When most Westerners think of Chinese cinema they are less likely to picture Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum or Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine. They are more likely to recall Bruce Lee’s flicks, especially Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon.
Perhaps that’s appropriate. After all, the martial arts genre tends to be associated with the Chinese in much the same way that Bollywood musicals are with India or sullen, chain-smoking explorations of the human condition with the French.
And now the genre is set to be taken to the next level. Well known martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping is planning to introduce audiences to 3D kung fu.
With Avatar currently an international smash hit all over the world with its three-dimensional effects, Yuen hopes his martial arts movie can also grab audience attention. True Legend – directed by Yuen – is the world’s first 3D kung fu film and will premier on February 9, during the busy Chinese New Year period. It stars Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger fame, as well as Zhou Xun (see last week’s issue), and Taiwanese male heartthrob Jay Chou.
“3D has been really popular in Hollywood, so why not try it? Chinese films should not lag too far behind,” Yuen told the China Daily. “The technology makes the action three-dimensional, which offers viewers more visual enjoyment. The power and beauty of kung fu will be crystal clear.”
Further evidence of the abiding strength of the kung fu genre comes in the shape of Bodyguards and Assassins, which has been showing in Chinese cinemas since early December. To date it has taken Rmb247 million at the box office. Featuring a cast of A-list kung fu stars including Donnie Yen, the film is made by Cinema Popular – a studio that claims to be China’s “answer to Dreamworks”.
But the film is about more than flying kicks and exploding fists. The action stars have a purpose: to protect Sun Yat-sen from assassination during a trip to Hong Kong in 1906. Known as the ‘Father of the Nation’, Sun founded the Chinese republic almost 100 years ago (in 1911) and brought down the Qing Dynasty.
As with most cultural events in China, the film carries a wider political significance. Until recently a movie lionising Sun would have caused angst among the country’s top brass and likely would not have been shown. That’s because Sun founded the Kuomintang (KMT), the party that eventually fought the Communists and fled in 1949 to found Taiwan. (His portrait is still on Taiwan’s hundred dollar bill.)
However, tensions with Taiwan have eased dramatically in the past couple of years – thanks in large part to the efforts of the KMT’s latest leader, Ma Ying-jeou. So Beijing’s decision to show the films signals another step forward in the cross-straits rapprochement.
Aside from the Taiwan question, the movie has another far-reaching angle. Sun believed in democracy. For the leaders of a one-party state to tolerate the screening of a movie about China’s first democrat is quite a statement. Even Sergey Brin and Larry Page must concede that is progress – of sorts.
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