Kung Fury: Contemporary Debates in Martial Arts Cinema – Conference write-up

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Purpose of the conferencekungfurybcu

In the media-congested world of YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix and other digital platforms, it is perhaps surprising that Kung Fury, a 30-minute martial arts action comedy short which pays tribute to the culture of the 1980s, could have raised $630,000 via Kickstarter, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and attracted more than 13 millions views of its trailer.

This one day symposium in the School of Media and Birmingham City University takes the success of Kung Fury as a provocation to discuss a range of themes emerging around contemporary martial arts cinema in the digital age . . .

Introduction by Dr Paul Bowman 

Dr Paul Bowman from Cardiff University opened the conference, as the director of the Martial Arts Studies Research Network. He expressed his appreciation to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for recognising Martial Arts Studies as an emerging academic subject, and for funding the network and this event.

Paul explained that the vision for Martial Arts Studies is to create a rich, exciting academic 
subject, which examines the place of martial arts in the modern world. It connects real life training experiences to academic theory, cutting across subjects as diverse as history, philosophy, sociology, art, medicine, anthropology, psychology, sports studies, dance and so on.

Keynote speech by Bey Logan

Dr Oliver Carter, one of the conference organisers (the other was Dr Simon Barber) introduced Bey Logen, the well-known expert on East Asian movies and producer of the recent Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny. Bey gave a lively and passionate keynote speech, which set the tone for the whole day.

Why I love Kung fu movies and think everyone else should too.

Bey started off by saying that for him, the main reason for living these movies is not so much to do with their aesthetic value, historical transmission and so on. It’s simply that they’re so much fun!

He first feBey picll in love with Hong Kong movies when he was living in Birmingham. Like many people, Bey felt somehow discontented with his life, and dreamed of something brighter and better. Watching Kung Fu movies opened up a magical world of fun, colour and adventure; and he recklessly decided to move to Hong Kong to be a part of it.

Bey’s view is that martial arts cinema has a special quality over other genres, in that it can genuinely change our lives, by opening doors and inspiring us to pursue real-life training regimes and spiritual pathways, in a way that (for example) watching a James Bond or Superman movie doesn’t.

Similarly, Bey believes that Bruce Lee has changed countless people’s lives, on a level that most movie stars couldn’t inspire. He attributes this to Lee’s simplicity. In an increasingly complex and confusing world, it’s empowering and even healing for us to watch Lee move through situations with grace, control and inner confidence, and effect his will on the world.

People often say that arts such as Kung Fu are anachronistic in the age of MMA. To which Bey’s view is: who cares? He has no aspiration to fight in a cage; and deeply values his own practice, and the lifetime goal of unifying unify mind, body and spirit.

Another reason Kung Fu movies are inspirational in Bey’s eyes, is that they are a powerful celebration of the male body in motion; and strongly promote the empowerment of women in a way that Hollywood tends not to.

And he finds martial arts movies interesting, in that they are art precisely because they fake real combat. Watching real combat would not transform us in the way that watching stylised representations of it can do.

Finally they also give us visceral awareness of a culture and lore – and often a historical period – other than our own.

Bruce Lee pic
By Neal Adams [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A brief history of Kung Fu cinema
Bey talked us through the history of Kung Fu cinema. He structured his presentation around the beguiling image of a mirror constantly reflecting itself.

The first big milestone was the inspirational Wong Fei-hung series of over 100 black and white feature films, which reflected Confucian values and showed little bloodshed.

These films were toppled from their dominant position by the Shaw brothers, who transformed the industry almost overnight, through colour filming, and the use of the Mandarin language and bloody sword battles. An iconic example of their work was The One Armed Swordsman.

Bruce Lee’s movies offered a response to this, with a focus on simplicity of techniques, and one hero taking on many enemies.
After Bruce Lee died, Bey explained that it seemed that no one could fill his shoes. The Shaw Brothers therefore turned to Shaolin Kung Fu as a way forward, producing classic pieces such as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

The mirror then bent again, resulting in comedy Kung Fu movies by Jackie Chan and others. Bey characterised this as the fun-house mirror version. John Woo picked this up and became the so-called king of Kung Fu comedy. These movies had little or no blood and guts. But Woo wasn’t satisfied with this, and started to explore a new type of gangster film, where gun play became as exciting as Kung Fu fighting. Notably, he remade True Colours of the Hero as A Better Tomorrow.

Finally, Bey talked about what he called new wave Wuxia Kung Fu movies, such as Once Upon a a Time in China and Ip Man.

To conclude, he described Hong Kong as an ever-changing place of reinvention – for individuals as well as for society itself – and this is reflected in the cinema.

Personal reflections
Bey shared his feelings of gratitude for the way his life has played out to date. He attributes a lot of it to his cheerful “Just say yes!” philosophy, which has often led him to take on quite daunting challenges and opportunities.

The flip side of this sense of privilege is that Bey feels a profound sense of responsibility to “give back” to society in some way. Increasingly, he seeks to discharge this by acting as a curator and steward for the wealth of martial arts movies he knows and treasures.

projector-64149_960_720Bey light-heartedly confided that he sometimes aspires to emulate Alan Lomax, the American field-collector of 20th century folk music. Lomax painstakingly recorded thousands of songs and interviews for the Archive of American Folk Song, and independently in Britain, Ireland, the Caribbean, Italy, Spain and the US over a period of 70 years. These recordings are now priceless.

In this way, Bey said he wishes to play the role of well keeper, i.e. the guardian of the source of the water, which martial arts movie fans need and crave.

Continuing the theme of stewardship and service, Bey also talked about admiring the achievements of John Henry Hammond II, the American record producer, civil rights activist and music critic. Hammond was instrumental in sparking or furthering numerous musical careers, including those of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Billie Holiday.

An insider’s view of the big stars
Bey shared some affectionate personal anecdotes about Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Ang Lee, portraying them as kind, wise, humble, warm human beings.

On Mixed Martial Arts
Kyle Barrowman, who was scheduled to give his own paper later on asked Bey where he thought MMA fitted into the martial arts movie genre. Bey responded thoughtfully that American films had certainly reached the level of HK films in terms of technical fight scenes and a general incredible physicality. But for him there was still some kind of substance missing.

He spoke about his own recent film, Lady Bloodfight, where he’d sought to convey the mental and spiritual aspects of martial arts. And said that he felt this was a definite area for development in American martial arts movies in general.

Bey also suggested that it’s likely MMA has reached a ceiling in terms of mainstream acceptance. It certainly doesn’t seem likely to overtake boxing or wrestling in popularity. Yet MMA is present in martial arts movies nonetheless. Bey gave two clear examples – the opening scene of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, and Donnie Yen’s closing fight in Flashpoint.

Bey noted an irony that the “art” of MMA can probably be expressed more fully in film than in the cage. And advised that the flagbearer for MMA would more likely to be someone like Donnie Yen, than a “real” MMA practitioner.

The distribution of martial arts films

Jonathan Wroot, Birmingham City University and University of Worcester
J Wroot picJonathan explained that although this topic might sound like a niche interest, it’s actually very broad, and helpful for understanding movie distribution in general. He gave a quick overview of the history of Kung Fu film distribution, from the heyday of Cine Asia (from 2007 to around 2012), through the subsequent dominance of Dragon Dynasty and Hong Kong Legends.

He explained that the sheer volume of repackaging that went on at that time showed the strong popularity and influence of those films. These catalogues heavily shaped and impacted distribution in the UK and US in particular.

Jonathan also talked about the trend of pre-selling low-budget movies in the 1980s, which continues to some extent these days, for movies which go straight to DVD. This runs in parallel to the bigger marketing efforts attached to more expensive, big studio productions, where the release is managed centrally by a company such as Sony.

Jonathan also talked about some very interesting international developments, such as the production of low-budget martial arts films in places like Vietnam and Uganda. He told us about the film industry developing in Wakaliga, a slum in Uganda’s capital Kampala, which is often dubbed “Wakaliwood”. Jonathan explained that in some ways it’s helpful to think about martial arts movies as part of the wider pool of violent films (including the so-called “Asia Extreme” genre) – but at the same time, they can also be helpfully considered in their own right as a niche genre.

Find out more about Jonathan’s work at: http://worc.academia.edu/JonathanWroot

Martial Arts Film as Global Cinema (Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon 2000; Hero 2002)

Dr Hyunseon Lee, SOAS
H Lee picHyunseon started by expressing her passion for martial arts movies, which in her view are among the most celebrated type of film – she called them a kind of iconic, transnational media.

Hyunseon covered two main themes in her talk.

Firstly, she reminded us that since their inception, movies have always transmitted cultural identities. This works at both a global and local level. Hyunseon is interested in how culture is expressed at these two levels in the movies – and the relationship between the two.

Secondly, Hyunseon explored the links and interplay between martial arts movies and opera.

These two themes are closely linked, as in Hyunseon’s words, Art expresses culture. She took the figure of the swordfighter as a unifying image for the two themes. On the one hand, the swordfighter is a striking aesthetic image of a warrior performing in an extremely theatrical, approaching operatic tradition. But at the same time, it also expresses national / cultural identity.

In this context, Hyunseon highlighted the following themes:

  • In common with the opera, the presentation of fights in martial arts movies focuses on their sensual and physical form as their primary characteristic.
  • Several critics have made the link between Chinese masculinity and martial arts, i.e, the concept of the “martial body” or “Chineseness” embodied in the male body.
  • The movies also emphasis the performance of women, including the iconic flying female swordfighters. Chinese martial arts films tend to differ from Japanese / Korean films in their depiction of women. For example, they tend to have a more sentimental narrative, with a melodramatic love story. At the same time, the women are strongly embodied as characters in their own right – this is known as the Nuxia (women warriors) tradition of the Wuxia genre.
  • china-1215511_960_720Chinese martial arts movies are also characterised by a wider “Martial arts magic spirit”. Hyunseon linked this to Walter Benjamin’s idea that historically, works of art had an ‘aura’ – an appearance of magical or supernatural force arising from their uniqueness. Benjamin argues that the aura has disappeared in the modern age, because art has become reproducible. For Hyunseon however, the concept of the aura can still offer us a model to attempt to reconnect the past with the present on one plane.
  • Hyunseon also explored the concept of self-orientalism in these movies. Orientalism (a phrase coined by Edward Said) was a negative term. It referred to a Western, colonial tendency to see the Orient as exotic and “Other”, leading to a systematic, prejudiced mindset and political viewpoint which ultimately disempowered the Oriental countries.

Self-orientalism is a variant of this, where oriental people themselves perpetuate stereotypes and generalisations about the East. This is a problematic issue for martial arts cinema. Because in the end, cinema is a commercial enterprise; and if Western audiences prefer a stereotypically “Oriental” atmosphere in films, there will always be a temptation to provide it.

– Hyunseon identified five basic themes or elements of martial arts films:

  • Clash of rival martial arts styles
  • Climactic duel
  • Relationship between master and student
  • Connection between victory over oneself and victory over one’s opponent.
  • A romance of the hero.

Hyunseon concluded by reiterating the overlap between her two themes, and celebrating the way that martial arts films unite audiences in fun, attraction and entertainment.

Find out more about Hyunseon’s work at: http://www.hyunseonlee.net/

Must a Chinese auteur make a martial arts film?

Dr Felicia Chan, University of Manchester

Note: By “auteur”, Felicia is referring to a highly successful, well-established film director who has reached the stage of being able to express their personal creative vision and voice through their movies – “auteur” is the French word for “author”

felicia picFelicia chose the Taiwanese movie The Assassin directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien for the topic of her talk, as it was such an unusual film to be picked up for UK distribution. This led her to reflect on why so many successful auteurs make martial arts movies later in their career.

For example, Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke has recently announced a new project with Johnnie To as producer. It will be a martial arts film (his first) set at the end of the Qing Dynasty, which explores the turbulence amongst scholars, bandits and local officials following the abolition of the imperial examination system.

They certainly don’t need to do this, in order to be validated as auteurs, or even as film producers. But Felicia suggested that three other possible reasons might be at play . . .

To fulfil boyhood fantasies
Felicia suggested that once a director has proved himself professionally, he may feel in a position to satisfy a lifetime craving to produce a martial arts movie. For example, Ang Lee is quoted as saying of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

The film is a kind of dream of China, a China that probably never existed, except in my boyhood fantasies in Taiwan. Of course, my childhood imagination was fired by the martial arts movies I grew up with and by the novels of romance and derring-do I read instead of doing my homework. That these two kinds of dreaming should come together now, in a film I was able to make in China, is a happy irony for me.

Felicia said that she believed it was to do with childhood memories of fun, and the director trying to recapture these feelings.

But at the same time, these films sometimes contain very little actual martial arts. This leads Felicia to believe that there is something more at stake, and that perhaps the martial arts are being used as a signifier of “Chinese-ness”, and to enable the auteur to explore his own culture . . .

To validate their cultural label, and enable them to explore issues around their own cultural identity.

Chinese landscapeThe Assassin is about a young woman being trained as a killer and separated from her family. However, it contains little fighting. Instead, it’s full of the heroine silently walking away, and long silences (which Felicia suggested refer to “unspoken secrets”).

Felicia explained that the trauma of separation from mother / father is a theme which Hou Hsiao-Hsien has explored before. It alludes to Taiwan’s complicated history since 1945, with the parents representing the State.

Felicia also believes that in this particular film, Hsiao-Hsien is seeking to recapture and recuperate an older China, modelled nostalgically on the Tang Dynasty golden age of literacy, cosmopolitanism and democracy (from around 600-900 BCE).

To demonstrate their status
Finally, Felicia observed that it seemed odd on the surface, that these movies are often extremely expensive – but seem to make no effort to appeal to a mass market and recuperate any of this expense

Felicia therefore suggested that there might be a consciously self-indulgent element to these projects. The auteur is literally creating exactly what they want to, free of any pressure to shape it to market forces – knowing that they have has the status, power and resources to do so.

There may also be an element of pride – the auteur can play the role as a powerful general, who is capable of marshalling the resources to make it happen – with a blithe unconcern as to whether it just ends up as an elegant boutique piece no one watches.

Find out more about Felicia’s work at: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/felicia.chan/

Panel – movie distribution

The three panellists each gave a brief talk about their views and experience of the movie distribution process, and answered questions from the audience.

Bey Logan (Producer)
Bey said that he’d participated in just about every aspect of the process. The biggest change he’d seen over the years, was that film making and distribution had moved the hands of the elite to ordinary people.

However, Bey feels that two fundamental things haven’t changed:

  • A good story, which people care about, is essential
  • You need to earn back more money from your movie than it costs to make!

He said that people are getting out of the habit of paying for anything, so it’s becoming harder to engage them. On the positive side, anyone can make a film now. But on the negative side, making money from it has perhaps never been harder.

Bey also raised the issue of Chinese filmmakers being tied to making movies that audiences want to watch, as opposed to the films they really want to make. In Bey’s view, language is always going to be a commercial barrier, unless the movie is sufficiently stylised to transcend language (for example martial arts, anime, horror and so on).

Paul Smith (PR professional)
Paul talked about his experiences with the Tartan label. In his view, the label’s strength and continued legacy was the so-called Asia Extreme genre, created through Tartan’s nurturing of classical Japanese cinema. Paul shared the history of how the Asia Extreme concept had come into being, including a roadshow of 6 or 7 films to launch the brand.

Spencer Murphy (Film festival director)
spencer-3Spencer said that he was a living example of Bey’s point about movies reaching the hands of the “common person”. He started out as a fan in the days when there was almost literally no access to the movies he wanted to see beyond bootlegged VHSs, shady contacts in Chinatown and so on. He knew nothing about the directors – just knew titles. Nno writing. Nothing outside the films and their titles. It was before the Internet.

Spencer said that he finds it surprising and disappointing that so few people now make use of the amazing accessibility of films today.

Spencer told us the story of how his first student film festival came about, working with a small Japanese distribution company called Third World Films – small Japanese distribution company.

He still believes that festivals offer something special and different in a world where most of us now watch movies on our laptops. But it’s difficult to challenge the primacy of private, online viewing, and persuade people that they can get something more and different by watching the same films in a festival environment.

However, Spencer has genuine faith that if you get like-minded people together, you will naturally create an experience and a culture.

Paul added that he is a passionate champion for the joy of festivals, where people can have loads of fun, get additional experience; swap stories with other fans; maybe meet producers, and so on.

One attendee pointed out that the costs of going to the cinema are really high now. Bey agreed, and added that much of that money goes to corporations, not to the people involved in the film-making. He believes that if you make a clear, legal way to see movies, people are basically honourable, and will go for it. But right now that platform doesn’t really exist. He wondered aloud if there might be a market for a niche movies Netflix-type channel.

Bey added that of just as the consumer must consume ethically, so must the distributor make reasonable efforts to distribute the films, so people can access them.

RoCH Fans and Legends

Dr susan pui san lok, Middlesex University

Susan’s presentation provided a lovely, vibrant contrast to the rest of the conference, as it was based on her beautiful visual artwork around the Return of the Condor Heroes (RoCH) trilogy

It’s an ongoing project, which susan described as an “extendable intertextual mashup”, and which pays tribute to 1980s culture. The work draws on fan uploads of over 40 different media adaptations of The Condor Trilogy, which is a classic “new wuxia” epic published in the late fifties and early sixties by Hong-Kong based author Louis Cha, aka Jin Yong.

The artwork susan showed us was a series of stunning montages of the fantasies, landscapes and “recurring dreams of weightlessness” of wuxia. She explained that one of her creative aims was to evoke archetypes by synthesising and ultimately transcending all the different versions of the characters, as well as drawing out the archetypal resonance of the central condor / eagle image.

My favourite piece was the four-minute movie: Trailers. This combines the title sequences, trailers, theme songs and publicity shots for some 20 adaptations of The Condor Trilogy, along with what seemed like very ordinary Google street views, interweaving mundane and mythical landscapes at a fast, somewhat disorientating pace.

What was so powerful about this video, was that many of the street views contained Chinese restaurants with evocative names such as Dragon Court, Phoenix Palace or Peach Blossom Garden. By juxtaposing these images with radiant, colourful “oriental” images from the RoCH movies, the apparently dull, suburban scenes suddenly take on a sense of mystery and exoticism – as if the local Peach Blossom Garden could somehow also be a hidden portal to the fantastic worlds depicted in the movies.

Susan also explained that she was playing with the idea in this video, that the movies were fictional, but the street scenes were “real”. Because in fact, both types of scene are heavily cultural constructs.

You can find out more about susan’s work at: https://susanpuisanlok.wordpress.com/

“Champions” – a short history of MMA in the movies
Kyle Barrowman

Kyle explained that he would be coming from the American perspective, in contrast to the rest of the conference. He then framed his presentation in terms of David Desser’s idea that American martial-arts films have five sub-genres:

  1. the ‘arena’ subgenre
  2. the law enforcement subgenre
  3. the ‘juvenile adventure fantasy’
  4. the ‘video/cartoon fantasy
  5. the science fiction subgenre.
MMA pic
By Official Marine Corps photo by Pfc. John Robbart III, via Wikimedia Commons

In terms of American martial arts movies in general, it’s easy to think of examples for each category, such as The Karate Kid (juvenile adventure) or various Steven Seagal movies (law enforcement). However, Kyle stressed the difference between “MMA in the movies” (of which there have been many examples) and “MMA movies” (of which there have been very few examples). In this second category, Kyle believes that Champions and Here Comes the Boom are the best. He asked the open question as to whether a sixth subgenre might be needed, to cover these movies . . .

Kyle showed us the trailer for Champions, which was his favourite film (to the point of obsession!) as a little boy. Using Desser’s typology, it’s an “Arena”-type film with a “Law Enforcement” subplot.

The main focus of Kyle’s presentation was the instructive moral elements in MMA movies. He explained that Champions portrays the underground fighting organisation in negative, stereotypical terms, recalling John McCain’s dismissal of MMA at one point as “human cock fighting”.

But in opposition to this morally degenerate world, the heroes of the film display nobility, incorruptibility and commitment to a “martial code” – which of course prevails over evil in the end.

Kyle noted that some MMA films have revenge plots, such as Never Back Down (2008) and Tapped Out (2014). In these films however, the negative elements are not neutralised and overcome by positive forces.

Kyle added that in his own experience of training and competing, the negative stereotypes depicted in these movies (brutality, cruelty, revenge and so on) don’t ring true, and that they function more as fictional plot devices in these movies. However, the positive forces of friendship, healthy competition and morality as seen in the films are very much a reflection of the reality.

Another inspirational theme found across these movies is that of training, reaching one’s potential and encouraging others to do the same (e.g. Here Comes The Boom).

In support of the morally uplifting qualities of MMA movies, Kyle quoted one of his favourite philosophers, Ayn Rand:

What people seek in thrillers is the spectacle of man’s efficacy: of his ability to fight for his values and to achieve them. What they see is a condensed, simplified pattern, reduced to its essentials: a man fighting for a vital goal—overcoming one obstacle after another—facing terrible dangers and risks—persisting through an excruciating struggle—and winning.


[The] basic characteristic [of thrillers] is conflict, which means: a clash of goals, which means: purposeful action in pursuit of values. Thrillers are the product, the popular offshoot, of the Romantic school of art that sees man, not as a helpless pawn of fate, but as a being who possesses volition, whose life is directed by his own value-choices.

Kyle’s passion for MMA was clearly visible, as was his desire that movie makers should grasp the potential for greatness within this genre, and develop it into something wonderful and influential. As part of his talk, he respectfully challenged Bey’s earlier-stated view that MMA lacked the mental and spiritual refinement of other martial arts

Bey replied that his own point had been in response to the popular statement that we live in “post martial arts” world, where MMA has superseded all traditional schools. For Bey, the most important aspects of martial arts training relate to the deep unification of mind, body and spirit, which he personally believes a tradition like Kung Fu is better suited to, than MMA. He also has concerns about the potential for MMA to damage participants’ bodies, in a way that Kung Fu (for example) is less likely to do.

Bey and Kyle were happy to disagree on these points in any case. In the end, the same things are at stake for both men – the quest for self-perfection, and a discipline which offers a vehicle to this, within a sound moral framework. Where they differ, is in their view of the best path for this journey – I wondered if this might perhaps be due in part to the generational difference between them.

Chick Kicks: Bad-ass heroines of Hong Kong Cinema

Dr Colette Balmain, Kingston University, London

colette picCollette’s presentation focused on the question:

Are the “kick-ass” women in martial arts movies liberational – or ultimately constrained by patriarchy?

Incidentally, Colette explained that this is a wider question, which goes beyond just Hong Kong / Chinese martial arts movies.

Colette has analysed a huge number of female characters in martial arts movies, and shared the following conclusions:

  1. As explained by Renee E Tajima, images of Asian women tend to fall into just two simplistic categories: the Lotus Blossom Baby (a.k.a. China Doll, Geisha Girl, shy Polynesian beauty), and the Dragon Lady (Fu Manta’s various female relations, prostitutes, devious madames). There is little in between […]
  2. Female characters in martial arts movies can certainly be transgressive – but it’s always within limits.
  3. The women in these films tend to be defined by their sexuality – which is typically either very over-stated, or very repressed – there’s rarely anything in-between. For example, in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Michelle Yeoh’s character (Yu Shu Lien) has been tragically denied her love. Colette argues also that when Jen leaps into the abyss in the final scene, this represents the fact that there is literally no space for her, or her desires.
  4. There are often undertones of male castration anxiety within scenes of women fighting men.
  5. The female characters are often portrayed as being stymied by their out-of-control emotions. Either the woman’s emotions hold her back from ever reaching a “Zen”-like state; or they fester, and render her a “poison woman”.
  6. “Bad-ass” heroines are very often either “rehabilitated” by the end of the movie through marriage – or “punished” through exile or death.
  7. The movies often fetishise women’s bodies in a stylised way – Lady Assassin is a typical example of this.
  8. Carol J Clover’s notion of the Final Girl in horror movies can also be useful for analysing some martial arts films: A common plot line in many horror films is one in which a series of victims is killed one-by-one by a killer amid increasing terror, culminating in a climax in which the last surviving member of the group, usually female, either vanquishes the killer or escapes.

Colette explained that the Final Girl figure has to be asexual and female. This allows the male viewer to vicariously enjoy the feelings of terror, without losing his own sense of masculinity. So the Last Girl is generally not an empowering figure – she is just a symbolic plot device, there for the male spectator. And in any case, she is often helped out at the end, and does not win the battle in her own right.

Colette said that she has only just started to skim the surface of this fascinating topic, and intends to go into it more deeply for her next project.

One audience member asked Colette if it might be productive and healing to just stop talking in terms of gender, and think only in terms of human beings, and their skills. Colette and susan advised that this was indeed the ideal they’d like to reach ultimately; but that all the time unhealthy tropes keep reappearing in these movies, discussions on gender will need to remain out in the open.

You can read more of Colette’s work at: http://kingston.academia.edu/BalmainColette


This write-up wouldn’t be complete without a big thank you to Dr Simon Barber and Dr Oliver Carter from Birmingham CIty University who organised the day. 

The guys are obsessed with cult film, and have worked together on numerous research projects. One of their favourite research topics is into ‘Bruceploitation’ cinema. Simon says, Though our research into the ‘Bruce Lee clones’ is concerned primarily with studying small-scale economies and the logistics of how such films were made, we are also motivated in part by our own nostalgia for watching martial arts films as young boys (personally, I was fascinated by Bruce Lee before I even became a teenager, and have studied Jeet Kune Do as a practitioner).

This was interesting, because I’d already noticed the theme of men chasing boyhood dreams popping up at various points during the day. Which led to this article: Can Chasing Boyhood Dreams Actually Be a Powerful Road to Maturity?

It was a great day all round – many thanks to Paul, SImon, Oli and all the speakers and other people involved in making it such a success. Next stop is the Martial Arts Studies residential conference in Cardiff this July – look forward to seeing you there if you are going . . . !.


3 Responses

  1. Gunther

    “Felicia explained that the trauma of separation from mother / father is a theme which Hou Hsiao-Hsien has explored before. It alludes to Taiwan’s complicated history since 1945, with the parents representing the State.”

    “Felicia also believes that in this particular film, Hsiao-Hsien is seeking to recapture and recuperate an older China, modelled nostalgically on the Tang Dynasty golden age of literacy, cosmopolitanism and democracy (from around 600-900 BCE).”

    There are times, I wish I had more exposure more about Asian history, Asian culture, Asian societies and Asian symbols in these movies so I can fully understand them more fully and appreciated them.

  2. Kai

    Gunther, I know just what you mean. Even thinking about how much I don’t know about the martial arts I learn is overwhelming. Then you realise how many arts are out there that you know nothing about. And then as you say, there’s all that essential historical / political / cultural context, which just seems too vast (to me, and I guess to you too) to even put a dent in.

    Please don’t let it get you down? Just keep chasing knowledge with all your heart. And remember the wise words that Socrates is supposed to have said (although I don’t think he actually did!): “The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing”.

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