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Ti Lung (left) and David Chiang in a scene from The Anonymous Heroes (1971). The pair played major roles in Shaw Brothers movies of the 1970s and formed a popular on-screen partnership.

How martial arts actors David Chiang and Ti Lung stepped into Jimmy Wang Yu’s shoes at Shaw Brothers - interviews from the archive

  • Chiang was a former child actor with an athletic and slim build, who developed into playing cheeky and charming characters
  • A sturdy, muscular actor, Ti Lung exuded strength and solidity, and had the perfect appearance for heroic roles
When Jimmy Wang Yu, the regular star of legendary director Chang Cheh’s films, decided to leave Shaw Brothers, Chang developed the careers of not one but two of the company’s performers to take his place.

David Chiang Da-wai, a former child actor, and Ti Lung, who had come to Shaw Brothers after answering a newspaper advertisement for an open audition, went on to form a brotherly duo which would dominate the martial arts scene for the next few years. Hits like Vengeance! and The Heroic Ones, both released in 1970, turned the two men into big stars, with the cheeky and charming Chiang attaining superstar status. 

Although they both played heroic roles, the two were very different. Ti Lung was a sturdy, muscular actor who expressed strength and solidity, and possessed the perfect demeanour for chivalric roles. By contrast, Chiang had an athletic and slim figure, and brought an equivocal streak to his performances. 

Jimmy Wang Yu and Ti Lung were traditional hero types,” said Chang Cheh in an interview with Stanley Kwan for his documentary Yang/Yin. “They were tall and well built. David Chiang was an exception, and I liked him because he wasn’t a typical hero.
Chiang in a still from The Blood Brothers (1973).

“Men in old Chinese films were book-reading types. The swordplay films gave us the classical hero types – tall, well-built, with a square torso. David was nothing like that. There’s an attractive sense of evil about him.”

The two actors spoke to the Post in separate interviews at the height of their fame in 1970. Below are extracts from the two interviews.

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David Chiang

Chiang was interviewed by the SCMP’s Jack Moore in the Shaw Brothers studio canteen during a break from shooting The Heroic Ones.

He was wearing “a wig, a headband, and a jazzy terrycloth jacket that somehow didn’t fit in with the rest of his ancient Chinese gear”, Moore wrote.

On how he started out as an actor: “I don’t remember not being in films. I started in Shanghai when I was four years old, and now I’m 23. I’m sort of a young veteran. I reckon I have made a couple of hundred films. I don’t remember how many, but Chinese films are quick to make.”

Chiang takes a break during filming at the Shaw Brothers studio in 1972. Photo: SCMP

On making three films at once: “I don’t really mind playing three different characters at the same time. It’s rather amusing and tends to keep you on your toes, switching from one character to another.”

On what he does in his spare time: “If I had a lot of time off, I’d probably spend it riding around on horseback and having a good time. But I have to work a lot – and while I’m working, I spend my time on horseback, riding around and having a good time, and getting paid for it. The time I do get off now, I spend sleeping.”

On making The Heroic Ones, a period film in which he plays a brother betrayed by two of his siblings: “The one we are finishing now is called The Heroic Ones, and it’s all about the 13 godsons of a king. I play the 13th godson, and it’s kind of supernatural, because I was born from a stone. My 12 brothers are all big rough guys, but I play the strongest of the lot, which isn’t easy to do when you don’t have any muscles.”

Chiang (left) and Chen Kuan-tai in a still from The Blood Brothers (1973)

On his aims for the future: “You would never believe it, but I really want to make tear-jerking films – love stories where everybody has a good cry. It takes real acting to do that well, and it’s a real challenge. But I haven’t been offered any crying movies, as I think Mr [Run Run] Shaw wants to keep me on horseback.”

On being a Shaw Brothers contract star: “Mr Shaw has treated me rather well so far, and if it keeps up, I’d like to stay. Failing that, I could always get a job as a taxi driver or something like that.”

Ti Lung (right) in action in a scene from Duel of Fists (1971).

Ti Lung

“The unique ‘twins’ of the film world, David Chiang and Ti Lung, are becoming well-known personalities in the Mandarin film world,” wrote the SCMP’s Vincent Wong. “Since teaming up under the expert directorship of Chang Cheh, they have completed at least eight films together in little more than two years. Ti Lung, 24, says he and David are close friends both on and off the screen,” Wong wrote.

On how he started out in films: “My film career came about solely by chance. I was working in a tailor shop, saw an advertisement for new faces, applied, went through various tests and interviews, and was one of the five men who was chosen from more than 2,000 applicants. I think that the main reason for my selection was that I had been doing gymnastics for more than five years, which gave me an advantage in swordsman films.”

Ti Lung relaxes at the Shaw Brothers studio in 1972. Photo: SCMP.

On his early films: “In my first film, Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969), I played a rather insignificant role. Then I had the golden opportunity of starring with Asian film queen Li Ching in the film Dead End [a contemporary action drama by Chang Cheh]. I like the film and the character very much. It is an explosive film, reflecting the behaviour of modern youth. I like this film and The Heroic Ones the most.”

On an actor’s life: “I realise that moviemaking is not just another line of enterprise. It is a world of its own. It has its own way of living, behaviour, code of morals, human relationships, technology and relationships. Life can be so busy and restless once you are in the film circle.

“For almost a year, I have not had a rest. Luckily the company has a good shooting schedule so that I only have to work one shooting session each day, although I am doing two or three films at the same time.”

Chiang (left) and Ti Lung in a still from The Blood Brothers (1973).

On the problems of fame: “Other youths often challenge me to a fight to see if I really am a superhero. But I enjoy acting. It is challenging work, and it’s never dull.”

On David Chiang winning the best actor award at the Asian Film Festival for Vengeance!: “Many people ask whether David’s winning of the best actor award affected our friendship. My answer is always the same – definitely not.”

In this regular feature series on the best of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, we examine the legacy of classic films, re-evaluate the careers of its greatest stars, and revisit some of the lesser-known aspects of the beloved genre. Read our comprehensive explainer here.

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