29 Jun Happy Birthday, David Chiang! 生日 快乐 姜大衛
By Kim August
David* “Da Wei” Chiang remains one of Shaw Brothers most beloved performers for his superb acting skills and whimsical, acrobatic martial arts. David Chiang’s ease on camera can be traced back to his cinematic beginnings as a child star in the 50s and early 60s. While performing as a stuntman with Liu Chia Liang and Tong Gai, he caught the eye of legendary director Chang Cheh. Impressed with the youth’s agility and ability to speak Mandarin, Chang offered the young man a chance at stardom. While David understood acting would mean a pay cut, he was eager to follow in his thespian father’s footsteps. Winning two awards in the early 1970s, David Chiang nimbly fought alongside his costar Ti Lung, while projecting a sly, almost counter-culture persona that earned him legions of fans (especially among teenaged girls). In his early 1970s work with mentor Chang Cheh, David Chiang always projected an aura of cool that remains breathtaking almost 50 years later.
On his special day, I would like to celebrate with a list of some of my favorite Shaw Brothers David Chiang roles:
Have Sword Will Travel (1969)
This early movie with David Chiang and Ti Lung is one of my favorites they filmed with director Chang Cheh. As Yi Lo, a young fighter with his own moral code and a loyal horse, Chiang becomes involved in assisting Ti Lung and Li Ching’s quest. David’s stuntman past is deployed to excellent effect here, as Yi Lo’s aerial fight style is a highlight of the melees. He plays the teen warrior as humble, honorable, and deadly, in spite of love and jealousy around him.
This is not just one of my favorite Shaw Brothers movies, but among my top movies, period. Director Chiang Cheh’s brooding, violent, and beautiful tale of Guan Xiao-Luo’s (Chiang) revenge on the thugs who killed his Peking Opera star brother Yu-Lou (Ti Lung) features a brilliant performance from David. As Xiao-Lou, Chiang’s tunnel-visioned, troubled young man carves his way through many extras (including Chen Kuan-Tai), and enjoys a little romance before meeting his destiny. One of my favorite shots is Chiang’s matter of fact leap over a staircase to hide from a big wig he seeks to kill. Vengeance! Is a potent mix of love and loss that gets better with repeat viewings.
Four Riders (1972) As the hard-drinking, haunted Jin Yi, Four Riders boasts one of Chiang’s best dramatic turns from this era coupled with his fiery, stunt-fueled fighting style. I noted the following passages about the cleverness of Jin Yi and David’s performance: On the surface, young Jin looks to be the most troubled of our veterans; his battlefield tenure left psychological scars, culminating into a downward spiral of drinking and self-destruction but part of this is a ruse to bring the truth to light. The role of Jin Yi is equal parts dramatical and physical.
Blood Brothers (1973)
While Ti Lung won accolades and an award playing the villainous warlord, it’s David Chiang’s pained turn against his former blood brother that makes this tale of ambition soar. Chiang’s confession before the court calls forth torture imagery fans of The Five Venoms know all too well. Ironically, David would play Ti Lung’s role in a 1992 version.
Say what you will about this Hammer Horror-Shaw Brothers co-production- but David’s acting is terrific here (particularly as his character’s older ancestor who destroys one of the title beings in a nifty flashback). How could you not like David Chiang and Peter Cushing together? 7 Golden Vampires is a Halloween staple for me.
A Mad World of Fools (1974)
In addition to directing, David serves as this quirky, subversive anthology’s narrator. Acting-wise, David is not afraid to make fun of his “kung fu” image in the segments he stars in. In the first short, his slight, wistful geek character wishes he was as a good fighter as his silver screen heroes (including Ti Lung!) While on a date, Chiang imagines protecting his girl from some local thugs who want to show her a good time. The reality reveals something else entirely (I won’t spoil it, but you can guess what happens). The second piece shows off David’s natural flair for comedy as his klepto-inclined, affluent youth accidentally steals documents from a gang who will do anything to get them back. David makes fun of his role as the replacement One-Armed Swordsman by using a mannequin arm to steal. The chase moments are delightfully corny, and still make me giggle.
Judgment of An Assassin (1977)
Sun Chung’s impressive output for Shaw Brothers generally focused upon how his characters deal with criminals or injustice, and the often-lawless world around them. Judgment of An Assassin is Sun’s first wuxia to tackle the director-writers’ favorite theme, and for me, his best wuxia. David Chiang’s adorable turn as the youthful and obnoxiously curious Hei Mo Le is so utterly perfect, I am bummed that Chiang did not work with the director again after this movie. Judgment also marks the proper debut (not including cameos) of noted Shaw Brothers villain actor Chen Hui-Min as the nefarious and properly bizarre Bloody Devil. Chiang and Chen play so well off each other: Both actors get into their roles completely. The duo acts their characters’ ages in their manners and fight styles. Their battle in the cemetery is vicious and charming. David will make you laugh hard too. For all the rascals and crafty young men Chiang portrayed at the studio, Hei Mo Le remains a standout. Judgment of An Assassin, like Vengeance!, sits very high on my all-time favorite movie list.
Shaolin Mantis (1978)
Chiang stars as Wei Fung, a young scholar sent to snoop on and destroy traitors of the Emperor. The young man falls in love. Despite trying to return home with intel to protect his family, things only become more dire as Fung’s relations with the granddaughter of the rebel patriarch blossom. Naturally, tragedy begets kung fu, and Shaolin Mantis is full of some of the best weapons and bare-handed kung fu ever lensed. David Chiang’s take on the legendary Mantis kung fu is riveting, and the training sequence where Wei develops the style is my favorite training sequence in a Shaw Brothers movie. David took to his former teacher’s training and fight styles quite well. Like his excellent turn for Sun Chung, I wish David would have appeared in another Shaw Brothers film directed by Liu Chia Liang.
Shaolin Abbot (1979)
After showing the world his growth as a martial performer in Shaolin Mantis, David Chiang capped off his Shaw Brothers fu-based films with this excellent tweak on a young monk’s quest to rebuild the Shaolin Temple. Ho Meng-Hua’s deft direction and artistic framing absolutely love Chiang’s nimble young monk. Having worked together on the terrific soap opera Shaolin Hand Lock the year before, director and star understand each other completely. There are many iconic images in this film even before Lo Lieh’s wicked Pei Mei shows up. The training sequences are top notch too.
David Chiang created a slew of memorable characters and performances at Shaws Brothers. This list only scratches the surface of the many, bold young warriors he brought to life. His Shaw Brothers filmography introduced the world to Hong Kong-based stuntmen who can act and fight.
Many more happy birthdays sir.
*Author’s Note: I know David has performed as John Chiang since the early 80s, (as John is his real English name), but I’ve used his Shaw Brothers stage name here.