Monday, December 1, 2008

Dart Adams presents Dragon Tiger Gate by Wong Yuk Long (Tony Wong)

Back in 1970, a man named Wong Yuk Long completely revolutionized the Asian comic book industry and in turn, the comic book industry as a whole when he began publishing a comic book titled "Dragon Tiger Gate". It was the first Kung Fu comic and the first ultra violent/action title on the market at it's premiere. "Dragon Tiger Gate" started out as "Little Rascals", it followed the story of young street kids trained in various martial arts that often fought thugs and organized crime outfits that preyed on the poor and weak in the city.

The story originally focused on the relationship of two half brothers and their friends/comrades in arms as they fought to purge their neighborhoods and the city of gangsters and criminals. The teenaged Kung Fu practioner Tiger Wong encounters his long lost older half brother Kung Fu expert Dragon Wong and they mend their relationship. They then form a group backed by the Dragon Tiger Gate, a Kung Fu school/community and health center left behind by their late father.
They recruit some friends to help them out including the nearly invincible nunchaku wielding teenage hero Black Dragon or Black Rock Dragon. Since he was a blond Eurasian, in order to avoid confusion with Dragon Wong in English his name was widely accepted as Gold Dragon instead. Tiger Wong, Dragon Wong (also called Little Dragon as he bore a coincidental resemblance to Bruce Lee (!)) and Gold Dragon were known as The Three Kings due to their strength and fighting prowess. Just beneath them were some slightly younger members of the Gate they helped them out in fights/holding down the fort U God style called The Gang Of Four. In English translations they were called Baldie, Four Eyed Ming, Heartbreak Kid and One Eyed Draco.

The original run of the title was extremely violent and each cover featured gruesome scenes that not only made them fly off store shelves but completely disgusted and incensed some people in high places. "Little Rascals" soon became "Dragon Tiger Gate" and as time went on and it got bigger and bigger in Asia it was translated into more languages and got more popular the characters got stronger and more powerful. This eventually lead to the infamous Indecent Publication Law to be passed in 1975 in China banning Wong Yuk Long from publishing his graphically violent comic books any more. Here's where he further cemented his legend in my opinion.
Never one to be outdone or painted into a corner, Wong merely began publishing his own newspaper and he would print daily strips featuring the characters of "Little Rascals/Gangsters"/"Dragon Tiger Gate" in his paper. By the end of the week, you'd have a full comic book worth of art. Since the Indecent Publication Law didn't cover newspapers and periodicals of that kind there was nothing they could do to stop him. The title was changed to "Oriental Heroes" but it retained the name "Dragon Tiger Gate" on the back cover of each newspaper. Once they didn't have to worry about being banned anymore, they quit the newspaper sham and turned the entire periodical into a manga/manhua publication.

In order to keep up with the changing times and expansion of his empire, Wong Yuk Long's Jademan Publishing Ltd. began publishing several more titles and moving into more markets. "Oriental Heroes" was huge all over Asia and had spawned many other copycats and Kung Fu/martial arts based comic books inspired by Jademan's other popular titles. Jademan had pretty much birthed the Hong Kong comic book industry and by the mid 80's it was in charge of approximately 90% of the market. The adult language, themes and graphic depiction of violence made it highly sought after by teens and adults alike.

Over the years, several things have changed with the Three Kings and the Gang Of Four. They learned new martial arts techniques, gained huge reputations all throughout the world and cemented their spot as key players in the Martial World. The comic book also took on a different art style in the mid 80's as a new young team of pencillers and inkers joined the Jademan ranks and updated it's overall appearance. To further hammer home the change in direction of the title the character that was arguably the most popular one in all of China was killed off in 1986.

Dragon Wong was murdered by Chan Ou Wan of Global Cult and former enemy and Buddhist monk Guy joined the Three Kings to fill his place and help avenge Dragon's death after the death of his father, Southern Temple. Wong Yuk Long got the idea of expanding his empire into North America and in 1988 he premiered four of his titles in the States, the crown jewel being "Oriental Heroes" (though the characters on the cover clearly are "Dragon Tiger Gate"). The story in the North American version started out with Tiger Wong tracking Chan Ou Wan to Thailand with the intention of killing him.

The first time I'd ever seen these comics were when my friend Robert Soohoo showed me his older sister's copy of "Dragon Tiger Gate" back in 1981. They had this ill cover art, they were super violent and they were 32 pages long and they were read in the opposite direction of English comics. I grew up near Boston's Chinatown and I had flipped through quite a few issues over the years but I didn't wanna be the asshole asking my Chinese friends to translate the books mostly because most of them resented going to Chinese school on the weekends and those cats weren't up to do more Chinese to English translating just for my fanboy ass.

When I started reading the English versions I immediately caught that the story was years behind and the comic book went the opposite direction of traditional Chinese books. This was evident in the flipped art cells and backwards logos on clothing and vehicles. I also noticed that some of the characters and villains English names didn't fit the names my Chinese friends called them. When I showed them the English Jademan translations they often said shit like "Damn, they should've hired me!". While it did occasionally hiccup, the stories were engrossing and the action was unmatched.

Of course, Tiger Wong's Nine Suns Kung Fu and Gold Dragon's Golden Armor (actually, it was "Golden Bell" but whatever!) Kung Fu helped them fight off a never ending parade of villains and Global Cult assassins. Guy and The Gang Of Four would also end up getting pulled into the battle as Global Cult/Black Sect battle White Sect and Red Sect for control of Asia and the entire martial world. After 55 issues of "Oriental Heroes", Jademan Comics ended it's almost five year long English language run. in 1991, the man known in North America as Tony Wong stopped drawing and left it to his team(s) of artists due to legal troubles that landed him in jail.

In 2006, Hong Kong director Wilson Yip (SPL, Ip Man) and martial arts/action film/Boston legend Donnie Yen teamed together to bring the story of "Dragon Tiger Gate" to the big screen. Since this title is probably the single most influential one in Chinese comic book history and one of the most popular in all of Asia no one could afford to fuck it up and piss off almost two full generations of fans. The story starts off at the beginning with an 18 year old Tiger Wong discovering that his 20 year half brother Dragon is working for a local crime syndicate.

He tries to convince his brother to come back home to the Gate but he refuses at first. Then some silver haired (?) nunchaku master named Turbo Shek (one of Black/Gold Dragon's alternate confusion avoiding names) strolls into town and helps out with the impending wave of organized crime goons and Triads that the brothers have to deal with later. The movie was a huge success and it was released on DVD in North America last year and on Blu-Ray a few months ago. The sequel is still forthcoming at the time I wrote this as Yip and Yen decided the focus on the story of legendary Kung Fu master Ip Man this year. If you haven't seen this joint yet then check it out.

One.

18 comments:

S-Diggy said...

this story seems dope as hell. im definitely gonna check this out.
ayo Dart, where in Boston you from??

Dart Adams said...

@ S-Diggy:

South End. I grew up on the edge of Roxbury, Mass Ave. between Columbus and Tremont when things were REALLY bad. I went to the Prince (South End), Blackstone (South End), Quincy (Chinatown/Back Bay), Timilty (Roxbury), Boston Latin (Hell) and Boston English (Jamaica Plain). All except English were in walking distance from where I grew up/currently live in the South End.

One.

Kung Fu Pimp said...

Classic material.

S-Diggy said...

haha word. I grew up right off of Dudley by Uphams Corner by Columbia Rd. Shit is getting worse and worse over there man. can't say i'm glad i left tho. got all my fam there.
you didn't like Boston Latin? lol i got a bunch of boys from there. I used to go to St Margarets on Columbia, its like Blessed Mother Teresa now, right where Dorchester Ave n Columbia meet.
thats wassup tho. this blog is tight, cuz you one of the few that i can read and know exactly where you talkin bout when you reminisce on the older days.

3's up homes

S-Diggy said...

btw im watching the movie right now. its pretty cool. i think i need to look more into the comic tho. seems like some of this stuff doesn't connect unless you know the story itself

Dart Adams said...

@ S-Diggy:

Yeah, past the original run of "Little Rascals/Gangsters" from 1970-1973 this movie was a loose adaptation of how Dragon, Tiger and Shek started out and took over control of the Gate after the death of their master/sifu.

The NEXT flick is when shit will get really ill.

One.

Anonymous said...

I bought the movie at best buy not knowing anything at all about the comic history. But being a big fan of martial arts movies and comic books, I bought it anyways. I love the movie, it was totally bad ass. I wish i can get a hold of some of the english translated movies. I'm chinese, I can speak cantonese but i can't read any of it.

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