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Rest in Peace Yueh Hua

“He’s gorgeous!” said my Mum, boggling at Yueh Hua playing the titular role in The Lizard. “He’s warm, funny, and he’s really really good.”

The Lizard
Yueh Hua in The Lizard. Image from hkmdb.com

The Lizard (1972) is a combination rom-com / kung fu / heist movie produced by Shaw Brothers Studios and directed by Chor Yuen. I could sense the surprise in my Mother’s voice. She is not a fan of martial arts movies – she can’t stand the violence – and only watched The Lizard to keep me company one evening. In fact, I chose the film when I realised that she would be sitting up with me as I thought she would enjoy the broad humour, the entertaining plot, the lovely sets and costumes, and the engaging performances. Like many Westerners who don’t watch martial arts movies, Mum was under the impression that the movie she would be viewing with me would be shoddily made with risible acting.

But Shaws didn’t set out to make bad movies, they were in the business of making crowd pleasers that reflected well on their brand and made the audience want to come back for more. They resourced productions like The Lizard with the best technical, and among the best human, resources available in Hong Kong at the time.

This included a large stable of talent, both behind and in front of the camera. One of Shaws’ most gifted stars was Yueh Hua. He died recently; you can read an obituary here.

Hua was a product of the Shaws system, as well as being one of its most reliable mainstays. His filmography boasts a remarkable 138 films, many of them for Shaw Brothers. His biography on The Hong Kong Movie Database states that he acted in about five films a year during the 1960s and 1970s. It must have been exhausting! However, the consistent work plus the opportunity to collaborate with other talented people would have given him a chance to refine his skills. In return, he proved to be a box office draw for Shaws, and a performer who could be relied upon to turn in consistently good, and often excellent, performances.

Working my way through Shaws catalogue of martial arts movies, one thing that has struck me about Hua was that he was a most versatile actor: at the start of his career he played the rambunctious Sun Wukong (King Monkey) in Ho Meng Hua’s trilogy of films inspired by Journey to the West as well as a seminal performance as the impish Fan Dapei / Drunken Knight in Come Drink with Me (1966). This made him a star and he then often played earnest leading men in films such as Killer Darts (1968) and The Shadow Whip (1971). I especially liked his portrayal of the jaded but morally robust hero in The Casino (1972) (he and co-star Lily Ho made a sexy couple in this film).

The Casino
Yueh Hua in The Casino. Picture from hkmdb.com

During his career he also branched out into playing important character roles, such as the mysterious Monk Wu Hua in Clans of Intrigue (1977) or an ambiguously aloof wandering swordsman in Heroes Shed No Tears (1980). His performance in Death Duel (1977) shows that he could also make an effective cold-eyed villain. Regardless of which part he played, he always distinguished himself through subtle performances and a strong screen presence.

YuehHua-96-b death duel
Yueh Hua in Death Duel. Picture from hkmdb.com

We are lucky that he left a wonderful legacy of films behind.

Thank you, Yueh Hua, and Rest in Peace.

I have written about Shaw Brothers Studios is ‘Ask for the Moon: Innovation at Shaw Brothers Studios’. If you would like to buy the book, please go here.

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Resourcing Creativity

A blog I wrote about ‘Ask for the Moon’ for my other website (DangerousMeredith.com.au). This blog is about the importance of resourcing the activities of creative people adequately.

Dangerous Meredith

My book Ask for the Moonlooks at creativity and innovation in organisations, and the conditions that nurture or constrain these. As a central case study for the book, I chose to look at Shaw Brothers Studios and their production of martial arts movies in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s.

Shaw Brothers had a business and production model that was unique for the time and place in which they operated. Their artistic workforce – directors, cinematographers, editors, martial arts choreographers, performers, writers, production designers, etc. – were extraordinarily creative and some of them even managed innovations in their art form.

The good thing about working for big studios was that you got classy, quality support. Even if you asked for the moon, they could get the moon for you, which was amazing. ~ Shaw Brothers Studios director Chor Yuen

One of the components of the Shaw Brothers production model…

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News and An Opportunity

Opportunity to win my book

The excellent Kung Fu Movie Guide website is giving away a copy of my book as their monthly prize. All you have to do is sign up for their excellent monthly e-mail bulletin here.

The Kung Fu Movie Guide is a treasure trove of articles, reviews, and a podcast. They are great for keeping up with the latest news about the genre and essential for any serious fan of the genre.

Support the Gutterthon

I was happy and proud to contribute a copy of Ask for the Moon as a reward in this month’s Gutterthon. The book has already gone as a reward but, if you like “thoughtful writing about disreputable art”, you should still definitely head on over to the Gutterthon and support it. The Cultural Gutter is chockers full of great writing about all kinds of genres – sci-fi, horror, Bollywood, comics, fantasy, videogames, romance. There are many great rewards still on offer for the next 24 days, and you will have the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes out of supporting a website to pay its contributing writers.

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Artwork by Rebecca Stewart

Start Dis Podcast Interview Coming Up

Later this month I will be interviewed for the Start Dis Podcast, which describes itself thusly: “The StartDis podcast is for people of conscience, who value education and who love to learn a little bit about everything.”

The “little bit” I will be contributing to the interview will be musings about the nature of creativity, using the activities of Shaw Brothers filmmakers as an example. Stay tuned for further details.

And speaking about podcasts, you can check out an interview I did for the Bedrock Games podcast. Due to internet problems on the day the audio quality isn’t great, but I really enjoyed responding to the thoughtful questions I was asked. More information here.

Follow us

By the way, if you are on twitter, you can follow me at either @DangerousMere or @FuThoughts. The Kung Fu Movie Guide can be found at @KFMovieGuide, Cultural Gutter at @CulturalGutter, Brendan Davis (and his blog and podcast) at @Bedrockgames, and the Start Dis podcast at @StartDisPodcast.

Tightropes and Pivots

A blog about Ask for the Moon that I published on my DangerousMeredith.com.au website:

Dangerous Meredith

“In the film industry, one walks a tightrope, satisfactions, and dangers. That is perhaps why the business of making movies has given me the pleasure, the excitement, and the fulfilment I have always craved.” ~ Sir Run Run Shaw

I used this quote in my recent book, Ask for the Moon. Sir Run Run’s company – Shaw Brothers Organisation – was a market leader in the filmmaking and distribution industry in Asia in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, and, although it is not as busy producing films, is still a successful corporation in various sectors even today.

The Shaw Brothers manoeuvred their business into a position of predominance through a combination of clever strategy and calculated risk taking. My book is about innovation, both in terms of business modelling and artistic (filmmaking) output, and Shaw Brothers Organisation is a perfect case study for this.

The history of the…

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Why Choose Innovation as a Theme?

“An astonishing number of kung fu movies are about innovation. A common feature of the genre, and one that is often held against it, especially by Western viewers, is a recurring plotline that underpins these movies time and time again. If classic Hollywood movies relied on the boy-gets-girl / boy-loses-girl / boy-gets-girl-again story arc (and, funnily enough, this isn’t held against this genre) then kung fu movies often have the following:

  • Villain slaughters hero’s entire family and nearly does for the hero, who escapes by the skin of his teeth;
  • Hero, knowing he can’t beat villain, as he is a far technically superior fighter, goes into hiding and broods on how he can extract revenge on the bastard;
  • Hero has a flash of inspiration and discovers or invents or adapts a technique or weapon that can counter the villain’s technical advantages;
  • Hero kills villain.

Thus, in Executioners from Shaolin (1977), the young hero experiments with, adapts, and combines the Crane and Tiger techniques of his parents to avenge himself on the killer of his father (a villain who has mastered technique so completely that he can, at will, make his testicles retract inside his body, thereby creating a groinal cavity that, when his opponent goes to kick him in the bollocks, entraps that opponent’s foot leaving him flailing and powerless). (I’m not making this up). But sometimes different storylines emerged to deal with the theme of innovation. Kung fu and wuxia movies are also mad keen on featuring snazzy and devastatingly destructive gadgetry – weaponry or booby traps – and some movies look at the invention of these.

One such movie is The Flying Guillotine (1975) … In this movie, a callous emperor commissions the invention of a new weapon that can be deployed against some particularly pesky subversives and strike the fear of God into everyone else into the bargain. He is presented with the Flying Guillotine, which, for the purposes of this movie, looks like a bee keeper’s helmet with a retractable metallic mesh hood that plops down over the head of the intended victim. At the bottom of the mesh is a ring of blades. When the emperor’s squad of especially trained assassins throw this lethal headgear at their victim, it engulfs and neatly slices off their heads. The assassin retrieves the helmet and newly decapitated head via the agency of a long chain attached to the Flying Guillotine, and disappears into the night, leaving any witnesses to reel about in horror. One assassin becomes morally disgusted with all this and escapes, the rest of the squad is sent after him. But he beats them all by inventing a brand-new weapon – actually an adaptation of a hitherto harmless domestic implement – that he can use to counter the effects of the Flying Guillotine. So, behind the joyfully disgusting impact of watching the Guillotines whizz about onscreen, this film is about innovation – taking an invention and figuring out how to adapt and deploy it in new ways to achieve a desired result.” pp. 69-71, Ask for the Moon.

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Image by Rebecca Stewart

I fully intended to write a blog about the theme of my book, Ask for the Moon, this morning. I turned up to a writers’ group, equipped with my trusty laptop, all on fire to do it. I got to talking to another writer sitting nearby. He asked me what my book was about, and I explained that I was using the making of martial arts movies by a famous Hong Kong based movie studio as a case study exploring business model innovation and creativity. His response: “COME AGAIN?” I re-phrased and re-explained. He pulled a face and said, “That’s unusual” and I pointed out that, if I was writing a book about innovation, it had better be.

The word innovation has been so freely, and non-discerningly, bandied about that, like many buzzwords, it has lost its meaning. But the word actually means applying creative thinking to do something different in the name of adding value.

Human beings are innately creative creatures. From our knuckle dragging ancestors onwards we have been tinkering and experimenting with things to make them beautiful and / or better. Innovative practice can be found in all walks of life but at certain times and places in history it does seem to cluster and concentrate. I believe that Shaw Brothers Studios was one of these places. The business model of the studio was unique for its time and place; the Shaw Brothers could be seen to be innovators as entrepreneurs. From a filmmaking perspective, some of their directors did things differently, advancing their art form as creative innovators. In looking at these two forms of innovation co-existing, we can learn much about the nature of innovation and the conditions that support it.