Welcome to “Chinese Martial Arts in the News.” This is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention or affect the traditional fighting arts. In addition to discussing important events, this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.
While we try to summarize the major stories over the last month, there is always a chance that we have missed something. If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA, drop a link in the comments section below. If you know of a developing story or event that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.
Its been a while since our last update so there is a lot to be covered in today’s post. Lets get to the news!
Kung Fu Cinema
Our first major story this week relates to the upcoming movie Ip Man 3 (directed by Wilson Ip with an expected Hong Kong release date of December 2015). After a somewhat slow start this project is picking up steam and making waves. Right now some of the casting choices are generating the most discussion. It has been announced that Mike Tyson will be appearing in this latest iteration of the Ip Man saga. The South China Morning Post has run some of the more detailed coverage on this story, and it appears that the retired boxing champion will have a notable role in the upcoming film.
More controversial was the announcement that a CGI rendered likeness of Bruce Lee will also be appearing in the same film. This will not be the first time that Lee has been digitally resurrected. Readers will no doubt recall the Johny Walker’s advertisement featuring Lee pontificating on the nature of his success. That project was met with mixed reviews. Still, after failing to find an actor who could replicate Lee’s explosive energy, Wilson Ip decided to create his own CGI version of Lee.
Not everyone has greeted this plan with enthusiasm, and the Bruce Lee Estate is now threatening to sue the project to prevent it from going forward. They point out that Wilson Ip does not have the rights to use Lee’s likeness. Nor does it seem likely that the parties are interested in reaching a negotiated deal on this point. It has been reported elsewhere that there are at least two other Bruce Lee bio-pics in production at the moment, and one of these actually has the explicit backing of the Lee Estate. It looks like we will be seeing quite a bit of the Little Dragon on the big screen over the next couple of years, and these projects are likely to be accompanied by some fireworks of their own.
Ip Man 3 is by no means the only Kung Fu film project making headlines right now. After a rough year following the arrest of his son (and a number of other controversies) Jackie Chan is back in the news promoting a new project. His latest action film is titled Kung Fu Yoga and it will be one of the first big budget collaborations between the Indian and Chinese film industries. The project appears to be in its infancy and it doesn’t look like they have a script hammered out yet, but title of the film signals its central premise.
The Chinese martial arts are also expected to play a substantial role in the AMC’s new sword and intrigue drama, Into the Badlands. The network has recently released a short teaser trailer. This story is expected to be a modern adaptation of the Chinese classic, “Journey to the West.” Its also one of the upcoming projects that I personally am looking forward too.
There are also a couple of stories for those of you who are more interested in vintage martial arts films. The first of these is a oral history of the challenges that went into producing the original (1990) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. I have always had a soft spot for this story so I found the interview to be particularly interesting. Apparently a hit comic book, popular cartoon series and highly successful line of merchandise was not enough to convince movie studios that this might be a profitable franchise. Go figure? You can read more about the difficulties in bringing the Turtles to the big screen here.
Those of you who are in the New York area will also want to remember that the “Old School Kung Fu Fest” is set to run from April 16-19 this year. This season’s film festival kicks off with a look at a number of classic ninja films before heading off into Kung Fu territory. This looks like it will be a great event.
Lastly, the Academy for International Communications of Chinese Culture has recently finished a multi-country survey and report looking at the impact of Chinese film on foreign audiences. Unsurprisingly they found that Chinese martial arts and action films were popular, but individual actors and directors still lacked name recognition overseas. More interesting was some of the cultural analysis that was included with this report. I suspect that it may be helpful for students of film and culture studies. Here is one short quote dealing with the cultural impact of martial arts film from the AICCC’s final report:
“The raw spectacle of martial arts combined with Chinese characters, settings and costumes satisfied the audiences “orientalistic interest”, without challenging their underlying perceptions about China.”
There is a lot more in this report as well.
Global Kung Fu
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of interesting articles discussing the evolving place of the Chinese martial arts in a global context. The first of these comes from China itself. There has been a new batch of stories in the news detailing the Chinese military’s movement way from hard Qigong and Wushu demonstrations. In addition to dissolving the “special performance” units that carried out many of these demonstrations, it looks like other sorts of troops will also be spending less time on the martial arts to free up additional resources for other sorts of military training. You can see the latest news on this round of changes here.
There have also been a number of news items focusing on the expanding appeal of the Chinese martial arts in Latin America. These address a range of topics from promoting Olympic Wushu to new TV shows. This article instead looks at these fighting systems as a gateway from the introduction of Chinese culture to the region.
Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine is currently running a multi-part series on the growth of Chinese martial arts in Afghanistan. It looks fascinating and the first two installments are already out. You can find them here (Part 1: Kung Fu Masters, Job Creation, Refugees and the Free Press) and here (Part 2: Grandmaster Abdul “Rahim Kung Fu” and a Refugee Camp).
I also ran across a human interest story that briefly introduced the Taijiquan program at Folsom Prison (in the USA). The story itself focused on a wrongly convicted (and recently released) man who was introduced to Taijiquan while incarcerated. I found a slightly more detailed version of the story here, but I would like to hear a lot more about this program and its success rate in the future.
Our final story in this section takes us back to Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post recently ran a story discussing the growing popularity of MMA training in Hong Kong. They note that many individuals are turning to MMA gyms as a fitness program rather than as a form of fight training. That is certainly something that I have seen here in the USA, so its interesting to find the same thing in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, what really caught my attention in this article was a statistic quoted from a study conducted by authors at the University of Toronto claiming that 30% of all MMA bouts end with one fighter sustaining traumatic brain injury! Needless to say that study has generated push-back. Still, given what is going on in the NFL, this might be the MMA’s next big public relations challenge.
Books and Martial Arts Studies
Do you ever find yourself sitting around wondering what you need to read to get up to speed on martial art studies? If so you are in luck. Paul Bowman has recently put together a short (one page) reading list broken down by category. Take a look at see what you have missed. I know that I found one or two things on there that I still haven’t gotten around to reading.
If you did not find anything there you can still look forward to some of the upcoming books expected later this summer. Students of identity and youth culture will want to check out Fighters, Girls and Other Identities: Sociolinguistics in a Martial Arts Club by Lian Malai Madsen (Multilingual Matters, August 15, 2015). This ethnographic study doesn’t appear to focus directly on the martial arts so much as it uses them as a location for exploring a number of larger theoretical issues surrounding identity politics. The author is an Associate Professor of Psychology of Language at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
The University of California Press will be releasing a new book titled Kendo: Culture of the Sword by Alexander C. Bennett on July 31, 2015.
Kendo is the first book in English to provide an in-depth historical, cultural, and political account of the Japanese martial art of swordsmanship, from its beginnings in military training and arcane medieval schools to its widespread practice today as a global sport. Alexander Bennett shows how kendo evolved through a recurring process of “inventing tradition,” which served the changing ideologies and needs of Japanese warriors and governments over the course of history. Kendo follows the development of Japanese swordsmanship from the aristocratic-aesthetic pretensions of medieval warriors in the Muromachi period, to the samurai elitism of the Edo regime, and then to the nostalgic patriotism of the Meiji state. Kendo was later influenced in the 1930s and 1940s by ultranationalist militarists and ultimately by the postwar government, which sought a gentler form of cultural nationalism to rekindle appreciation of traditional culture among Japan’s youth and to garner international prestige and respect as an instrument of “soft power.” Today kendo is becoming increasingly popular internationally. But even as new organizations and clubs form around the world, cultural exclusiveness continues to play a role in kendo’s ongoing evolution, as the sport remains closely linked to Japan’s sense of collective identity.
Alexander C. Bennett is a Professor at Kansai University. He also serves as vice president of the International Naginata Federation, a member of the International Committee of the All Japan Kendo Federation, director of the Japanese Academy of Budo, and head coach of New Zealand’s national kendo team. He is cofounder and editor in chief of Kendo World.
Readers looking for a more theoretical treatment of embodiment and physical practices as knowledge may want to check out What a Body Can Do by Ben Spatz (Routledge Press, March 25 2015). This book does not appear to be solely focused on hand combat, but it addresses a number of question that are central to certain discussions that are happening within some corners of martial arts studies. In terms of his background Ben Spatz is currently a Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, UK. He holds a Ph.D. in Theater from the City University of New York.
Finally, readers will want to check out the following book review by Barnard Kwan (the editor of the excellent blog “Be Not Defeated By the Rain.”) Here he looks at the recently published Chinese language edition of, The Hong Kong Martial Arts Community. This overview is very helpful for those of us who cannot access the Chinese language version of this volume. Hopefully this is a work that will see an English language edition soon.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
As always there is a lot going on at the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group and this last month has been no exception. We looked at the life history of a Republic era “Sword Saint,” learned about the growing popularity of the Filipino Martial arts and watched an exhibition of Ru Jia Quan from Fuzhou. Of course joining the Facebook group is also a great way of keeping up with everything that is happening here at Kung Fu Tea.
If its been a while since your last visit, head on over and see what you have been missing!
April 13, 2015 at 9:12 am
Sorry to say but Ip Man 3 has disaster written all over it. First, Tyson isn’t an actor and at best he’s only useful for comedy. Just watch his scene in the Hangover. Second, the idea of a digital anyone, especially of someone who’s dead is horrifying. Digital humans look and feel like animated corpses. That liquor commercial is very creepy. Although the Bruce Lee estate approved of it, I was saddened that they would exploit his memory to sell alcohol. Bruce Lee was about fitness and health, he wasn’t a 1960’s hipster like Sinatra.
The first Ip Man film was pretty good and quite entertaining, even though it had almost nothing to do with his real story. Even the second one was worth watching but this new idea has degraded into a farce and spectacle, the same way the Rocky films degraded from Oscar worthy to a cold war joke. It begins about art and integrity, then falls apart when it becomes nothing but about money and box office opening day receipts.
I thought the film the Grandmaster, although also had almost nothing to do with Ip Man’s real biography, had a lot artistic merit as a film but I wouldn’t expect anything less from Wong Kar-Wai.
Maybe you should do an article of biography vs. exploitation in martial arts movies. With the long history of Wong Fei Hong films and TV, then Bruce Lee and now Ip Man, there should be enough material to see some interesting patterns and trends.