Welcome to my regular blog on all things combative. Periodically I’ll be posting articles on stage combat, action cinema and martial arts. This time…
Hong Kong Cinema
Why celebrate Hong Kong or eastern cinema at all? Quite simply because it’s the reason I do what I do. I love Kung Fu and, even though I’ve had a family association with martial arts since childhood, Hong Kong cinema is still my inspiration. Even today I believe it is the east that leads the way in the action/entertainment industry. Films emerging from Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Thailand seem to be innovative in this area. I know that people question the safety (and the regulations are different) but, my word, check out the results!
You know that when you watch Donnie Yen he is a not just an actor playing a role, he is a true martial artist. He is also spreading his influence throughout the entire process in collaboration with director, producer, first AD and cinematographer. An artist such as Yuen Woo Ping could be Director, Stunt Co-ordinator and Fight Choreographer on the same project. The Hong Kong stunt teams and action stars work very closely together, they will spend a great deal of time (and money) to get what they want and they angle shots differently. These Hong Kong stunt teams are essentially striking each other but doing so without the delivery of power. They show superb control and can do this because of training in various disciplines since childhood.
Harrison Ford has reportedly hit Ryan Gosling in a fight scene during the filming of the new Blade Runner movie. It grabs headlines because of who they are but, in my humble opinion, the fault does not necessarily lie with the actor. Actors, skilled performers and stunt teams should be safe and looked after by the relevant people. The truth is that stunt performers take minor knocks sometimes and we never hear about them, although we do hear about the occasional death (Joi Harris working on Deadpool 2 for example). The truth is that the demands on actors are ever increasing in this regard – just consider the action in the new Bond films, the Mission Impossible series and the Bourne films. Actors probably wouldn’t be asked to do motorbike chases or jumps from tall buildings, but we can’t be cutting away every time we film a fight – actors do need to throw punches and a take a fall occasionally.
Iconic! Legendary! Unique! The first genuine Asian star in the western world. What the fight game owes to this man is incalculable. Bruce Lee was the first actor to bring pure Wing Chun to the silver screen, and he was doing MMA long before we even had a name for it. Despite his charisma and appeal the man was more than just a martial artist. He was a philosopher, a family man, activist, writer, teacher, actor and even a ballroom dancer. Bruce was (still is) a manifestation of the eastern philosophy of self improvement. At its heart, Kung Fu is not simply about kicking butt, it really is a way of life, and visiting Hong Kong and southern China for training helped me consolidate that theory. It truly is the pursuit of perfection in everything you do without the promise of ever achieving it.
Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Lam Ching-Ying
Heavily influenced by the great man came a throng of martial arts superstars to keep us entertained. These three incredible performers were also joined by the likes of Yuen Biao and Frankie Chan in a golden era for Hong Kong action cinema. They collectively punched and kicked down opponents (on and off screen) to excite and enthral way before the use of wires and CGI. These guys could do it! The powerhouse that is Sammo, the sheer athleticism of Jackie Chan, the speed of Yuen Biao and the all-round technical graceful brilliance of the late, great, Lam Ching-Ying.
Bruce Lee left a great void with his passing in the Summer of 1973 and Hong Kong audiences were not yet ready to embrace a young pretender, but that mantle rested firmly with the wonderful Jackie Chan. Many had tried and failed before him as the big studios clambered for ‘the new Bruce’. Indeed Jackie himself, an anonymous stuntman during much of Bruce Lee’s career, struggled to make a mark as an action star in the early days. It was a change in audience and filmmaker psychology that opened the door for Jackie. They had to grieve for the first global Asian superstar. They also had to accept that the king was dead and that the new king, whoever that may be, was not going to be ‘better’ but simply different. Whisper it quietly but in many ways Jackie’s abilities do surpass Bruce’s, he is certainly a far more adept actor – even if his martial skills fall below that of his predecessor.
My love of Kung Fu
So here we come full-circle. My Sifu tells me “you become what you do” and there’s so much depth to that. It is a life-long pursuit and you must work and think about it everyday in order to progress. A fairly basic interpretation of the words ‘Kung Fu’ would be ‘hard work towards improvement and refinement’, and I suppose we can apply that to all walks of life.