Archive for November, 2008

Chinese Wushu – External and Internal

Sunday, November 30th, 2008
From: http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=797382&lang=eng_news

Wushu, known in the West as Kungfu, is a kind of Chinese traditional sport characterized by various barehanded and armed combat techniques. Wushu exercises consist of both “external” and “internal” work, the former meaning movements of the body while the latter being related to the spirits. The two aspects are combined as movements are guided by consciousness so as to achieve a unity of body and mind. Thus, constant practice of wushu helps not only to strength muscles and bones, but also to regulate the central nervous system and improve the cardiovascular, digestive and respiratory functions.

Chinese Wushu Moving Heaven and Earth

Wushu, known in the West as Kungfu, is a kind of Chinese traditional sport characterized by various barehanded and armed combat techniques. Wushu exercises consist of both “external” and “internal” work, the former meaning movements of the body while the latter being related to the spirits. The two aspects are combined as movements are guided by consciousness so as to achieve a unity of body and mind. Thus, constant practice of wushu helps not only to strength muscles and bones, but also to regulate the central nervous system and improve the cardiovascular, digestive and respiratory functions. 

To meet the upcoming 2008 Olympics Games, the scientists at the Exhibition Department of the Museum came up with the idea of creating an exhibition on exercise science. According to a visitor survey conducted before designing the exhibition, they found that hands-on activities and self-led discovery are most popular among the questioned in the survey. They tried to lead the visitors to the fantastic world of wushu and to make them understand the right way of health-building.

The exhibition Wushu starts with the sculptures of a grandpa and his grandson practicing Chinese kungfu. Then here at the entrance, a short film is playing to introduce the exercise science. In the gallery, we display Inbody, F-Scan, Force Plate, Accelerometer, 3D workshop and Infrared Camera for visitors to understand their body and movement, and to practice wushu with masters. If visitors are eager to know further about exercise science, we also offer an E-check system for them to use.

This exhibition is organized by the National Museum of Natural Science, in collaboration with Graduate Institute of Sports Science, Taiwan Wushu Association, and United Integrated Services Optical Dept.

This exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Sports Affairs Council, Exective Yuan, and in part, by some other enthusiastic communities and people.

How do you define wushu and what other chinese martial arts have similar qualities?

The Art of Kicking: Best Wushu Kung Fu Kicks

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The Art of Kicking Part 2: Kickers of the New Wave

The Art of Kicking Part 2: Kickers of the New Wave

During the early 1980’s, martial arts films began to wane away from its period settings and settle down into the modern day world. Classic kung fu kickers like Hwang Jang-Lee and Casanova Wong continued to make films and settle pretty well. Other kickers like Tan Tao-Liang and Sun Chien would somewhat retire and comeback to the modern day era but not hold up the success they achieved during their heydays.

Nevertheless, a new generation of superkickers began to emerge in the midst of the New Wave genre. A select few got their starts in classic kung fu films but showed more prominence during this era while there are newcomers, who connected with the right mentors, and showcased their accurate kicking skills to good use.


Getting his start as a stuntman and bit-part actor in classic kung fu films, Yuen Biao began to showcase some of his best kicking ability in his lead role debut, KNOCKABOUT (1979), a classic kung fu film that co-starred and was directed by Yuen’s former schoolmate, Sammo Hung.

Yuen Biao was born Hsia Ling-Jun on July 7, 1957 in Taiwan. Emigrating to Hong Kong, Hsia was enrolled in the famous Peking Opera school run by Sifu Yu Jim-Yuen. Hsia proved to be a natural when another one of the school’s students, Yuen Lau (later to be known as Jackie Chan), showed him how to execute a somersault. The rest, as they say, is history.


The wiry natural would pull off some frenetic kicking in TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STARS (1985). In a warehouse fight against veteran Philip Ko, Yuen flips off a crate, follows it with a tornado kick and ends it with a picture perfect side kick connecting to Ko’s face. Following it up with ABOVE THE LAW (1986), Yuen’s kicking and acrobatics came to full effect as he has memorable on-screen brawls with Americans Cynthia Rothrock and Peter Cunningham, while in the climatic battle against Melvin Wong, Yuen pulls off a jaw-dropping tornado kick that shows how much Yuen twists his body to execute it.

Yuen had memorable on-screen teamups with his two elder classmates, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. Their teamups in PROJECT A (1983), WHEELS ON MEALS (1984), the LUCKY STARS series (1983-85), and DRAGONS FOREVER (1987) all were hits at the Hong Kong box office. Despite the films’ success, Yuen somehow felt overshadowed by his elder brothers and broke out on his own in the late 1980’s.


When Yuen’s career hit a standstill in the mid-1990’s, he relegated to making two films in the Philippines, TOUGH BEAUTY AND THE SLOPPY SLOP (1995) and THE HUNTED HUNTER (1997). Yuen would go on to settle in Canada with wife DiDi Phang and their children. In 2002, Yuen made a comeback in the Hong Kong-Japanese co-production NO PROBLEM 2, starring Japanese comedian Takashi Okamura. Since then, Yuen splits his time between Canada and Hong Kong, continuing in films such as ENTER THE PHOENIX (2004) and ROBIN-B-HOOD (2006).
Another superkicker who rose to prominence in the New Wave era yet got his start in classic kung fu films in Taiwanese-born Dick Wei. Wei studied tae kwon do at a young age and competed in tournaments in Taiwan. He would go on to enlist in the Taiwanese Army, where he was near the rank of Captain and even taught tae kwon do to his fellow soldiers. After his tour of duty, Wei opened up his own dojang in Taipei.

In 1977, he was discovered by legendary Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh, and after appearing in a Taiwanese kung fu film ASSIGNMENT, Dick left for Hong Kong where he starred as a member of the Green Dragon gang in CHINATOWN KID. In his short film time, Wei got to display his impressive kicking skills in a training scene. Wei would perhaps be best known in this era for his role of the Posion Clan Master in THE FIVE VENOMS. It is Wei who tells Chiang Sheng about the legendary Venoms before succumbing to a fatal illness.

After appearing in more films for Chang Cheh, Wei left the Shaw Brothers and headed for their top rival, Golden Harvest. Wei became a member of the Hung Ga Ban, the stunt team led by one of Golden Harvest’s most prolific directors and actors, Sammo Hung. He made his Golden Harvest debut as Mr. Suen in THE PRODIGAL SON (1981), yet made a huge impact when he was cast as the lead villain in Jackie Chan’s PROJECT A (1983).


After Grandmaster Hwang In-Shik left the film industry in 1983, Dick Wei was one of Chan’s top on-screen rivals. Under the direction of Sammo Hung, Wei was able to unleash some impressive kicking skills against Chan in films like MY LUCKY STARS (1985), HEART OF DRAGON (1985), TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STARS (1986), and DRAGONS FOREVER (1987). However, shortly after leaving Sammo Hung’s stunt team, Wei relegated to more lesser fare in villainous roles, with the exception of a lethal henchman role in PROJECT S (1993), the spin-off of Jackie Chan’s POLICE STORY III: SUPER COP (1992). Wei had a short yet sweet fight against Fan Siu-Wong in the film. Returning to Taiwan in the late 1990’s, Wei made his final film in 2001, THE DIED BODY.

While Yuen and Wei got their starts in classic kung fu films, a new generation of superkickers were about to emerge and one of its pioneers was a young man who has something in common with legendary folk hero Fong Sai-Yuk. He trained in the martial arts from his mother. His name is Donnie Yen.


Donnie Yen was born on July 27, 1963 in Canton, China. His father, Klyster Yen, is an editor for a Chinese newspaper, Sing Tao. His mother, Bow Sim Mark, is a respected wushu and tai chi master. At the age of 11, Yen and his family relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, where Madame Bow opened up a martial arts school and Donnie, who began his training at the age of four, continued to train under his mother at her school. It was here where Donnie met two fellows who would become two of most trusted confidants in the film industry: John Salvitti and Michael Woods, names who would be synonomous with the Hong Kong film industry as villain actors.

In 1983, while on a trip to Beijing, China to study contemporary wushu, Yen was discovered by Yuen Woo-Ping, the man behind Jackie Chan’s first two successful films, SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER (both 1978). Yuen was looking for a new face to take the lead in his film DRUNKEN TAI CHI. Yen never intended to become a martial arts film star, but got his first role at the age of 19. The film was a modest hit, despite the fact it was made at the end of the first cycle of period kung fu films. The two collaborated on a modern day breakdancing/kickboxing film, MISMATCHED COUPLES (1985), that flopped when it was first released, but hailed today as one of Yen’s most underrated films.


Yen broke through in 1988 with TIGER CAGE, the first installment of a modern-day action trilogy directed by Yuen Woo-Ping. Yen, who had a supporting role in the film, has an exhilirating fight scene against Michael Woods and Stephen Berwick before getting killed off by the film’s villain, Simon Yam. Yen would play another character in TIGER CAGE 2 (1990), where he pulled off one of his most impressive kicking performances to date when he uses his legs to take on Michael Woods, who has Yen’s hands chained together.

Yen continued to work in Hong Kong and has worked alongside some of Hong Kong cinema’s best talents, from taking on Jet Li in ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II (1990) to teaming up with Michelle Yeoh in WING CHUN (1994) to name a few. Yen would also be active in television, starring as legendary folk hero Hung Hei-Kwoon in THE KUNG FU MASTER and as Chen Zhen, the role made famous by Bruce Lee, in the television series version of FIST OF FURY for Asia Television Limited.

In 1996, Yen formed his own production company, Bullet Films. Yen would star, produce, write, and direct LEGEND OF THE WOLF (1996), a tale about an ex-assassin who finds his true love and must deal with his past the only way he knows how. A blistering fight pitting Yen against a legion of bandits becomes the highlight of the film as Yen unleashes his super kicking skills to a tee as well as wielding a hatchet against the bandits. Yen would follow it up with two more films under the Bullet banner, BALLISTIC KISS (1998) and SHANGHAI AFFAIRS (1998).


In late 1999, Hollywood came calling as Yen geared up to make his Hollywood debut. Yen would play Jin Ke, a Chinese Immortal in HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME (2000), opposite Adrian Paul. In the film, Yen only has one fight scene, where he takes on Paul’s Duncan MacLeod in a weapons duel, followed by brief hand-to-hand combat where Yen does very minimal kicking. The fight scene, compared to the rest of the film’s action, was the best in the film as Yen choreographed that particular fight sequence.

Yen would work between Hong Kong and Hollywood. Some of his work in Hollywood includes BLADE II (2002), where he co-starred as a vampire and served as the martial arts choreographer opposite Wesley Snipes and SHANGHAI KNIGHTS (2003), where he fought Hong Kong legend Jackie Chan.

2005 proved to be the year of the Yen. Growing tired of the overused wirework that had plagued Hong Kong cinema, Yen decided to go back to basics and minimize wirework and add the element of mixed martial arts in his fight choreography. S.P.L. (2005) was the first film to employ Yen’s new style of fight choreography. Yen took on the likes of the returning Wu Jing and then the legendary Sammo Hung with his new style. The new choreography earned Yen the Award for Best Fight Choreography at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2006. Yen continues success to this day as he plays Ip Man, the real life wing chun teacher of Bruce Lee, in a biopic directed by recent collaborator Wilson Yip.

Another superkicker who made quite an impact during the New Wave era is a Taiwanese-born martial artist named Chou Hsiao-Long. Perhaps you know him as Ngai Sing, or you may know him today as Collin Chou as he has taken on Asia and Hollywood and shows no sign of slowing down.


Born the eighth of twelve siblings on August 11, 1967, Collin Chou trained in various styles of martial arts from four different masters in primarily animal styles such as mantis and tiger claw. At the age of twelve, while studying tae kwon do, Chou got his start as a stuntman in Taiwanese martial arts films, usually doubling the female actors due to his size and height at the time. However, as he grew older, Chou continued to work as a stuntman until he was discovered in 1987.

Chou made his lead role debut in the Taiwanese film PROMISING YOUNG BOY, a film about a young tae kwon do fighter. Chou’s nemesis in the film was another Taiwanese tae kwon do expert and movie star, Alexander Lo. The film was produced by Wu Ma and Sammo Hung. Chou would then take the next two years and enlist in the Taiwanese Army. After serving his tour of duty, he met up with Sammo Hung again in Hong Kong. This time, Chou would become a member of Sammo Hung’s stunt team, the Hung Ga Ban. It was here where Chou began to use the stage name of Ngai Sing.


During the 1990’s, Chou appeared in many films, showcasing his impressive kicking skills. Some of his best kicking can be seen in LICENSE TO STEAL (1990), where he has a brief fight against Yuen Biao and a nicely shot fight against fellow superkicker Tsui Jing-Yat; THE BODYGUARD FROM BEIJING (1994), where he takes on Jet Li in the final reel; and THE RED WOLF (1995), where he faces off against Kenny Ho.

In 1997, Chou announced that he was no longer using the stage name of “Ngai Sing” and was reverting back to his birth name of Chou Hsiao-Lung and using the English name of “Collin Chou”. That same year, he married model/actress Wanda Yung and continued to work in Hong Kong films from THE DEATH GAMES (1999) to NO PROBLEM 2 (2002).


In 2003, Hollywood got their first taste of Chou when Jet Li turned down the role of Seraph in the two back-to-back sequels to THE MATRIX, THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (both 2003). Chou took the role and with his experience in Hong Kong, was able to not only handle the fight scenes well but showcase his acting skills as well. Today, Chou splits his time between Hollywood and Asia, recently appearing in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (2008) as the lead villain opposite Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

During the new wave, two superkickers emerged who got their starts not by training in Opera schools or learning for the passion of the art. These two got their starts in the world of professional kickboxing. These two proved to be true sportsmen in the ring before becoming two of the most feared kickers of the New Wave Era. They are none other than Billy Chau and Ken Low.


Billy Chau, or Billy Chow (as most film fans know him by), was the Hong Kong Muay Thai Champion from 1981 to 1984 as well as the World Kickboxing Association Light Heavyweight Champion in 1983 while his fellow kickboxing counterpart Ken Lo began training in Muay Thai kickboxing at the age of fifteen after his family fled the battlegrounds of Cambodia and headed to Thailand. After moving to Hong Kong, Ken became a champion in the ring, but only competed in seven matches before retiring.

Both men got their starts in film from two of the Hong Kong legends. Chau was discovered by Sammo Hung and got his start as a member of the Hung Ga Ban, Sammo’s stunt team. After appearing in three lesser known films, Chow got his first taste with Sammo in EASTERN CONDORS (1987), where he played Yuen Wah’s number one henchman who uses Muay Thai to face off against Yuen Biao and Sammo. Chow would give Sammo one of his best on-screen duels in PEDICAB DRIVER (1989) and even got to face Jackie Chan in MIRACLES (1989) as the lead fighter of a rope factory.


After retiring from kickboxing, Ken Low was working as a doorman at a local club when he met Jackie Chan. Chan was impressed by Ken’s kickboxing skills and offered him a spot on his stunt team, the Sing Ga Ban, or Jackie Chan Stuntman Association. Ken took the spot and made his debut in NAUGHTY BOYS (1986), which Chan produced. Ken appeared in many of Chan’s films in small roles but it was 1994’s DRUNKEN MASTER II that put Low on the map as his final fight against Chan showcased Ken’s impressive kicking skills to the max.

What many Hong Kong film fans will know is that Chau and Low put their kickboxing skills to use in the 1991 film KICKBOXER’S TEARS, starring Moon Lee. The opening fight of the film is a kickboxing match between both Chau and Low. From the looks of things, it looks as if both fighters’ put their real-life skills into the heart of the match. Low’s character ends up killed by Chau, and as a result, Moon Lee seeks revenge.

While Ken Low continues to appear in many films today, Billy Chau has decided to take a break from films and concentrate on working as a kickboxing coach. However, Chau does make the occasional film appearance. Low has appeared recently in Steven Seagal’s INTO THE SUN (2005), where he speaks English for the first time as well as FATAL MOVE (2008). Chau runs Billy’s Gym in Hong Kong and Canada. He had trained UFC Champion Michael McDonald as well as the cast of the film STAR RUNNER (2003), including Vanness Wu, Andy On, and Shaun Tam.

In 1992, a young Korean fighter emerged after starring in some films in his home country. Discovered by Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-Leung, this young martial artist made a huge impact in an otherwise obscure film. The film is OPERATION SCORPIO and the fighter in mind is Kim Won-Jin.


Kim began training in his country’s national martial art of tae kwon do at the age of eight. He would study wushu and other Chinese martial arts while acheiving his 5th-degree black belt in tae kwon do. He would use everything he learned to create his own form of screen fighting. Beginning as a stuntman in Korea, Kim would work there for ten years before starring as the lead role in three films. This was all before he made an impact on Hong Kong in OPERATION SCORPIO.


In the 1992 Hong Kong film, Kim plays Sonny, the son of local pimp Mr. Wang, played by Ku Feng. His opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission as Kim uses minimal wirework and shows off some incredible flexibility when it comes to his legs. He even poses as a scorpion, hence the name of the film and its alternate title THE SCORPION KING (not to be confused with the 2002 Hollywood action film). Despite Kim’s presence, the film didn’t do extremely well at the box office. Kim would go on to play villains in two more Hong Kong films, WOMEN ON THE RUN and HERO BEYOND THE BOUNDARY OF TIME before returning to Korea to take a well needed break.


In 2000, Kim returned to Hong Kong when he appeared as the “waiter assassin” in CHINA STRIKE FORCE. Kim still showcased his impressive kicking skills against lead star Aaron Kwok in only one fight scene before getting killed off by none other than American rap star/actor Coolio. Kim would go on to work between Korea and Hong Kong, working as an action choreographer in Korea in films like MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER and ROMANTIC KILLERS, and taking on Yuen Biao in NO PROBLEM 2 in 2002. While Kim works mainly as an action choreographer today in Korea, he is perhaps best known for his role in OPERATION SCORPIO.

These are the top superkickers in the New Wave era as they showcased their powerful leg techniques in front of the screens. Whereas Hwang Jang-Lee and Tan Tao-Liang led the classic kung fu era in superkicking, these men are the tops when it comes to kicking in the New Wave era of Hong Kong cinema.

Ming Liu Wushu Athlete and Stunt Woman Trains Milla Jovovich in “Ultraviolet” Movie

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

 

 

Ming Qiu has trained and doubled actresses such as Maggie Q from MI:III, to Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels, to Milla Jovovich in Ultraviolet.

Ming Liu/Qiu on training Milla Jovovich for ’Ultraviolet’ and working in Hollywood

Ace stuntwoman Ming Qiu has an impressive lineup of Hollywood films (Charlie’s Angels, Kill Bill, Ultraviolet) on her resume and Inside Kung Fu magazine just saluted her as their 2006 Woman of the Year. But in a recent interview, the veteran wushu champion quickly brushed aside any suggestions that celebrity is knocking at her door. “I’m a very low key person,” she insisted.

Nevertheless, Qiu is picking up a lot of fans these days. “Since The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Chinese martial arts have been popular in Hollywood. But people don’t know how to do it,” she pointed out. Her wushu classes in Los Angeles have drawn quite a few stunt professionals looking to polish their skills. Qiu’s parents were gymnastics coaches in her native China and she might have been expected to follow in the footsteps of her mother, a national champion. “But my mom and I visited her friends one day, and they were practicing wushu. It was really cool! So I asked my mom if I could join them.” Professional wushu, the standardized form of martial arts used in China for competitions, turned out to be the ideal training for stunt work. “I think it’s a good idea for a stuntperson to start with wushu, because it has jumps and kicks, and the low stances. And you learn so many styles, both hard and soft styles, and so many different kinds of weapons. When you know wushu, it’s easy to learn other martial arts.”

After making her name as a forms competitor in China and the U.S., Qiu found herself in demand as a trainer and stunt double in Hollywood. “In China, films about flying swordsmen have been popular for a long time, but there’s nothing like that in American culture. So the (U.S.) films mostly don’t have pure Chinese martial arts. They’re more like Kill Bill, with a mix of Chinese and Japanese.” And she’s noticed another difference between U.S. and Chinese versions of cinematic action: “Most traditional Chinese martial arts movies show the fights with only a little editing, and the camera is far enough away that you can see everything. But in America, the fights are edited a lot more, just one or two punches in a shot, and they use close-ups for the action.”

It didn’t take long for Qiu’s talents to make a mark in the industry. She doubled for Lucy Liu in the Charlie’s Angels films and in Kill Bill, and helped to prepare Summer Glau for the Serenity fight scenes. Her work can be seen in non-genre films like Austin Powers in Goldmember and Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as fan favorites like The Scorpion King and Spiderman 2. Her first television job in the U.S. was as a stunt double in the Chuck Norris series, Walker, Texas Ranger. She also appeared as a Chinese vampire slayer on the Buffy series. “I do mostly stunt work now. A lot of movies need people who can fight. But even if you know martial arts, you have to learn more skills, like wire work, high falls, and gymnastics.”

How dangerous is her work? “Every day there’s some danger. Even an easy job can turn dangerous. You have to really concentrate. For a recent project, I had to crash through a window and across a table. It’s not easy because you have to look perfect, but also protect your face. Everything was set up, and I did it perfectly the first time. I didn’t get hurt at all. But then I did another stunt where I got hurt very badly and was in the hospital. It was supposed to be easy! But I hit my head, and I needed 10 stitches.”

Qiu trained Milla Jovovich in combat techniques for her lead role in the upcoming sci-fi actioner Ultraviolet, and is credited as assistant stunt coordinator in the film. “Before they hired Milla, they already asked me to stunt double for the lead. But then they cast her, and she’s about 5’8”, and I’m about 5’3”! So instead I worked with her on choreographing and rehearsing the moves before they hired her doubles. Then we trained the doubles.” She added, “Milla does her own moves” as a freedom-fighting vampire in the futuristic thriller. “She uses beautiful moves to avoid bullets.”

The nature of Qiu’s work ensures that her face is seldom seen on screen. But in Cellular, for which she picked up a stunt driving credit, she also got a chance to play a character. “I was acting,” she recalled. “I played a student driver. People were yelling at me, and I was very nervous!” Her future plans include acting classes. “I’d like to try a small part, but mostly I’m very busy with my stunt work. And I want to open a school. It’s hard to teach when I’m so busy and out of town for so long when I’m working. But I’d really like to open a wushu school. A lot of people want to take my classes.”

 

Chinese martial arts in Disciples of Shaolin

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

'Disciples of Shaolin' (1975)

When a naive country bumpkin (Alexander Fu Sheng) finds work at a cloth factory he discovers that his kung fu skills are highly prized by his boss after a feud with a rival factory owner (Chiang Tao) breaks out. Using kung fu to gain fortune and power comes with a high price that forces his equally skilled elder brother (Chi Kuan-chun) to reluctantly get involved. Chang Cheh directs this unusually well-developed dramatic kung fu classic from Shaw Brothers with skilled action direction from Lau Kar-leung and fierce fighting performances from Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-chun and Chiang Tao.

Although relatively light on action by kung fu movie standards, DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN is a highly successful mergence of Chang Cheh’s “heroic bloodshed” motifs and action director Lau Kar-leung’s combination of tightly choreographed fight work and Chinese kung fu morality. Not only is it one of their last collaborations before Lau began directing his own films, it is their most fully developed and balanced work among an association encompassing over 40 feature films in the span of a decade.

The literal translation of the film’s Chinese title, HONG QUAN XIAO ZI, is “Hung (or Hong) Boxing Kid.” Hung refers to Hung Fist kung fu, or more specifically the real-life family kung fu of the film’s action director Lau Kar-leung.

The previous year Lau and Chang collaborated on a short film called THREE STYLES OF HUNG FIST that introduced audiences to what would become the dominant screen fighting style of the filmmakers’ subsequent collaborations, most notably their Shaolin cycle of films that chronicled the popular folklore of China’s fabled Southern Shaolin Temple where Hung Fist originated from. As a side note, Chang Cheh quickly abandoned Hung Fist forms once he parted ways with Lau and replaced it action directors and stunt actors specializing in modern Chinese opera fighting and acrobatics, largely from Taiwan.

Despite its English title, DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN does not fit in amongst the linked narratives brought forth in films such as SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS, FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS or MEN FROM THE MONASTERY. Those films sought to chronicle the dubious exploits of exiled students of Shaolin resisting suppression by the government. This film stands on its own plot-wise and is closer in narrative to Chang’s earlier hit THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG.

Like Chen Kuan-tai, Fu Sheng portrays a naive young man from a poor rural village who travels to the city to find his fortune. The dominant theme here is immigration and the struggles of adapting to a more sophisticated culture. This is a reoccurring dramatic element in many of the martial arts and action films from the early 1970s and it undoubtedly played well to target audiences who were likely first or second generation immigrants to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“Kung fu” shoes play an important role in this movie. They represent status and Fu Sheng’s rise from poverty. Fu Sheng arrives in town so poor that he is barefoot. His brother gives him a pair of his old worn shoes. They don’t even fit right but a young woman (Chen Ming-li) who takes an interest in him gives out some pointers on how to make them fit. Later, when Fu Sheng is promoted at the factory he thoughtlessly discards his old shoes and more importantly, the people who helped him in the first place. It’s thoughtful elements like this that make this film more substantial than your average kung fu movie, even counting Chang Cheh’s other works. Perhaps because of the shoes and its similarity to a similar device in SHAOLIN SOCCER I would credit Stephen Chow with having carried on this all too rare tradition, albeit with much more humor than the limited joking that Fu Sheng engages in here.

Chang and co-writer Ni Kuang craft an engaging tale that is propped up by the highly charismatic and skillful performance of Fu Sheng, appearing in the best physical condition of his career. He was rightly one of Hong Kong’s top leading men right up to his untimely death in 1983. DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN provides one of his best performances in a martial arts movie. Fu Sheng always did his best fighting under the direct supervision and coaching of Lau and I cannot think of a better performance. Granted, he performs very little early on but Fu Sheng’s memorable match ups against genre heavies Fung Hak-on and Chiang Tao are both fantastic.

One of the great strengths of Hung Fist and southern Shaolin kung fu forms in general is the emphasis on lower body stability and balance. Fu Sheng provides a great example in this film with rock solid leg positioning and a nearly constant crouched stance. This is where body conditioning like Jackie Chan’s horse stance training in DRUNKEN MASTER comes into play in a tangible, if controlled way.

There are two scenes in DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN that should be seared into the minds of every viewer. One is where Fu Sheng talks to his fists when mocking Fung Hak-on right before breaking into a dazzling fight sequence involving a sharpened bamboo pole. Its crowd-pleasing antics like this that has earned Fu Sheng his place among a small circle of charismatic martial arts superstars that include Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

The other memorable scene bares either the artistic mark of Chang Cheh or censorship or both. When Fu Sheng’s battle with Chiang Tao’s men turns nasty the screen turns to black and white. It’s a convention Chang used several times in his movies, usually to depict flashbacks. Interestingly, it’s a very bloody sequence not unlike the carnage that Chang created in films like THE HEROIC ONES. What is different is the type of stage blood used. Previously, the blood looked like barn red paint and thus gave the violence a surreal, artificial look. But in the brief moments of color that we see blood in this film, it looks more realistic and this leads me to wonder if Shaw Brothers or Chang felt compelled to tone the scene down by filtering out the color. Years later, Quentin Tarantino did the same thing for the violent nightclub fight in KILL BILL: VOL. 1, at least in the U.S. version. It ran in full color in Japan.

Chi Kuan-chun isn’t utilized enough in the movie and has very few fight scenes. His little fight for justice at the end is underdeveloped and rushed, suggesting that the film ran out of production time or ideas. It appears to have been a weak attempt to channel Chang’s previous colorful depictions of brotherly revenge with Ti Lung and David Chiang in the leading roles. The best example can be found in VENGEANCE.

Production design is weaker than usual, although only slightly. Most Shaw films from this period have that canned look of being shot on studio property with familiar New Territories location footage inserted. Costumes and music are stock as usual. Wigs are inaccurate for the period. They have queues but not shaved heads. This was common until Gordon Liu made going bald for Qing-era films hip. What drags this film below standards is the hideous-looking garden owned by Lu Ti, playing Fu Sheng’s boss. The idea is to present him as a gentlemen factory owner out of touch with his workers. He sits in his “lavish” garden and treats his prize crickets better than his employees. The problem? His garden amounts to a few plastic house plants left in pots and scattered around a bathtub-sized pond that looks like runoff from a sewage treatment plant. My guess is that fellow studio director Chor Yuen was hogging all of the best props from for one of his lavish wuxia films at the time.

Despite a weak ending and some sloppy art direction DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN is still a quality kung fu classic with a strong story, excellent Hung Fist fight work and a knock out performance from Alexander Fu Sheng. Anyone interested in this film should also see THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG and CHINATOWN KID, preferably first. All three are similar but DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN comes in behind the other two when it comes to general entertainment value. Based purely on kung fu choreography and screen fighting performances I would put DISCIPLES first.

THE BARE-FOOTED KID, a remake of DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN was released in 1993. Directed by Johnnie To, this wire-enhanced update put Aaron Kwok into Fu Sheng’s role and replaced Chi Kuan-chun with elder Shaw Brothers star Ti Lung. Lau Kar-leung again directed the action, this time with martial emphasis on northern wushu which was the trend in kung fu movies at the time of release.

What do you guys think is the trend in kung fu / martial arts movies now?

Donnie Yen interview on ‘Sha Po Lang’ SPL Movie

Friday, November 14th, 2008

SHA PO LANG or SPL, released on DVD as KILL ZONE by Dragon Dynasty here in the US, is one of the most talked-about kung fu movies of recent years. Donnie Yen’s choreography and his fight scenes with Wu Jing and Sammo Hung garnered enthusiastic praise from critics and fans alike. In the last entry of my series “Red Fists,” which traced the influence of left wing filmmakers on the development of kung fu cinema, I pointed out that both Yen and Wu underwent years of training in wushu, the contemporary competition version of kung fu that flowered in China after the founding of the People’s Republic. Although SPL cannot be considered a wushu film, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that the art is the foundation of both men’s careers. For all you SPL fans out there, here’s a re-posting of the interview with Yen that I did on the film’s release.


Left: Donnie Yen. Right: Jacky Wu Jing.

SHA PO LANG is one of the most talked-about films of 2005, and the hard hitting police actioner marks a return to the glory days of Hong Kong film. SPL action director and star Donnie Yen talks with kungfucinema.com from Hong Kong, where he is editing DRAGON TIGER GATE, his latest film.

KFC: Rumor says that the alley fight scene in SPL was improvised on camera. Is that true?

DY: I don’t know why there’s a rumor that the the whole scene was improvised. It’s very simple. Most of my films, all of my action scenes, whether I’m the director or action director, I have full control and I create all the choreography, from shooting to editing. Even in other films, I do my own choreography – that’s a known practice in the industry. I specifically create the look of the action. For the alley scene, I looked at Wu Jing’s earlier films and I saw he was a wushu stylist. SPL is a modern day film, so we had to work with his wushu movement. I have a strong background in wushu too, so I’d ask him to do certain movements so he wouldn’t look too much like wushu. My objective in the alley scene was to bring a long shot, realistic quality to it. Some of the shots were choreographed, but others were improvised on the set. I’d say, “I want you to attack, then I’ll come at you, and I want you to react.” That’s how it came about. I’d be saying, “Come to me.” But you couldn’t see my lips moving. Then in the editing, I made it even more realistic.

KFC: How long did it take to rehearse and shoot the alley fight?

DY: We shot the scene in basically five days. I choreographed it with my assistants, and then I said to Wu Jing, “If you look like too much of a traditional martial artist, it’s not going to work. So we’re taking out your signature type of moves.”

KFC: It looked very dangerous for both of you.

DY: It wasn’t that difficult. Obviously, I have the experience. I was dictating the rhythm – if he comes in too close, I step back. In the beginning he was holding back a little, but I had full confidence that I could dodge his movement. I was actually talking to him as we shot it.

KFC: Your character uses a baton against Wu Jing’s knife. What made you chose that weapon?

DY: Well, for a combination of reasons. Obviously we didn’t want to use a gun but it’s quite difficult to avoid guns in a cop movie. But a baton, that’s something a policeman uses. I knew it would be hard to use. I thought both weapons would be hard to show, to use visually, because they’re small. A lot of action directors will use short shots and close-ups to show small weapons, but I wanted to show the whole body movement instead of little pieces of it.

KFC: You stated previously that you shot a 40 second long take in the fight, but it looks like that got cut in the editing.

DY: Yeah, unfortunately.

KFC: Will we ever get to see the uncut footage, maybe on the US DVD?

DY: I don’t think so.

KFC: You used some terrific grappling techniques in the fight with Sammo Hung.

DY: That’s very difficult to shoot. It can turn into watching a UFC fight. If you shoot it too realistically, it doesn’t look right. You have to be a little cinematic.

KFC: There were a couple of amazing leg grapples, one when he’s spinning you around and you take control and throw him, and another when you jump kick him and turn it into a head lock and throw him.

DY: I just wanted to have a little fun with it.

KFC: Was it tough to film the nightclub scene? How long did it take?

DY: Nine days. We didn’t have the set to ourselves. It was a real nightclub and we only had it from 2 AM until noon. We had to be really careful not to mess it up. And Sammo’s knees were hurting!

KFC: His acting was really terrific in SPL!

DY: Yeah, I tried to keep the camera on his face, to capture his character on camera.

KFC: You’ve worked with SPL director Wilson Yip again on DRAGON TIGER GATE. Are you happy with the work you’ve done on that film?

DY: The action in DRAGON TIGER GATE will be groundbreaking! I haven’t seen any movies that were able to combine martial arts with comics in the right way. Other films didn’t highlight the action. DRAGON TIGER GATE is the closest thing to real comic book action. But it also has to be realistic. If it isn’t realistic, you don’t get drawn into that world.

KFC: Are you going to work on the recently announced SEVEN SWORDS sequel?

DY: Of course they’ve asked me. But right now I’m working on SPL 2. It’s going to be Wilson and me, and all the same production people. It’s going to be about cops in Macao, sort of like TRAINING DAY in Macao, and it will have a bigger budget than SPL. (Note: This project eventually turned into FLASH POINT (2007).) I’m talking to Mandarin Films about some projects now. After SEVEN SWORDS 2 and SPL 2 and maybe DRAGON TIGER GATE 2, we’re talking about adapting a Japanese comic book.

KFC: Will you be making a another traditional kung fu movie any time soon?

DY: I’m a little tired of traditional martial arts. I’m going to stay with contemporary style for a while. If I do a traditional martial arts film, it will emphasize character and drama, like SEVEN SWORDS. But first, I’m going to attempt to break new ground with contemporary action.

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What are your thoughts or opinions for any upcoming Donnie Yen movies?