Chinese New Year Special: Kung Fu to Comedy

So last time in this Chinese New Year Special I examined Wuxia movies, and if you haven’t read that, then head on over there once you’re done here. For this article, I’m going to be taking a quick look at the other types of Chinese and  Cantonese cinema and it’s not all ass kicking Kung Fu. Kung Fu is where many of the household names of Chinese and Cantonese cinema come from. Names like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen. There are some lesser known names from these movies such as Wu Jing, Xing Yu (a genuine Shaolin Monk!) and Nicholas Tse.

To start this section off let’s take a look at the 1985 movie “Police Story” written, directed and starring Jackie Chan as Chan Ka-Kui. This movie, in my opinion, perfectly blends humor and intense martial arts action and creates one of the most enjoyable viewing experiences I have ever had (Chan considers this his best movie!).

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Poster for Police Story 1985

“Police Story” has all the ridiculous acrobatic set pieces that Chan has become known for (fighting in and outside of a moving bus for example, and a huge fight scene in a mall that involves a motorbike!). Chan also uses a sense of humor inspired by the legendary Buster Keaton to create some hilarious scenes such as one scene where he is having to juggle several phone calls and phones all at once and a pretend home invasion involving his friends in the police department.

The actual plot of the film grabs your attention and involves betrayal, deception, and set ups.  With so many staples of the action genre, this film could have become a by-the-numbers action film. However, it shines because of Chan’s unique style which shifts in tone from a light-hearted action romp to a dark story of revenge. If I were to have one criticism of the film, it would be the depiction of women. I think I have been spoiled by how women are portrayed in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon;” but in this movie, women are either dumb and weak or they are manipulative. There is very little depth to the female characters. “Police Story” is by no means the only action movie that does this but just like a lot of movies, it can’t be perfect.

One of my favorite Kung Fu movies is actually not a highly rated one and isn’t that well known in the west: I’m talking about Benny Chan’s 2007 action film “Invisible Target.” The film stars Nicolas Tse, Jaycee Chan (Jackie Chan’s son!) and Shawn Yue as three members of the Hong Kong police force with very different ways of operating who are brought together by a shared desire to catch the Ronin Gang led by Tien Yeng-Seng played by Wu Jing.  Chan Chun (Nicholas Tse) has sunk into depression after his fiancé is caught in the crossfire during a heist by the Ronin gang. He has sort of given up hope and goes to work and gets the job done with brutality. Wai King-Ho (Jaycee Chan) is a young police officer who is a fresh out of the academy type wanting to succeed and goes by the book. His missing brother has links to the Ronin Gang as he went undercover amongst them. Carson Fong (Shawn Yue)has a renegade streak but not as much as Chan Chun. He is seeking revenge on the Ronin Gang for attacking his men in a bank robbery. In one scene of the movie, he is forced to swallow bullets by Tien Yeng-Seng.

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Poster for Invisible Target 2007

I feel that the thing that this movie has going for it is its sense of cool (which could also be it’s Achilles heel as it might be trying to be “too cool”). All three of the police officers look stylish and two of them have this sort of bad boy attitude; the villains are also great, with each of the 4 member team having their own specialization or style of martial arts: one uses explosives, one uses devastating kung fu. The action scenes are well paced and feel like they have a lot of impact. One criticism I have of the movie is that it does feel like it drags on a bit in the second half between action scenes which isn’t a great sign of a good story. Yet, overall, I had a fun time with this movie.

 

The last film that I will go into depth on bridges the gap most strongly between comedy and Kung Fu; but is also a fantastic parody of the Kung Fu movie while still having impressive action set pieces. Stephen Chows  2004 comedy action movie “Kung-Fu Hustle” is another perfect example of blending comedy and kung fu seamlessly; however, unlike “Police Story,” “Kung Fu Hustle” is more geared towards comedy than action.

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The movie follows Sing (Stephen Chow), an aspiring criminal, as he tries to join the infamous Axe gang and the various blunders and exploits he gets into along the way. The Axe gang seek to break a martial arts master known as “the Beast” out of an insane asylum in order to take revenge on the residents of Pig Sty Alley. The film is ridiculous in a good way; with many references to western popular culture such as the elevator scene from “The Shinning” and the landlady at one point chasing Sing like the Road Runner.

While the movie is ridiculous, it actually comes up with some awesome characters: a tailor who uses curtain rings as wrist guards to fight and two assassins who use the vibrations from their instruments to cut through the air (and people). The movie also boasts some impressive fight scenes, such as the one where the tailor and two other kung-fu masters of the Alley, Coolie and Donut, fight off a hoard of Axe gang members.

The movie went on to win numerous awards and is one of the highest grossing international films in the States. In my opinion, it deserves all the respect that it gets and is one of my favorite comedies of all time.

There is a wealth of other great movies from various genres  which I won’t go into a great amount of detail in this article but I’ll give a brief plot.

There is “SPL: Sha Po Lang” is a dark and gritty crime drama starring Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. In this movie, a terminally ill detective is determined to bring down a triad boss and enlists a new officer to lead his team of detectives in a quest to bring the triad boss to justice.

Wu Xia” which again stars Donnie Yen as a gentle man called Liu Jingxi,  who lives in a small Chinese village when an incident involving Liu and two bandits leads Xu Baiju, a Sherlock Holmes-like detective, to investigate Liu and his not-so-gentle past.

Ip Man”  is a biographical martial arts movie that delves into the history of legendary wing chun master, Ip Man (Bruce Lee’s instructor) against the backdrop of Japanese occupied China during the Sino-Japanese war. Donnie Yen stars again as Ip Man (is it obvious I like Donnie Yen?)

One more Donnie Yen film, “Flash Point” sees Yen again cast as a detective in Hong Kong who is seeking to take down a gang of Vietnamese brothers.

Another Jackie Chan movie worth of looking at is “Rumble in the Bronx” which has Chan playing a Hong Kong cop visiting New York for a wedding when he comes into conflict with a local biker gang. However, things change when a much larger threat turns up.

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Shaolin,” another movie from Benny Chan, features an Early Republic era Chinese warlord named Hou Jie (Andy Lau) who must reevaluate his life after he loses his daughter and is hunted by his former deputy. He must work with the monks he once ridiculed as he takes shelter among them.

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Shaolin (2011)

If you are looking for Chinese films from other genres, there’s “Call for Love,” a romantic comedy where a man bored with his mundane life and wife, divorces her, and receives a magical phone that will set him up with 10 different women.

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Call for Love (2007)

Those are some of the movies I have seen but there are a few interesting movies on my dvd buy list (yup I still get dvd and blu ray). There is “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” by Stephen Chow, which is actually getting a sequel this year. There is also “Drunken Master,” “Fearless” (which caused some controversy), and “Red Cliff.”

One genre of film that I haven’t seen any movies from but desperately want to is the Jiang Shi movies. These are Chinese horror movies featuring Jiang Shi (which translates as Stiff Corpse): Hopping vampire zombie things that rise from the grave and spread their mystical ailment. The movies are hard to come by in the west as far as I have seen.

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An example of Jiang Shi in movies

So that is a quick look at some of Kung Fu and some of the other genres of Chinese and Cantonese cinema that are available. Let me know what your favorite genre of Asian cinema is and some examples either in the comments or on Twitter @MCMoovies. Happy New year and I will see you next time!

The Cow

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