While the legend of Santa Claus arose in American popular culture in the mid-1770s, halfway around the world, Shaolin lore had 10 heroes battling Ching Dynasty forces with the ferocity of tiger claws. Part 1 of Shaolin Studios 5 introduced the former tea merchant, Hong xi-guan, that got teed off by the Manchus and who arguably was the most famous of the Ten Tigers of Shaolin. Here are the remaining nine claws who fought during the above time clause.
One rainy day, an elderly, fragile salt merchant carrying a large sack of salt, with his daughter in tow, stopped outside a silk merchant shop owned by the 60-year-old Fang De. Salt was worth its weight in gold back then and would certainly have been lost during the wet deluge.
The old man was sick, so Fang De insisted they stay inside his shop and as he fetched a doctor to look after the old man. Fang De eventually married the old man’s daughter; the old man was the Five Elder of Shaolin Miao Xian, and his daughter Miao Cui-hua was the kung fu student of the Five Elder Wu Mei. They had one son…Fang Shi-yu and he was born in Zhao Xing, Canton.
Cui-hua would bathe the one-month-old Shi-yu in herbal oil, then dress him in layers of bamboo strips, wooden rods and iron bars so his muscles and joints became as hard as iron. Although short tempered as a teen, he was a champion of the people and fought for righteousness.
However, it was Shi-yu’s temper and attitude that partially led to the historic hatred between the Wu Dung and Shaolin when the 14-year-old Fang killed Lei Lao-hu. It is believed that Fang either died during the burning of the Jiu Lian Shan Temple or shortly thereafter. Either way, he died in his early twenties and was known for his expertise of the flower sword maneuvers.
The first martial arts hero to be prominently featured in Chinese film was Fang Shi-yu (Fong Sai-yuk in Cantonese) in Fang Shi Yu’s Battle in the Boxing Ring (1928).
Although fellow Ten Tiger of Shaolin Hong Xi-guan made his film debut in 1949 in Hong Xi-Guan’s Bloody Battle at the Forest Lui’s Family, most of Hong’s cinematic appearances were often in tandem with Fang, a reflection of their strong brotherhood relationship.
Hong and Fang first teamed up as part of a band of Ming rebels in Seven Shaolin Heroes Venture into O-Mei Mountain(1950). Although they fought each other over a bout of miscommunication in The Fist Battle Between Fang Shi Yu and Hong Xi Guan (1952) their reconciliation as brothers against the Ching was featured in Fang Shi Yu Comes to Hong Xi Guan’s Rescue (1956). In Heroes Two (1974) Chang Cheh cast Alexander Fu Shen as Fang opposite Chen Kuan-tai as Hong where after they fight each other, Fang hands Hong over to the Manchus only to realize his wrongdoing and rescues Hong from the Ching evildoers. Months later, Chang re-cast Chen as Hong and Fu Shen as Fang as friends in Men from the Monastery (1974; see opening photo).
Fu Shen played Hong a year later in Chang’s Disciples of Shaolin (1975) where the film opens with Fu Shen performing Hong’s patented tiger-crane form wearing steel rings on each arm. Curiously in Chang’s Shaolin Temple, Hong is a minor character in the film, yet Fu Shen is cast as the main hero Fang Shi-yu. Neither of these characters were ever at Song Shan Temple.
Ringo Lam’s Burning Paradise (1994) is the last film about Hong and Fang sharing an adventure, where the real star of the film is perhaps the Red Lotus Temple, an underground, fortress-like prison for hundreds of renegade Shaolin Monks that Hong and Fang must enter to set free. Jet Li’s version of Fang in Fang Shi Yu I and II (1993), are both light-hearted, whimsical affairs, moving away from the true fighting zealot Fang was in real life and as he was often portrayed in Chang Cheh’s early Shaolin films.
FANG XIAO-YU & FANG MEI-YU
Before Fang Shi-yu was born, his father Fang De and his first wife Li had two sons, Fang Xiao-yu and Fang Mei-yu, who were who both trained by the Five Elder Zhi Shan. Twenty years after Li died, Fang De married Miao Cui-hua and she bore him a third son, Shi-yu. Though Xiao-yu and Mei-yu never attained the fame of their younger half-brother Shi-yu, they were all members of the Ten Tigers of Shaolin.
Hu Hui-qian was born in Shin Hui, Canton to a father who owned a store near the Weaver Union headquarters. During a nasty incident, members of the union badly beat up Hu and killed his father. However, he was rescued by Fang Shi-yu and was subsequently introduced to the Jiu Lian Shan Temple in hopes of learning martial arts and exacting revenge.
Deciding to leave the monastery before his training and unable to cope with the Luohan Hall of wooden dummies, Hu escaped through a drain. Upon returning home he wreaked revenge against the union, which led to bloody reprisals between Wu Dung and Shaolin as seen in Men from the Monastery. However, in Shaolin Temple, Hu (played by Chi Kuan-chung) is seen training at Song Shan Temple and leaving the temple via a hidden dog tunnel through one of the temple’s walls. The film depicts the close friendship that really existed between Fang and Hu.
MONK SAN DE
Monk San De was born as Liu Yu-de in Hui Yang, Canton and by 16 earned the nickname “Iron Arms” because of his enormous strength. After killing a Manchurian, he sought refuge by becoming a monk at Jiu Lian Shan where he began training with Zhi Zhan.
It was at Shaolin that he adopted the name San De, which means “three virtues”. After completing his training, he was assigned to continue his anti-Ching activities at Xi Chan Temple in Canton. San De was noted for carrying and fighting with a 60-pound weapon called a “Monk’s Spade.” The temple was eventually located by the Wu Dung and everyone including San De were killed in the ensuing violent skirmish.
Directed by Liu Chia-liang and starring Gordon Liu as Monk San De, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) was a ground-breaking film that for the first time allowed the audience to look behind the closed-door training methods of the Shaolin Temple. Although there was a sequel, Return to the 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1980), it was more of a comedy that moved away from the serious spirit of the first one.
The Return was about a downtrodden man Chou Chun-chi (Gordon Liu), who wants to learn kung-fu at the Shaolin Temple where after San De had him spend three years building bamboo scaffolding around the entire temple, Chou feels that he was a failure. Chou eventually realizes that the lessons learned on the scaffolding made him an invincible fighter.
Monk San De also appears as a main character in the Sammo Hung starring The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977). Although it was also Sammo’s directorial debut and featured some excellent fight choreography, the film has been eagerly dismissed by film critics for its violent rape sequence.
Born in Nan Hai, Canton, Xie A-fu entered Jiu Lian Shan at an early age and became one of Zhi Shan’s disciples. After formally completing his training and successfully traversing the Luohan Hall of wooden men, Xie developed a reputation of being an unbeatable “death fight” competitor. These fights erupted from kung-fu style-induced, vanity-based challenges where death was often the end result, especially if it was Chinese fighting foreign martial artists.
After Jiu Lian Shan was razed, he avoided Ching prosecution by changing his name and becoming a cook on the Red Junks. Fearing the Manchu’s would eventually find him, Xie smoked opium to disfigure his face. He eventually died as an opium addict, his face deformed almost beyond recognition. His weapon of expertise was wielding a pair of “iron-mandarin ducks;” short, wide crescent-shaped axes with spikes on the opposite ends of the handles.
Tong Qian-jin was born in Ke Jia, Canton and escaped from Jiu Lian Shan before completing his training by stealing a pass from a monk at the front gate and used it to weasel past Monk San De at the back gate. This was considered a crime punishable by death and so Zhi Shan sent his disciple Lu A-tsai to find and kill him. However, after they met, Lu was moved by his righteousness and therefore, did not kill him. Ironically, Tong eventually took refuge at the newly established Xi Chan Temple, which was under the leadership of a forgiving San De.
Tong killed the Wu Dung disciple Li Ba-shan and was revengefully killed by Li’s daughter Li Xiao-huan. His favorite weapon was the “thousand catty weight” and so another rendition of Tong’s death has him dying during a Manchu attack on Xi Chan Monastery, where he went down swinging his weapon in maniacal circles of head crushing furor.
Lo Meng stars as Tong in Chang Cheh’s Two Champions of Shaolin (1980). Though neither story is addressed, the film features Tong and fellow Tiger Hu Hui-qian taking on the Wu Dung.
Very little is known about the remaining two Ten Tigers of Shaolin Li Jing-luin and Liang Ya-sung. If their lives and skills were anything like the other eight Tigers, they must have been magnificent martial artists that quite possibly may have successfully escaped the wrath of the Manchus thus escaping history.
Next up in Shaolin Studios is a special guest, a treatise on one of the most influential female martial artists in history who had close ties to Shaolin during the Blazing Temples era.
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