24 Sep Happy Birthday Chen Kuan-Tai!
Happy Birthday Chen Kuan-Tai!
Discovered by Shaw Brothers in 1969, this champion martial artist quickly ascended the studio’s productions, from extra (he’s one of the guards David Chang kills in Vengeance!) to leading man. Chen Kuan-Tai soon became a favorite of directors Chang Cheh, Liu Chia-Liang and Sun Chung.
With his masculine, good looks, prominent background in kung fu and stoic air, Chen could easily shift from hero to villain. One of the studio’s true legends, Chen Kuan-Tai continues to act and perform martial arts today.
I salute Master Chen with a short list of favorite performances, both dramatic and martial.
Man of Iron (1972)
With a swagger so fierce he eclipsed his peers, Master Qiu Lian Huan (The Iron Man) takes what he wants in Republic era Shanghai. Moving beyond the lovely Shen Ju Feng, Qiu soon sets his sights on the competition. Capitalizing on Chen’s masculinity and his superb martial skills, Qiu is a star-making role for this rising thespian. Chen’s charisma is so wonderfully potent you immediately fall under his charm. Liu Chia-Liang orchestrated Chen’s choreography to match Qiu’s abrupt and calculating nature. One of my favorite Republic era movies by Chang Cheh and a Chen Kuan-Tai film I return to frequently.
The Spiritual Boxer (1975)
As one of Yi Wo’s true spiritual boxers, Chen shows off his style of Invincible Armor. He makes his cameo jaw-droppingly superheroic. This too brief moment remains my favorite display of Chen fighting in an LK-L movie.
All Men Are Brothers (1975)
Portraying the noble Tattooed Dragon Shi Jin, Chen steals this movie away from his more famous peers. Shi Jin receives one of the greatest send-offs ever in a Chang Cheh epic and Chen sells every last moment of his show-stopping demise. I did not want him to die.
Executioners from Shaolin (1977)
One of Shaolin’s few surviving students after Priest White Brows Pai Mei destroys their temple, Chen’s Hong Xi Guan vows revenge. First there is love, which comes in the vibrant form of Lily Li Li’s Yung Chun. As secret revolutionaries, Yung Chun’s group pretend to be performers, but there’s no faking the romance between the lady and Hong Xi Guan. Their styles of Tiger and Crane are not enough to thwart Pai Mei individually, but help eventually comes from their union. Executioners remains among the more playful and quirky kung fu comedies Lia Chia-Liang lensed. Chen Kuan-Tai tackles Hong at a variety of ages, and his martial arts are stunning. Everyone enjoys that bedroom scene for a reason. It’s classic.
Human Lanterns (1982)
Perhaps his most exceptional turn for director Sun Chung, Chen pulls out the villainous stops as the arrogant and deadly Lord Tan in Sun’s horror wu xia.
Tan and his equally snooty peer Lung (Lau Wing) constantly try to one-up each other in every aspect of their lives. When Lung accidentally brings an old foe into the mix, things turn even uglier. Chen Kuan-Tai sinks his teeth into this role; he’s having a blast playing such an over-the-top swordsman. Working with choreographer Tang Chia, Chen gets to show off a variety of weapon laced kung fu (including some beautiful fan work against former Venom Lo Meng), and director Sun capitalizes on every moment. If I had to pick one late day Shaw Brothers role by Chen, it would be this one. His duel against Lo Meng’s Szu-Yi remains a favorite of mine for the drama as much as the dazzling fu on display.
If you dig Chen Kuan-Tai in Crippled Avengers like I do, please check out my 2016 piece on Dao Tian-Du’s Black Tiger style.
Chen Kuan-Tai is a fan favorite for his captivating performances and stellar kung fu. Hero or villain, you always knew any Shaw Brothers movie featuring this talented man would be elevated by his presence. Happy Birthday sir. Many more!
When not flexing her Pen Fu for ShawBrothersUniverse.com, Kim August contributed a story based on Chang Cheh’s Vengeance! to NANG magazine #3 and frequently ruminates on Shaw Brothers movies at her blog.