What is Wuxia, and is it the Future of Martial Arts Entertainment?
While superheroes often use martial arts, whether superpowered or not, there really isn't a place where martial arts heroes and stories are told exclusively. That is changing. Recently, I spoke with Peter Shiao the founder and CEO of Immortal Studios. Immortal Studios is a multiplatform entertainment company specializing in wuxia. In addition to a love of the genre, Shiao has a resume that is more than appropriate for his position, “I was a film producer with my own film company and my own film fund. I was also the head of content for the Shaolin Temple… I worked inside the temple on all of their global content and cultural initiatives including movies, television, games, live events, and museum exhibits.”
Immortal Studios is a company with a unique perspective and purpose. What is so different you may ask? Shiao describes Immortal’s mission, “We’re building the world’s first interconnected martial arts fantasy storyverse.” Shiao expands further on the company's objective, “Martial arts fantasy as in wuxia, so it's more of a far-east, in Chinese, in origin. This is where the original myth of Kung Fu started, so we're building the world’s first interconnected storyverse in the wuxia genre. And the goal is to bring together all the various influences that have ever existed in the genre under one roof, in a shared universe. And we’re doing it through comics first before going into other media.”
What is Wuxia?
For those that may not be familiar, I asked Shiao to clarify what wuxia is, “Wuxia is the martial-hero genre. This is the classic story of the making of the hero in the martial arts fantasy tradition.” What are some examples of wuxia? “If you trace the influences, Dragon Ball Z is wuxia, Naruto. In fact, most of the manga titles that do very well. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, Star Wars. These are all classic wuxia titles where the influence is inarguable. It’s non-controversially derived from wuxia.”
Wuxia is not just an artistic interest or business pursuit for Shiao, it is his legacy.“My father, whose name is Shiao Yi, is one of the legends in the genre. He’s created 61 novels, 31 of them have been made into film and television shows in Asia. So, when I created Immortal, I actually licensed his entire library of works.” And Shiao’s lineage provides him with a unique perspective regarding the next step for wuxia. “I believe that people are looking for something evolutionary and also authentic. It’s not something that’s made up by a creator that took martial arts lessons, you know, for three weeks. This is like thousands of years of collected wisdom and practice and authenticity.”
With a legendary body of work to choose from, Immortal Studios is poised to be a force to be reckoned with in entertainment. The focus on superhero and martial arts-oriented films has increased over the past decade, but still one may question: is the general public ready for wuxia-based entertainment? “I think it’s a warm-up. The Shang-Chi response has been amazing, right? And One-Punch Man is being made at Sony, Cobra Kai is clearly resurging, Warrior is on its fourth season* Kung Fu is going on its third season, so clearly the genre is having, not just a moment, it's having a major comeback. But there’s no shared universe, so for the diehard fan, which is probably present company, are you going to follow one story within one milieu? Or do you want to have an expanded perspective, where all those influences, as we’re doing it, is present in a shared universe, where you can really dive in, in an amazing way for the next 50 years?”
Even though Immortal Studios produces comic book titles including, Chronicles of the Immortal Swordsmen, The Adept, and has recently launched, Assassin G, the goal for Shiao is not just to be another comic book company. He has a vision far beyond one media, “The comic books are just one of the four legs of our table, if you will. We’re leaving no audience segment untouched.” The metaphoric four legs that Shiao refers to are: comic books, films, games, and metaverse. However, comics are an important part of Immortal Studios, and they have been successful. “We launched with The Adept over a year and a half ago, and it became one of the best-selling single-issue comics ever on Kickstarter. We’re off to a great start.”
The Birth of A New Universe
For Shiao and Immortal Studios it has been a very deliberate building process to bring wuxia into its own universe, and he has been using a disciplined approach akin to a martial arts student building their skills through fundamental practice, “Basically, we’ve been laying the groundwork…it’s been the horse stance, right?” Shiao continues, “We’ve been getting the foundational pieces right. We’re also building our team, our fanbase, just getting our stories out there. And now that it’s been successfully laid, I think we’re about to hit that moment, I would say this fall.”
It should be understood, that for Shiao, Immortal Studios is not just a business opportunity or a niche marketing idea. It is a far deeper commitment.“It’s not a passing fancy. This is something that has taken me my entire life. I was born into it. It’s amazing. It’s fun. It’s also what I see as a lineage holder. I consider myself a lineage holder in the wuxia tradition. So, it’s not a passing fancy. It’s something I’m thinking about for the next thousand years. Because it comes from somewhere. This is a real tradition and it stands for a lot. It’s not just me. I’m literally standing on the shoulders of giants, like my father, and others in the Shaolin temple, and this real body of knowledge that has shaped my life. Inasmuch as it’s fun, it’s exciting, it's also about kind of creating, extending the authenticity of it so that the world can enjoy in it.”
You can check out the latest releases and information about Immortal Studios here: https://www.immortal-studios.com/
*Warrior Season 3 is in production now and will air on HBO Max.
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