kung fu films

Enjoy our entertainment blogger's examination of the origins and evolution of the martial arts-inspired action in the seven Star Wars movies.

In Part One of this blog, I noted that the sword fights from the first six Star Wars films were superior to those of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. Fans of the films claim that because of executive producer George Lucas' love of early Japanese chanbara films, the lightsaber duels, the force and the amazing fighting skills of the Jedi — which were based on kendo, ki (chi in Chinese) and samurai/Errol Flynn films, respectively — were emphasized. Studying the evolution of the lightsaber duels throughout the original trilogy served as a basis for determining the extent of kendo's real and fake influence. With Luke Skywalker using telekinesis in The Empire Strikes Back, it begged the question, Was this the force? My "yes" answer was revealed in that blog, and my "no" answer will be expounded here.

Keep Reading Show less
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

In addition to appearing in three Bruce Lee classics, Tony Liu portrayed in four films a Chinese emperor who had a great impact on the way the martial arts evolved in China and around the world.

This blog post will test your knowledge of kung fu films, challenge your understanding of who’s had the greatest impact on the development of Chinese martial arts movies and maybe even cause you to examine your kung fu film “nerd quotient.” My first question is, What ever happened to Tony? Tony the Tiger? No, but he was g-r-reat! Tony Jaa? Too much of a suit-and-Thai guy to be linked to Chinese cinema. How about To Ni? Nah, he was a background actor often seen in old films but rarely credited. My question refers to the first actor to bear the brunt of Bruce Lee's iconic death blow: Tony Liu, aka Liu Yong.

Keep Reading Show less

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.

Keep Reading Show less

Revisit the Academy Award-winning martial arts movie that educated the West and changed history.

Although numerous renowned directors cumulatively made more than 800 wuxia movies, none had much of an impact on the growth of kung fu films in the West until a Taiwanese film auteur named Ang Lee entered the picture. He’s the man behind the first and only motion picture to take this art form to Small Town, America. Known for art-house movies such as Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997) and Ride With the Devil (1999), Lee left behind all that was familiar to him as he ventured into the production of the high-flying and wildly outrageous Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Lee said it was like "having John Wayne speaking Chinese in a Western." Based on part of a multivolume, several-thousand-page novel written by Wang Du-lu in the early 1930s, Crouching Tiger is a tale of defiance, duplicity, righteousness and destiny told through the interwoven lives of two women, Yu Shu (Michelle Yeoh) and Jen (Zhang Zi-yi). Along the way, they suffer the torment of undeclared love and are forced to endure the theft of Green Destiny, an ancient and powerful sword. To Western viewers in 2001, the year the movie received wide release in the USA, the sword lore of Crouching Tiger was terra incognita. In a nutshell: Chinese legend holds that each blade has a spirit that sings after it's tasted blood. In the movie, this was brought to life in the form of an overemphasized resonating schwing that was heard whenever a sword was drawn. This was just one of the elements Lee chose when he decided to blend Eastern physical grace and action with American performance intensity and the behavioral subtleties and nuances of European cinema. "Since I grew up with kung fu films, I had to update them in my own fashion," Lee said. “Martial arts films have gone away from the dramatic because you spend 80 percent of your budget and time on martial arts things. It's almost impossible to have both drama and martial arts. Even in the martial arts scenes, it's very difficult and could be dangerous to the actors who have to think about acting while hitting each other in a precise way."

Keep Reading Show less

With the talent behind it, Jupiter Ascending could have been another Matrix. However, its action scenes and fight sequences weren't quite up to par.

What do you get when you cross The Matrix (1999) with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and then create a universe steeped in contrived genetic science? Jupiter Ascending, of course. Big-budget sci-fi often does well at the box office, but Jupiter Ascending’s $179 million budget wasn’t enough to prevent a disastrous opening weekend that grossed just $19 million and set off sirens that were loud and clear in Hollywood: With all the superhero films that are bludgeoning our brains with expensive computer-enhanced special effects, is the public on the verge of losing interest in such cinematic spectacles? The next Star Wars film might be the genre’s savior — or it could be the final nail in the seen-it-before coffin. What Wars filmmakers and all the others should be talking about is whether a reliance on green screens and motion capture is making fight scenes less gutsy, less physical and less technical. It’s obvious that the fine art of fight choreography is being underappreciated and shortchanged.

Keep Reading Show less
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter