7 OF THE BEST SHAW BROTHERS FILMS AKA CHINESE MEN WHO FLY OVER THE BUS (TIDAL MIXTAPE EXCLUSIVE)
During the mid-80s, in the section of the galaxy of Queens known as St. Albans, constellations were formed by guns spark and the blaze of crack rocks. During these tumultuous years, when I took the long way home with Kevin Scott, beyond the corners that became kingdoms where cee-lo kings ruled with 40oz crowns, beyond a graffiti mural, that told me I could as long as I believed, beyond an epidemic that put zombies in the streets around me, on my television there were heroes.
Heroes like Doc Gooden with that Jheri curl, during his clan days, K-K-King niggas until Queens got that ring. Heroes like Michael, when he still had a complexion like mine and was the baddest MJ on the planet. Beyond the Moonwalker, beyond the glory of Shea, beyond the shine of hustlers on Linden, Farmers, and Murdock boulevard, there were heroes from another galaxy. These heroes had a standard time and place: 3 o’clock, on channel 5, Saturday afternoon.
In New York City, this was the official time of the drive-in cinema thanks to the hero maker, the hero deliverer, Mel Maron. He’s the man who exported kung fu flicks from 42nd street, the man who stood up against the ‘scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit’ and hustled chopsocky to the universe that was New York City and the galaxy of Queens.
On Saturday afternoons, you’d watch the movies at 3:00pm and afterward, you’d go outside and engage your friends in epic fake kung fu battles. Trust, I had some memorable ones, like me versus a girl named Mia. She decided that she would be a ninja, I forget which color and I’d be another. She used her power to blast on me and missed. I used mine and the only problem was that my ninja power was a curtain rod that almost took her eye out. She got stitches and I got a spanking.
The 3 o’clock movies weren’t always good. Some were really bad, but the gratuitous fake violence and dubbing made them enjoyable. However, there was one brand, one mark of excellence. If the film started with triumphant horns accompanied by a golden SB you knew it would be good and quite possibly one of your favorites.
My other epic battles were with my cousin Malik (pronounced Mah-Leek). We’d often have amazing fake kung fu fights in my backyard. When we got tired of using our fake death inflicting moves that we learned from the previous week’s movie, we’d often make our own epic movies with figurines. This would include a mixture of Star Wars, Gi Joe and whatever toys we could get our hands on. One day, while me and my cousin were playing, after he broke one of my toys, he told me that he would pay me back and that he’d buy me ‘Chinese men that could fly over the bus.’
What my cousin was referring to, was our perception or reality that we’d inherited from an upbringing on kung fu cinema. Back when everything Asian was still considered ‘Oriental.’ Back when you assumed that every Asian person you met in NYC really knew kung fu. Back when my parents allowed me to walk up to random Asian people and ask if they were Chinese or Japanese, back when they’d smile as a response with a facial expression that said ‘Do you like watermelon or fried chicken?’
I don’t have metal fingers, but Illmatical was born like this. This Gweilo knows that Chinese superheroes and villains had just as much significance on Western culture as Batman and The Joker.
For me to deliver a listicle, for me to drop science on my favorite Shaw Brothers movies, I’d have to tell you about my life. This mixtape has seven tracks, and I’ll stream it to you like this…
00:01:00 Five Fingers of Death — My mother told me that before I was born, Five Fingers of Death was a favorite of my parents when they were dating. Over the years, when I was building with a martial arts practitioner or entertainer, they’d point out that this film was the movie that actually put kung fu cinema on the map outside of Hong Kong.
Leih Lo stars as Chao Chih-Hao, a kung fu student who struggles to find himself while engaged in a rivalry with another kung fu school. He’s entrusted with a secret technique, the Iron Palm that gives him that One-Punch-Man-Count-Dante death touch flow.
Aside from the interesting villains and their diversity, you’ll find yourself pulling for Chao Chih-Hao, who perseveres through self-doubt and tremendous adversity. In all honesty, this is the film that inspired Berry Gordy’s Last Dragon, which is basically a modern remake.
It was also the prototype for future martial arts films. Teacher or parents killed. Rescue the girl. Student learns secret technique and gets revenge. It’s also the film that may be partially responsible for my birth. All good, just as long as I wasn’t named Chao Chih-Hao.
00:02:00 The 36th Chamber of Shaolin — My father happened to borrow a VHS tape from his fake ass mack friend named Terry. I don’t remember the first movie on the tape, but the second was entitled Master Killer. After the tracking was fixed, this movie, introduced me to a young protagonist I identified with. A fresh face kid who said he wanted revenge, but more than anything, he just wanted to change his life and in order to do so, he had to get a six dot baldie and bogart his way into Shaolin.
This film transcends the genre. There’s a good story, solid acting by Gordon Liu, great directing by Lau Kar Leung, and a cinematic glimpse of the intense kung fu training of Shaolin monks. Like any other good martial arts film, this film is packed with metaphors about perseverance. If you’ve neglected kung fu cinema, truthfully, I’d suggest that you start here.
00:03:00 Five Deadly Venoms — In sixth grade, a classmate named Martino and I were building on our knowledge of kung fu films. He asked me if I had ever seen The Five Deadly Venoms. I hadn’t and he responded by loaning me a VHS tape that he never returned to the video store. This film was one of the best cinematic experiences I had in my preteen life.
A deep dark perplexing story. Five anonymous kung fu students, each with a lethal supernatural style. Their teacher sends his final student to track them down and stop them. The fight choreography stands out because several of the Venom actors including Chiang Sheng, Philip Kwok, and Lu Feng had prior training in opera and acrobatics.
The attraction of this film is the story, the character development could have been better, but overall, the story was usual suspects, before Keyzer Soze put villains to bed. You spent half the time trying to figure out who-was-who and what-was-what, by the time you did, it was too late, you fell for the greatest trick the devil ever pulled.
00:04:00 Invincible Shaolin — Despite my tenuous relationship with my father over the years, due to him spoon feeding bible scriptures and lyrics by Jehovah, in between we’d find time to watch kung fu movies. I never really felt that Shaw Brothers movies were violent. The fake fighting was always more comical.
Reason being was that I don’t think anyone ever took the extreme training sequences too seriously. There was always a superhuman element that bordered on fantasy. This movie stayed with me because of the training montages.
In this film, the Manchus stir a beef with Northern and Southern Shaolin, you’ll see Phillip Kwok, Lo Meng, and Sun Chien transform themselves while studying with different masters. This film would influence other kung fu films where students went to great lengths to master particular techniques.
I’ll never forget Saturday afternoons with my father, watching students fighting their way out of small wooden houses, blind men who caught falling swords in the rain and Chinese men who floated in the air during battle. Despite the chaos around us, it was all so simple then.
00:05:00 Fist of The White Lotus — When me and my cousin weren’t engaged in epic battles in St. Albans, I was getting lessons on Chinese men who could fly over the bus at his house in Laurelton. His father had amassed a collection of films which include Bruce Lee movies, a ronin assassin with a baby and a gang of other films my parents wouldn’t normally allow me to watch. I vividly remember him pointing out Fist Of The White Lotus.
This film is significant because the White Lotus is one of the greatest villains in cinema history. It’s also significant because you’re dealing with the infamous story of Bak-Mei aka The White Eyebrow priest who betrayed Shaolin and used a form of kung fu that focused on specific pressure points.
Lieh Lo stars as the invincible, unhittable White Lotus. His kung fu is excellent and his sharp dialogue is even better. In the film, he uses a special nerve strike, similar to the legendary Dim Mak technique, which allows him to count how many steps his foe will take before they die. This film would later influence Tarantino’s Kill Bill and other kung fu films that featured wig wearing white haired bad guys who always had a bad hair day.
00:06:00 Crippled Avengers
“Iron Feet, these fancy names, I know most times, don’t really mean a thing. Come on!”
[Punches Thrown] “Hie! Hie! Hie!”
“You really should be ashamed, you call that a punch? Come on, try your iron kick now!”
“Hey, but they really are!”
[Foot inserted into stomach] “AHHHHHRRRGH!”
“Your feet, they really are iron!”
Believe it or not, that entire clip was on my friend Majid’s answering machine. Ironically, the film that has been marketed as “Return Of The Five Deadly Venoms,” it isn’t about revenge, evil or any diabolical plans. Crippled Avengers is about friendship and having your homeboy’s back.
Alongside the Venoms; minus Wei Pak, Chen Kuan Tai stars as a gangster who terrorizes a local town. During his tyranny, he injures four men who turn towards each other to compensate for their own shortcomings. Just like any other Venoms film, the fight choreography is excellent.
The truth of the matter is, we all have our limitations, in one way or another. The message of this film is clear: Friendship will kick the hell out of a gangster’s ass, whatever form that gangster may be. If you don’t have a friend who had a clip from Crippled Avengers on their voicemail, find one. Chances are, they really understand what the spirit of kung fu and Shaw Brothers movies are all about.
00:07:00 3 Evil Masters — All praise to Allah for his messenger for his followers who hustled bootleg Shaw Brothers movies at a bodega in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
A decade ago, my chillax routine was a kung fu flick, beer, and greasy chicken wings. One rainy afternoon, I stumbled onto 3 Evil Masters and I truly believe that this film has one of best introductions in martial arts cinema. Chien Kuan-Tai stars as a master who is being hunted by three ruthless kung fu baddies, one of which is played by the legendary Johnny Wang Lung Wei. While being hunted, the master finds time to train a wayward kung fu student, imparting knowledge on his three evil foes. I’m not sure if it was the beer, the chicken wings or the fight choreography, but this film set me on my journey as a martial arts fiction writer.
I know my list is personal, but the majority of my seven is somewhere on every other list on the internet, perhaps yours as well. But the difference is, you weren’t born like this. You didn’t have epic fake kung fu battles using lethal moves you never really learned. On Saturdays, after cartoons were over, you didn’t use a wrench to turn the knob on your TV to channel five and anxiously wait for the introduction of the movie, hoping that you saw the golden SB. You didn’t need heroes to make you forget the chaos in the streets around you.
My cousin needed kung fu heroes to make him forget about his older brother who was murdered. I needed kung fu heroes to make me forget about my mother who was in and out of the hospital. Millions of souls needed heroes as the CIA funneled drugs into our known universe, forming violent constellations in the galaxy of Queens.
Chinese men and women flew on our television screens delivering escapism when we needed it the most. Heroes of the east flew into our hearts. Heroes of the east inspired thousands of 80s babies to learn Kung Fu, saving them from an epidemic created to destroy them.
Fast forward a few generations. My cousin never bought me anything. He started a family and I went on a search for the glow. You see, I was born like this, and there is a reason I touched down in Hong Kong. It’s about to be Saturday, three o’clock all over again, all over the place — the world is about to experience ‘Chinese Men Who Fly Over The Bus.’