Tuesday, 9 October 2007

How Bruce Lee Changed the World (2009)

This is another excellent doc on Bruce Lee. The name of this doco should be clear what it's all about.

I'm not going to make a laundry list of how Bruce Lee changed the world. You could find out from this movie yourself. But I will make a laundry list of how Bruce Lee changed the HK film industry. A summary of what I already mentioned in various places in this list.

1. He invented the kungfu genre. Before him, SB (the most important HK studio that dominated HK film industry before Bruce Lee arrived)  only made wuxia genre. What's the difference between kungfu and wuxia flicks? There're 2 major distinguishing features.

How Bruce Lee Changed the World (2009)Wuxia is also called swordplay, and as such, the martial artists often fight each other with swords. Of course, they don't ALWAYS fight with swords. They do so MOST of the times. Other times, they use other weapons.

Similarly, in kungfu genre, martial artists fight each other with fists (and legs). In other words, the body is the weapon. Again, they don't ALWAYS fight with their bodies. They do so MOST of the times. Other times, they use weapons. Bruce Lee, for example, used nunchuck and other weapons from time to time.

The more important distinction between kungfu and wuxia genre is WHEN the story takes place. Wuxia tend to take place in Chinese antiquity. I say, as a rule, before 19th century. Could be much further back in time. In ancient times, many Chinese carried swords. Even poets carried swords (doesn't mean they were expert swordsmen). While after 19th century, people don't walk around with swords, hence we have people fighting with fists, not swords. This is the period where kungfu took place - post 18th century.

2. The emergence of patriotic martial arts genre (read Fist of Fury (1972) and Hapkido (1972) for more comments about this development). Since wuxia took place before the 19th century China, the contacts between Chinese and foreigners were very limited. There were always so called patriotic historical dramas being made before, but they fought Chinese neighbouring countries that eventually took over China and dominated over the Han majority. E.g. The Jurchens, the Mongols, and the Manchus. They weren't invaders from across the seas. All these neighbouring invaders were eventually being Sinicized and become Chinese minorities (or 'nationalities' as they're more accurately called by PRC today). So such movies are much less controversial because of the people as well as the huge separation of time.

How Bruce Lee Changed the World (2009)By focusing the stories in the period of 19th century and early 20th century China, the patriotic kungfu flicks concentrated on the foreign invaders from across the seas - Europeans in the 19th century, and Japanese in the 20th century. Because of the much closer time frames, the HK film makers were more sensitive to the whole enterprise.

As a result of these, foreigner faces begun to appear in HK movies after 1970 when Bruce Lee came to Chollywood (Can I call HK and Chinese film industry Chollywood? I love to invent new word).

The whole of Once Upon a Time in China franchise is a best - and far from being the only one - example of the patriotic kungfu flicks spurred into existence by Bruce Lee. The hero(es/ines) in these films are patriots (Wong Fei-Hung, Chen Zhen, Hou Yuanjia, etc).

3. He turned wuxia directors into kungfu films directors. Most notably Chang Cheh, who is called the Godfather of HK Cinema follow Bruce Lee's lead. Actors who played blades wielding swordsmen were turned into fisticuffs boxers (Wang Yu, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, etc).

4. Even his death created wave of Bruceploitation movies, and many martial arts actors whose careers came into existence impersonating Bruce Lee, while others directions were decided in one shape or another after this. Jackie Chan is an example of both Bruce Lee's wannabe, and somebody whose career's direction was effected because of Bruce Lee. Other martial artists like Sammo Jung, and Liu Chia-Liang also jumped on the comedy action bandwagon for the same reason.

5. He - along with Chang Cheh - reversed the dominant female bias in SB films, and transformed the whole Chollywood into a more masculine pivot (Bruce Lee was from America, and the Yang principle is very strong in Hollywood). Female leads that used to dominate SB movies before 1971 - in most genres - were going down hill from here on.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but simply the salient points

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