Profile: Hwang Jang-lee

Posted in Profiles by - September 13, 2014
Profile: Hwang Jang-lee

Date of birth: December 21, 1944 (Aomori, Honshu, Japan)

Other names: Huang Cheng Li, Hwang Jing Lee, Hwang Jung Lee, Hwang Tae Su, Wang Tang Lee, Wong Cheng Li, Wong Jing Lei

Occupation: Actor, director, producer, action director, instructor,

Style: Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do

Biography: Hwang Jang-lee is one of kung fu cinema’s most popular villains, known for his extraordinary kicking abilities. Hwang was born in Japan to Korean parents on the island of Honshu during the Second World War, where his father ran a shipping company. His family relocated to South Korea after the war when Hwang was a baby. He began studying Taekwondo from the age of 14 and quickly progressed to 7th dan black belt. In 1965, at the age of 21, Hwang was conscripted into the Korean army for two years where he became a martial arts instructor and taught Taekwondo to the troops. During this time, it has been alleged that Hwang killed a man who had attacked him with a knife. Although accounts of the incident vary, it is said Hwang escaped a jail sentence because the incident was put down to self-defense.

Hwang Jang-lee started his acting career in the 1970s with several low budget Korean films before he was discovered by former Shaw Brothers employee Ng See-yuen. Ng cast Hwang as the evil bandit Silver Fox in The Secret Rivals (1976), alongside fellow debutante and rival super-kicker John Liu. The film, and its sequel, introduced Hwang’s incredible range of kicks and earned Ng his first box office success. Ng continued the high-kicking formula by pitting Hwang Jang-lee against John Liu in Invincible Armour (1977) and Snuff Bottle Connection (1977). In 1978, Ng cast Hwang as the villain in a kung fu film which also offered a young Yuen Woo-ping his directorial debut and starred the relatively unknown Jackie Chan. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978) would become a massive hit and set the standard for the kung fu comedy sub-genre, although Hwang was very nearly denied a role in the film due to visa complications when travelling to work in Hong Kong. Ng told the author Bey Logan in the book Hong Kong Action Cinema that he was harangued by officials for not hiring a local actor, telling them, “You get me someone local who can kick like him and I will.”

During the final extended battle, Hwang accidentally kicked out one of Jackie Chan’s teeth. The two went on to fight each other again in the highly successful follow up, Drunken Master (1978), in which Hwang played the brilliantly named Thunderfoot. With Hwang’s career as an evil bootmaster in full flow, he was offered the opportunity to direct, produce and star in his own film, Hitman in the Hand of Buddha (1981). Tellingly, he put the silver wigs to one side and cast himself as the hero of the film.

In 1982, Hwang released an instructional video, The Art of High Impact Kicking, which aptly displayed the technique behind his repertoire of trademark kicks. He continued to teach Taekwondo during the height of his prolific film career. One of his students was the Seasonal Films actor Roy Horan, who first met Hwang on the set of Bruce Lee’s Secret (1976), and the two became good friends and would appear in a number of films together. In 1982, Hwang signed a contract with Shaw Brothers, featuring in the films The Kid from Kwangtung (1982) and Ghosts Galore (1983). He was scheduled to direct a film for the company, but production was halted following disagreements with the lead actor, Wong Yu. Hwang refused to continue with the project and broke his contract with the company. In 1983, Hwang returned to Korea to direct his second film, Canton Viper, in which he expanded his acting range by playing a fighter seeking redemption for a past crime.

Hwang returned to Hong Kong in the mid-1980s, appearing in Sammo Hung’s Where’s Officer Tuba? (1986) and Millionaire’s Express (1986). He performed opposite Moon Lee in Angel (1987) and Michelle Yeoh in Magnificent Warriors (1987), albeit again in henchmen roles. He made his English language debut fighting Cynthia Rothrock in the Seasonal Films sequel No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder (1988). In 1990, he appeared as a mute villain in the American film Street Soldiers, before returning to South Korea. Following diminishing roles in a number of B movies, Hwang retired from the film industry in 1996 to concentrate on teaching martial arts and managing his own business ventures. He invested in an American business which produced and sold golf tees, as well as opening a hotel in Seoul and managing his own bodyguard service.

In 2003, Hwang Jang-lee received his 9th dan in Taekwondo. He also holds a 9th dan with the World Tang Soo Do General Federation, of which he serves as a technical advisor. Cynthia Rothrock is also a member. In 2009, Hwang Jang-lee came out of retirement to appear in a 13-part Korean TV series, The Return of Iljimae. He was also the subject of a documentary called The Anonymous King (2013) by filmmaker Jon-James Hodson who managed to track down Hwang in Seoul. During the interview, he discusses his personal life, his training regime and military career. He has a son, James Hwang.

Speech! With Kung Fu Movie Guide, 2014. “All actors pretended to do martial arts. But I am a real martial arts actor. I didn’t pretend to do it… These days many young actors search on the internet for the martial arts and they borrow the martial arts – it’s not real. When they make a film, sometimes when there is a demonstration they use a rope for effect, but [the audience] notice very quickly if it is real or if it is fake. Doing martial arts with wires [would have caused me] a problem, because I cannot control myself. It’s not convenient. It’s not real.”

Click here to read our interview with Hwang Jang-lee.

Filmography (as actor): 1974 Left Foot of Wrath; Korean Connection; Korean Connection 2; Brand; 1975 Venomous Snake; Tomb for a Strongman; Kill the Shogun; Kill the Ninja; Invitation from Hell; 1976 Secret Envoy; Bruce Lee’s Secret; Shaolin Wooden Men; Black Dragon River; The Secret Rivals; Secret Rivals II; 1977  Snuff Bottle Connection; Invincible Armour; Instant Kung Fu Man; Heroes of Shaolin; 1978 Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow; Incredible 3; Fearless Duo; Drunken Master; 1979 Dragon’s Claws; The Dragon and the Tiger Kids; The Eagle’s Killer; Demon Strike; Hell’s Wind Staff; Dance of the Drunk Mantis; 36 Deadly Styles; 1980 Young Hero; Two Fists Against the Law; Tiger Over Wall; Ring of Death; Lackey and the Lady Tiger; Challenge of the Tiger; Buddha Assassinator; Secret Ninja, Roaring Tiger; 1981 Game of Death II; Return of the Deadly Blade; Hard Bastard; Hitman in the Hand of Buddha (+ dir, pro.); The Art of High Impact Kicking (documentary); 1982 Secret Executioners; Ninja in the Dragon’s Den; The Kid from Kwangtung; Justice of the Ninja; Eagle vs Silver Fox; Bruce Strikes Back; Blood Child (+ action dir.); 5 Pattern Dragon Claws; 1983 Canton Viper (+ dir.); Masters of Tiger Crane; Martial Monks of Shaolin Temple; Ghosts Galore; Duel of Ultimate Weapons (+ action dir.); Angry Young Man; 1984 Shaolin the Blood Mission; Shaolin Temple (TV); 1985 Ninja Terminator; Mighty Weapon (TV); 1986 Where’s Officer Tuba?; Millionaire’s Express; The Innocent Interloper; The First Vampire in China; 1987 Magnificent WarriorsAngel1988 Bad Companion; No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder; 1989 Live Hard; Darkside of Chinatown; 1990 Not Again! (+ dir.); 1991 Street Soldiers; 1993 Top Fighter (documentary); 1994 Emperor of the Underworld (+ dir.); 1996 Boss; 2009 The Return of Iljimae (TV); 2013 The Anonymous King (documentary)

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5 Comments

  • tomasz

    Hello ;
    Nice to visit such a website, especially for those who are interested in martial arts movies.
    To be quite frank, I’ve been looking for longer than a year for four movie titles which I’d like
    to buy or download. And I cannot find a reliable website that could offer an honest deal.
    These titles are ; Emperor of the Underworld, Human Ressignation aka Quit your Life – both
    with Hwang Jang Lee and Bloody Mafia with Casanova Wong and Where’s Officer Tuba? –
    with Summo Hung. Maybe, as a person in the know , You could give a hint ?
    All the best !

    • Hi – thank you for your comment. As you’re no doubt already aware, some kung fu movies are incredibly hard to get hold of on DVD in the west, but hopefully I can point you in the right direction! There is a DVD of Where’s Officer Tuba? available on Amazon. The other three titles you mention are all Korean films and I have spotted DVDs on the London-based FLK Cinema website (http://www.flkcinema.com/). Hope that helps!

      • Tomasz

        Thank you very much for your answer. I tried to thank you earlier but unfortunately I forgot
        the name of this site and I couldn’t find it for a while. Finallly, I got it again. As you seem
        to be a person “in the know” I’d like to share with you the informationt that I have.
        Like I said before I’m a collector and a fan of “martial arts movies”, sometimes I buy them,
        sometimes I download them – correct and improve their quality, translate them into my native language and record them on DVDs, but I don’t sell’ em. Anyway. “Where’s officer Tuba?,”Darkside of Chinatown’ – I found on Youku – and both in a good quality. Well, “they” have also got ‘Bloody Mafia” and ‘Emperor of the Underworld” – such little pearls for martial arts movies fans – but… these two titles are blocked with a password or a code (God knows why the owner of the movies inserted them on Youku and blocked).There could be a solution and register an account on Youku and ask the man for a code but to do it Youku wants us to give them a mobile phone number which is not accepted in China.
        Chinese Youku doesn’t care about copyrights providing the movie is not anti-chinese.
        FLK Cinema could be another solution but do you know whether they still run their business and whether they are trustworthy ? The movies aren’t expensive… maybe
        I should try (?). Sometimes I wonder why – let’s say – twenty years old movies are shielded or unavailable while others. logically, should be blocked and they are not.
        Well, I hope You’ll read my message and it won’t get You bored… thank You again
        and if you’d like to share your opinions about it – I’m awaiting.

        • Hello – I’m glad the links were useful. I have not ordered anything from FLK myself so I can’t personally vouch for the service. They have a contact email which is custserv@flkcinema.com (also orders@flkcinema.com) so I would suggest messaging them first. I hope that is helpful! Let me know how you get on.

          • Tomasz

            Hi ! a few days ago I ordered two movies from FLKcinema. It’s time to check out
            how it works. Well, they’ve got a lot of titles. I hope I’ll finally get the movies that
            I want to have. As you wrote above, I’ll notify you of the results of my order.

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