Friday, May 17, 2013

The Man From Hong Kong Looks Back on ALEXANDER LOU, THE TAIWANESE NINJA!

He’s the star of Mike Tyson’s favourite martial arts movie, and could be considered an unsung hero of Hong Kong or to be more precise, Taiwanese martial arts cinema.  A genuine martial arts champion who made the leap into movies and forged a solid career and a cult following around the world, he's virtually unknown to all but the really hardcore fans.  

Forces of Geek’s Man from Hong Kong, Big Mike Leeder  takes a look at the life and times of that Ninja Man from Taiwan, Lou Rei, or to use his English name Alexander Lou, star of such classic slices of martial arts madness as Mafia Vs Ninja, Super Ninja and Shaolin Vs Lama.

Alexander Lou
(Lou Rei)
The Taiwanese Ninja!

Alexander Lou was born in Taiwan to a family of fighters, his elder brother Tong Lung was a Taekwondo Champion himself and can be seen in several classic martial arts movies including Devil Killer and Massacre in the Village.

In 1978 at the Taiwanese Taekwondo Championships, Lou was introduced to Taiwanese martial arts director extraordinaire Robert Tai who invited Lou to work as a martial arts stuntman on various projects, and Lou can be glimpsed in action in projects like Fistful of Talons as a background fighter and stuntman.

Lou proved his worth and when Tai was preparing the martial arts men on a mission classic Incredible Kung Fu Mission, Lou joined the cast in an official supporting role as one of the team recruited by star super kicker John Liu of Secret Rivals fame. The film wasn’t the easiest of shoots, but Lou delivered in spite of a problematic shoot and a quite serious accidental injury caused by one of the cast and confirmed to Tai, that he had found his next disciple, skilled, enthusiastic, hard working, professional and willing to learn.

Alexander would next pop up in a supporting role in Robert Tai’s Devil Killer, which blended both old and new footage to tell its tale.

He then went on to headline Tai’s next project, the classic Shaolin Vs Ninja produced by the late great Lan Tien-hong’s Golden Sun Productions.

While the movie may not have broken new ground in terms of subject matter, the Chinese Vs Japanese theme had long been a staple of martial arts movies, but thanks to Tai’s choreography and Lou’s skills, the movie made some noise at the box office both domestically and internationally.

With a physique that rivaled Bolo Yeung at his most ripped, but with speed and diversity of action technique, Lou’s growing appeal came from his impressive Taekwondo skills and knowledge of various cinematic Chinese martial arts and Opera techniques taught to him by Tai and many of his co-stars, combined with good gymnastic skills.

1982 saw the release of two further Shaolin epics, the little known Warriors of the Temple,  a sequel of sorts to the previous film, and the prequel Shaolin Vs Lama where Lou plays a prince who offers help to the Shaolin monks at their time of need.

Directed and choreographed by Tai, these films began to give Lou the ability to really showcase his skills to good effect. The subsequent release of both Ninja Vs Shaolin Guards and Shaolin Chastity Kung Fu, the movie that a certain Mike Tyson spoke highly of in an early interview, further cemented Lou’s appeal both at home in Taiwan and overseas.

But it was Lou’s next film which would become one of the most widely seen of his career across the globe, the video classic Mafia Vs Ninja, which was originally released in the UK by the late lamented VPD.

The movie saw Lou as a well-intentioned martial artist who finds himself up against both the mob and Ninjas when he arrives in a new town seeking a new start. The assembled baddies include the young Alan ‘Jai Jai’ Lan, (later mainstay of Sammo Hung’s team, who recently appeared in Ip Man 2) flipping and kicking to full effect; Italian knife expert Sylvio Azzolini and a tall African American martial artist named Eugene Thomas, who would forge his own career alongside Lou and on his own in Taiwanese action cinema. The film features plenty of action and did well enough to spawn a TV continuation that adds further action and intrigue and features a young Toby Russell as a kung fu fighting foreigner to the mix.

The success of Mafia VS Ninja opened the door for Alexander to work with a number of other directors, and build his reputation with solid turns in such movies as Ninja Hunter, which sees Lou and his martial arts brother taking on a veritable army of Ninjas led by the perverted Ninja master played by another 70’s martial arts hero Jack Long. And for the next few years Lou went into ‘Ninja’ overdrive working extensively with director Ng Kwok-yan on a variety of shadow warrior movies and modeling all manner of Ninja suit and shoes in such films as Ninja Condors, Ninja in the USA, and the completely off the wall guilty pleasure slice of martial art madness that is The Super Ninja, released in the UK as Killers Invincible.

The Super Ninja opens a la Cannon’s Enter the Ninja with the white Ninja played by Alexander Lou passing his final test, beating his Ninja brethren and being given his limited edition collectible sai’s by Ninja master Jack Long.

He then returns to his normal life as a bad ass cop, breaking heads and enforcing the law with his longtime partner in crime fighting Eugene Thomas, and romancing the daughter of a scientist to full effect.

But the pesky Elemental Ninjas led by the Tiger Ninja (He has a huge Tiger’s head on the back of his costume) have their own plans, and want to kidnap the scientist and his daughter and set Alexander up to take the fall.

The movie is full on martial arts madness from the opening scene, transitioning from a Ninja training mission to a love struck couple being attacked by a group of New York street thugs in a Taiwanese park, to a complete shall we say homage to Stallone’s prison break from First Blood complete with the music before Alexander flees into the woods, dons Rambo war paint, acquires a bow and arrow and does battle with the large detachment of Western Policemen including one who seems to have come into work with black face paint!

Before taking on the assembled Ninja forces in an escalating series of battles making use of all the weapons from the Ninja arsenal and some powerful kicking and insane high impact falls and reactions. (The martial madness is also supported by a mad mash up of music from all manner of movie and genre including ‘Rawhide’ styled riffs during a foot chase through the Taiwanese suburbs)

But Lou’s final Ninja  collaboration with Robert Tai could well be described as their magnum opus, Ninja The Final Duel.

Yes, the movie with the naked kung fu girl fighting Ninjas fireside, the flying Ninja water spiders, and incredible amounts of intricate ground based and high wire martial arts action featuring Lou, Eugene Thomas, all manner of madcap martial arts stuntmen plus two western martial monks played by John Ladalski from Chinese Stuntman and Toby ‘Vengeance Video’ Russell.

Tai and Lou produced 9 hrs of martial arts movie madness in its original form, briefly released by Crash Cinema stateside as a boxed set and released in a condensed highlight reel with the inclusion of the late great Rudy Ray Moore and even more atrocious dubbing as Shaolin Dolemite in the early 2000’s.

But as the ‘Ninja’ boom of the 80’s began to falter, Lou seemed to be in a transitional period of his career.  Despite having a strong international following internationally but had yet to really have the breakout role that would define his career and put him on the same pedestal of Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Sammo Hung.

Lou would work with Tai again, a one of the main choreographers for Death Cage/Blood Fight 2 starring a pre-Mortal Kombat Robin Shou in his first starring role and Joe Lewis as his martial nemesis. Lou would continue to pop up in supporting and co-staring roles in such projects as Toby Russell’s DaDah Connection which starred Steve Tartalia as DEA agent Nick Masters and bizarrely featured Brit-Kicker Nick Masters (Tiger on The Beat, Dragon Family) popping up to battle Tartalia playing the cinematic Nick Masters.

Lou would also turn up in such films as Bloody Brothers, Angel of Vengeance and the criminally under-released slice of martial arts and heroic bloodshed that is Triad Assassinator/Life Is A Bet and as actor/choreographer for Robert Tai’s Legend of the Drunken Tiger which gave former Shaw Brothers heroine Hui Yin-hong the chance to strike a martial pose once more.

Lou would also serve as one of the choreographers for the cut and paste martial arts madness that was Fist of Legends 2: Iron Bodyguards starring Jet Le and Todd Senofonte (Jean-Claude Van Damme’s photo/stunt double) as the Russian fighter D’jerkov (ha ha ha I nearly laughed!).

The last few years have seen Lou remain behind the camera as a choreographer and director for Taiwanese Film and TV, but Lou leaves behind a legacy of sheer martial arts madness and mirth that will long be remembered.

It’s a great pity that while so many of his films have been widely distributed and seen around the world, that Lou is not as well remembered or respected as some of his contemporaries when he delivered in terms of martial arts skills, intensity and entertainment.

So we at Forces of Geek urge you all to select a classic slice of Alexander Lou martial arts madness or two, open a six-pack, invite some friends over and toast the martial arts maestro for the work he’s done!

Alexander Lou we salute you!

Selected Filmography as Actor and/or Action Director
  • Ninja Vs Shaolin Guards
  • Kung Fu Wonderchild
  • Legend of the Drunken Tiger
  • Shy Spirit
  • Revanchist
  • Bloody Brothers
  • Incredible Kung Fu Mission
  • Devil Killer
  • Shaolin Temple Against Lama
  • Shaolin Chastity Kung Fu
  • The Super Ninja
  • Ninja Hunter
  • Mafia Vs Ninja
  • Ninja In The USA.
  • Ninja The Final Duel
  • Young Kickboxer
  • Death Cage
  • Life Is A Bet/Triad Assassinator

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