Known as “The Godfather of Hong Kong cinema,” Chang Cheh (1923-2002), who directed nearly 100 films between the late 50s and the early 90s, is currently the subject of a week-long, 14-film retrospective at the Quad Cinema in New York, co-presented by the New York Asian Film Festival. You can read about Chang in depth in Sean Gilman’s Notebook article “Chang Cheh: Death and Glory,” but here is the Quad’s introduction:
As the storied Shaw Brothers began to transform the Hong Kong film industry in the 1950s, a new golden age was on the horizon. At the vanguard of it was director Chang Cheh. The martial arts action in his movies was awe-inspiring—and so too was his career. “Prolific” barely does justice to a director who averaged a half-dozen movies annually during the 1970s boom. He was first and foremost a writer; filmmaking came his way, including several shots at directing, but he spent far more time toiling as a newspaper columnist and pulp novelist. By the 1960s, the Shaws had put him to work as a screenwriter, and he successfully made the transition to directing, becoming one of the studio’s mainstays, effortlessly moving from the swordplay films of the 1960s to the exploding kung fu genre of the 1970s, often collaborating with action choreographer and future director Lau Kar-Leung (aka Liu Chia-liang). Over 25 glorious years, as one of the pioneers of “Heroic Bloodshed” and the revival of the wuxia genre, he minted stars and influenced generations of cinephiles and filmmakers from John Woo (one of his assistant directors) to Quentin Tarantino, who dedicated Kill Bill Vol 2 to him.
While searching for posters for Chang’s films I discovered that whereas the original Hong Kong posters tended to be crowded with action and lurid with color, his American posters tend to be more spare and stylized. Despite their dynamic title treatments and wonderfully bombastic taglines (“Seven Masters with a Thousand Ways to Kill,” “It Slashes! It Smashes! It Rips You Apart,” “Head Cruncher! Gut Ripper!” “No-one could bend him...not even the Kung-Fu Killers!”) and characters pictured mid-flying kick or nunchuck swing, the American posters, especially those made for indie martial arts distributors like World Northal, have a certain graphic restraint, perhaps born of economic necessity (a lot of the posters are 2-color and illustrations tend to be rather crude). The poster above for Seven Blows of the Dragon, for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, is a beautifully realized exception.
It was hard to match some of these posters up with the titles in the Quad’s series because each film seems to have multiple titles. Not all the posters featured here are for films playing at the Quad, but I have done my best to find and identify some of the best of his American posters to give you a graphic glimpse of the joys in store on screen.
Vengeance Is His: Chang Cheh’s Martial Lore runs through May 29. Posters courtesy of Heritage Auctions and eMovie Posters.