Is Chinese Martial Arts Cinema Undervalued or Undervalued?


This volume is part of the Traditions In World Cinema monograph series presented by Edinburgh University Press, presenting an analysis of international ‘under-examined or undervalued’ film movements or traditions. Working from an established format for the series, author Stephen Teo describes the wuxia genre as a crucial component of Chinese martial arts cinema, with evaluations from historical, economic, cultural and academic perspectives.

Teo, who is the author of several books on this topic, updated the original 2009 edition with a new chapter on recent developments in Chinese film production. The contextual approach sets this book apart from most others currently available. This is an intellectual appreciation, and while specific films, directors, and stars are discussed, an overall analysis of the wuxia the tradition of cinema remains at the center of concerns.

Wuxia refers to a genre of storytelling, typically set in historical dynasties, that involves chivalrous knights errant righting wrongs and helping the harmonious life of the people. A wuxia the tradition dates back centuries in Chinese literature, and its mix of epic heroes and fantastic and supernatural elements could be considered tailor-made for film.

Teo reflects on how the wuxia The genre in cinema was initially popular but was later effectively banned on the continent in the late 1920s / early 1930s to promote backwardness and superstition, as the ascending cultural and political currents were more concerned with shaping a society. modern scientific ”. The genre would be rehabilitated decades later to serve what the author identifies as both a nationalist and transnational function.

The popular presentation of the genre was left for many years to film studios and publishers located in Hong Kong and Taiwan. To today’s eyes, those early cinematic efforts seem rather stiff and awkward. What is now considered the classic era of wuxia films was influenced by a ‘new school’ of wuxia literature, serialized in newspapers from the mid-1950s. In the mid-1960s, the Shaw Brothers studio declared that the “artifice and staging” of previous martial arts films would be replaced by a “New style” defined by the “live action” required by modern audiences (ie more realistic fights, as seen in films from Japan).

More fortuitously, as the Shaw Brothers strove to reinvent martial arts cinema, two of the directors assigned to their early efforts would prove to be masters of the genre and, above all, capable of producing popular entertainment. The two king Hu Come drink with me (1965) and Zhang Che The one-armed swordsman (1967) would excel at the box office and influence a flood of similar productions.

Over the next 20 years, Chinese martial arts films achieved an international currency, though misunderstood by many as “kung fu,” a related and often intergenerational genre within the global martial arts tradition. Wuxia and kung fu can be both the same and not the same. Bruce Lee’s incredible popularity in the early 1970s was based on films that featured different melee fights of swordsmen and women of the wuxia tradition and fitting into contemporary rather than historical dynastic circles. But the figure of the knight errant could be understood in many contexts.

Come drink with me is discussed as a seminal wuxia film, “an amalgamation of new school concepts and old school fantasy,” which incorporates the tendency for “realistic” violence (squirting red blood) against a classic setting that includes taverns, imperial courts and isolated cabins. The adventurous story, starring the Golden Swallow swordsman and a drunken beggar who hides his martial skills, is superior entertainment due to King Hu’s precise control over his camera and editing.

Surprisingly, apart Come drink with me, his films can be hard to find for an English-speaking audience. King Hu left Shaw Brothers after this first production, to produce the excellent Dragon Gate Inn (1967) in Taiwan. That his best film, A touch of zen (1971), is virtually unavailable today is shocking for such an important world cinema classic, which successfully incorporates spiritual concepts through staging in a way that few films have succeeded. King Hu’s expressive control over his medium makes him one of the most underrated (if not unknown) major directors in film history.

Where King Hu made a handful of films, the other great figure in the genre of the classic era Zhang Che (often known to Western audiences as Chang Cheh), was incredibly prolific, responsible for dozens of films. His career in the genre spans one of the early Shaw Productions (Tiger Boy 1965), through epic historic action (The Heroics 1970), the adventures of the Shaolin temple (Five Shaolin Masters 1975) and the incredible Venoms series from the late ’70s to the’ 80s. Above the peak, bloody violence was a frequent staple of his films, as was a penchant for odd costumes and emphasis. on male ties and concepts of masculinity.

The centrality of the fighting in these films, featuring varying degrees of spurts of blood and severed limbs, attracts and repels audiences. Teo emphasizes the performative aspects of these presentations and the similarity to the cinematic genre of the musical, as sequences of stationary pieces are interspersed in the narrative. That is, violence is not a literal expression of evil but an expressive performance closer to dance.

The success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) is considered to be a more contemporary turning point for the genre. The film, an international effort produced on the mainland, unabashedly pays homage to the productions of the new school of the 1960s, especially those of King Hu. The woman knight errant, a traditional staple of wuxia, appeared as something new after a few decades of the male hero centralized by Zhang Che. The film’s worldwide box office success ensured a new round of wuxia productions, but this time back in mainland China, the “natural home” of the genre.

The previous ban on feudal thought was superseded by promoting these films for their popular appeal, serving as an expression of a Chinese national identity and purpose as a transnational product. Since 2000, the trend has been towards the production of daipan (translated as “big movie”), blockbuster and budget blockbuster movies such as hero (2003), Red Cliff (2009), and The great master (2013). These films are produced for both the international and domestic market, which China is predicted to be the world’s largest film market by the end of the decade.

Is Chinese Martial Arts Cinema Undervalued Or Undervalued? The genre’s subjective delights can still relegate it as a cult taste, despite some incredibly entertaining classics like Paralyzed Avengers (1978) or 8 Pole Fighter Diagram (1983), as opposed to the ubiquitous forgettable and poorly dubbed VHS products that may first come to mind, but wuxia the productions of the new school era deserve to be more widely known and available. Kinetic expression is unmatched in other global cinematic traditions. As the predecessors of today’s successful productions, their relevance to contemporary cinema is evident.

To keep it all to the point, there is a lot to enjoy in this book.

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