The first kung – fu movie that I watched back in the 70’s was called ” Karate, The Superior Youngster” and it’s first scene begins like this:
GANGSTER: (from the top of the cliff)
” Karate , come and kiss my feet ! “
KARATE ( from the bottom of the cliff )
“Why don’t you kiss mine!!?”
GANGSTER ( to the gang of a 120 strong ) :
” Get him! “
KARATE ( the name of the character ) jumps at top of the cliff and exterminates the gang using only leg kicks, hands in his pockets. Kung- fu movies are based on a simple premise :
ANYONE WHO KNOWS MARTIAL ARTS CAN FLY !
If you are not willing to accept this , you’ll have a problem watching them .
With the exception of Bruce Lee ( who caused the explosion of the genre in 1960’s), Jackie Chan (who injected elements of comedy into the genre and turned the bloodshed into a cheerful circus) and Jet Lee who brought back “dignity ” to the genre using serious technique and virtuosity, kung fu film has always been considered as a trash product for “low educated audience”. Not without reason: level of acting and the simplicity of the plot were almost repulsive for the” literate” audience.
Motive for action was almost always revenge – in best cases revenge with the moral stirrings: student sanctifies the murdered teacher or “face washed ” kung fu school -oppressed by participants of competitor schools or Japanese invaders . The overproduction of cheap kung fu movies (1965-2000), have always had the same insignia : bad acting by the stunt actors, cloned costumes for the “extras” and almost always the same over-saturated costumes for the “noble warlords”.
In the year of the Lord 2000, kung – fu film called “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ” received several Academy Awards and the genre received its legitimacy and high budgets. “Crouching Tiger…….” in it’s basic form protégées exactly the things that the “literate audience” can not stand : His heroes know how to fly.
But instead of flying in combat , they fly as cranes – in a rapt romantic fervor . Everything that was done “too quickly” in a standard kung-fu movie ( to prevent wire ” tricks ” and ” frauds” to be seen ) here is extended ” to the bone ” thanks to the CGI. Thus, all kinetic elements – slow motion, flapping capes, cloaks and curtains , waltz of saturated colors – get an aesthetic value. So much, that the film was declared the “ Fine Art” movie .
What ensued had the opposite effect :
Producers of Hong Kong, believing that ” ballet ” had sold the film and won Oscars, started to throw out a bunch of high budget baloneys like ” House of Flying Daggers”, ” Three Kingoms ” and the like, with a lot of ballet choreography in the fighting scenes , heavy quasi – philosophy , meaningless plots and mental stretching scenes . The stretched the epic scenes , the better for the Oscars , so they guessed.
Kung fu movies were turned into the sheer boredom with over-dosed computer effects. Forgotten was the simple fact that “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” was essentially a love story, just like “Titanic” and “Avatar”. Without direct love and romance they would be probably unwatchable .
The “genre” is a set of conventions in the story, design, lightning, framing, characters and rhythm respectfully. If porno film does not cause libido, means it ‘s a bad porno . If comedy does not make you laugh but sleepy, it’s not a comedy and assumingly has a rhythm and design of a drama but not of a comedy .
What separates the genre movies from so called “author” films is that the latter ones are trying NOT to be handled by conventions, but to have more “private” angle of presenting things )
” Crouching Tiger ” is to some extent “authorish” approach to genre ( as some of Brian De Palma films) and the result of it’s influence is that the old kung fu movies are no longer watchable because of their stereotype , and the recent ones (after 2000) are self pretentious with over-complicated plot and very often – a boar . After 2000, Kung – Fu became a genre with too much of a “serious” attitude.
But, not all of them: Yesterday I rescreened my favorite movie of 2004, KUNG FU HUSTLE, and I started to scream- laughter even on the opening scene:
In the waiting room of the police station camera pans over the frighten sitting persons and duty officers. We hear the screams off camera. We see a hanging table with a written moto “Law and Order ” , through which body of a beat-up policeman smashes through . The camera goes to the police chief who is also shaking with fear. The local GANGSTER in a cheap hat shouts at him:
” Anybody else ?! Huh ?! “
GANGMAN: (to the police chief, word by word )
” Just because she spat on the street , you checked this Lady in! (pointing to a whore in a white dress) Is there any law here?! Where is the law?! Where is THE STATE?! “
Cops sweat .
The gang called “Axes ‘ (they have axes tattooed on their chest ) is extorting the whole town – except the area called “Pig Dump ” where the poorest of the poorest live, with no money to pay any racket to anyone. But here are two dumb guys who are trying to extort money out of them and mob the “Pig Dump”: the film director Stephen Chow , who plays the lead role of a coward and a fraud with his fat friend. The problem occurs when the AXE gang realizes that the dumb duo is racketeering in their name and they decide to waste them. Then it turns out that the whole of “Pig Dump” inhabitants, starting with a fat landlady with a cigar, a local barber and a baker are all top kung – fu maniacs . Choreography full of surprises, speed and humor starts from that point on.
Stephen Chaw is an eastern Sergio Leone , Quentin Tarantino, Groucho Marx , John Milius , Bob Foss and Stanley Donen at the same time . Sergio Leone in the milieu and style , Milius in epic exaggeration , Groucho Marx in completely screw -ball approach to comedy, Stanley Donen and Bob Fosse in amazing choreography and Quentin Tarantino in a nostalgic playing with the genres. In addition, Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton at the same time.
I have not seen a movie that is so succcessful a mix of styles and still has its own style . When you’re doing comedy , it’s very difficult to keep the tone of the gags , especially in acting and mise–en-scene, a tone that is always on the verge to go tofailure , but still floats fresh and chic. You even laugh at the graphic effects . I can imagine what the reaction was in the cinemas, when the audience was mass “lifted” after a couple of good jokes and than startto laugh at each and every tiny antic.
See once this movie or download it from the net – be sure that it is in Chinese with the translation. Dubbed versions (translated into English ) will not do .
This film has the same value for Kung Fu genre as “Once Upon a Time in the West” has for the “spaghetti western”, as “Singing in the Rain” has for the musical , as ” A Night at the Opera ” has for screwball comedy , as “Meals on wheels ” has for the action movies – the best that genre can offer.
For P.U.L.S.E World: Mustafa Presheva