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Any martial artist who watches the films of the Star Wars franchise will spot the references: Japanese swordsmanship, gi tops, chi energy in the form of the force, and so on. Find out where these components came from and how they all fit together.

Now that the furor has subsided, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens and the martial arts it contains. Before I begin, however, allow me to share the fact that I've been an avid fan of the franchise since it debuted in 1977. In 1980 I was actually mistaken for Mark Hamill at the Taiwan premiere of The Empire Strikes Back. As such, I was among the millions around the world who were dying to see and, hopefully, enjoy The Force Awakens. The film has already earned $1.95 billion worldwide and is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time. Even better, the next installment boasts Donnie Yen as part of the cast! Considering that, how could I not blog about Star Wars? As you read on, please keep in mind that it’s not my intention to malign The Force Awakens; rather, I want to examine the film’s action from a martial arts perspective.

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Black Belt's entertainment blogger takes a look at the new AMC series Into the Badlands, starring Daniel Wu. It's Wu's real-life martial arts skills that make this post-apocalyptic series a cut above the rest.

No American-made TV show — whether it's produced by Netflix, the networks, cable or the premium channels — has come close to capturing the essence of Hong Kong cinema's frenetic-paced, over-the-top, highly stylized martial arts action. Until now. I am, of course, raving about the outrageous and audacious martial arts action served up by the hit AMC series Into the Badlands. More than 8.2 million people tuned in for its premiere in November 2015, making it the top-rated new fall series on either cable or broadcast television. It was also the third-largest audience for the launch of a cable series. I interviewed Badlands star Daniel Wu a wee while ago for the cover story of the February/March 2016 issue of Black Belt. He discussed in depth his martial arts pedigree and philosophy, as well as how he got into filmmaking and why he wanted to do the series. Don’t worry! This blog won’t give you deja vu if you’ve already read that article. All I’ll say is that Wu, a Chinese-American, is a legitimate martial artist who’s famous in Asia for his non-martial arts roles. His latest film, a doctor-and-patient-who’s-going-to-die tear-jerker called Go Away Mr. Tumor, is China's 2015 Academy Award contender for Best Foreign Language Film. Inasmuch as there's been some decent martial arts action in series like Netflix’s Marco Polo and Daredevil, several fair stabs with ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a few good seasons of the CW's Arrow, none has gone beyond the call of duty the way Badlands has.

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Find out where the Five Venoms came from, how they evolved in subsequent fight films and why they ruled drive-ins and cable television in the 1970s and '80s.

We all love martial arts movies. Right now, let's test your knowledge of one part of this vibrant genre: kung fu films. Your first task is to name the Five Venoms. For extra credit, tell me how many films the actors who played them made together. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I bet most of you didn’t get the answers right. If that’s the result of a lack of interest in Chinese martial arts movies, all I can say is you don’t know what you’re missing. If it’s the result of the confusion that was created by the way the movies were marketed in the United States, you have a valid excuse. But let's continue. It all started in 1978 when cameras rolled to make a Shaw Brothers kung fu film titled The Five Venoms. It also would be known as The Five Deadly Venoms and Five Poisons, the latter being a direct translation of the movie’s Chinese title. Now here’s the rub: Five Venoms actually featured eight venoms. So if there really were eight venoms, why are only five reflected in the title? The answer is complicated — and confusing. The five venoms and the actors who played them were Scorpion Gai Ji (Sun Chien), Toad Liang Shen (Lo Meng), Centipede Zhang Yiao-tian (Lu Feng), Snake Qi Dong (Wei Bai) and Gecko Meng Tian-xia (Kuo Chue). The other three venoms didn’t have associated animals. They were Yang De (Chiang Sheng), the head of Venom House (Dick Wei) and the bookkeeper (Ku Feng). The actors who portrayed the five venoms appeared together in only three other films: The Kid With the Golden Arm (1979), Invincible Shaolin (1978) and The Brave Archer II (1978), the last of which was shot before Five Venoms. Yet an additional 16 movies were released in America under the banner of “films that featured the five venoms.” Keep reading to find out how that came to be. Read all about the Five Venoms and the other films mentioned in this article in Dr. Craig D. Reid's book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors. Order it now on Amazon.com! In the late 1970s, kung fu films were on the decline. After all, the king of martial arts cinema — Bruce Lee — had died in 1973, and no one had been able to fill his shoes. Furthermore, drive-ins — the outdoor theaters where kung fu films ruled — were waning. Then out of nowhere, cable TV appeared. Scores of just-launched channels began searching for programs to attract audiences, and they were willing to accept movies that network-TV execs would never deem acceptable. Cable distributors decided the solution to this problem lay with the studio that started the kung fu craze in the USA: Shaw Brothers. They immediately began asking which English-dubbed offerings were available. At the top of the list were Five Venoms, Golden Arm, The Master Killer and Chinatown Kid. Each one wound up getting lots of cable-TV airtime in the afternoon and late at night, but it was Five Venoms that had the biggest impact. Download a free guide titled “Jim Kelly: Martial Artist and Co-Star of the Bruce Lee Movie Enter the Dragon — A Vintage Interview.” Just click here! American video distributors quickly keyed into that popularity and began buying rights for films that featured those kung fu stars. The sixth venom actor, Chiang, became a replacement for one of the original five, Wei Bai. So the first follow-up film that was advertised as featuring the five venoms — Crippled Avengers in 1978 — was conveniently renamed Return of the Five Deadly Venoms. Wei suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder that causes uncontrollable motor and vocal tics. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to control the outbursts on camera. Consequently, his last appearance with the four venoms was in Golden Arm, and even by then, his martial skills were fading. It was fortuitous that Wei used a sword during his fights in Golden Arm because it minimized the direct body contact he had with the stuntmen. That, in turn, lowered the frequency of tics on the set.

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Secret symbols of power, martial arts-practicing heroes and villains, societies populated by outcasts — find out how this 21st-century superhero series resembles Tang-dynasty Chinese literature.

In April, I blogged about new TV shows that featured entertaining martial arts action but allowed their boldness to dwindle as seasons progressed. One of them was Arrow. When it debuted on The CW, Arrow displayed impressive weapons choreography. However, during the fall 2014 season, the combat quality waned. It eventually culminated in a highly anticipated sword fight between Arrow, aka Oliver Queen (played by Stephan Amell), and the skilled-but-ruthless leader of the League of Assassins, aka Ra's al Ghul (played by Matt Namble). It was a disappointing battle, to say the least. Arrow's expertise vanished — he seemed to forget how to move and wield a sword. Ra's appeared less skilled than a quarterback averaging 10 interceptions per game. The episode caused me to stop watching the series, but my DVR kept recording it. That prompted me to give Arrow a second chance, and once I stopped scrutinizing the fights — wow!

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