There have been a number of interesting stories in the news since our last update. The Washington Post kicks thing off with an interview with Stephen Fung, the director of the soon to be released (in the USA) Steampunk/Kung Fu mash-up, “Tai Chi 0.” This film is continuing to generate buzz on a scale not usually seen with Kung Fu films. We have already discussed it here and the overall tone of the interview is both positive and interesting. I am going to be sure to check this one out.
Kung Fu Cinema recently posted a review of an interesting film titled “The Sword Identity” (2011). This film is just starting to pick up a following in the west and I thought it might be especially interesting to the type readers who come to Kung Fu Tea. Most martial arts film made in china are basically historical fiction or fantasy with more of the later element than the former. This film, set in the closing years of the Ming dynasty, seems to be sliding the scale back towards history.
The director is quite conscious of history and correctly envisions the late Ming era as a golden-age of civilian martial arts development. The plot of the film revolves around General Qi Jiguang’s innovations in martial arts training, and how they disrupt a town steeped in traditional (and largely ineffective) martial techniques. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a dry documentary. There is still all of the Kung Fu goodness that fans of the genera have come to love and expect. Yet it does seem to indicate that the baseline level of understanding of Chinese Martial History among casual movie going audiences in China is increasing.
More interesting still is that the reviewer of the film takes note of the growing field of Chinese Martial Studies and specifically mentions Peter Lorge’s recent book on the subject. I like Lorge’s book and hope to offer a review of it, or maybe a chapter by chapter reading, when I get around to it. But this is the first time I have seen him explicitly referenced in the realm of popular culture. So there you go, serious martial studies showing up in a Kung Fu movie review. My worlds are colliding.
Switching gears, our next two stories focus on the sociology of the Chinese martial arts. To start things off the Huffington Post offers us an update on what is going on at the Shaolin temple. The short answer is that the monks are traveling, and not just to do Kung Fu demonstrations anymore. Increasing numbers of monks are enrolling at universities and research centers around the world to study a wide variety of religious and secular topics. It is not unusual for Buddhist monks to travel and focus on education, but this appears to be a new push at Shaolin. A representative from the temple notes that sophisticated and cosmopolitan monks will be better able to carry the religious message of the order forward, especially when dealing with its many western students.
But don’t worry, they haven’t forgotten about the martial arts. These skills are also being exported to the 40 or so centers for cultural exchange that the Shaolin Temple has now established around the world. The article is also accompanied by a photo essay that is heavy on martial monks practicing their hard Qigong and rather light on religious monks attending university classes.
Lastly the South China Morning Post (the most important newspaper published in Hong Kong if you are interested in keeping up with the city) ran an article on the increasing life expectancy of the area’s oldest residents. At this point the their longevity equals or exceeds just about any place in the world. In attempting to explain this phenomenon local commenter have turned to Yum Cha, frequent games of mahjong and martial arts practice. And there was much rejoicing. The rational side of my brain keeps saying “correlation is not causation, there is probably something more to this-like genetics” but most of the rest of me just keeps shouting “I am in!”
Most of the article is behind a pay-wall, but here are the money quotes:
Experts say there is no single elixir, but contributing factors include easy access to modern health care, keeping busy, traditional Cantonese cuisine and even the centuries-old Chinese tile game of mahjong.
“I love traveling, I like to see new things and I meet my friends for yum cha every day,” Mak Yin, an 80-year-old grandmother of six says as she practises the slow-motion martial art of tai chi in a park on a Sunday morning.
Yum cha is the Cantonese term to describe the tradition of drinking tea with bite-sized delicacies, or dim sum. The tea is free and served non-stop, delivering a healthy dose of antioxidants with the meal.
But before Mak enjoys her afternoon tea, she joins a group of elderly people for her morning exercise of tai chi, an ancient Chinese practice said to have benefits including improving balance and boosting cardiovascular strength.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February found that tai chi reduces falls and “appears to reduce balance impairments” in people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease.
South China Morning Post, August 30, 2012.