Tuesday, April 12, 2011

LEGENDS: HWANG JANG-LEE



Born: December 13, 1944; Osaka, Japan
Career: 1974-1996; 2009

When it comes to the word “superkicker”, one may think of Ken Low Houi-Kang (DRUNKEN MASTER II) or even by today’s standards, Scott Adkins (SPECIAL FORCES, THE SHEPHERD). However, in the 1970′s, a Korean by the name of Hwang Jang-Lee became the definition of “superkicker”. With sheer power combined with raw technique, Hwang became the most lethal kicker in Hong Kong cinema.

Hwang Jang-Lee was born Hwang Jeong-Ri on December 13, 1944 in Osaka, Japan. His parents were Korean refugees who lived in Japan during the turbulent days of World War II. Not long after, Jeong-Ri and his parents returned to Korea. While living in Korea, Jeong-Ri’s parents forbade him to learn the country’s national martial art of Tae Kwon Do. The determined Jeong-Ri decided to secretly learn the art at the age of fourteen. When he received his 1st-degree black belt, he confessed to his parents that he had learned the art and they accepted it.

Hwang would go on to join the Korean Army, where he became a tae kwon do instructor. It was during his time in the war that a major incident had occurred. A Vietnamese knife fighter challenged Hwang to fight knife against his unarmed combat. Hwang had refused but when the knife fighter lunged at him, Hwang fired a round kick to the knife fighter’s head, killing him instantly. The killing of the Vietnamese fighter brokes news but Hwang was never charged as it was determined that it was self-defense. Shortly after returning to Korea, Hwang began his film career in martial arts films, cast mainly as a villain.

In 1975, Hwang was discovered by Ng See-Yuen, a former executive of Shaw Brothers who created a new company, Seasonal Film Corporation. At the time, Hwang had already made his film debut in a low budget Korean film simply called THE KOREAN CONNECTION. N.G. (as he wished to be called) was looking for a local actor to play the villain in Seasonal’s first film, THE SECRET RIVALS. Impressed with Hwang’s kicking ability, the 7th-degree black belt began his stint as one of Hong Kong’s most popular villain actors and was given a nickname after his role in the film: The Silver Fox. He would reprise the role of sorts in the 1977 sequel SECRET RIVALS PART II, playing the twin brother of the Silver Fox. In fact, Hwang and fellow superkicker, Taiwanese-born John Liu, would appear in two more films together, SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION and THE INVINCIBLE ARMOUR.

In 1978, Hwang was hired to take on a young Jackie Chan in SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW, but at first almost didn’t get into Hong Kong. According to Ng See-Yuen, customs officers asked why he couldn’t find a Hong Kong actor with N.G. replying, “Get me a local actor who can kick like him and you have a deal.” Hwang got the visa and played the Eagle Claw school leader in the film. An accident did occur on the set of the film. Hwang accidentally knocked out one of Jackie’s front teeth with his kicks. Rumors are that Jackie couldn’t get along with Hwang because of the incident, but if that was true, then Hwang may not have gotten the villain role in the follow up DRUNKEN MASTER, where he played the aptly titled “Thunder Foot” Yen.

In 1980, Hwang convinced Ng See-Yuen to have him play the hero for once. N.G. not only agreed, but Hwang was given a chance to make his directorial debut with HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA. Working alongside action directors Corey Yuen and Mang Hoi, Hwang was able to showcase more kicking combinations with even some nice skills with weapons and hand techniques. It was during his time in Hong Kong that he not only continued tae kwon do, but also began learning Eagle Claw kung fu. He even found a student in Roy Horan, an American who worked at Seasonal and together, the duo collaborated in some films together. In 1982, Hwang made an instructional tape titled THE ART OF HIGH IMPACT KICKING, where he shows the various kicks on tae kwon do using the various training that he learned when he was a student of the art.

Meanwhile, Hwang was working in Korean martial arts films usually playing the villain and some of them had him take on Bruce Lee-alike Dragon Lee.
As the kung fu film began to wind down, Hwang adapted well to the 1980′s, taking on Sammo Hung in WHERE’S OFFICER TUBA, Moon Lee in ANGEL, and Michelle Yeoh in MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS. In 1987, Hwang made his English-language debut as the number one henchman to Matthias Hues’ Soviet villain in the sequel NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 2: RAGING THUNDER. Hwang even had a small but sweet fight scene against Cynthia Rothrock. In 1990, Hwang traveled to America, where he co-starred in the B-movie STREET SOLDIERS as the mute henchman of the villain. The film credits Hwang as “Jason Hwang”, named after his son. In the film, Hwang and fellow tae kwon do master Jun Chong had quite an interesting fight.

Shortly after, Hwang returned to Korea. He made two low budget films, EMPEROR OF THE UNDERWORLD and BOSS. He apparently ran a golf-tee manufacturing company, a hotel, and a bodyguard service. In 2003, Hwang was awarded his 9th degree black belt in tae kwon do and he is now known as “Grandmaster Hwang Jang-Lee”. Not much has been heard about him since, yet according to Jason Hwang, the 63-year old lives on an island in Korea where he still kicks like he hasn’t aged.

In 2009, Hwang returned to Korean television with a role as Japanese swordsman Musashi Miyamoto on the series RETURN TO ILMAJAE.

There have been many superkickers in Hong Kong cinema, but no one can be determined as the most phenomenal kicker in Hong Kong cinema like Hwang Jang-Lee.

FILMOGRAPHY (all as actor unless noted)
Korean Connection (1974)
Left Foot of Wrath (1974)
Brand (1974)
Viper (1975) (actor/action choreographer)
Kill the Shogun (1975)
Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu (1976)
Secret Envoy (1976)
Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)
The Secret Rivals (1976)
Instant Kung Fu Man (1977)
Hero of the Wild (1977)
Snuff-Bottle Connection (1977)
The Secret Rivals, Part II (1977)
The Invincible Armour (1977)
The Fearless Duo (1978)
Drunken Master (1978)
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978)
The Incredible 3 (1978)
Demon Strike (1979)
Dragon's Claws (1979)
36 Deadly Styles (1979)
The Dragon and the Tiger Kids (1979)
Dance of the Drunk Mantis (1979)
Challenge of the Tiger (1980)
The Buddha Assassinator (1980)
Ring of Death (1980)
Young Hero (1980)
Tiger Over the Wall (1980)
Two Fists Against the Law (1980)
Lackey and the Lady Tiger (1980)
The Eagle's Killer (1981)
Hard Bastard (1981)
Tower of Death (1981)
Return of the Deadly Blade (1981)
Hitman in the Hand of Buddha (1981) (actor/producer/director)
Secret Ninja, Roaring Tiger (1982)
Secret Executioners (1982)
Bruce Strikes Back (1982)
Eagle vs. Silver Fox (1982) (actor/action choreographer)
Blood Child (1982) (actor/action choreographer)
Kid from Kwangtung (1982)
Dragon Claws (1982)
Ninja in the Dragon's Den (1982)
Angry Young Man (1983)
Martial Monks of Shaolin Temple (1983)
Ghosts Galore (1983)
Shaolin - The Blood Mission (1984)
Where's Officer Tuba? (1986)
The Innocent Interloper (1986)
The Millionaires' Express (1986)
The First Vampire in China (1986)
Magnificent Warriors (1987)
Angel (1987)
Bed Companion (1988)
No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (1988)
Live Hard (1989)
Darkside of Chinatown (1989)
Street Soldiers (1990)
Emperor of the Underworld (1994)
Boss (1996)



Image from DRUNKEN MASTER courtesy of Seasonal Film Corporation

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