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Shih Kien as Han in Enter the Dragon

Shih Kien (January 1, 1913 - June 3, 2009)

"It is difficult to associate these horrors with with the proud civilizations that created them: Sparta, Rome, the Knights of Europe, the Samurai...They worshipped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive."

Hong Kong: The martial arts film community reports the loss of Hong Kong actor Shih Kien, who died at the age of 96, best known for his portrayal of the evil one-handed criminal mastermind Mr. Han in Bruce Lee's epic 1973 masterpiece "Enter the Dragon." In the movie, Lee's character is hired by a foreign government to infiltrate Han's island refuge and seeks to avenge his sister's death by Han's bodyguard. At the time of shooting, he spoke no English so instead mouthed his lines as best he could for the producers to dub later.

Shih Kien exposing John Saxon to his operation in Enter the Dragon

Many fans cite the extended fight scene's between Bruce Lee and Kien on Han's island in "Enter the Dragon" as some of the best ever filmed, certainly producing some iconic results!

He died, reportedly due to kidney failure, in a hospital in Hong Kong on Wednesday (June 3rd, 2009) surrounded by family members.

Recognized worldwide as the skillfully played arch-rival, Kien was also an accomplished martial artist in his own right, having been trained at the Chin Woo Association in Shanghai where he received his instructorship in a number of styles, including Eagle Claw and Choy Lay Fut. Making his film debut in 1940, Kien enjoyed a prolific 50-year career and was featured in nearly 350 films. Kien worked with some of Hong Kong's most well-known actors, including Chow Yun Fat, Jackie Chan and the late Bruce Lee. He also made more than 80 pictures about Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hong.

Although, Kien was most often cast as an evil villian, he was actually known as a very kind and passionate man to those who knew him well.

Shih Kien was a very kind man

Kien (Shih Kien, Sek Kin) was born in 1913 in the city of Panyu, in Guangzhou province. He was a sickly child and took up martial arts to build his strength. When China came under attack in the early days of the second World War, he joined a patriotic stage troupe and found his calling. Kien came to Hong Kong as part of a company run by director Hu Chun-Bing, and he followed his mentor into the film industry. At first, he worked behind the scenes in the costume and make-up department, but by 1940 he was being cast directly in to films.

After WWII, martial arts movies became more popular in Hong Kong, and the most successful of the era was "The Story of Wong Fei Hung" (1949). With the boom, Shih began to specialize in playing Kung Fu villains. First came a series of Fong Sai-Yuk stories, with Shih as Fong’s enemy. Soon he was brought into the long-running Wong Fei-Hung series, which starred Kwan Tak-Hing as the hero. Shih played a number of villains over the years, but his most memorable recurring role was as “Bad Guy Kin,” forever plotting against the virtuous Wong. Shih and Kwan became the ideal "yin and yang" of Hong Kong action cinema of the 1950s.

Kien came to his acting career with a background in martial arts, rather than the usual opera training. His first teacher seems to have been Chao Lien-Cheng, a specialist in Northern Shaolin style who was affiliated with the Chin Woo Association, founded by Huo Yuanjia. Kien eventually became a full time student at the branch in Canton (Guangzhou), where he trained with a well known master named Sun Yu-Fung. Sun’s expertise was in Do (broadsword or saber) and "Lohan" techniques. In later years, Kien described his personal style as Mi Tsong Lohan Chuan or "combined Lohan fist." He also studied Chinese wrestling, or Shuai Jiao, and Tan Tui (spring leg) kicking techniques. Other teachers included Chao Kuei-Lin, who taught him "Mantis" and "Eagle Claw" boxing, and Wong Yung-Feng, who trained him in the use of an obscure "secret weapon" called Piao, which seems to have been a kind of dart.

This eclectic background contributed to his success as a martial arts actor, since it gave him the versatility needed to master the choreography quickly. It makes sense that "Lohan" boxing became Kien’s specialty, since it emphasizes dramatic poses that mimic traditional Buddhist devotional statues, which were ideal training for an aspiring Kung Fu performer!

One of the first things that strikes a modern viewer watching Shih’s fights on film is how lively he is. He bounds into the fray, jumps and skips, and tosses in a front jumping kick or spin without missing a beat. Even when forced to slow down or soften his onslaught to match his opponent, his movement's are always very graceful and emotionally expressive. He was a true professional, a master of his trade. It’s no wonder that Warner Brothers eventually teamed him up with Bruce Lee and the Golden Harvest studios, where Shih was tapped to play the evil Mr. Han. He had the moves and the experience. Although he was nearly three decades older than Lee and had to be stunt-doubled in some shots, he still seemed to take an amazing amount of abuse from the much younger fighter. His own performance emphasized raw power and physical tension rather than the fluidity he was also capable of. Altogether he made a worthy adversary for Lee in the most famous martial arts film of all time.

Poster for Enter the Dragon

The Hong Kong secretary for commerce and economic development said that the city has lost "an outstanding performing arts talent".

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