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Hei Meigui

Martial Arts films: mindless entertainment or meaningful social commentary

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I know that we all have a love of MA films or we wouldn't be here!! :monk_huh:

 

Do you feel that you are drawn to the films for the action and mindless entertainment, or do you seek out or like the films for some of the deeper themes they have?

if so what films can you describe are important to you?

I would extend this to include even recent MA films.

 

I think right off the bat a few of the films that I find that I like because of the underlying meaning are movies by Tsui Hark. I know many of his action movies may be considered more like Wuxia but he usually is trying to convey a deeper commentary on things that are going on socially or politically. The main movie by him that I look at the deeper message is Iron Monkey.

Iron Monkey (1993)  With Donnie Yen and Yu Rongguong is a fun movie that has great action, But still.. a strong underlying commentary on the politics and corruption of the government system. The basic plot is one of a "Robinhood" like story where a masked hero is stealing from the corrupt and helping the poor.

It also spoke for the need for forgiveness, unity, and understanding between people of different stations in life. I love the movie for it's treatment of the subplots of the treatment of women, as well as the importance of the strength of a father son bond. I have mentioned this movie before in regards to it being one that was very badly butchered when it was imported here for US audiences. The whole fact of how important Wong Fei Hung as a cultural/historical figure was undermined and treated as a foot note in the cut version. I think it was interesting that the parts dealing with the female lead were altered when the treatment of her was so integral to understanding her relationship and motivation towards others. The fact that a father was forced to have to sacrifice so much including the morals and ideals he held firmly, and risk his life to save his son, caused him develop stronger emotional bonds with his son. There is everything in this movie, a love story, Hero's, fighting, politics, comedy, and and indirect way of directly challenging the current political/social climate of the time in a subtle way.

 

From the Wikepedia site for the movie here are a few of the cuts that were made for US consumption Warning the Wikepedia page is very spoilery:

 

Changes in the United States release

In its release in 2001, Miramax made several changes that the company felt would make it more marketable to American audiences:[9]

  • As most Americans are unfamiliar with the story of Wong Fei-hung, his name was removed from the original Chinese title.
  • The subtitles were tailored to diminish the political context of the story.
  • Some scenes were trimmed to tone down the violence.
  • Originally, some fight scenes had been sped up in places through undercranking. The United States release slowed these scenes down to a more normal pace.
  • Several comedic scenes, particularly ones interspersed in the fight scenes, were removed to give the fights a more serious feel. Although such comedic devices are common in Hong Kong cinema, the editors felt that they might appear odd to American audiences.
  • A new soundtrack was composed that emulated the classical score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but in doing so, the Wong Fei-hung theme song was eliminated.
  • New sound effects were dubbed for the fighting to make them more realistic (as opposed to the more traditional exaggerated Hong Kong sounds).

 

What do you all think about what these films mean to you?

Edited by Hei Meigui

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Interesting post and questions Hei Meigui, I'd have to say the action drew me to this genre to start with. However I do have a different appreciation of these films now to when I first became a fan. A lot of Kung Fu films are like some of the old Westerns. There's as much about people,situations, morals and characters, not just  merely physical displays. Some films are just about the action as we know. But not every Martial Arts film is just about getting even with the villains etc. I don't think Ive looked for a film based entirely on its themes. But its nice to see a film that might challenge you or change the way you see something.

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I mainly watch movies for entertainment or as pieces of art (or both sometimes). However, if a movie incoporates educational elements allowing me to learn about history, mythology or cultural elements and that it's good enough for me to loo deeper into their background (the mythical Fong Sai-Yuk with Chang Cheh's Shaolin Cycle or his Water Margin movies for instance), it's even better.

 

I initially looked at MA movies as being entertainment (mind you, I got into the genre through Godfrey Ho cut-and-splices and late 1970s indies, including Bruceploitations), but seeing movies like some big Shaw Bros productions were historical/mythological stories or adaptations of Chinese literature (the first Shaw film I bought on DVD was Legend of the Bat, a movie based on a Chinese novel), I realized this genre was more than mindless entertainment and/or exploitation.

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I think right off the bat a few of the films that I find that I like because of the underlying meaning are movies by Tsui Hark. I know many of his action movies may be considered more like Wuxia but he usually is trying to convey a deeper commentary on things that are going on socially or politically. The main movie by him that I look at the deeper message is Iron Monkey.

Iron Monkey (1999)  With Donnie Yen and Yu Rongguong is a fun movie that has great action, But still.. a strong underlying commentary on the politics and corruption of the government system. The basic plot is one of a "Robinhood" like story where a masked hero is stealing from the corrupt and helping the poor.

 

Sorry to be "that guy", but just to clarify 'Iron Monkey' isn't technically a Tsui Hark movie.  He wrote it, but Yuen Woo Ping is the director.  Also, it's not from 1999, it's from 1993.

 

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When I started watching these movies as a kid I think they were more mindless entertainment, I had no idea who the hell the Ming or the Ching were, I watched for the fights and the acrobatics and having already watching Godzilla movies the "Asian" style that was so different from everything else on tv at the time. This led to me getting into MAs and being interested in Asian culture and history. Now I can understand and appreciate the historical aspect - then again it depends on the movie as they range from historical epics to standard low budget revenge/vendetta films.

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This reminds me of Swordsman 2, I initially dismissed it as fantasy nonsense but I realised that there was alot more going on under the surface in regards to issues of gender and politics. You realise at the end, they just replaced one despot with another. 

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Sorry to be "that guy", but just to clarify 'Iron Monkey' isn't technically a Tsui Hark movie.  He wrote it, but Yuen Woo Ping is the director.  Also, it's not from 1999, it's from 1993.

 

Thanks for the date correction. You are right it is 1993. I consider personally consider it as one of his films because he wrote and produced it. The director has a great part in how the movie's vision is expressed.  Especially Yuen Woo Ping with the action scenes, and the way the story is presented and flows.  Thing that I have noticed from Tsui is that he is a very hands on person in all aspects of "his" films. In this film even though he not the director there is an interview on one version of the DVD where he talks about how after the filming had ended he "insisted" on adding additional filming of more comedic scenes. This was all after Yuen Woo-Ping had finished filming. In the interview he indicates that this may have been a reason for it's initial poor reception at the box office.

He is passionate and often over involved in "his" films. A little info on him and his style is mentioned in his Wikipedia page. Apparently he is not above micromanaging his directors work!!

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Well Hei, 

 

you asked for it :tongueout

 

Movies are my escape from reality. If I can pick up something deep or wonderful beyond being entertained, that's great. Shaw Brothers kung fu films were definitely my super hero films as a young teen and they are again now. I mean that in the most complimentary ways btw. I've been watching a lot of foreign genre films for most of my life and none are as fun or positive to me as kung fu films are. 

 

The older I get the more I appreciate character and story along with every last detail that goes into making a film. I appreciate how different filmmakers achieved so much character and insight with a well worn plot.  As it happened with the Italians in a variety of genres, so I see it happening within the (mostly) Shaw Brothers films I just cannot get enough of. 

 

Sun Chung, Lar Kar Leung and Chang Cheh all did something unique and different with their culture, history and making martial arts more than just punches and kicks. I enjoy learning about culture through film (and to a lesser extent food.) 

 

Tang Chia brought characterization into his fight styles for specific characters (I am sure other action directors did too, but his work really stands out to me.)  You may know of my deep admiration for David Chiang, Chan Wai Man, Lu Feng, Lo Mang and Leung Kar Yan. These guys transport me instantly and make me believe in their characters. 

 

When I first saw The Victim this past April, it resonated with me on a lot of levels. I really felt for LKY's character because I'd been in situations where I wanted to fight back yet couldn't. So seeing him stand up to his nefarious older step brother makes me cheer. It was much more cathartic than I expected it to be and now I can watch this film and feel like I can rise above this kind of trouble again. 

 

 I think one of the reasons why I am so stuck on The Deadly Breaking Sword (and CWM's Lian San in particular) is because I've dealt with chronic illness and the use of natural medicine to revive the character (albeit in a super human way) is something I've kind of dealt with. (Nutrition keeps my issues at bay, unfortunately it has not upped my strength or speed nor turned my hair an awesome mix of white and copper but....)  I remember being so grateful to my mom for pulling me out of that pain that I would do anything to help her (as Lian San will do anything to help Doctor Gou).  And plus, Lian San is just ten shades of awesome to me. 

 

So I began to really love the genre through relating to two characters, but whenever I come across something deepr than a great story, characters visuals etc. I enjoy it. 


I've got many more films I could mention, but I'll stop here. 

 

 

Edited by Lady Jin Szu-Yi

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Well Hei, 

you asked for it :tongueout

 

I've got many more films I could mention, but I'll stop here. 

 

Awesome post  Jin

 

Please do talk about more films! It is the goal of filmmakers to evoke meaning for the audience whether it is visually or through the direct story. (Except for the Weinsteins!! :yociexpress05:) Look at how many of the MA actors alone stated that they were drawn to MA because of someone they saw in film or think of all the kids (of all ages) inspired by Bruce Lee. The fact that someone from another country with a different language, time, and culture could affect you so is a great gift to give, and receive. Even those of us who may be drawn to these films for the entertainment, can also look at the effect these films have had in bringing all of us together from such varied backgrounds for the love of these genres.

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While it’s the characters that make a film resonate for me, adding little something to those character’s surface traits and appearances can make me love a film even more.

 

Long post alert. 

 

Judgement of An Assassin (1977)  

 

I don’t know… it is as if Run Run Shaw read my mind and said: “Lady Jin we grant you triple happiness by having Sun Chung direct David Chiang and Chan Wai Man in a wuxia .” And I think, “What? No way!”  And the Omnipotent Shaw Brothers say, “Yes, yes wai,” as they hand me a copy of this movie. 

 

I  had no idea what to expect from this Sun Chung film, I already lost my fan girl marbles with  The Deadly Breaking Sword and thoroughly enjoy The Kung Fu Instructor, Human Lanterns and The Avenging Eagle. I had just become delightfully aware of Chan Wai Man and David Chiang (the former in The Deadly Breaking Sword, the latter in The Duel and Vengeance!) And when I rewatch this film, it’s another Sun Chung world I get completely lost in.

 

Like all other movies with great characters, if the characters do not leave my mind, chances are very strong the film will become a favorite. Judgement… surprised me because of the nifty little social dip into the youth versus elder theme. If there’s one aspect of the counterculture I grow more fascinated by it’s that generation gap, the war between the young rebels and the older authoritarian status quo.

 

Ni Kuang’s script brings this his up frequently in this film and the actors playing older characters don’t shy away from playing the age their supposed to be. Let me stop right here by saying, I love seeing younger actors attempt to play more mature characters.  Most of the Kung Fu films I’ve seen this doesn’t always come through;  it’s just a white haired villain who shows no sign of maturation, but Ku Feng and Chan Wai Man really step up the plate and make you believe in their older men. 

 

Ku Feng is absolutely adorable as Old Hedgehog, the on/off lover of Grand Hearing ‘judge’ Madam Fa.  Old Hedgehog is a sweetly, cranky wise old man. He has no time for obnoxious young people and will throw his age card in your face. 

 

In Chan Wai Man’s case, the Bloody Devil is an aging, powerful, evil martial artist.  You see the character’s years in the way the Bloody Devil talks and fights his youthful opponents. It’s his almost supernatural martial arts experience as much as his glowering annoyance with the young warriors attempting to stop him.  When I watch him swatting / kicking Li Ching and David Chiang away as if they were mosquitos, it makes me laugh for a moment before BD  turns the darkest shade of vicious.   Of  course, David Chiang’s Hei Mo Le being the anti-authority youth he is, keeps on fighting. I love that Tang Chia and Huang Pei-Chi  worked the character’s ages into Chiang and Chan’s fight styles. Sure there’s a little bit of insane wire work when Hei breaks the Bloody Devil’s marathon meditation session, but it only adds to the intensity of the Bloody Devil’s nasty “Unscathing skills.”

 

And yet Tang and Huang also play up Chan Wai Man’s background in Northern martial arts, kick boxing and other styles. In most of Chan’s wuxi performances, he often dials back his powerful brawler / fighter  working with the choreographers to create a movie style that won’t result in his opponents getting hurt. 

 

In Judgement, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tang and Huang  said “screw that just work your own stuff in!” since the painful looking blows CWM delivers in his non-Shaw work seems to come out in the Bloody Devil in two stand out sequences. Bloody Devil immediately endeared himself to me with his use of the Unsheathing technique resulting in a tombstone destroying kick. It’s that little touch of super natural force mixed with in with the intensity Chan often delivers which makes my jaw drop a few inches each time I see it. There’s such a sense of overwhelming viciousness to this character with his claw and hand strikes and potent kicks,  it’s easy to understand why simply mentioning the Bloody Devil’s name makes many characters so nervous.  This is particularly true when Chan faces off against Hau Cheng’s shifty Man Ying Tai.  Again you see the age and experience of the Bloody Devil here as Chan bores down upon Cheng  who is the only person to injure the BD, which says something about Man Ying Tai’s martial skill.  Sun Chung’s close ups of Cheng and Chan’s hands and feet is a great fly on the wall peek at how no holes barred this fight is.  It feels uncomfortably real in spots. 

 

To top off the Bloody Devil’s nearly omnipotent martial wrath is his unique look. As someone who has dabbled in make ups, when I see a great character design like this it makes the FX make up geek in me giddy. If you didn’t know what CWM looked like you’d be hard pressed to  recognize him beneath the bald cap, awesome black and white hair, and appropriately bonkers two toned eye brows and mustache. He has more than a bit of a Lee Van Cleef Angels Eyes vibe here which I dig since spaghetti westerns are so intrinsic to my film dna.  When you’re going to describe your villain as  “this senior is an odd person, either masquerading as a statue in a dilapidated temple or consorting with the dead in a place like this-“ you better deliver that in every way and BD's awesome lairs add to his evilness (cemetery and aforementioned temple.)

 

David Chiang’s hippie-like young swordsman, Hei Mo Le a.k.a. Swift Sword looks every bit the counterculture rebel. Hei delights in annoying the hell out of his elders, from joking with his sifu to causing a minor ruckus with Old Hedgehog and unleashing the bad guy, the Bloody Devil.  Oh and Hei’s idea of flirting is pissing young ladies off, only to come rescue them. Boys will be will boys.  Chiang’s response to nearly having his head kicked in by The Bloody Devil is equally telling of his character’s youth. Hei Mo Le looks like a little boy throwing a tantrum yet he’s not. He plays off CWM’s annoyed elder with an half mirthful / half scared witless bravado that sells the character’s lack of experience. And yet, Hei learns from his martial mistakes. He eventually proves to be no slouch when push comes to shove. Swift Sword is the thumb to the nose hero who has a huge heart and only wants to do good, even if he doesn’t like what his seniors have to say.  David is so perfectly cast here and he seems to enjoy working with Li Ching, Ku Feng, Chan Wai Man and Wang Yue. It’s a bummer that Sun didn’t do anything else with David because Chiang really brought his A-game to this role. Added bonus,  Swift Sword’s terrific use of a tonfa and his sword, sometimes at the same time.   His kicks seem more realistic here too which is great. I love seeing David’s growth as a martial performer and here you can clearly see his off camera training with Lau Kar Wing paying off in spades. 

 

I may have spent more than a few paragraphs warbling on about the Bloody Devil, but Swift Sword is just as cool to me.  He’s the hippie who isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty, who will do whatever it takes to make things right and try to get the girl, even if his own unique way of thinking gets in the way.  Of the many anti-hero characters Chiang has played Hei is one of most endearing and Chiang’s deftness in making his character come across so inexperienced in matters beyond martial skill is a nice tweak. He’s got a terrific entrance (Chiang always gets those, it’s pretty cool to see how dangerous his young man is with that tonfa.)

 

Anyway…I like it when I can see more character in details such as fight choreography, dialog and appearance, makes them more special to me. It’s interesting that screenwriter Ni Kuang would again approach legal hearings and corruption with Five Venoms only a few months later, along with having youth vs. elders square off against each other (not quite as obvious as in Judgment… but fun to recognize.) 

 

Sgt. Uniblab signing off. 

CWM's BD channels Angel Eyes.png

DC as Swift Sword Hei Mo Le.jpg

Edited by Lady Jin Szu-Yi
It's not Wang Yue, it's Hau Cheng...

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