Tag Archive: China


Review by C.J. Bunce

Despite living in an international economy with the ability to communicate via portable devices with literally anyone on the planet, it’s a shame that the exchange of culture between the Western world and China is still stuck in the 20th century.  We only just saw an English translation of one of the best, most widely read, epic fantasy novels from China this year with the release of A Hero Born (reviewed here at borg), only the first book in author Jin Yong’s 1950s wuxia novel series.  The books have been adapted and interpreted over the past 70 years into dozens of films, TV series, and spin-offs.  But until recently they have only been available in China, or for those outside of China who have taken efforts to seek them out.  A Hero Born is only the first of twelve novels in the saga The Legend of the Condor Heroes Even without global circulation the series has influenced countless other stories, including so many elements of George Lucas’s Star Wars saga audiences will lose track of all the common elements.  If you think Lucas based his story only on the works of Akira Kurosawa’s films from Japan, think again–there’s as much Condor Heroes in Star Wars’s galaxy as Hidden Fortress. 

The most recent adaptation of the The Legend of the Condor Heroes story can be found in a 2017 series, starring well-known actors in China.  It’s only available if you’re willing to pick up an international DVD player, or you track it down on YouTube (both available in subtitled English editions).  But if you watch it–a whopping 52 incredible hour-long format episodes, you’re in store for one of the finest, most exciting genre series you’ve ever seen.  The quality of the production, the incredible martial arts work and visual effects, and top quality acting is prompting us to add this series to our own “Best of 2019” review coming later this month.  Sure, it’s two years since it came out in China, but there is no U.S. distribution channel.  Ideally Netflix would pick it up as they did for this year’s Korean series, Kingdom.  Two pregnant women escape an early 13th century conflict as their husbands, sworn brothers in spirit, are killed.  Their sons grow up separately, unaware of each other.  Guo Jing is honest, loyal and righteous, but slow to learn socially, and more importantly in the ways of the martial arts.  The other, Yang Kang, is clever and suave, but scheming and treacherous. They eventually meet each other and their respective lovers, Huang Rong and Mu Nianci.

Directed by Jiang Jiajun (also known as Jeffrey Chiang), the series follows Guo Jing, raised as Song and living on a rural farm with his mother.  He soon saves a man, a warrior in conflict with a general who will rise to become history’s Genghis Khan, and in doing so he is trained in bow and arrow in Khan’s legion.  Soon he is also taken on by seven martial arts masters in the techniques of kung fu, but they train him for a reason he is not aware of.  They made a wager at the boy’s birth with another martial arts master, a man who agreed to train the other boy, Yang Kang.  On the boys’ 18th birthday they are to meet at a restaurant where they will compete–the winner will determine who wins:  Jing’s seven masters or Kang’s master.  Unfortunately, Jing is awkward at basic moves including skywalking, while the other boy takes to kung fu very well.  But circumstances favor Jing, and others come along to fill in the blanks so that he can make a good showing when he turns 18, form a bond with friend and lover Rong, and go on to meet the Five Greats and compete in a mountain contest at the highest level.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From Hong Kong to the U.S. and Australia to Uganda, Australian director Serge Ou and writer Grady Hendrix track the scope of the Hong Kong kung fu movie industry and its pop culture influence on the world in the documentary Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, now streaming this month on Netflix.  Splicing interviews with kung fu legends of the past with new discussions with martial artists and actors influenced by them, Ou offers up a surprisingly rich look at how and why kung fu movies gained an international following that continues to this day via Jackie Chan comedies, the Matrix movies (with a sequel due in theaters next year), and new television series like Wu Assassins and Iron Fist. 

Beneath what is in essence an overview of the genre is a smart mixture of social and cultural commentary on a global phenomenon centered on an artform mixing athleticism, dance, and grace.  Kung fu made its way to American audiences with Tom Laughlin in Billy Jack, and into millions of homes via the Kung Fu series.  This was paralleled by Bruce Lee movies and lesser films (they call them Bruce-sploitation) from China and U.S. studios, direct-to-video crotch-kicking and “squirrel-grabbing” action on VHS tapes in video stores, heroines leading the way as a sub-genre, eventually moving to black and inner city audiences embracing the culture, starting with martial artist and actor Jim Kelly (who co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon), re-emerging later as an influence on hip hop music.  The genre got even bigger boosts with Jackie Chan heavy-stunt comedies, followed by The Matrix and the Academy Awards arrival of the genre with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Chinese co-productions with other nations, and actors of Chinese background in the mainstream outside of Asia would eventually come along.

Viewers meet (or revisit) early kung fu icons Cheng Pei-Pei and Sammo Hung in new interviews, along with Billy Banks, who would turn the genre into his own fortune via the creation of the Tae Bo workout, early American female kung fu star Cynthia Rothrock, martial artist Richard Norton, plus from the 21st century shows, Iron Fist actor Jessica Henwick, Wu Assassins actor JuJu Chan, Doctor Strange actor Scott Adkins, and Marvel stuntwoman and choreographer Amy Johnston, among others.  It’s all interspersed with great action sequences and other clips from more than 100 films.  A theme underscoring much of kung fu movie history is a distinct lack of safety standards, with more than one participant in the documentary stressing that Hong Kong kung fu movies couldn’t be made anywhere else for that reason.

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The Wolverine Japan theme poster

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

It’s strange to be reading December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the Worldby Craig Shirley and read all of the vitriol directed against Japanese people in the days after Pearl Harbor in the summations of newspaper accounts.  I know that not using derogative terms to talk about groups of people is a relatively new concept, but looking at the headlines and words used in newspapers still gave me pause.  (The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the chapter I just read mentioned Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Redskins.)

I recently saw The Wolverine and it begins at the other side of the story of WWII, nearly four years after Pearl Harbor when the sovereign land of the Japanese was hit with atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the planes of the United States.  Logan is a prisoner of war in a special constructed cell that buries him in a hole well beneath the surface of the earth.  A bomber passes overhead. A Japanese officer rushes to release POWs from their jails.  He finally cuts the lock from Logan’s cage as well after a bit of deliberation and joins his fellow officers as they face the horizon in the position to commit seppuku before the bomb hits Nagasaki.

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