a brief history of kung fu movie in the cinema

With action sequences that are hailed as some of the best in Marvel Cinematic Universe history, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are poised to overtake Black Widow as the greatest film in the pandemic.

A hit with critics and audiences alike, many commentators praise the cast of Shang-Chi and, in particular, the performance of Hong Kong film legend Tony Leung Chiu-wai, for helping to breathe new life into a Marvel formula. familiar.

Given the enormous challenge of presenting a film of this caliber with a kung fu master as the central character, it was imperative that the filmmakers produce authentic fight scenes that could rub shoulders with the classics and feature better action than the genre. can offer.

Tracing across China, Hong Kong and Hollywood, martial arts films have a history almost as long as the cinema itself. This story is presented in an exciting way to Shang-Chi and will cement the film’s position in the history of kung fu cinema.

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Birth of the kung fu genre and the first boom

Beginning with Shanghai productions in the 1920s, early martial arts films were influenced by Chinese opera and wuxia novels: narratives set in ancient China focusing on heroes with abilities to supernatural martial arts. The fight scenes in these early films emphasized fluid dramatized movements, but rarely showed true martial arts skills.

That changed with the transformation of Hong Kong cinema in the 1970s. Resisting the fantastic elements of the wuxia style, local studios Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest incorporated true martial artists into their films.

With this movement, the kung fu genre was born.

Popular titles of the time like Five Deadly Venoms (1978) and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) were classics, and Bruce Lee’s films brought kung fu to the world’s attention.

Lee’s intense and realistic fighting style, as shown in films like The Big Boss (1971) and Enter the Dragon (1973), sparked an international obsession with the art of kung fu, although international fans have often had to deal with poor quality dubbing. and pirate videos.

After Lee’s untimely death in 1973, the genre shifted from presenting a fierce physique to a more acrobatic and comedic approach, as in Drunken Master (1978) and The Magnificent Butcher (1979) with, respectively, Jackie. Chan and his China Drama Academy. “brother”, Sammo Hung.

Hong Kong cinema entered its golden age in the 1980s and 1990s. At this time, contemporary kung fu classics like Chan’s Police Story (1985) complimented popular historical films such as Jet Li’s Tai Chi Master. (1993) and Iron Monkey by Donnie Yen (1993).

The second boom

In the late 1990s, when Hong Kong was handed over to China, many industry figures moved to Hollywood.

With films like Chan’s Rush Hour (1998) and Shanghai Noon (2000), and Li’s Romeo Must Die (2000) and The One (2001), English-speaking fans could finally see kung fu movies on the big screen without needing to of subtitles. .

The famous martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping has also lent his talents to international productions, allowing kung fu to find its place in hits like The Matrix (1999) and Kill Bill (2003).

In 2000, Chinese blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon showed that modern international audiences now have an appetite for the elaborate swordplay and gravity-defying spinning of wuxia films, and many stars have returned to China to capitalize on the trend.

Jet Li’s Hero (2002) and Fearless (2006), as well as House of Flying Daggers (2004) and the first film starring both Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Forbidden Kingdom (2008), all helped redefine the film. martial arts: bringing the power of the stars and a global audience to an industry that until then had largely received only local attention.

These made-in-China films focused on producing stylish wuxia action dramas. In Hong Kong, kung fu was as strong as ever, thanks in large part to the hugely popular comedies by Stephen Chow, Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004), and Ip Man (2008) by Donnie Yen.

Shang-Chi: the first Asian superhero

In many ways, the Shang-Chi character can be seen as Bruce Lee’s cultural successor. Created at the height of Lee’s global film obsession, the character of Shang-Chi first appeared in Marvel comics in December 1973, just months after the legendary actor’s death.

“Marvel’s other kung fu hero,” Iron Fist from the 2017 Netflix series of the same name, was controversial. The star, Finn Jones, lacked martial arts experience and the series has been criticized for its “white savior” tale.

In light of this, the producers of Shang-Chi were keen to assemble a predominantly Asian and Asian-American crew and crew that could do justice to the first Asian superhero to headline a Marvel feature.

It paid off: Shang-Chi is being hailed both as a classic Marvel superhero movie and as an outstanding kung fu movie in its own right.

Under the direction of combat director Andy Cheng and stunt coordinator Brad Allan, the film draws on a range of different styles, including wing chun, Shaolin kung fu, bajiquan and hung ga positions, and rings. iron from which the film takes its title.

Hollywood is far from declaring Lee “too authentic” to star in the original 1970s Kung Fu television series. Shang-Chi is likely to inspire a whole new generation of kung fu movie fans.

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