August 25-26, 2007
With a hearty handshake, Lo Mang walked off down the lobby corridor of Philadelphia's International House after a long weekend. His departure was reminiscent of a lone Shaolin defender leaving the field of battle as he headed for the distant hills to rejoin his Shaolin brothers.
But that is our ending and every tale must first have a beginning....
A VENOM AMONG US
It started on a steamy August morning in Philadelphia's Chinatown. I approached a small cafe/bakery shop on 10th Street where there was a handful of people seated near the entrance. Richard Hopkins (event coordinator) ushered me in and introduced me to the gentleman seated at the first table. His name was Lo Mang and he stretched out his arm as I did mine. For nearly thirty years this man had been a two-dimensional figure on both the big and small screen but at that moment, it all changed.
For the next several minutes, I stood by and watched him interact with fellow expo participant and MC, Ric Meyers. Lo seemed very enthusiastic about his maiden trip to the U.S. as he conversed with the assistance of a pair of translators. He joyfully boasted of finally getting to jog up the museum steps made famous by Rocky Balboa. He also reflected on the August 1st bridge collapse in Minneapolis and expressed remorse for the victims as he softly said, "I too am human."
The discussion then moved on to his first movie, SHAOLIN TEMPLE, which made me rifle through the small bag I was carrying. I produced a glossy photo of him from the film and handed it to the seated Venom. His face lit up with a big smile as he relived his youth working on his first ever Shaw Brothers production. Hopkins explained to Lo that I was the one who had created the webpage for this event and again Lo smiled. He had seen it and seemed very pleased. The nervous energy I first had upon my arrival now subsided. Not only had I finally met my favorite Venom but he was aware of who I was. It was a good feeling.
Lo Mang (center) in Philly's Chinatown
Just after 11am, the bakery shop emptied and we joined the growing crowd which gathered out front. Meyers began the introductions as Hopkins steadied his camera on the MC and the guest of honor. In traditional Chinese spirit, a lion dance then erupted welcoming the man from Hong Kong.
The colorful lion dancers and pounding drums caused a small traffic jam as cars slowed to watch the festivities. Pedestrians on the opposite street now stood and watched as a small throng of spectators took photographs.
One man asked another "who was this VIP?" and I explained to him that he was one of the stars of THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS. At first no response but then I said "Wu Du" and he nodded. He proceeded to whip out his cell phone camera and snapped away.
The lion dance concluded with detonating fireworks; smoke and haze filled the air. A slab of wet cement was then carried over by some students of the Moy Yat Ving Tsun School and presented to the Venom muscleman. Lo honed in on his inner chi, then smashed his hand prints into the ground (ala Hollywood's Walk of Fame) and signed his name. Watching the man reminded me of his character in BRAVE ARCHER 2 & 3 - blasting his opponents with his Iron Palm technique.
Opening Ceremonies - click to enlarge
After the ceremonies were over, a few of the lucky ones who purchased tickets for the fight choreography session retreated from the sweltering sidewalk into the Moy Yat school. A series of steep stairs were ascended until we reached a second platform, in which more steps were revealed. I lost track of the steps taken but around each corner a new flight was staring at us. If you've seen the film, THE NEW SHAOLIN BOXER (Choi Lee Bat Siu Ji), where Fu Sheng carries the pails of water up endless stone steps to his master's home, then you have an idea of what this was like. Our pails of water though were buckets of sweat as the humidity factor weighed in heavily; the century degree mark easily surpassed. When we reached the summit, our journey had ended as a cool rush of A/C hit our bodies upon entering the school's main doors.
Those who were participating in the fight class stretched out on the hardwood floors as other spectators lined the walls. Soon the combatants formed two long lines, opposite each other, as the session began. Hopkins demonstrated various routines to them and then watched them engage one another. Assisting was martial artist Bobby Samuels who weaved in and out the fighters, correcting them on their technique and explaining that "timing was everything." Meyers too was present and gave pointers on the art of "cinema fighting" and the importance of always knowing where the camera was.
For a while, Lo had been sitting back watching the exercise. Finally he too joined in and displayed to the students how to fight in slow-motion and that reaction/facial expression to each other's blows was key in creating a larger than life fight for the camera.
The session lasted for about 90 minutes when the participants were then allowed to interact with Lo in a Q& A session. He explained how it was the film ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN which so impressed him as a child that he said if could someday work on a movie with Chang Cheh, it would be "the ultimate." Lo felt that when he was making movies, now and then, he wasn't really acting but just being himself. He also reported when not working on films he spends six hours a day training.
Moy Yat School - click to enlarge
Possibly one of the most surreal events that occurred over the weekend was after the Q&A session was over. During the fight class, a small TV in one corner had been playing the film, THE FIVE VENOMS. Lo came over to the TV and stared at the screen as he watched himself in his glorious fighting past (see photo). I was standing just to the left of him and was mesmerized by this sight.
When one listens to a commentary on a DVD, there's a sensation that you're watching the film with the people in the movie. Well today it was no sensation. I was actually watching THE FIVE VENOMS with one - of - the - Venoms!
The gathering then broke up and smaller parties formed. A bunch of my fellow KFF brethren joined Carl Morano of Media Blasters and grabbed lunch at a small Chinese restaurant. We discussed kung fu films and MB's plans for their U.S. release of Shaw DVDs before heading onto Arch Street where we perused the selections of some video shops.
One store in particular was of interest as we discovered a large wall display of bootleg video tapes! It was if I had been catapulted back to the 80s and the video stalls of Times Square. One tape's box cover boasted a double feature: THE PIRATE and THE HOUSE OF TRAPS. Could it have been the elusive English dub version of TRAPS? Probably not - though it was fun to speculate.
The evening's festivities shifted to the Golden Phoenix restaurant on Race Street in Chinatown where Lo was presented with his lifetime achievement award for his body of work. There were video tributes by Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street and PA Governor Edward Rendell. Also featured was a video compilation, edited by Hopkins, which included clips from CRIPPLED VENOMS, FIVE VENOMS, SUPER NINJAS and LION VS LION. Lo enjoyed that so much that he had to have the video afterwards. All in all, the intimate setting allowed many to casually wine and dine with one of the legends of the Shaw studios. Lo mentioned he was moved by the evening's events and all those who were in attendance for supporting him and his films of the last thirty years.
THE INTERNATIONAL HOUSE
Sunday's activities shifted to the west side of town where a largo convention space had been reserved. Along the perimeter of the I-House auditorium, various sponsors and guests had set up their booths displaying an assortment of products for sale from DVDs, posters, original art, books and more. Lo Mang made his entrance around noon as he took center stage and began to delight the crowd with a series of kung fu moves. (After all these years, the man has still got it.) After the demonstration he and his entourage moved to the opposite end of the auditorium where he set up shop at an autograph table. On display were mini-posters of the many Venom films he had appeared in and all were available for purchase - autographed by the man himself.
Photo-op with Bobby Samuels (center)
Master Kim (seated), son Eric and Linn Haynes
I made my way around the expo floor interacting with several of the guests and attendees. Bobby Samuels was once again present. Among the various discs and books on display at his booth was an album of rare photographs featuring many of the talented individuals Samuels worked with in the film industry. He shared his tales with strangers and posed for photos like he had known them all his life. When asked how he felt about this weekend's event he said he was ..."honored and thankful to Lo Mang for coming to this event; first of its kind." Regarding a follow-up to this year's expo, he commented: "We hope to bring more Shaw stars to the U.S. One person I would love to see is Lau Kar Leung because he is another person truly worthy of this lifetime achievement award."
A very cordial individual, Samuels was the epitome of how best to describe this weekend: lighthearted, easy-going and fun. In many convention settings where attendees can be treated like sheep and ushered along in signing booths and photo ops, those who attended had the unique opportunity to mingle with guests celebs as if they were one's neighbor.
Over the course of the afternoon a variety of entertainers performed, groups of martial artists demonstrated their skills, plus a bunch of freebies signed by Jackie Chan were raffled off. MC Meyers certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, summing up the weekend’s activities by stating: "Its always a pleasure to be part of a Phillywood production and the opportunity to meet one of my idols in the kung fu film industry was too great a temptation to resist."
Meyers was indeed quite entertaining and more than happy to interact with the fans - even addressing any rumors that might have been lingering on the net. Once such rumor was the issue of him allegedly telling Ocean Shores that American audiences would not accept wide-screen versions of these films. "This is completely incorrect," he commented. "I was never for full screen/pan & scan movies as this interferes with some of the on-screen action and you cannot see the styles fully."
I had never meet the man myself prior and was only aware of what I had heard or read. Not always the best way to make an accurate judgment of someone. I believe it was best said by a fellow expo attendee, in an on-line forum after the event, that ... "Mr. Meyers was very respectful and should be treated with an equal amount of respect."
While I'm sure many of the attendees were awe struck, there's no doubt that the guests too were having the time of their lives. Master Kim was visibly moved when a fan presented him with a stack of his own movies on DVD. Lo Mang too seemed pleasantly surprised when someone showed him a scan of an old Southern Screen article introducing the Venoms. He hide his face joking how young he looked. When another attendee displayed a Thai Five Venoms poster, he was so impressed that he had to take a picture of himself holding it!
LO MANG INTERVIEW
Sharing a laugh w/ Meyers
Later in the afternoon, my cameraman and I retreated to the upper floor of the I-House for my private interview with Lo. The room was far from spacious but both Lo and his translator were very professional and accommodating. We talked on a variety of topics from his family to his films. While I have watched and analyzed many of Lo's movies over the last quarter century, his recollection on some of these pictures seemed somewhat of a blur. This I can only assume was either (1) due to the long passage of time since these films were made or (2) due to the fact that the Shaws cranked out these movies like an assembly line; one after the other after the other. To recall specifics seemed difficult at some points but I have to think about where I was 25 years ago (which would be high school) and then I can relate. Sure I recall various memories but couldn't tell you the difference between my Sophomore and Junior English classes.
My major regret was my inability to converse with him in Cantonese. The man was very affable and quite animated when telling some of his tales - especially when he described his initial meeting with Chang Cheh. I bet he would be a riot if there was no language barrier. He struck me as a guy you could hang out with it, have a have few brews and a lot of laughs.
I presented him with a photo from the set of INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN (Nan Shao Lin Yu Bei Shao Lin) which pleased him greatly but it was small in comparison to what the man had offered me. To take the time, of what appeared to be a long day, and sit down with a stranger for an interview showed me his deep appreciation for his fans. I only wish I had more time to converse with him for there were many other questions I would like to have asked. As much as I thought I was prepared, I failed to bring along certain visual aids which would have helped ease the communication process. One such person I wanted to hear Lo's opinion on was Robert Tai (Chi Hsien) and his A/D contributions to roughly ten Venom films. Unfortunately, I couldn't recall his Chinese name at the time.
Venoms strongman greets a fan
(l-r) T.Brady, Lo Mang, and the late Linn Haynes
All told, I was quite pleased with what I was able to accomplish and hope this footage will provide many with new insights into the man we affectionately know as "The Toad."
Later on I had the privilege to be spectator to another interview - this time by Media Blasters. They discussed such films as SUPER NINJAS and TEN TIGERS and his relationships with other Shaw alumni. The interview wrapped and a bunch of us then proceeded for one final meal at a pizzeria down the block. Hours drifted away as we talked kung fu and the events of the past two days. As for Lo Mang....
Well the "ending" I mentioned earlier was not completely accurate. I found out later that Lo had caught a second wind and wanted to go out to dinner with a bunch of people. Oh, to hang with the Venom for one final meal would have been the cherry on the sundae but alas it did not happen for some of us.
I think we were all still in a daze that we had spent our weekend with a living, breathing Venom - and frankly, that was good enough.
A few days later....
Sitting home one evening, I popped in THE DAREDEVILS (Za Ji Wang Ming Dui) disc - first opportunity I had to watch this remastered print. Each time Lo Mang entered the screen I smiled to myself, "Hey, I know that guy!" Unfortunately Lo's character is killed off (like in so many other Venom films he appeared in). I haven't seen any of his newer movies but hopefully he has a better agent now that included a "no-death" clause in his contract. After all, the man has battled legions of invading Manchus, warlords, gangsters, demons, ninjas -- even a scorpion, a snake and a centipede. The man deserves to make it to the end titles - he's earned it!
PHILLYWOOD ENTERTAINMENT DVD
Did someone mention a DVD?
If you were unable to attend this historic event but still wish you had, you're in luck. Richard Hopkins and Phillywood Entertainment were feverishly shooting footage all weekend - covering all aspects of Lo's trip to the U.S. - and plans to press a DVD that will be on sale in the near future. Exact specs and a release date are unavailable as of this article but rest assure, any news on this "must-have" disc will be posted here. You can also keep close watch on the Phillywood Entertainment website for the latest details.
© Terrence J. Brady
THIRD MILLENNIUM entertainment
UPDATE: Impact Magazine has published a condensed version of this article in their February 2008 issue with a few new photos. Big thanks to "Big" Mike Leeder!
Acknowledgments: Richard Hopkins for all his perseverance and dedication to making this event a reality, George of Phillywood Entertainment for supporting Richard's dream, the team of translators for their assistance, the event guests (Bobby, Ric, Master Kim, and Taimak) for their participation, Robert X Golphin for his coverage of my interview, Carl Morano and Media Blasters for sponsoring this expo and for their dedication in creating the best possible Shaw releases in the U.S., the KFF attendees for their contributions and/or participation in this event, and lastly "the man of the hour" Lo Mang for without him, none of this would have been possible. Thank you sir!