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When you talk about Transcultural Movies of kung Fu and Western Culture is what I called “American Chinese Film. Kung Fu is said to be the physical and Mentally defense of oneself safe from an external attract, it also constitute of the mind and the spirit. In addition, would say it enhance the control of the physical through the spiritual.

In Ancient time, as in the days of Bruce and many others we saw a basically typical Chinese movie without the mixture of the western culture. Kung Fu has a wide array of tactics such as: martial art, monkey style, eagle style, snake style, Buda palm, and many more we seem in movies.

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Late 20th and early 21st centuries the mixture between the original kung fu and western culture came up. Firstly, Kung Fu originated from Chinese people while the pioneer of the western culture is the British, American among host of other. One of the first people or actor that fuse western culture into original Chinese movies is Jackie Chang. In fact, I would say He’s one of the front liners in American Chinese Film. He also introduces some comedy to his movies, which gave a lot of international awards and recognition.

The use of Chinese martial arts for military strategy and as a subject for scholarship dates back at least as far as the Zhuzi Baijia (the various schools of thought from pre-Qin to early Han Dynasty), and is recorded in military texts of the Warring States period.

Traditional Chinese theories of natural science and religion, along with legends, customs, and pictographic symbols, have been incorporated into Chinese martial arts, extending their range beyond mere military or self-defense purposes into a form of knowledge.

Throughout the evolution of martial arts, emphasis has been placed on self-strengthening, therapeutic exercise, and performance. Music, dance, and acrobatics combined with martial arts occupy an important place in Chinese theater. Even non–martial arts actors have been required to train in martial arts in order to develop and refine their body movements. The martial arts have also been adapted into ceremonial Chinese celebrations, such as lion dancing and dragon dancing, and are common elements in street theater performance.

Cinematic Models

The Chinese film industry was founded soon after the turn of the century, when traditional values — under siege by Western culture — faced annihilation. Interest in authentic martial arts, both as cultural component and daily practice, was in decline. Early cinematic depictions instead relied on stage bound, artificial, inauthentic elements, informed by the supernatural — characters were sword sorcerers, threw magic darts, possessed palm power, and pretended to fly with the obvious help of wires. The first major success in the genre was Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery (1928), but authentic Chinese martial arts were largely missing from the screen until the Cantonese film industry of Hong Kong produced the first Wong Fei Hong film in 1949.

The Wong Fei Hong Films

Wong Fei Hong was a famous martial artist and doctor of the late Qing Dynasty and early Republican China. Although Wong died in 1924, he is lovingly remembered as a legendary folk hero — largely because of the success of the Cantonese films that have maintained the legend.

Between 1949 and 1959, at least 62 Wong Fei Hong films were produced. They rejected the fantastic, stage-driven elements of the earlier martial arts films in favor of proper martial arts forms, genuine weapons, and authentic Chinese styles. Kwan Tak-hing, who played Wong in all these films, and Shek Kihn, who played his arch rival (best known to Western audiences as Bruce Lee’s nemesis Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon), was both trained martial artists. The Wong Fei Hong films’ use of true martial arts established the role of the martial arts instructor as an indispensable member of the production team. Aside from their tremendous success, the series helped document, promote, and preserve authentic Chinese martial arts.

Wu Xia Pian

The Mandarin term wu xia pian originally referred to the genre of martial arts films. “Wu xia” means chivalrous combat, and “pian” means film. While the Wong Fei Hong films, with their righteous values and moralistic messages, typify the classic wu xia pian, the term would eventually, through popular usage, include post–Wong Fei Hong films that contained gratuitous violence and non-chivalrous combat. The unarmed combat film would not be distinguished from swordplay and armed combat films until much later, with the advent of the kung fu film in the 1970s.

Mandarin vs. Cantonese

During the Sino-Japanese war and the subsequent civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, mainland Mandarin film talent (much of it centered in Shanghai) relocated to Hong Kong. With their combination of ambition and superior filmmaking ability, the Mandarin ?migr?s rapidly superseded their Hong Kong Cantonese counterparts, and their success helped Hong Kong compensate for the loss of mainland China as a market.

It’s important to understand the Mandarin/Cantonese distinction. The terms refer to different dialects of the spoken Chinese language. The signification of the written language is, however, universally recognized among all dialects. Thus in the early days of Chinese silent films (with Chinese text), no differentiation existed between dialects. With the advent of sound, the recorded voice had to be in either the Cantonese or the Mandarin dialect. Despite the aural differentiation, Chinese subtitles allow both markets access to the films. Cantonese and Mandarin cinema share the same market and should be understand as “competing studios” rather than as cinemas from different countries.

Mandarin Martial Arts Film

Hong Kong’s Mandarin-dominated cinema had traditionally disdained the violence of the wu xia pian (including the Cantonese Wong Fei Hong films) and prided itself on the wen yi pian, or “literary arts films,” melodramas or adaptations of novels and plays. By the 1960s, Hong Kong society had become a hybrid of new and old ideologies and East/West cultures. Filmgoers demanded fresher subjects — demands to which Mandarin filmmakers responded by creating a new kind of martial arts film that incorporated special effects and other innovations.

The new genre was launched by films such as Li Hanxing’s Enchanting Shadow (1960), which included blaring sound effects to create suspense, and Yue Feng’s The Swallow (1961), which used a trampoline to impart the illusion of weightless leaps by actors. This film also utilized a number of shots printed in reverse motion.

By 1966, this genre had reached maturity with King Hu’s Come Drink with Me, made for Shaw Brothers Productions (the Shaw Brothers were part of the Mandarin-speaking Shanghai filmmaking talent that relocated to Hong Kong). This film captured the elegance of ancient Chinese martial artistry through inventive cinematic techniques. Chang Cheh’s Magnificent Trio, appearing the same year, showed the influence of Japanese Samurai films. By 1967, the martial arts genre dominated the cinema of Hong Kong. King Hu and Chang Cheh continued to excel as directors of the genre with, respectively, Dragon Gate Inn and The One-Armed Swordsman.

The Mandarin martial arts films set the tone for much of Hong Kong’s present-day historical and fantastic films, using settings far removed from today to provide an uninhibited romantic vision of the world of martial arts. In addition to their cinematic innovations, King Hu and Chang Cheh provided new codes of behavior for their characters. Moving away from Wong Fei Hong’s Confucian attitudes, the films tended toward the Buddhist and Taoist. While earlier wu xia pian presented complex relationships and a careful causality of events, the Mandarin martial arts films emphasized sword-based combat, romance, and the fantastic, with fights erupting on the slimmest excuse. Full of bloodshed, the presentation of the duel was the highlight of the films, and the martial arts swordsman hero was a key element in the formula.

The Cultural Revolution

The resurgence of the martial arts film in the 1960s coincided with China’s Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong also experienced violence and social upheaval, and the fights onscreen mirrored those on the city’s streets. In 1967, even the Cantonese-produced Wong Fei Hong films returned to join in the struggle, to protect “the moral and the orthodox.” This historic series ceased production again around 1970 and Cantonese cinema waned substantially soon after.

1970s, Bruce Lee ; the Kung Fu Film

This article originally appeared in issue 13 (1994) of our discontinued print edition. This issue, devoted entirely to Hong Kong cinema, has been used as course material in university film studies classes and has been cited in several scholarly articles. Long out of print, the entire issue is now available online. See the table of contents below.

Alive and Kicking: The Kung Fu Film Is a Legend

Achievement and Crisis: Hong Kong Cinema in the ’80s

An Evening with Jackie Chan

A Brief Historical Tour of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Film

Swordsman II and The East Is Red: The “Hong Kong Film,” Entertainment, and Gender

Interview with John Woo

A Better Tomorrow? American Masochism and Hong Kong Action Films

Chinese Historical Eras

1500-1100 BC: Shang or Yin Kingdom

1100-722 BC: Early Chou Period

722-481 BC: Ch’un Ch’iu Period

481-221 BC: Warring States Period

221-206 BC: Ch’in Dynasty

206 BC-221 AD: Han Dynasty

221-265 AD: Three Kingdoms (San Kuo)

265-315: Tsin Dynasty

316-589: Northern and Southern Empires (Nan Pei Chao)

589-618: Sui Dynasty

618-907: T’ang Dynasty

907-960: Five Dynasty Period (Wu Tai)

960-1127: Sung Dynasty

1127-1280: Kin and Southern Sung Dynasties

1280-1368: Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty

1368-1644: Ming Dynasty

1644-1911: Ch’ing (Manchu) Dynasty

1911-present: Republic

The use of Chinese martial arts for military strategy and as a subject for scholarship dates back at least as far as the Zhuzi Baijia (the various schools of thought from pre-Qin to early Han Dynasty), and is recorded in military texts of the Warring States period.

Traditional Chinese theories of natural science and religion, along with legends, customs, and pictographic symbols, have been incorporated into Chinese martial arts, extending their range beyond mere military or self-defense purposes into a form of knowledge.

Throughout the evolution of martial arts, emphasis has been placed on self-strengthening, therapeutic exercise, and performance. Music, dance, and acrobatics combined with martial arts occupy an important place in Chinese theater. Even non–martial arts actors have been required to train in martial arts in order to develop and refine their body movements. The martial arts have also been adapted into ceremonial Chinese celebrations, such as lion dancing and dragon dancing, and are common elements in street theater performance.

Jet Li

Cinematic Models

The Chinese film industry was founded soon after the turn of the century, when traditional values — under siege by Western culture — faced annihilation. Interest in authentic martial arts, both as cultural component and daily practice, was in decline. Early cinematic depictions instead relied on stagebound, artificial, inauthentic elements, informed by the supernatural — characters were sword sorcerers, threw magic darts, possessed palm power, and pretended to fly with the obvious help of wires. The first major success in the genre was Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery (1928), but authentic Chinese martial arts were largely missing from the screen until the Cantonese film industry of Hong Kong produced the first Wong Fei Hong film in 1949.

The Wong Fei Hong Films

Wong Fei Hong was a famous martial artist and doctor of the late Qing Dynasty and early Republican China. Although Wong died in 1924, he is lovingly remembered as a legendary folk hero — largely because of the success of the Cantonese films that have maintained the legend.

Between 1949 and 1959, at least 62 Wong Fei Hong films were produced. They rejected the fantastic, stage-driven elements of the earlier martial arts films in favor of proper martial arts forms, genuine weapons, and authentic Chinese styles. Kwan Tak-hing, who played Wong in all these films, and Shek Kihn, who played his arch rival (best known to Western audiences as Bruce Lee’s nemesis Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon), were both trained martial artists. The Wong Fei Hong films’ use of true martial arts established the role of the martial arts instructor as an indispensable member of the production team. Aside from their tremendous success, the series helped document, promote, and preserve authentic Chinese martial arts.

Dragon Inn

Wu Xia Pian

The Mandarin term wu xia pian originally referred to the genre of martial arts films. “Wu xia” means chivalrous combat, and “pian” means film. While the Wong Fei Hong films, with their righteous values and moralistic messages, typify the classic wu xia pian, the term would eventually, through popular usage, include post–Wong Fei Hong films that contained gratuitous violence and non-chivalrous combat. The unarmed combat film would not be distinguished from swordplay and armed combat films until much later, with the advent of the kung fu film in the 1970s.

Mandarin vs. Cantonese

During the Sino-Japanese war and the subsequent civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, mainland Mandarin film talent (much of it centered in Shanghai) relocated to Hong Kong. With their combination of ambition and superior filmmaking ability, the Mandarin ?migr?s rapidly superseded their Hong Kong Cantonese counterparts, and their success helped Hong Kong compensate for the loss of mainland China as a market.

It’s important to understand the Mandarin/Cantonese distinction. The terms refer to different dialects of the spoken Chinese language. The signification of the written language is, however, universally recognized among all dialects. Thus in the early days of Chinese silent films (with Chinese text), no differentiation existed between dialects. With the advent of sound, the recorded voice had to be in either the Cantonese or the Mandarin dialect. Despite the aural differentiation, Chinese subtitles allow both markets access to the films. Cantonese and Mandarin cinema share the same market and should be understand as “competing studios” rather than as cinemas from different countries.

Mandarin Martial Arts Film

Hong Kong’s Mandarin-dominated cinema had traditionally disdained the violence of the wu xia pian (including the Cantonese Wong Fei Hong films) and prided itself on the wen yi pian, or “literary arts films,” melodramas or adaptations of novels and plays. By the 1960s, Hong Kong society had become a hybrid of new and old ideologies and East/West cultures. Filmgoers demanded fresher subjects — demands to which Mandarin filmmakers responded by creating a new kind of martial arts film that incorporated special effects and other innovations.

The new genre was launched by films such as Li Hanxing’s Enchanting Shadow (1960), which included blaring sound effects to create suspense, and Yue Feng’s The Swallow (1961), which used a trampoline to impart the illusion of weightless leaps by actors. This film also utilized a number of shots printed in reverse motion.

By 1966, this genre had reached maturity with King Hu’s Come Drink with Me, made for Shaw Brothers Productions (the Shaw Brothers were part of the Mandarin-speaking Shanghai filmmaking talent that relocated to Hong Kong). This film captured the elegance of ancient Chinese martial artistry through inventive cinematic techniques. Chang Cheh’s Magnificent Trio, appearing the same year, showed the influence of Japanese Samurai films. By 1967, the martial arts genre dominated the cinema of Hong Kong. King Hu and Chang Cheh continued to excel as directors of the genre with, respectively, Dragon Gate Inn and The One-Armed Swordsman.

The Mandarin martial arts films set the tone for much of Hong Kong’s present-day historical and fantastic films, using settings far removed from today to provide an uninhibited romantic vision of the world of martial arts. In addition to their cinematic innovations, King Hu and Chang Cheh provided new codes of behavior for their characters. Moving away from Wong Fei Hong’s Confucian attitudes, the films tended toward the Buddhist and Taoist. While earlier wu xia pian presented complex relationships and a careful causality of events, the Mandarin martial arts films emphasized sword-based combat, romance, and the fantastic, with fights erupting on the slimmest excuse. Full of bloodshed, the presentation of the duel was the highlight of the films, and the martial arts swordsman hero was a key element in the formula.

The Cultural Revolution

The resurgence of the martial arts film in the 1960s coincided with China’s Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong also experienced violence and social upheaval, and the fights onscreen mirrored those on the city’s streets. In 1967, even the Cantonese-produced Wong Fei Hong films returned to join in the struggle, to protect “the moral and the orthodox.” This historic series ceased production again around 1970 and Cantonese cinema waned substantially soon after.

1970s, Bruce Lee ; the Kung Fu Film

Bruce Lee

In the 1970s, the wu xia pian changed its emphasis from bloody swordplay to unarmed combat. Fighting styles therefore came to depend less on cinematic technique and more on plausibility. While this represented a return to more credible, authentic martial arts, the terms were much different than in the early Wong Fei Hong films.

Training, victory, and vindication were new themes. In The Chinese Boxer (1970), directed by and starring Wang Yu, torturous training leads the hero to a victory over Japanese judo and karate experts. Lo Wei’s 1971 The Big Boss portrayed the struggles of a Chinese individual in a foreign land (Thailand) and focused on the theme of asserting personal respect, dignity, and identity. The Big Boss marked substantial changes to the genre — set in the present rather than the historical past, the presentation of martial arts incorporated many different forms including Thai and Western boxing, and judo. This mix would be standard for subsequent films. Most importantly, The Big Boss introduced Bruce Lee to the martial arts genre.

As an exceptional martial artist, Lee’s ability to synthesize various national martial techniques sparked a new trend in unarmed combat martial arts films. His talent shifted the focus from martial arts director to martial arts actor.

The term “kung fu films” came into general use along with the films of Bruce Lee and was used to refer to unarmed combat films. While wu xia pian is Mandarin, “kung fu” is from Cantonese vernacular. The kung fu film is thus unique in Hong Kong cinema — with the term itself in the local dialect, the genre was named as the territory’s very own. Even on this cultural level, Bruce Lee can be credited with bringing the martial arts film and Hong Kong cinema to international prominence.

Martial Arts Films After Bruce Lee

While the Cantonese cinema directed its energies toward television and comedy, Mandarin cinema sought new ideas for the genre after Bruce Lee’s death. One development was the exploration of traditional Chinese martial arts techniques. Films in this vein drew heavily on Guangdong heroes and the Shaolin tradition, enriching them for the cinema with Northern opera techniques and acrobatics. The series began with Heroes Two (1974) and continued successfully with Men from the Monastery (1974) and Shaolin Martial Arts (1974), among others. These films introduced martial arts techniques in vivid detail; Heroes Two began with a brief documentary explaining the three fist styles introduced in the film, an innovation attributed to martial arts director Lau Kar Leung.

The Martial Arts Instructor as Film Director

Most professional directors were not actually familiar with martial arts techniques, and even the great films of director King Hu and Bruce Lee required the help of martial arts directors such as Sammo Hung and Han Ying Chieh. With the emphasis on martial arts techniques as the new backbone of the genre, contributions from actual martial artists became increasingly significant. Martial arts instructors soon not only arranged fight scenes, but planned shots, essentially taking over the role of director in some cases.

Southern-Style Kung Fu: Lau Kar Leung

Lau Kar Leung began martial arts training with his father at age nine, and at sixteen began playing roles in the Cantonese Wong Fei Hong films. Lau pioneered the exploration of authentic martial arts techniques and training procedures, and he became the first instructor to make the jump to director. With the growing popularity of the comedy genre in television and the films of the Hui brothers, comedy seemed an inevitable addition to martial arts. Lau’s Spiritual Boxer (1975), which showcased Southern techniques, followed by Karl Maka’s The Good The Bad and The Loser (1976), heavily influenced by Western cinema, are regarded as the first kung fu comedies. The Shaolin-derived kung fu styles in Lau’s films are prime examples of the practical combative aspects of Southern style kung fu.

Northern-Style Kung Fu: Yuen Woo Ping

The Northern style kung fu comedy developed about the same time as its southern counterpart. More acrobatic and performance oriented, Northern style fighting originated in the Peking Opera. Although the first film to utilize comedy elements in the Northern-style stage tradition was Sammo Hung’s directorial debut The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977), it was Yuen Woo Ping’s films that marked the true birth of this style.

Transcultural between chinese and western in movie is usually common through the advent of film produced by both chinese and western producers. The chinese traditional film we use to know is the introduction of some martial arts form: tai chi, kung fu and many. But the western counterpart is know for their guns and other form of wrestling fighting and boxing in their film. Transculture comes in as the mixture between martial and guns in movies. In this century, we’ve seen majority movies that comprises of both kung fu and western.Example of actors in such film are Jet Li, Jackie Chan and many more.
Let’s use the Matrix Reloaded as an illustration in this Research.
Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

Keanu Reeves’, Carrie-Anne Moss’, and Laurence Fishburne’s leather-and-latex-clad heroes return in this highly anticipated first sequel to the 1999 blockbuster (a third, and final, chapter follows in November). Here, the good guys journey to the center of the earth to defend the City of Zion — the last human stronghold — against the Machines. The dark imagination of the Wachowskis, bleeding-edge effects, and the jolt of heat provided by new additions Jada Pinkett Smith and Monica Bellucci should make Reloaded the biggest movie of the month, if not the year.
Going into The Matrix: Reloaded, I wasn’t worried if the fight scenes or special effects would measure up to the first film—it was the metaphysics that bothered me. The first Matrix was such a neat allegory of Gnostic philosophy, I was more concerned with how the Brothers Wachowski could successfully extend the metaphor into three films than whether they could pull off even more virtuoso examples of cinematic ass-stomping. What was mindblowing about the first movie, after all, wasn’t the fight choreography or bullet time, but its brave assertion that the banal, day-to-day reality we live in isn’t the real world. In that sense, all the wire-fu was just the candy coating on the red pill the filmmakers were offering to every high school student and cubicle slave in the world. (Though, since I study martial arts myself, I found the idea of kung fu as being metaphorical for something happening in hyper-reality, a la Thibault’s mysterious circle, to be pretty darn appealing.)

Thankfully, Reloaded more than allayed my fears, even if it seems that half the reviewers either didn’t understand what the Wachowskis were getting at, or else were only paying attention during the highway chase. Watching the movie, I was personally less impressed by the fists of digital fury than by the Brothers’ evident familiarity with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the theology of Origen of Alexandria. Seen in the light of the books they’re referencing, the movie’s plot is brilliant; of course, to the non-initiate, the characters’ actions and dialogue seems arbitrary and incomprehensible, and the exposition is just filler between car crashes. It would seem, therefore, that a bit of exegesis of The Matrix: Reloaded is warranted. But be warned: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read on. There are some major spoilers.

Much like that other great Keanu Reeves vehicle, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Matrix: Reloaded centers around the hero’s journey into the Underworld. Frazier, in The Golden Bough, notes that it is a prophetess—in this case, the Oracle—who sends the hero off on his journey, from where he returns with special knowledge. And, of course, that’s just what Neo does, though it would have been a while lot more amusing if he’d had Alex Winter along. (The Oracle probably isn’t entirely benign, by the way, even though she may not consciously intend any harm: She is, after all, the one who sent Neo on the path to the Core.)

Neo’s first task is to rescue the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim, doing his best Rick Moranis impression) from the Merovingian, who is a daemon—in both senses of the word—left over from a previous version of the Matrix. (The Merovingians were the ruling Frankish dynasty; they were succeeded by Charlemagne’s family, the Carolingians, and then by the Capetians, who thought they were descended from Christ.) The guy in the health food store where I buy my granola and soy milk thinks that The Merovingian was one of Neo’s predecessors, but all the explanation I need, as well as the way I understand his obvious fascination with human pleasures, is found in Genesis 6:4—”There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them. . .” According to various sources, including Kabbalah, this mating of men and angels (here, a computer program from an earlier version of the Matrix) is what produced various monsters, such as the vampires and wraiths that serve the Merovingian. Dante, bringing a Christian sensibility to the proceedings, placed these monsters in his Inferno. Thus, though the Merovingian is sort of an antediluvian remnant of the former world, he’s also (as is shown by the fact that his wife is named Persephone) kind of like Hades, the holder of the keys to the underworld. What the Keymaker does, much like the golden bough the Sybil gives Aeneas, is open doors and permit Neo access to the underworld—or, in this case, the Core.

After the requisite battles and explosions, Neo gets into the Core and finds The Architect. Considering that The Architect built the Matrix, you might think that he’s God. Of course, he’s nothing of the sort. In Gnostic theology, it is Satan, not God, who has created the world in order to imprison humanity. It is also the Architect who is unleashing the Sentinels to destroy Zion; that is, beginning the Battle of Armageddon. It is my prediction that in the third and final film, it will be revealed that there is a power behind the Architect, and that he is the one who sent the One into the Matrix. It is also my prediction that this guy will look a lot like Neo.

The important thing is choosing what to believe from the raft of condescending exposition that the Architect inflicts on Neo. He says, basically, that though ninety-nine percent of humans believe in the illusion of the Matrix, there is that troublesome one percent (comparable to the few awakened Gnostic true believers) who refuse to believe in the created world. This tends to produce massive amounts of instability, and crashes the system. (Not coincidentally, most of the people in Zion seem to be black or Hispanic, which, besides adding a natty Rasta feel to the place, makes perfect sense: If you’re a white suburban Matrix resident, driving your Matrix SUV to your Matrix golf club, why doubt the nature of reality?) The solution is that they allow the dissidents to escape to Zion, which they can then periodically destroy. They have also created the Prophecy of the One, who is in fact a device sent by the machines into the “real” world so that his knowledge of humanity may be integrated into the system in order to further perfect the Matrix-illusion, and then allowed to re-start Zion so that the cycle can begin again. The idea of multiple creations and a cycle of created and destroyed worlds is, needless to say, also found in theologies as wildly variant as the Mayan and the Buddhist. (And, in the Mayan reckoning, we’re currently in the fifth cycle—the sixth starts in 2012.)

The idea that the Prophecy—and Zion—were just another means of control is lifted right out of French philosophy. The first movie made use of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation; this movie seems to be dipping into Foucault and Derrida, who wrote that the systems of power and control are all-pervasive, and language is one of the ways they make their influence felt. The Prophecy is, like all prophecies, speech, and thus language. More importantly, it is a religion, and, as John Zerzan writes, the purpose of a religion is to manipulate signs, that is, words, for the purpose of control. Zion is the longed-for millennial promised land; by keeping the war between good and evil foremost in their hearts, even the freed humans are kept from doubting their own world, from thinking too hard about why things are the way they are. Zion needn’t be another computer simulation; it could merely be a society created by the machines for controlling the free-range humans (kinda like grunge music was created in the early nineties to control disaffected teenagers).

Understanding why things are the way they are requires an understanding of another holy text: Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. The machines, as demonstrated by Smith’s need to try to kill Neo even after being “freed,” don’t have free will. (Likewise, in various theologies, angels and other such divine beings also don’t have free will—only humans do.) The bit about the machines needing human bio-energy to survive, as Morpheus (the dreamer) explained in the first movie, is bullshit. The machines keep humanity alive but imprisoned, even after taking over the world, because they were created to serve people. In other words, the machines would like to destroy humanity, but they CAN’T. Instead, they need a human to make the choice.

As the Architect reveals, Neo is not the first One, but rather the sixth. Why the sixth? The answer is that Neo’s five previous incarnations represent the Five Books of Moses that make up the Old Testament. Neo (representing Christ, and thus the New Testament) differs from his five predecessors in his capacity to love. In the work of Origen of Alexandria and other early Christian writers, it is love (“eros” in Greek) that compels Christ to come down from the heavens to redeem humanity. Furthermore, “neo” means “new”—as in “New Covenant.” In Neo, the machines have finally found the iteration of the One who will make the illogical choice of saving Trinity and dooming humanity. [Note to the theology geeks who’ve been e-mailing me: I know the difference between eros and agape, but both terms are apropos for reasons I’d have to delve into pre-Socratic philosophy to explain.]

This is the Architect’s real purpose in giving Neo a choice between two doors. At once all human and all machine, rather than being a device to refine the Matrix into a more perfect simulation of reality, re-found Zion, and thus continue the endless cycle of death and rebirth—as the Architect says he is—the purpose of the One is to be manipulated into destroying all of humanity. However, not having free will themselves, the machines are not able to comprehend it in others—and thus Neo, being also human, is a bit of a wild card. It is Neo’s destiny—as was Christ’s in Origen’s theology—to break the cycle of death and rebirth, and offer humanity a new future. This is shown by the fact that, by the end of the movie, Neo (and also, incidentally, Smith) gain power in the “real world”—which shows that he has power not only over the first—level simulated world of the Matrix, but also the second-level simulation of Zion

Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Chow Yun-fat are much more familiar to American moviegoers than Stephen Chow, yet for the past decade no Asian actor has loomed larger on the pan-Asian cultural landscape. Chow’s new film, Kung Fu Hustle, broke Asian box-office records — set by his previous film, Shaolin Soccer — and at this year’s Hong Kong film awards it beat out 2046, by art-house darling Wong Kar-wai. It may also finally land Chow on the U.S. cultural map — sweet redemption given Miramax’s bungled 2004 release of Shaolin Soccer. But his delayed ascendancy may have less to do with Harvey Weinstein than with how specific his comic brilliance is to the culture from which it emerged — a specificity that’s metamorphosing as Chow, a veteran of more than 50 films, including 7 as a director, tries to move onto the global stage.

Chow and his distributor, Sony Classics this time, have clearly packaged Kung Fu Hustle for American viewers, with an ad campaign that prominently displays Roger Ebert’s reference points: “Imagine a film in which Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny.” Chow’s choice of story, a loving homage to kung fu classics of the 70s, also heightens its crossover potential. The plot — what little there is of it — has Chow playing a two-bit hustler who sets off a showdown between the Axe Gang, a hatchet-toting triad of dark-suited dandies, and the humble peasant residents of a tenement slum known as Pig Sty Alley, led by their shrill landlady. This is classic Chow — colorful underdogs triumphing over thoroughly booable villains — and it’s one reason Chinese audiences have embraced the ultrawealthy celebrity actor-director.

Another is Chow’s singular style — a playful, freewheeling, absurdist comic technique that acquired the popular label mo lei tau. Translated literally as “nonsense style,” mo lei tau refers to his ability to dismantle the logic of a situation using visual and verbal inversions and non sequiturs. In this regard his closest Western corollary may be Bugs Bunny or the Marx Brothers. Chow’s kineticism and range of comic technique invite comparisons with martial arts films and encourage viewers to let go of the conventions of storytelling, and even physics.

In Sixty Million Dollar Man Chow plays a bionic shape-shifter who defeats a Terminator-like killer by turning into the most feared member of Hong Kong society — the grammar-school headmistress — then disposes of the robot by turning into a microwave oven and zapping it into oblivion. Such gags may baffle Americans — much of the humor in Chow’s early hits relies on giddy references to Hong Kong pop culture and untranslatable wordplay in his native Cantonese dialect — but they’re a major reason Chow’s films became a cultural phenomenon in Hong Kong, mainland China, and Taiwan. By using familiar domestic elements of Hong Kong life to defeat a technological threat, he’s giving Chinese audiences the empowering sense that the tools they need to overcome oppression can be found in their own daily lives. Many Chinese who admire his cheerfully subversive mode of contending with imminent disasters have appropriated his attitude to cope with the hardships of living in or near China — Hong Kong’s transition to Communist rule, the SARS epidemic, the endless stream of media reports that mirror government propaganda — and it might even encourage them to challenge political authority. Yet it’s also become part of a detached nihilistic posture prevalent among alienated Chinese youths.

The utilitarian value of mo lei tau is debatable, but Chow has repeatedly used it to challenge Hollywood, whose influence on Chinese popular culture both fascinates and repels him. In Sixty Million Dollar Man we get hilariously affectionate parodies of Pulp Fiction and The Mask — as well as a disturbing image of schoolboys in straitjackets being ushered into an ambulance as they obsessively recite a litany of Hollywood sequels. In this context the showdown between the Terminator and the bionic schoolmarm has symbolic significance: Chow confronts and appropriates the intimidating high-tech appeal of Hollywood and infuses it with a Chinese vernacular — in effect, beating Hollywood at its own game.

As Chow tries to translate his homegrown success into international stardom, he faces the challenge of making his appeal more universal while retaining his base. When the mortally stricken hero of Kung Fu Hustle does a dead-on parody of Sean Connery’s death scene in The Untouchables, he utters Connery’s last line, “What are you prepared to do?” with the over-the-top enthusiasm of an American Idol contestant. His companions reply, “We don’t understand — speak Chinese!”

In Kung Fu Hustle Chow has turned to a much milder, less dizzying form of mo lei tau. He’s moved away from complicated Cantonese wordplay, and most of the humor, still gleefully irreverent, now stems from visual effects that are as sophisticated as anything out of Hollywood. In the climactic showdown his character is clobbered so badly he’s sent into the stratosphere, where a cloud formation in the shape of the Buddha bestows its blessing. Here Chow manages to have it both ways — reveling in the possibilities of CGI while underscoring its fundamental artificiality.

In yet another departure from his previous work, Chow is mainly absent as an actor, playing a marginal role in all but the final fight scene. But the zaniness extends well beyond his character and is fully embedded in the mise-en-scene. Chow gives ample screen time to three middle-aged actors: Qiu Yuen as the landlady, Wah Yuen as the landlord, and Siu Lung Leung as their nemesis, the Beast, a flabby, unkempt man dressed in underwear with plastic sandals dangling from his toes — the kind of person one could find in any working-class Chinese neighborhood. Imbued by Chow with mythical powers, these everyday characters put the cultural realities of Chinese society back into a genre whose elements have degenerated into global cliche.

As with John Ford’s Wagonmaster or Jacques Tati’s Playtime, the absence of a central star reinforces the sense of community that’s integral to the creative vision being presented. Indeed, Chow’s insistence on showcasing a community is ultimately what makes Kung Fu Hustle more than just computer-enhanced chop-socky or decaffeinated mo lei tau. The tenement setting is clearly idealized, but the details recall a way of life that’s cherished by Chinese audiences — and they’re vivid enough to be appreciated across cultures. A tracking shot across the doorways of each tenement apartment reveals men playing Chinese chess, the landlady beating her cheating husband, a bare-bottomed boy taking a dump in a corridor.

Lingering on such details is a new development for Chow, recalling the style of another aspirant to global pop cinema, Sergio Leone. Given all the hyperbolic kung fu, it’s easy to overlook such quietly observant grace notes. But Chow’s newfound patience and attentiveness to stasis, tinged with nostalgia, are promising indications of where he’s taking his art as he attempts to influence the commercial cinema that’s long influenced him.

Kung Fu [TV] (1972)
AKA: n/a

Premise: Caine (David Carradine), a mixed American-Chinese Shaolin monk on the run for killing a nephew of China’s emperor, wanders the Old West in search of his past while suffering bigotry and bringing aid and enlightenment to the afflicted.

Review: Kung Fu is a landmark series in American television history that was definitely ahead of its time in combining the popular Western genre with martial arts. It also started out with excellent writing that positively dealt with racial issues, Eastern thought, and passivism mixed in with traditional gun fighting and stylized martial arts action. Despite this strange brew, it was so well received by audiences that the series has since become a part of American culture, being affectionately referenced years later in a film like Office Space. The series was even briefly revived in 1992 and ’93 as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.

In 1972, the word “kung fu” didn’t mean anything to most American audiences. Bruce Lee had caught on in Asia, but was only beginning to be noticed in the States despite his previous appearance on the Green Hornet television series. Apart from a handful of Hong Kong kung fu movies like Five Fingers of Death released in grindhouse theaters, there wasn’t much to see regarding kung fu action. So for creator Ed Spielman and developer Herman Miller to pitch a network action series for American audiences based on Shaolin kung fu with an emphasis on Buddhist philosophy is quite remarkable. The producers briefly considered Bruce Lee for the lead role, but Lee’s accent and a fear that audiences might not accept an Asian star led them to recruit David Carradine instead. In retrospect, Carradine may have been the ideal choice. Although he was not Asian and yet played a half-Chinese character, Carradine became Kwai Chang Caine for those three years, effectively infusing the character with rare qualities for an action hero, humility and tranquility. Undoubtedly Bruce would have given the character more charisma and martial prowess, but that would have made for a completely different Caine.

The first season of Kung Fu set a high standard for the series with excellent drama, acting, top guest star appearances, and what was at that time a new and exciting style of action. The limited fight choreography presented with technical assistance from kung fu instructor David Chow lacked the sophistication of Hong Kong’s action. Yet for a television series and one of the first examples of kung fu in a dramatic American production, it was impressive enough, offering many viewers their first glimpse of it. Moreover, regularly using flashbacks to Caine’s previous Shaolin training to reveal the motivation behind the character’s unusual methods for dealing with conflict in the Old West was a stroke of genius. It managed to endear the character to audiences while giving thought behind the action and forever maintaining his unique identity.

Pilot Movie (75 min)

A Shaolin monk is on the run from China’s emperor for killing his nephew comes to America and finds work on the railroad where his fellow countrymen are being exploited and rises to their defense. This pilot movie that convinced ABC to produce the series introduces Carradine’s character, his origins and the show’s successful formula of a humble outsider constantly meeting the worst people in the West who underestimate his abilities and invariably push him to reluctantly fight back. It’s interesting to see Caine’s introduction to Shaolin temple where as an orphaned child he waits outside for several days as part of his first test. The writers get credit for doing their homework and generally doing a good job of presenting the common legends of Shaolin for American audiences. There are no bronze men, wooden men, or elaborate kung fu training on the scale of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. But various Shaolin kung fu styles are adequately represented and of course there is the infamous pebble snatching scene, later immortalized in the opening credits of the series. Interestingly, Americans tuning into this show were introduced to Shaolin two years before the topic became popular with Hong Kong filmmakers, notably Chang Cheh in films like Men from the Monastery and Shaolin Martial Arts. It would be Lau Kar-leung and Joseph Kuo several years later who would expand on Shaolin training and lore with increasing martial arts excellence.

Episode 1: King of the Mountain (49 min)

Enter the Dragon co-star John Saxon makes an appearance as a mustached bounty hunter after Caine. After hooking up with an orphaned boy Caine takes on three backwoods hicks and finds work with a pretty young widow who takes a liking to him. Doubling of Saxon for his tussle with Carradine at the end is poorly masked.

Episode 2: Dark Angel

Caine goes to his father’s hometown and meets his embittered grandfather while aiding a local preacher who is blinded by greed. Caine also has his first encounter with warring Native Americans and puts his kung fu to use by deflecting arrows and wrestling an Indian. He later teaches the preacher to live without his sight by honing his other senses and this allows the old man to defend himself when attacked. An anti-bigotry theme directed towards Asians (or rather half-Asians) is quite strong, but the Native Americans are still horribly stereotyped. The flesh-colored skullcaps in the Shaolin temple scenes look a tad cheesy.

Episode 3: Blood Brother

Caine’s search for his half-brother leads him to the home of a Shaolin brother murdered by a gang of rowdy youths. He sets out to investigate the murder with the help of a Chinese family and the local sheriff. Seasoned television actor Robert Urich co-stars as the leader of the gang in one of his first TV appearances. A flashback to a duel between Caine and his brother and Caine’s fight with the rowdies in a general store are highlights. In contrast to Hong Kong depictions of kung fu, most of Carradine’s fights are filmed in slow motion or real time rather than being sped up. This makes for fewer moves to be shown, but the grappling and takedowns are well done and the overall effect produces more realistic combat. The ending is anti-climatic as it focuses on courtroom drama with an obvious conclusion rather than action.

Episode 4: An Eye for an Eye

This episode juggles weighty topics when Caine happens upon a pregnant women-seeking revenge on a soldier who raped her. This well-written story weaves in Civil War grudges as the soldiers are Yanks who first targeted the woman because of her family’s Confederate ties. Lessons taught to Caine at Shaolin about forgiveness and the sanctity of life compels him to defuse the escalating violence and convince the woman to accept her unborn child. Lane Bradbury gives a terrific dramatic performance as the tortured mother-to-be. There’s a fair amount of slow-mo gunplay, but not much in the way of kung fu. Caine takes on Native Americans again and he roughs it up with a couple of army soldiers.

Episode 5: The Tide

For the first time, series writer and director Jerry Thorpe steps aside to produce while different writers and directors are rotated in this and subsequent episodes. With the series formula well established, this episode continues the same level of quality brought to previous ones while presenting Caine’s first love. The gorgeous Tina Chen plays the exiled daughter of a famous Chinese writer imprisoned by the Emperor who saves Caine from a merciless Sheriff looking to profit from his bounty. The dialogue is especially good and the title of the episode cleverly refers to nature’s fateful influence on the course of events. James Hong appears in a flashback in old man makeup reminiscent of his prematurely aged looks in Big Trouble in Little China. Popular Asian-American actor Mako also shows up as Tina’s brother. Both men first appeared in the series’ pilot movie.

Episode 6: The Soul is the Warrior

A hotheaded young man with a grudge against Caine’s brother tries to kill him. The local sheriff shoots first in Caine’s defense. The dead man’s father is a half-Indian rancher played by character actor John Doucette who vows to kill the sheriff in retaliation. Caine steps in to aid the lawman by exposing the rancher’s deep-seated fears and by accepting a challenge to walk through a pit of rattler snakes. The series has always been about focusing on internal struggles, which is part of its uniqueness. This time it’s all about facing your fears, which is what the sheriff is able to do, but the rancher is not. The acting, especially by Doucette, is excellent although the story isn’t quite as strong as in previous episodes. Kung fu action is limited to one token fight.

Episode 7: Nine Lives

After being kicked out of a gold prospecting camp, Caine joins an embittered Irishman with dreams of wealth, as together they help a widow dig a well. Caine must overcome a wrestler and his companions looking to collect his bounty. The lure of gold in the old West provides the writers a good opportunity to measure greed against the value of men’s hearts for unlike those around him; Caine is not swayed by material wealth. The episode contains tvo climaxes, one where Caine challenges the large wrestler with predictable results and later when he and the Irishman are trapped at the bottom of the well with water rushing in. There is some humor sprinkled throughout the story not seen in previous episodes.

Episode 8: Sun and Cloud Shadow

This episode features Caine’s first fight with a martial artist of comparable skill. Caine is unable to stop a representative (John Fujioka) of a group of Chinese gold miners from being killed by the son of a landowner (Morgan Woodward) who claims their mine for himself. Caine finds himself playing peacemaker in the dispute, which threatens to break into all-out war after the landowner’s son is killed in retaliation. Additional trouble arrives when a Manchu fighter (Yuki Shimoda) arrives to bring Caine back to China dead or alive. Richard Hatch, AKA Capt. Apollo on Battlestar Galactica makes one of his first TV appearances in a Romeo and Juliet situation where he plays Woodward’s second son who happens to be in love with a Chinese woman (Aimee Eccles). The episode ends with Carradine’s best fight yet against Shimoda, who curiously enough, is dressed more like a Japanese fighter than the Manchu fighter he is supposed to be playing.

Episode 9: Chains

While still searching for his brother, Caine seeks out a wild and uncontrollable army prisoner accused of murder and finds himself recognized as a fugitive and is jailed. With the promise of finding a lead to his brother’s whereabouts, the two escape with an army officer on their trail and an Indian war party lurking in the mountains. Caine’s attempts to connect with the physically strong, but mentally deficient prisoner is reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s book Of Mice and Men, but ends on a different note. Greed is again a central theme. There isn’t any noteworthy martial arts action, but genre fans may notice Gerald Okamura who shows up in a bit part as a Shaolin monk.

Episode 10: Alethea

A very young and precocious Jodie Foster co-stars as Alethea, a girl believing she has witnessed Caine, who she had just befriended, kill a stagecoach driver during a robbery. Of course, Caine is innocent but her testimony sends him to the gallows, whereupon she decides to trust his word and “lie” about what she saw in order to spare his life. To prove his innocence to Alethea and thus turn her “lie” into a truth, Caine hunts down the real killers. A flashback story at Shaolin temple concerning Caine’s childhood loss of innocence to a benevolent lie mirrors Alethea’s predicament and makes for a wonderful tale about the difficult transition children are forced to make from a untainted world of absolutes to an adult world of ifs and maybes. Carradine’s fight with the killers at the end is short, but sweet. It’s filmed using multiple speeds to give effective emphasis to blows. Although common today, this technique was extremely rare for television or feature film in 1972. The prolific and craggily faced Kenneth Tobey, who starred in countless TV series and films including Marlowe with Bruce Lee, plays Alethea’s uncle, the sympathetic Sheriff Ingram.

Episode 11: The Praying Mantis Kills

Caine arrives in town just in time to witness a daylight robbery that leaves one woman dead. While protecting Caine as a witness, the sheriff is killed, leaving his son to contend with the robbers with the aid of Caine in a jailhouse standoff reminiscent of John Wayne’s Rio Bravo. This is a good episode with some interesting Zen philosophy tossed in, but it’s a little muddled. Wendell Burton is very convincing as a young man trying to do the right thing the wrong way and desperately seeking companionship. He clings to Caine who imparts on him some Zen wisdom through archery. But Caine’s offhand efforts to get Burton to either drop his father’s mission to bring the robbers to justice or to face them without a gun seems foolhardy in the absence of any alternatives to resolve the issue at hand. Film speed variations are used again to enhance Carradine’s kung fu displays toward the end. Sadly, the episode’s nifty title does not refer to the animal style of kung fu, but rather a reference to Caine’s criticism of seeking spiritual aid before the an intent to kill.

Episode 12: Superstition

After being falsely accused of stealing, Caine is thrown into a prison work camp at a silver mine made up of drifters forced into labor. Being superstitious, the prisoners threaten to rebel after Indian bones are dug up followed by the death of a worker. Caine’s fearlessness is a calming presence in the camp, but one that threatens the control the mine owner holds over the men. An attempt to get rid of him in a controlled tunnel collapse backfires and traps all of the workers, forcing them to wait for help. The highlight is Caine’s ability to use his Shaolin training to endure four days in the “box,” punishment as seen in many prison movies from The Bridge on the River Kwai to Cool Hand Luke. The superstition theme is weak with the writers’ best attempt at bridging Caine’s Shaolin training with the miner’s fear of disturbing Native American bones is having the young Caine go through a ridiculous balancing act over a “pool of acid” with a skeleton at the bottom. There is very little kung fu action and Caine’s imprisonment is resolved too conveniently.

Episode 13: The Stone

Shaolin kung fu versus Brazilian capoeira on network television in 1972? Once again, this show displays its uniqueness and forward thinking. The eloquent Moses Gunn co-stars as a former Brazilian slave-turned-capoeira master and self-made man who has relocated to the US and is putting his hopes on a monster diamond he has stolen. That is, until he mistakenly kills the local sheriff while the diamond ends up in the hands of three kids who recruit Caine to help them bring their jittery stepfather-to-be back to their mother. A marshal and three minority-hating thugs hunt for the Brazilian while the Brazilian hunts for Caine who he accuses of stealing his rock. Moses is all charisma and steals the show away from Carradine for this episode. After Moses establishes his martial arts skill while knocking the thugs around early on, he tangles with Carradine towards the end. Unfortunately, the fight is shot too tightly with a lot of close-ups and cuts, but it’s one of the more interesting fights of the series thus far.

Episode 14: The Third Man

While staying with a professional gambler and his wife, Caine is given $2500 in winnings to care for which he hides before being attacked by two thieves. A third a third man and the money stolen by a fourth then kill the gambler. Caine vows to aid the gambler’s wife in returning the money and finding her husband’s killer. Caine’s morel lesson for this episode is about the value of trust. Caine’s martial lesson is about how to overcome someone wielding a very large scythe.

Episode 15: The Ancient Warrior

The conclusion to the series’ first season is a masterful work of television writing and one of the best Western stories ever filmed. Its similar to the previous episodes in style, but the combined severity of the subject matter and the quality of the acting makes for a much more moving story. It focuses on the very ugly relations between the white man and the Native American seen through Caine’s eyes. Chief Dan George plays an aged native named The Ancient One who represents the last of his tribe. Close to death, he gains the help of Caine in returning him to his homeland, a valley he legally owns, to be buried there. Unfortunately, his chosen burial spot happens to be in what is now the center of Purgatory, a town seething with hatred for Native Americans. In a fascinating subplot, a legendary gunfighter arrives to challenge the sheriff (Victor French) for the unlawful death of his son who was half-Indian. There is one nicely shot kung fu fight with Carradine, but he mostly plays the spectator. Notable guest stars include Gary Busey as a young thug and Dukes of Hazzard star Denver Pyle as Purgatory’s mayor.

It is more interest to watch a movie that comprises of both Chinese and American or Western culture.

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