Chinese Martial Arts Cinema

Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition

Stephen Teo
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r2c7r
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Martial Arts Cinema
    Book Description:

    This is the first comprehensive, fully-researched account of the historical and contemporary development of the traditional martial arts genre in the Chinese cinema known as wuxia (literal translation: martial chivalry) - a genre which audiences around the world became familiar with through the phenomenal 'crossover' hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The book unveils rich layers of the wuxia tradition as it developed in the early Shanghai cinema in the late 1920s, and from the 1950s onwards, in the Hong Kong and Taiwan film industries. Key attractions of the book are analyses of:*The history of the tradition as it began in the Shanghai cinema, its rise and popularity as a serialized form in the silent cinema of the late 1920s, and its eventual prohibition by the government in 1931.*The fantastic characteristics of the genre, their relationship with folklore, myth and religion, and their similarities and differences with the kung fu sub-genre of martial arts cinema.*The protagonists and heroes of the genre, in particular the figure of the female knight-errant.*The chief personalities and masterpieces of the genre - directors such as King Hu, Chu Yuan, Zhang Che, Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou, and films such as Come Drink With Me (1966), The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), A Touch of Zen (1970-71), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006).

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3251-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    The wuxia film is the oldest genre in the Chinese cinema that has remained popular to the present day. Yet despite its longevity, its history has barely been told until fairly recently, as if there was some force denying that it ever existed. Indeed, the genre was as good as non-existent in China, its country of birth, for some fifty years, being proscribed over that time, while in Hong Kong, where it flowered, it was generally derided by critics and largely neglected by film historians. In recent years, it has garnered a following not only among fans but serious scholars....

  5. 1. WUXIA FROM LITERATURE TO CINEMA
    (pp. 17-37)

    This chapter recounts the literary antecedents of wuxia, examining the ideals and characteristics of Chinese knight-errantry as they have passed down through historical records and fiction, before proceeding to a review of the wuxia literature of the early twentieth century which directly preceded the cinematic genre and helped to bring about its birth. The cinema in turn has become a major historiographic apparatus of the wuxia genre, creating new filmic texts often to support and bolster the literary opuses on which directors and screenwriters had drawn. I explore the beginnings of the cinematic genre in the Shanghai film industry, tracing...

  6. 2. REACTIONS AGAINST THE WUXIA GENRE
    (pp. 38-57)

    In the previous chapter, I accounted for some of the factors contributing to the rise of the wuxia shenguai genre. Intellectuals initially regarded the warrior tradition in the genre as one of the elements that could provide a positive counterweight to China’s image as the ‘sick man of Asia’. The genre would function as a tool to encourage heroism along the line of New Heroism which could eventually help to foster a military tradition that had long disappeared in China. According to this line of thought, the scholar tradition that took over had atrophied and let the nation down badly,...

  7. 3. THE RISE OF KUNG FU, FROM WONG FEI-HUNG TO BRUCE LEE
    (pp. 58-85)

    Just as the shenguai wuxia genre took root in Hong Kong’s Cantonese cinema after the war, it was rather quickly displaced by a local tradition of martial arts action which came to be called ‘Kung Fu’. The new genre was kicked off by a series of films based on the adventures of the real-life Cantonese martial arts hero Wong Fei-hung (Huang Feihong, in Pinyin). The essential marker of difference distinguishing the kung fu film from the shenguai wuxia film was its emphasis on ‘real fighting’.

    Director Wu Pang (Hu Peng in Pinyin) (1909–2000), who created the Wong Fei-hung series,...

  8. 4. THE RISE OF NEW SCHOOL WUXIA
    (pp. 86-114)

    As the Wong Fei-hung series reached the end of the 1950s, it inevitably wore itself out through repeated variations of a theme, and although it would continue to run on throughout the 1960s, audiences were beginning to tire of the series and they returned once again to the wuxia film seeing it as a refreshing and exciting if also familiar genre. The freshness of wuxia in this period emanated from the ‘new school’ (xinpai) fiction that had seized the popular imagination by way of the newspapers and its practice of serialisations of martial arts novels. This literary phenomenon began in...

  9. 5. THE WUXIA FILMS OF KING HU
    (pp. 115-142)

    In the previous chapter, I stated that King Hu and Zhang Che were the two most recognised directors of the new school wuxia movement. To Hu, the wuxia genre was a vehicle with which to transmit his thoughts on the historicist model of the female knight-errant in at least two key films of the movement, Come Drink With Me and A Touch of Zen. Zhang Che on the other hand fashioned the masculine identity of xia as a heroic archetype in the Hong Kong cinema and changed its culture of the feminised leading man that had prevailed for nearly two...

  10. 6. WUXIA AFTER A TOUCH OF ZEN
    (pp. 143-171)

    This chapter examines the development of the wuxia film in the period following A Touch of Zen, perhaps the first true masterpiece in the genre though it did not receive the critical recognition it deserved when first released. The film was a box-office failure in Taiwan following its release in two instalments in 1970 and 1971. In Hong Kong, it was cut down to a single two-and-a-half-hour movie, and released in 1971, in the wake of Bruce Lee’s box-office sensation The Big Boss. It too flopped, thus signalling the rise of the kung fu phenomenon and the end of the...

  11. 7. WUXIA BETWEEN NATIONALISM AND TRANSNATIONALISM
    (pp. 172-195)

    We now reach the concluding chapter of this monograph to examine the status and nature of the wuxia genre in its present development. In the new millennium, we see the genre’s tendency to manifest as made-in-China historicist blockbusters mixing the epic form with wuxia. Examples are Tsui Hark’s Legend of Zu (2001), Qi jian (Seven Swords, 2005), Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), He Ping’s Tiandi yingxiong (Warriors of Heaven and Earth, 2004), Chen Kaige’s Wuji (The Promise, 2005), Feng Xiaogang’s Yeyan (The Banquet, 2006), Jacob Cheung’s A Battle of Wits...

  12. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 196-197)

    It is only fitting for me to point out that this study of the history of the wuxia film genre is inevitably incomplete, and that there are many spaces still left to fill. Some of the omissions are dictated by certain constraints. There are areas and periods I have omitted out of necessity because either the films are lost or that there is simply no critical impetus to study them due to long-held perceptions that they are too minor and that it is just too time-consuming to uncover extant film texts and other research materials. Much of the Cantonese cinema’s...

  13. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 198-199)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 200-213)
  15. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 214-219)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 220-230)