Tag Archive: kung fu movies


It was only a few months ago I reviewed Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks here at borg, a film chronicling the challenges and rise of Chinese action movies, including a segment on the legendary martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee.  At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, one of the Grand Jury Prize nominees was a documentary exclusively devoted to Lee, a film called Be Water, titled from the personal philosophy he shared with the world, “be formless, shapeless, like water… be water, my friend.”  A documentary that has received much advance praise and film festival kudos, director Bao Nguyen’s film will premiere to general audiences this Sunday as part of EPSN’s 30 for 30 series.

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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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El Rey network logo

If you haven’t yet caught sight of the El Rey network on your cable line-up, make sure you stop and check it out.  From the mind of pulp film director Robert Rodriguez, known best for his Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids, the Sin City movies, Grindhouse’s Planet Terror, and Machete, the El Rey network is a recently developed partnership between Rodriguez and Univision being picked up across the U.S. by Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and DirecTV, certain to have something entertaining for any fan of all-things-retro.  It’s tagline provides the short version of what you’ll find:  Where fans, aficionados and rebels come for their fix of bullets, blood and curated classics.  Its target is English-speaking Latino audiences, but it has a much broader appeal.

El Rey is the newest home for grindhouse movies, kung fu and other tough guy flicks, cult horror, and retro/classics.  Shows include tailored commercials and intentionally worn and grainy “bumpers” to give a dated feel, with familiar-sounding voiceover actors that highlight the series’ gritty and retro themes.  You’ll find classic series like The X-Files, Miami Vice, and Starsky and Hutch, and movies like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, and kung-fu features like The Kid With the Golden Arm.

Rodriquez and Carpenter

The best from the network so far is original programming like The Director’s Chair, where director Robert Rodriguez interviews some of our favorite genre moviemakers.  The first guest in the series was John Carpenter, one of borg.com‘s all-time favorite directors, known best for Halloween, but also for Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Fog, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and They Live.   Rodriguez’s interview is a treat for Carpenter fans, providing insight and anecdotes from Carpenter chatting about his films.  And Rodriguez, who seems a young director at 46, goes all fanboy throughout his interview, which you rarely see in shows like this.  It works here, because if you’re watching this type of show you’re likely a fanboy or fangirl, too.

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