The tea before me is growing colder as I struggle to write this first post. How should I begin? Introductions have never been my strong suit, and yet you as my audience deserve better than to be plunged head-first into the world of high-flying wuxia films. This will not be the first time I have seen these movies, but it has been years since I’ve actually sat down to watch them in order to fully take in what they have to offer.
Wuxia films hold a certain sway over me that most American film genres do not. There is a certain amount of pathos and angst in the films that I will be watching, something that you can really sink your teeth into as a viewer while you sympathize with the emotional struggle of the protagonists and antagonists. The sideways glances, the lingering looks that quickly snap away manage to catch me.
I’m rarely one for such dramatics in films, yet the emotional struggle between Master Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon always manages to touch me. They are constrained by the strict codes their world is comprised of, a world that does not allow for a break in tradition: Jen, the primary protagonist, is ultimately unable to realize the life she so desperately wants, and so she commits suicide. Her bandit, the one person that stayed by her side throughout the majority of the film, is left alone.
In Hero, Nameless, the questionably heroic protagonist, sacrifices his need for vengeance in order to allow for the unification of China. What is “good” and “bad” does not matter in such films, only whether justice or lawlessness are triumphing.* And, likewise, the protagonist Po in Kung Fu Panda manages to find himself, the meaning of kung fu, and defeat the antagonist in under three hours.
Whether or not you believe that Kung Fu Panda is worthy of being among these exalted titles is beside the point: the film itself demonstrates the basics of what makes a wuxia movie, with the added bonus that this time the characters themselves are masters of the martial arts style that they physically embody. The characters also have a weight to them that wire-fu users do not, which is interesting in and of itself.
Finally, there is Kung Fu Hustle, one of my favorite Stephen Chow movies that managed to make it to the States. There is a large amount of physical comedy in the film, but often the struggles of the characters emotionally feel real while they attempt to fight back first against a powerful gang, and then against increasingly potent martial artists who are in the employ of the gang’s leader. The film itself includes numerous commentaries and in jokes about wuxia films, such as a scene in which a man is trying to sell off martial arts pamphlets that will unlock the secrets of kung fu, some supernatural doings from two assassins, and amazing fight scenes from supposedly “normal” folks. It’s not necessarily a film I expected to include, but after much thought I am glad I did!
Check back next week for my post about Hero, the Warring States Period, and color use.
*Yes, I will spend a post un-packing that blanket statement. No worries.