Earlier in the week, I walked out of a press screening with a group of critics and in our amazing disappointment at a hotly anticipated upcoming film that screened at both Cannes and Toronto (which shall remain nameless), we tried to summarize our disgust in various phrases. “Made me want to kill myself,” was one guy’s take while another said, “pointless; he shouldn’t be allowed to make films,” and this continued on until another critic said, “the only way it would’ve been worse is if it involved Kung Fu.”
My jaw-dropped in response and before I knew it, I temporarily forgot about the bleak and jarringly brutal film we’d just witnessed and addressed the dissenter directly. “I love Kung Fu movies,” I gushed and couldn’t believe the disgust leveled my direction-- including some awe over the fact that on the surface as a white, tall, gangly female whose typical wardrobe consists of retro girly dresses and skirts—utter amazement that I could ever appreciate a good old fashioned kung fu smack-down. However, having attended a predominantly Asian high school, I grew up with the films and while my peers at other schools lusted after Brad Pitt, I obsessed over Hong Kong cinema stars like Chow Yun-Fat.
And while admittedly, yes, some martial arts films (especially the dated classics) are cheesy and man, do I hate it when they overdub the Mandarin or Cantonese dialogue with "Surfer-Dude" styled English but to me, an excellent martial arts film is as bewitching as a breathtaking and highly stylized musical. Both involve precision, stunning choreography, an overwhelming goal to entertain and most importantly for the medium, to tell the story visually, thrilling its audience and tricking us into thinking for one brief moment that we could dance like Gene Kelly or fight like Jackie Chan. Chan is a personal favorite, owing a great deal of his success to silent comedians with his energetic and inventive prop styled fights but the overwhelming master of the genre that brought it to our American shores is the man himself, Bruce Lee.
Co-screenwriter and director Gordon Chan paid tribute to Lee with his wildly popular film Fist of Legend, loosely based on Bruce Lee’s classic film The Chinese Connection (also known as Fist of Fury). The film, which as film critic Elvis Mitchell notes on the DVD, “put Jet Li on the map,” provided Li with a showcase to illustrate not only his tremendous athleticism and agility but also his range as an actor as Mitchell continues that his eyes are always illustrating a though and there’s something “kind of hidden about him” in his “countenance.”