By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
Using a long-handled ladle, the chef flicks oil, seasonings, vegetables and meat into the metal pan. Flames leap up around the wok's sides and lick the stove's exhaust hood. Seconds later, an order of Kung Pao Chicken is steaming toward the dining room. As the restaurant's only food preparer, chef Charlie Win doesn't get days off. When he takes his gloves off, his hands are red and blistered from the wok's hot metal handle. His only break during a typical fourteen-hour shift comes at midafternoon, when the restaurant closes for two hours. It beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, which was an earlier resume entry for Chiang-Long Wen. Under that name, this 45-year-old mild-mannered Tempe chef once was the Bruce Lee of Taiwan.
In the early Seventies, Chiang-Long Wen starred in such slapdash, martial-arts mini-epics as Duel at Forest, Deadly Fists Kung Fu, and Triangular Duel. In Iron Man, the film that established him as a major player in
the wacky Taiwanese chop-socky film business, Wen portrayed, of all things, a chief cook at a Chinese restaurant. Wen's character in that one
provoked into action only after a gang of Japanese judo bullies came into the restaurant and hassled a waitress.
Later, Wen moved to Dallas, changed his name and entered the restaurant business for real. Six months ago, he opened China Win and gave Tempe yet another strip-center Chinese restaurant. The location (northeast corner, Southern and McClintock) isn't so great--you can't see the entrance from the street--and business has been slow.
No problem, Charlie Win says. He'll work long hours for no money until he succeeds, and put his family and friends to work, too. This time, it's the Asian-immigrant-success-story script. "I work in Chinese restaurants for years," Win says, groping for the right English words. "Every time I help friend open restaurant, always make money."
Since this is Tempe and not Taipei, real life and not Iron Man, Charlie Win (in deck shoes, slacks, long apron and golf visor) and not Chiang-Long Wen (a shirtless airborne hellcat in black pajama bottoms and slippers), there is little chance that a gang of judo bullies will burst into China Win and start roughing people up.
But on the outside chance that there are any judo bullies reading this, some friendly advice: Before you start throwing one another around the China Win, get something to eat first. The food in this large, lovely, comfortable place is great. THE KUNG FU FILM BOOM reached a commercial peak in 1973, with the release of Enter the Dragon, starring the ultracharismatic Bruce Lee. The international demand for the ultrafrantic, ultraviolent movies at the time of Lee's breakout fueled an incredible explosion of production, and by the mid-Seventies hundreds of film companies specializing in kung fu fighting were operating all over Asia. Typically, the movies were cranked out at great speed on minuscule budgets. "The way they did cartoons at Warner Bros. in the Thirties and Forties is the way they did kung fu movies in the Sixties and Seventies," says Rick Meyers, author of Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas and film columnist for Inside Kung Fu magazine. "Each company had a group of movies filming constantly, quite possibly 24 hours a day, with actors running from one set to the next."
Usually, there was no time even for scripts. Directors created and staged action one day at a time. All dialogue--mostly shrieks, squeaks, grunts and cracks (the sounds of bones breaking)--was dubbed in later. "They made films the way Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin used to make films: Show up and be inspired," says Meyers. "It was a real test." Hong Kong was (and still is) the industry's capital city, and its movies were (are) seen around the world. A smaller, parallel industry operated in Taiwan, but those movies rarely circulated outside that domestic market. According to Meyers, Taiwanese kung fu movies typically are poorly executed imitations of Hong Kong's finest,
notable only for their cheesy, wildly unlikely special effects. (It's not unusual to see combatants leap from the ground to a rooftop.)
"They are incredibly, staggeringly cheap and uninspired movies," says Meyers, adding that none of his 1,000-plus kung fu collection at his Westport, Connecticut, home comes from Taiwan. "You have a small country of very voracious filmgoers supplied by a small group of very voracious filmmakers. It very rapidly becomes repetitious and redundant. You do not see this stuff at film festivals."
Meyers, who describes himself as one of America's leading authorities on kung fu movies, has never heard of Chiang-Long Wen.
AT LUNCH AND DINNER, Helen Win works the dining room at China Win seating customers, taking orders and pouring tea. During a recent afternoon break, Helen sits at a table at the front of the restaurant and helps her brother tell his life story. Charlie Win's English is better than he thinks it is, but he frequently comes across an answer he can articulate only in Chinese. Helen fills in the blanks.
"When he was young, he's very good-looking," Helen says, starting at the beginning. Charlie had been studying kung fu for about five years when he signed his first movie deal. "His body, his look very good, and he also know a little bit kung fu. They ask him to join the movie and then he went to the movie academy for training in Taiwan."