THE BOXER’S OMEN (1983)
MO
AGFA, 105 min, Hong Kong, Dir: Kuei Chih-Hung

Easily the most notorious film in the entire Shaw Brothers catalogue, this is THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, ALTERED STATES and ROCKY all rolled into one. It’s the Wizard Battle movie to end all Wizard Battle movies. It’s all of ’70s gonzo kickass cinema compressed into an insane little ball and blasted through a garishly-colored ’80s Hong Kong filter. It’s one of the craziest damned things you’ll ever witness in a movie theater. This hexadelical, truly incredible piece of cinematic black magic is a guaranteed mug-melter or your money back.

CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978) / MASKED AVENGERS (1981)

Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028 Map
Saturday, June 30, 2018 7:30pm

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Shaw Brothers Double Feature! In CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978), four men maimed by an evil despot learn kung fu to wreak their revenge. In MASKED AVENGERS (1981), a team of martial arts masters try to stop a group of masked killers.

CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978)
CAN QUE
1978, AGFA, 100 min, Hong Kong, Dir: Chang Cheh
Also known as RETURN OF THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, this action-packed film features the same director and most of the cast of that martial arts classic, but in a completely different storyline, and it’s all the better for it. A bitter warlord and his son rule a town with (literally) iron fists, maiming all who give them the slightest offence. Four of their victims – a blinded toy salesman, a deafened blacksmith, a legless passerby and a brain-damaged swordsman train with a kung fu master to seek revenge, transforming their disabilities to advantages.

MASKED AVENGERS (1981)
CHA SHOU
1981, AGFA, 92 min, Hong Kong, Dir: Chang Cheh
When a trident-wielding gang known as the Masked Avengers terrorizes the countryside, Chiang Sheng and his martial arts students vow to hunt them down. Reformed Avenger Phillip Kwok offers assistance – but there is a double agent in their midst. Featuring many familiar faces from the Venom Mob and an amazingly choreographed final battle in a booby-trapped temple, this unusually dark and bloody actioner is one of the best Shaw Brothers films of the 1980s.

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