A Kung Fu Valentine’s Day

by Kung Fu Bob O'Brien on February 14, 2016 · 0 comments in Buddhist Blog

Though my favorite cinematic genre revolves around humans locked in mortal combat, using ancient martial arts skills to try to defeat or destroy their opponents, I’m also kind of a romantic guy. So I thought it might be appropriate to watch something today, on Valentine’s Day, with my better half that would include the more loving elements of human relations, along with the requisite combat. So, what to watch?

THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993), immediately came to mind. One of the best of the “New Wave” Hong Kong wu-xia films, it tells the story of an unlikely, but deep love, between the Wu Tang’s number one swordsman (Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing), and a beautiful witch (Brigitte Linn Ching-Hsia) raised by wolves! Adopted from a Chinese folk tale, director Ronny Yu, cinematographer Peter Pau Tak-Hai, writer Leung Yue-Sang, composer Richard Yuen Cheuk-Fan, action choreographer Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung (“The Lizard” of THE FIVE VENOMS), and all the rest of the cast and filmmakers bring the story to gorgeous, other-worldly life. The scenes of the two main characters falling for each other, and making love in a misty pond are sexy and full of raw passion. Yeah, this would be the perfect film to watch today. Plus, the evil cult led by a sinister brother/sister co-joined twin, the witch’s skills with her dismembering whip, the plot twists that lead to broken hearts and murderous vengeance, the bloody punishments… Hmmm… now that I really think about it… Maybe it’s better to save this classic for another day.

Okay, I got it… CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000). This romantic, martial arts action adventure story is from acclaimed director Ang Lee, and aside from being technically accomplished and lavishly filmed, is filled with phenomenal performances from all of the leads, and features not one, but two romances. The action is unforgettable, especially the fight in (and near-complete destruction of) a tea house when young swordswoman Jen (Zhang Ziyi) is confronted by enemies, Jen’s jaw-dropping duel with Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), as the elder swordswoman tries matching multiple weapons against the Green Destiny sword, and the swordplay finale atop a bamboo forest between Jen and Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat). The love stories are integral to the plot, and expertly woven throughout the action, including young, fiery, forbidden love, and long gestating, unrequited love too. It all works out perfectly with… well, blood and tears are spilled, life-altering words go unspoken, condemnations are made, and dangerous soldiers are dispatched… Um, again, perhaps this isn’t the perfect holiday experience.

Oh, I know– A CHINESE GHOST STORY (1987)! This film has a wonderful, touching love story at its heart, and is filled to the brim with spectacularly imaginative action sequences and enough moody lighting for ten movies. Tony Ching Siu-Tung directs and action choreographs this tale of a tax collector (Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing once again) who finds himself falling head over heels with the gorgeous Lip Siu San (Joey Wong Cho-Yin). They quickly realize that they are made for each other… except that she’s a ghost. Further complicating matters is the fact that she’s enslaved by the Lord of the Underworld, and responsible for many travelers being drained of their life’s essence. Also involved are the rapping, spirit-battling Swordsman Yin (Wu Ma), an evil tree demon, and… did I mention that one of the “romantic leads” is already dead? Geez… Okay, the search continues.

Perhaps I need to look back further, into the old school classics. Yes, indeed! HEROES OF THE EAST (1978, aka. Challenge of the Ninja; Shaolin Challenges Ninja; Shaolin Vs. Ninja; Drunk Shaolin Challenges Ninja) may be the film I am looking for. Arguably one of the top kung fu films of all time, this was directed and action designed by the legendary Liu Chi-Liang (aka. Lau Kar-Leung) and tells the story of an arranged, interracial marriage and the unique challenges the union presents. Chinese kung fu fanatic Ho To (played by the always fantastic Gordon Liu Chia-Hui) has entered into holy matrimony with Japanese martial artist Kung Zi (Mizuno Yuko), and they quickly discover that their traditions, styles of practicing, and ideas of basic etiquette are worlds apart. The disagreements between the two couples go a lot further than verbal spats. Furniture, dinnerware, and gardens are pulverized, blood is drawn, and eventually through a misunderstanding, a band of Japan’s top practitioners show up at Ho To’s door to fight him. This sets off a series of jaw-dropping duels involving a plethora of different combat styles and weapons that are simply an action fan’s dream come true. The couples’ chemistry and interactions are filled with robust drama and laughs, and… Now that I think about it, I guess that all sort of gets pushed aside, and largely forgotten about in favor of the husband’s daily duels with the Japanese warriors. Damn! Back to the movie shelves.

What about EXECUTIONERS OF DEATH (1977, aka. Executioners of Shaolin; Shaolin Executioner)? You may think, based on the title, that this is another poor choice. But this tale of a rebel fighter that survives the burning of the Shaolin temple features a prominent, and very entertaining love story at its center. This one is also directed by Liu Chi-Liang, and follows Hung Si-Kwan (Chen Kuan-Tai) as he attempts to build up his Tiger kung fu so that he can defeat the evil Pai Mei (Lo Lieh) and get revenge for his murdered comrades. While hiding out on a boat of traveling entertainers he meets his soul-mate, Fang Young Chun (Lily Li Li-Li), a Crane style expert, and they eventually marry. Kung fu techniques and carnal pleasures meet head on when his new bride challenges him- he can only consummate their union if he is able to break her iron-like stance and part her knees! After considerable effort on Hung’s part, a son is eventually born, and as time goes on Fang tries to convince Hung to incorporate her Crane with his Tiger style, but he stubbornly refuses. What follows is lots of training on a large iron statue to perfect chi-blocking techniques, a series of increasingly harrowing duels with the seemingly invincible villain, bloody injuries, and… the romance between the characters is soon little more than an afterthought, left in the dust-up of blinding vengeance.

Aw hell. Maybe we’ll just re-watch director Tony Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE (1993). It’s not a “martial arts movie” by any means. But hey, it’s a terrific love story with memorable characters, endlessly quotable dialogue (from a script by Quentin Tarantino), and Sonny Chiba even makes a pseudo-cameo in it!

Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day to our Shaolin Chamber 36 readers. Have any of you got some suggestions for a good martial arts film with romantic plot elements? If so, please share your favorites.

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