19 Aug Ti Lung, an Appreciation by Kim August
Appearing in over 70 Shaw Brothers movies, Ti Lung’s regal presence defined the Hong Kong movie studio’s output for over 15 years. Trained in Wing Chun and Goju-Ryu Karate, the thespian born as Tam Fu-Wing entertains film fans with his award-winning acting and martial prowess.
Ti’s beautiful portrayals have earned awards for Best Actor in The Avenging Eagle (1978 Asian Film Awards) and The Blood Brothers (1973’s Golden Horse Award and the Asian Film Award’s Special Jury Prize).
Looking at his extensive credits, Ti’s range reveals an actor eager to explore new terrain. Assassin, bandit, boxer, master, student, emperors, monk, warriors, gangster, pirate, soldiers and the everyman. From 1969 to 1985, his many personages roam through Shaw Brothers Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Martial Arts, Mystery, Romance, Swordplay, Thrillers and War films. Ti collaborated with the most revered Shaw directors. Chang Cheh gave Ti his explosive start (along with fellow actor and frequent co-star David Chiang: due to their success, the trio were known as “The Iron Triangle”). Soon after, Ti moved forward teaming up with Lar Kar-Leung, Chu Yuan, Sun Chung, and Tong Gai to produce movies still loved today. Speaking of directors, in the midst of his growing stardom in the early 1970s, Ti and costar David Chiang also tried their hand at directing.
Ti’s mastery of creating great characters flows into the martial arts. His enthusiastic, nimble displays of Wing Chun, Hung Gar, Muay Thai boxing, Mantis, Judo, Tae Kwon Do and several weapons styles span his tenure at Shaw Brothers. Exceptional with pole weapons, Ti professed a fondness for using spears and swords to Martial Arts Movies magazine in 1982. His commitment as a dedicated martial arts practitioner adds an edge of realism to his onscreen personas, even more so when the worlds are pure fantasy. It is not unusual to see behind the scenes images of Ti practicing his characters’ required style. Pair him with choreographers Lau Kar-Leung or Tong Gai then stand back and enjoy their magic.
On this special day, I would like to extend a personal thank you to the Lucky Dragon for all of his excellent contributions to cinema.
生日快乐 (Happy Birthday), Ti Lung!
With so many great roles under his sash, it is impossible to pick the absolute best. This list is a sample of Ti’s most acclaimed Shaw Brothers performances and a few personal favorites too.
Among the most complex and riveting of Ti’s characters is Black Eagle Chik Ming-Sing. Chik slowly learns to be compassionate after a botched robbery sends the assassin into the arms of his enemies. Soon after, his single-minded purpose of serving the unholy Iron Boat Godfather unravels. Paired with an equally splendid Fu Sheng, this wuxia from Sun Chung is a character-lover’s dream. The weapons work Ti performs with the three-section staff is terrific and further builds upon the Clint Eastwood-like vibe he exhibited around this time. It is easy to see why he won his second Asian Film Award for his dynamic and moving portrayal as Chik Ming-Sing. Martial Arts.
This lush period film features Ti in the quiet and tender role of fugitive warrior Duan, now working at a dye factory. Ti and Maggie Chung are splendid as a couple who fall in love while standing up for what they believe. Ti has a beautiful, albeit brief, Wing Chun moment before the Lau Kar-Leung choreographed epic finale. Romance / Martial Arts.
Blood Brothers (1973)
Ti’s performance as a power hungry military man who betrays his blood brothers to gain power, prestige, and his comrade’s woman is riveting. He portrays Ma Hsin with a singular totalitarian drive. For playing such a cruel man, Ti won 1973’s Golden Horse Award and the Special Jury Award at the Asian Film Awards. Ma Hsin truly embodies the phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The end fight between Ma and Chang Wen-Hsiang (David Chiang) is among the most electric of this period, pitting blood brother against blood brother. Drama / Martial Arts.
Emperor Duan’s guilt over not saving the baby of a court lady-in-waiting preys upon him so greatly he gives up the throne to become a monk. As Duan /Yi Teng, Ti is the heart of Brave Archer III. The shift in character is nuanced and subtle, you can see the weight of his past actions preying upon the older man in spite of his commitment to reform himself. Watching Ti as his Emperor and Monk perform inner power and pressure point kung fu is a terrific warm up to the off-the-chain end fight. Sadly, Ti does not appear in the final fight, yet his mystical maneuvering is great on its own. Martial Arts.
Clans of Intrigue (1977)
As one of wuxia author Gu Long’s wrongly accused bandit swordsman -the exquisitely smart and gorgeous Chu Liu-Hsiang- Ti is enchanting as the thief who must clear his name in a world full of corrupt people. Ti would reprise his role of Chu in two more movies with director Chu Yuan: Legend of the Bat (1977), and my favorite, Perils of the Sentimental Swordsman (1982). Martial Arts.
The Convict Killer (1980)
This dark yarn about “Iron Chain” Teng Piao’s wrongful incarceration and subsequent vengeance owe more to film noir than to Chu Yuan’s more colorful Ti Lung collaborations. As the stoic Teng Piao, Ti’s simmering angst explodes when unleashing his wrath with that prison chain. Chu Yuan’s worlds are always overflowing with shady, double-crossing characters, yet Teng Piao’s righteousness makes him the most compelling. Ti’s chain fighting is unique, fun to watch, and when he falls into a stance, iconic. An intriguing and different team-up between director and star. Drama / Martial Arts.
The Deadly Breaking Sword (1979)
As the title character, the haughty, pride-filled swordsman Tuan Chang-Qing, Ti startles with his unique sword style and peacock attitude. After dozens of viewings, my initial surprise and delight in watching this character still lingers. Against his selfish desires, Tuan becomes embroiled in a courtesan’s revenge against the “killer doctor.” In the midst of this, Lian San (Chan Wai Man), the sole survivor of Tuan’s sword style becomes a thorn in Tuan’s side (and thanks to Tuan’s upper crusty aura, Lian San is the character I cheer on). As Tuan becomes more invested in the revenge plot he tries to reform himself and a young gambler named Xiao Dao (Fu Sheng). A rousing fable from Sun Chung, The Deadly Breaking Sword features Ti as the most delightfully arrogant swordsman of his career. I love that Ti does this so well he pushed my admiration toward the enemy. It is a gas to note that Tuan is an amusing and honorable variation on the awful, snobby swordsmen of director Sun Chung’s later film, Human Lanterns (1982). Martial Arts.
Wu Sung is among the most notable outlaws in the classical Chinese novel, The Water Margin. This tiger killing, drunken style heroic fighter is no one’s fool, in spite of occasionally acting like one. Sung willingly gives himself over to the authorities after murdering the man and woman who killed his older brother. Wu Sung takes full responsibility for his actions, a unique and honorable trait in this violent world. His military experience comes through as he effortlessly fights while bound: shackles, rope, and cangue cannot stop Wu Sung from mopping the floor with his opponents. A superb display of martial arts and playful angst. Behold the Mandarin Duck Kick! Note: Ti would return as Wu Sung in The Water Margin (1972), All Men Are Brothers (1975) and the prequel to The Delightful Forest, The Tiger Killer (1982). Martial Arts.
As the loyal young gangster Ren Jie, Ti takes the fall for his scheming superior. He removes himself from the life he knew including his lover Hu Dei; soon the young gangster discovers the plot against him and his Godpa, as well as the mysterious assassin known as “The Rambler” (David Chiang). Ren Jie’s love for his girl and Godpa make Ti’s performance sympathetic and grounded. It is always fun to see how he and Chiang reinvented the characters they often portrayed. The Duel also features an early display of Ti’s skill with the Shaolin rod. Drama / Martial Arts.
The Drug Addict (1974)
David Chiang’s natural skill in directing drama and his working relationship with Ti resulted in this solid youthquake tale. Here, Ti’s youthful kung fu master succumbs to addiction. With the help of Wong Chung’s sympathetic drug dealer, the young man beats his dependence on smack through kung fu and gets revenge on those scum who peddle this junk. As he did in Vengeance!, Ti plays the determined lead with subtle grace and an energetic anguish. Even as Kuan Cheng-Chun goes cold turkey, you cannot help but feel for him. Drama / Martial Arts.
Wrongfully framed of murder by drug dealers, Ti’s newly discharged Korean War vet Feng Xia must rely on his three compatriots and his kung fu to prove his innocence. Ti and David Chiang are exceptional as newly discharged soldiers scarred by their wartime experiences; it is only a matter of time before these two will explode. Ti excelled at playing the angry young man, and as Feng Xia, he bristles with a dangerous intensity. While Four Riders may not seem like a Vietnam War allegory, it is, given the two stars on point portrayals of shell-shocked soldiers. Drama / Martial Arts.
Sun Chung’s retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo positions the innocent title character into training the worst of two local clans. As master Wang Yang, Ti’s majestic presence dominants this morality tale. The righteous master Wang dutifully shares all his kung fu with his students. When the other schools and wicked rivals note this, they plot to lure Wang to their side. The Kung Fu Instructor is a must-see for fans of the Shaolin rod and other fight styles. Ti’s martial performance here stands out as Tong Gai pushes the actor through a variety of moves, yet none surpass the beauty of Wang wielding the Shaolin rod. Place a pole weapon into Ti’s hands, then get out of the way. Martial Arts.
The Magic Blade (1976)
One of many things to enjoy about Ti’s performances is how he occasionally channels Hollywood actors. Here, as the iconic Fu Hung-Hsieh, Ti is Clint Eastwood. Fu takes absolutely no crap as he slashes his way through a minefield of crazy assassins (courtesy of screenwriter / novelist Gu Long). The Chien formation is one of fight choreographer Tong Gai’s great circuits for Ti to decimate. This brief melee heightens how effortlessly cool Fu Hung-Hsieh’s roving swordsman can be. Simply one of the best wuxia Shaw Brothers released and a role which cements Ti’s charisma and star power. Note: Fu Hung-Hsieh’s tales continued in The Pursuit of Vengeance (1977) and he briefly appears in Death Duel (1977). Martial Arts.
Mercenaries From Hong Kong (1982)
Wong Jing’s sublimely bonkers action comedy sees Ti’s war vet Luo Li assemble the title team to take out the evil drug dealer played by Ko Fei. Many veteran soldier stereotypes abound with Ti and his comrades, but this is part of what makes this movie such a blast. Everyone fully embraces their characters, playing up their on-screen personas with a wink and lots of verve. Luo Li is the stoic leader of the team, a man whose vigilante ways against drug dealers make you root for him immediately. An entertaining riff on the rigid warriors Ti often portrayed, Luo Li is a charmer. To say nothing of how Li rolls with his best friend the berserker, Ruan Nan Xing (Chan Wai Man). Ti and Chan are always great together: their chemistry and fights are 100% on point. Tong Gai and his team’s over-cranked choreography adds to the mirth and hyper-realism. Look for synchronized baseball bat moves, the return of Ti’s Mandarin Duck Kick, and a multitude of styles, some performed in matching track suits. Mercenaries From Hong Kong is a great film to watch when you need a good laugh. Action / Comedy / Martial Arts.
This wuxia comedy lets Ti poke fun at his sword master image. As the title character Dao Xing, his birthright remains hidden to thwart the scheming Lord Ninth. Dao is raised by a trio of bumbling monks who teach their pupil some of the silliest and endearing movements director Tong Gai and his team of choreographers could dream up. Watching Ti let his wuxia-pian hair down, he seems to relish the opportunity to portray an innocent, child-like fighter. The exorcism scene is an excellent example of his natural comedic timing. Comedy / Martial Arts.
Ti’s cameo as one of Yi Wo’s real spiritual boxers is among the finest examples of superhero badass ever lensed. Beyond his on-point kung fu, the otherworldly vibe Ti delivers here makes you believe he is fully under Master Yi Wo’s sway. Director and fight choreographer Lau Kar-Leung pushes the invincible armor style in grand fashion; spearmen try their darnedest to take Ti out: not happening. If you’re weary of today’s four color heroes, set your gaze upon these guys. You will believe. Every time I watch this sequence, I imagine a full movie with Ti, Chen Kuan Tai and Wilson Tong’s spiritual boxers. Martial Arts.
As the doomed Yu-Lou, the elder brother whose murder sets off Xiao-Lou’s (David Chiang) fury, Ti’s cameo dominates this gorgeous film. Director Chang Cheh’s fondness for Peking Opera is lovingly retold here as Yu-Lou’s real death by Master Feng mirrors Yu-Lou’s onstage demise during his opera troop’s performance. The cuts between reality and stage are skillfully rendered into an exotic visual allowing Yu-Lou an otherworldly influence over Xiao-Lou’s path. Yu-Lou’s stunning exit propels this movie into greatness. Thriller / Martial Arts.
A consummate, passionate actor no matter the role, Ti Lung pulls the viewer into these worlds and deep into his characters’ minds. It is a constant joy to watch him act and fight. His energy, willingness to risk, and many skills meld into unforgettable, intense men who become entrenched in our cinematic memory. His presence ever majestic, always noble and profound. Ti perfectly embodies the heroic, beautiful and dangerous worlds of the Shaw Brothers universe.