Legends never die, that is an absolute fact. Some legends never live past fifty years of age, often leaving their mortal coil through tragedy or illness. For Alexander Fu Sheng (1954-1983), a single car accident was the cause of his demise and in the early morning hours of July 7, 1983, he died at the young age of twenty-eight. He left behind grieving parents, siblings and his widow Jenny Tseng, an accomplished Hong Kong singer who has also performed abroad. At the time of his death, he had risen to become one of the most popular stars to come out of the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio. Before ceasing film production in late 1985, Shaw Brothers had released several hundred films which had been locked away until Celestial Pictures bought the rights to the films and digitally remastered the majority of the collection. As a long-term fan of the martial-arts film genre, I had amassed a large collection of films which included all of Fu Sheng’s movies. My favorite is the film that catapulted him to international stardom, The Chinatown Kid (1977). Terrence J. Brady gave this biography the perfect finishing touch by included the name of that film in the title of this book. His exhaustive efforts have resulted in the only known biography of the late film star.
If you have no idea who Fu Sheng was, I do recommend that you watch some of his films, a full list of which can be found here. It should be noted that the list does not contain The Mark of the Eagle which was being filmed at the time of his death. The project was shelved permanently. Readers familiar with Black Belt Theater will feel a sense of nostalgia as memories of Saturday afternoons filled with Shaw classics then distributed by the World Northal Corporation. It truly is an era that we will never again see. Today, CGI and fancy camerawork has replaced the old-school method of filming that relied heavily on coordination, training and relentless stamina. Many Shaw Brothers stars are still alive, well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. The Shaw studio is long gone, but the magic they created will last a lifetime. Fu Sheng was part of that magic and Terrence J. Brady has finally put together the true story of his short and extraordinary life.
The book is without question a biography, but the author did a great job of providing a tremendous amount of back-story for the topics at hand. In fact, throughout the book, snippets of Chinese military and literary history are included showing the link between China’s past and what the filmmakers had intended to capture on-screen. Undoubtedly, Fu Sheng is the star of this story and Brady carefully retraces his steps from film extra to superstar. And along the way, he was surrounded by cinema greats who became mentors, friends and mourners. Their stories and their relationships with Fu Sheng show the very personal side to the individuals who helped create the films that I and scores of others have come to cherish dearly.
His widow Jenny is also a central part of the story and I firmly believe Brady lays to rest any rumors that have persisted about their lives together up until the time of Fu Sheng’s death. And following his demise, Jenny has a surprise of her own which I had never known of. Her revelation, whether it is true or not, adds to the tragedy of his life. But what is evidently clear, is the love they had for each other, which the late Chang Cheh (1923-2002) showcased in his most eccentric film Heaven & Hell (1980). The film has been written off as Cheh’s most bizarre work but personally, I found it to be highly entertaining. In the film, the couple performs a duet that complements the prior act perfectly. But there was more to their singing partnership than many might have known or remember. Brady covers that as well here and his research provides a steady stream of incredible information about the couple during their several year courtship and subsequent marriage. Of note, Tseng never remarried after Fu Sheng’s death.
Fans of the Shaw Brothers will absolutely love this book. It is an insider’s look into how the studio created its hit films and a good reference guide for a quick background information on some of the biggest names to work there. In this story, nearly all of the legends make an appearance including Ti Lung, David Chiang and the late Lau Kar Leung (1934-2013). A who’s who of stars is put on display and as I read the book, I could feel the Shaw Brothers studio come back to life again during what could only be described as a classic era in the Hong Kong film industry. In fact, this book has encouraged me to revisit the Shaw classics, some of which I haven’t watched in nearly two years I still have my entire collection which started in 1995 when my father took me up to 42nd Street. There, I purchased my own VHS English dubbed copy of the Five Masters of Death. The original Hong Kong title is The Five Shaolin Masters. Fu Sheng had a starring role in the film and it was in this movie that I first became a fan. It is just one of many great masterpieces he contributed to during his storied career.
This book truly is a blessing and I am forever grateful for Brady’s monumental effort. Fu Sheng is long gone, having died nearly thirty-six years ago, but his memory and legacy live on not only in Hong Kong but across the world. During his time at the Shaw Brothers studio, he rightfully earned the nickname of the Chinatown Kid.