It seems that recently there has been a shortage of good quality martial art movies that focus on old China. To be honest, I haven’t seen too many recent movies in China and so I’m probably not the best person to ask about Chinese cinema. I think the last Chinese movie I saw was The Promise directed by Chen Kaige. Although many of my Chinese friends dismissed this movie as a failure, I found it interesting mostly because the scenery and Special effects were wonderful to watch. However, I have to agree with my local friends, the story was not very good.
Although my contemporary experience with Chinese cinema is very limited, I actually have lots of experience with older movies mostly from Hong Kong dating back to the 1970s. Growing up in America in a white suburban neighborhood, I had little opportunity to experience anything that was related to China even movies. My family and I had to drive to the next city just to find a Chinese restaurant. However, all that changed one day when one of the TV stations started playing martial art movies for two hours every Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s. This was my first experience with Chinese cinema. Bruce Lee and Sammo Hung were the first Chinese heros I saw. Later came a variety of other martial art actors. Some of my favorite movies were Jet Li earlier movies such as Shaolin Temple, Wong Fei Hung and Fang Shiyu. Although these movies were very simplistic in nature and their themes were always the same, they never the less influenced me in a great way. I have to say, these movies are the reason why I’m in China today. These movies lead me to study Chinese martial arts, Acupuncture and even major in University in China studies. This similar influence can clearly be seen in Hollywood. Hollywood has influenced generations of people globally and has lead many people to find great interest in the U.S. and U.S. popular culture.
While living in Taiwan in 2000, I was fortunate enough to see the premier of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. This movie went on to win critical acclaim and was viewed by millions around the world. My love of martial art movies was not shared by many of my American friends, but this movie catapulted martial arts movies to mainstream America. I was happy to see that it was well received and encouraged a new group of fans in the U.S. and around the world.
It seems that recently there has been a shortage of good quality martial art movies that focus on old China. I think this is because many of the martial art superstars like Jackie Chan, have been focusing more on modern day movies involving police or gangsters. I for one really enjoy the martial art movies that use ancient China as the setting when only fists, feet and swords ruled the land.
When I first moved to Beijing back in 2005, my friend introduced me to 周星驰 Zhou Xingchi’s movies. After watching A Chinese Odyssey and Hail the Judge, I immediately went out to buy many more of his movies. Oddly enough, I later found out that Zhou Xingchi’ s English name is Stephen Chow and I in fact saw his movies Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle before coming to China both of which made it to the silver screens in major cities across the U.S. Most of my local friends enjoy his movies very much. The humor in his movies is easily transferred across language barriers. In fact, I watched some of his movies without English subtitles and could still understand the movie and the humorous parts.
As you can see, my experience with Chinese cinema is by no means extensive and has mostly focused on martial art movies. I know there are many dramas and love stories that have won great reviews, but I have yet to find the time to watch them. Also because I don’t speak Chinese so well, it is important for me that these movies have English subtitles. Since many of the newer movies don’t have subtitles, I have to wait until the subtitles are released before I can enjoy the movies.
From the big movie screen to the small TV screen, I’d like to discuss a bit about TV. A good friend of mine introduced me to a TV series called 新水浒传 (xīn shuǐ hǔ zhuàn, All Men Are Brothers). I know this is one of China’s famous stories. I’m actually looking to buy the story in English so I can read it. Anyone interested in martial arts and Chinese culture should definitely read this book. Anyway, I recently saw a small preview of All Men Are Brothers and found it to be of high quality in both the filming and the martial art fight sequences. I’m looking forward to buying this TV series on DVD and watching it. However, I fear it won’t have English subtitles. This will be a good opportunity for me to practice my Chinese.
If any of the actors I’ve mentioned above happen to read this, PLEASE make some new martial art movies focusing in on old China when fist, feet and swords ruled the land! And for Stephen Chow keep making me laugh. I really enjoy your humor.
(Author: Executive Director of U.S.-China Health Products Association)