Carl Douglas was born in Jamaica and spent some time in Southern California before his family moved to London when he was a teenager. Gifted with a sweet tenor voice that he honed in his church choir, Douglas tried his hand at becoming a pop star in the ’60s, releasing a few singles and an album that came to nothing. In 1974, he bonded with another British immigrant, Biddu (Appaiah), who had come from Bangalore to produce records.
Biddu had a one-time deal with Pye Records and a song — written by “Rhinestone Cowboy” composer Larry Weiss — that he thought would be a hit. He had three hours of studio time. He recruited session vocalist Douglas to sing it. They cut it in about two hours, so Biddu asked Douglas if there was anything else he wanted to try in the remaining time. Of course, Douglas said, he had several sets of lyrics he was working on. Biddu liked the one that started with “Everyone was fighting kung fu….”
It was silly, but they needed a B-side for the single. So they put out a fast disco track and adorned it with that stereotypical Asian motif – the plinky “dee dee dee dee duh duh dee dee duh” that has found its way into all of the fake Western Asian Vapors songs” https:// /www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jan/14/kung-fu-craze-comes-home-in-8-dvd-set/”Turning Japanese” to David Bowie’s “China Girl” at Cringe Shun -Gon sequence in Disney’s 1970 film ‘The Aristocats’ – although this is probably more of a caricature of how Westerners think Chinese music sounds than anything actually found in Chinese music.
Anyway, according to legend, “Kung Fu Fighting” was recorded in 10 minutes. Two sockets. Biddu went overboard with the “huhs” and “hahs” in the background, but figured that since it was the B-side, no one would ever hear it anyway.
Of course, Pye Records costumes insisted that ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ was the A-side. It took a while to figure out – it took five weeks before it hit the UK charts – but it eventually landed at number 42 on the UK Singles Chart in August and reached number one in September. Which led to its release in the United States, where it immediately reached the top of the charts, making Douglas the first Jamaican artist to reach those heights. It eventually became one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling over 11 million records.
And Carl Douglas, who actually had a number of modest chart successes in the UK, went on to become one of the most famous hit wonders.
“Kung Fu Fighting” happened because of the four Shaw brothers (in Chinese, Shao), four brothers born between 1896 and 1907, who established what became Hong Kong’s largest film production company in 1925. In 1958 , they opened what was then the largest private studio in the world, Movietown.
Prior to focusing on television production in 1987, the company produced approximately 1,000 films, including some of the most successful and influential Chinese-language films of all time. They also fundamentally popularized the kung fu genre, which is different from traditional Chinese “wuxia” martial arts films in that it dispenses with the fantasy element of those films and often transposes the stories into a more contemporary setting” realistic”. There’s no wire in a kung fu movie, the actors don’t seem to fly like they did in, say, Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the popular movie by revival of wuxia from 2000.
In 1965, Shaw Brothers made a conscious decision to focus on those kung fu-oriented action films that featured actors chosen primarily for their athletic prowess rather than their acting skills. They also decided to dub most of these films into English, initially for the UK market to which, as a British protectorate, Hong Kong had easy access. This set the stage for what would become the kung fu craze of 1973, a global phenomenon that brought street children to perform simulated martial arts moves that inspired Douglas to write his song.
After the Shaw Brothers production “Five Fingers of Death” (also known as “King Boxer”) starring Indonesian-born actor Lo Liehing was released in the United States in March and peaked of the weekly box office, more than 30 Chinese fighters art films have been released in US theaters. On May 16, the top three spots at the box office were taken by Chinese martial arts films – “Fists of Fury”, Bruce Lee’s second big film, “Deep Thrust” (renamed “Lady Whirlwind” to capitalize on the popularity of “Deep Throat”) and “Five Fingers of Death”.
“Fists of Fury”, https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jan/14/kung-fu-craze-comes-home-in-8-dvd-set/“Hammer of God”, https: //www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jan/14/kung-fu-craze-comes-home-in-8-dvd-set/”Karado: The Hong Kong Flash,”https://www.arkansasonline .com/news/2022/jan/14/kung-fu-craze-comes-home-in-8-dvd-set/”Enter the Dragon,” https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jan /14/kung-fu-craze-comes-home-in-8-dvd-set/”Shanghai Killers,”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jan/14/kung-fu-craze- come-home-in-8-dvd-set/”The Chinese Connection” and “Deadly China Doll” all topped the US box office for at least a week.
Of course, this kung fu craze didn’t happen overnight.
Lee had become familiar to American audiences through his stint as a sidekick to The Green Hornet Kato in the 1966-67 season (although it should be noted that “The Green Hornet” only lasted one season ). Or perhaps you could go back to Spencer Tracy playing a one-armed veteran throwing unconvincing daggers — karate chops — in 1955’s neo-Western “Bad Day at Black Rock.”
The US Air Force Academy made judo a required class in the 1950s, and most addicted children living on air bases in the 1960s were exposed to it. (I got to green belt before my interest arose.)
But that was the hit of “Kung Fu,” a TV series starring Hollywood scion David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a half-American Shaolin monk who traveled across the American Old West armed only with his training. spirituality and his mad martial arts skills. 1972, which led Warner Bros. to try his luck by teaming up with Shaw Brothers to distribute “Five Fingers of Death” in the United States
Arrow Video, one of my favorite distributors, just released Shawscope Volume One: Limited Edition Box ($179) which consists of eight Blu-ray discs containing 12 films made by Shaw Brothers Studio in the 1970s.
Some of you will be excited by it, some of you now desperately want to own it.
I wasn’t, like my tough contemporary Quentin Tarantino (b. 1963), one of those corny video crate seekers looking for VHS copies of movies that played for camp on “Kung-Fu Theater.” I doubt I knew about the Shaw Brothers logo until Tarantino sparked interest in the company and its movies in the 90s.
My burgeoning cinephilia was of a more Western strain — in the early 1980s, I honestly subscribed to the Playboy cable channel for its nightly broadcast of movies like Federico Fellini’s “Armarcord,” Marco Ferreri’s “La Grand Bouffe,” and Tinto Brass “https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jan/14/kung-fu-craze-comes-home-in-8-dvd-set/”Caligula.” (Of the latter, Roger Ebert has written for the consensus when he called it “sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash…. In the two hours of this film that I saw, there were no scenes of joy, of natural pleasure or sensual good humor. There was, instead, a nauseating excursion into low and sad fantasies. “Yes, but I wanted to see for myself. Ebert was right even if it wasn’t entirely the Brass’ fault – he wanted to make incisive political satire. His producers wanted porn that they could pass off as art.)
Where I grew up, we didn’t have grindhouse movies in theaters; it was a big city experience. I’ve seen “Enter the Dragon” and a few low-end Hong Kong and Taiwan films on drive-in screens; I was vaguely aware of a few movies that I now know had the Shaw Brothers imprint.
But by the time Tarantino slapped the Shawscope logo on the front of 2003’s ‘Kill Bill: Vol. its successful athletes. The mistimed dubbing didn’t matter. Neither do cookie-cutter plots. It was all about the fight choreography and charisma of its stars.
I missed my chance to see these films in a downtown theater, but the Arrow Video set allows me to experience them in a home video setting. It’s not the same, but it’s interesting. Several of the films on the set are directed by Chang Cheh or his action choreographer Lau Kar-leung. Some are set when the Chinese, especially in the south, were rebelling against the Manchus and the Qing dynasty, which destroyed the Shaolin Temple, which was really an important center for kung fu teaching. Others, like “Chinatown Kid”, are set in contemporary times.
One of the more interesting tracks is 1977’s crazy “The Mighty Peking Man,” a riff on the Japanese monster movie genre Kaiju (“Strange Beast”) that plays like a “campy, exploitative King Kong.” (Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures re-released a restored version of the film in 1999.)
Another thing about the Shawscope package – although this column isn’t about investment advice – Arrow Video’s limited edition box sets have been known to skyrocket after release. It’s not inconceivable that in a year or two, Shawscope Volume One will sell for significantly more than its listed price on eBay.