Question: “What Do Westerners Think of Chinese Martial Arts Films?”
We loved Chinese kung fu movies! Well, this westerner did, anyway. Growing up in Flint, Michigan in the 1980s, there were a few things that brought a smile to my face. One was arcade games, and the other one was the martial arts films that played on Saturday’s Kung Fu Theatre.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I would wake up early on Sunday morning to get all my chores done. That way, I could watch Kung Fu Theatre at noon. This was where my young, testosterone-fueled mind was exposed to a world of martial arts on film that I had never seen before. While Bruce Lee strove to make his films fairly realistic, Chinese kung fu flicks went in the opposite direction. It was complete and utter fantasy and I loved every minute of screen time. There were strange and mystical kung fu styles (Tiger-Crane), fascinatingly devastating weapons (Flying Guillotine), and lots of high-flying action. And all this went down every Saturday afternoon, decades before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. What’s not to love?
The themes of these films also were a treat for a young man looking for an outlet for his adolescent rage. Most Chinese kung fu flicks boiled down to one theme: revenge. Somebody killed somebody, and somebody else wanted revenge. In order to get it, he’d have to train for it, because the guy that killed his brother/father/friend/teacher was a badass in his own right. Again, what’s not to love?
Shaw Brothers Films Were the Best Kung Fu Movies
Like most fu flick fans of that era, my personal favorites were the Shaw Brothers’ classic, Five Deadly Venoms. It was about the last student of the infamous “Venom Clan,” who’s sent into the world to find the master’s five original pupils. If any of them have turned to evil, the master instructed his student to kill them. This would be next to impossible because the master’s five original students were nearly invincible fighters. After seeing that amazing film, I got researched phone books from New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco to find a school that would teach me centipede kung fu. I never found any such thing as a “centipede kung fu style,” which was a shame. You have to admit, these venoms kung fu styles were bad ass!
Kid With the Golden Arm
Speaking of Shaw Brothers films, I also loved Kid With the Golden Arm. This one cast the “venoms gang” in new roles, while utilizing the same theme of strange characters using even stranger kung fu styles and weapons. The plot centers on a shipment of gold to a famine-stricken town, the men and women protecting the shipment, and the ruthless bandits determined to steal it. There’s plenty of fighting for chop-sockey fans, but there’s also plenty of sneaky killings and poisonings, too. Classic stuff!
There were many other kung fu classics from those days, including:
- Executioners of Death
- The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
- Flying Guillotine
- Chinatown Kid
- Shaolin vs. Manchu
Kung Fu Video Games
There was only one thing better than watching Kung Fu Theatre, and that was having a friend to watch it with. My kung fu movie buddy was my friend, “The Dude.” Every Saturday, one of us would call the other to tell him the name of that day’s movie. Sometimes we’d watch them together at my house, sometimes his. (Except for the day he stormed out of his house, which meant I had to watch Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires with his brother. Very un-Dudelike!) No matter where we watched it, we’d always meet up to discuss the fight scenes, kung fu styles, and plot points. Then, we’d walk to the local arcade to pump quarters into games Kung Fu Master, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Shao-Lin’s Road. It wasn’t nearly as good as training in kung fu, but it was the only way to stretch out the kung fu magic just a little longer… until next Saturday.
About J.P. Ribner, Indie Author
J.P. Ribner is the author of the Viking fantasy adventure series, The Berserker’s Saga. Currently, the saga features three novels – Legacy of the Bear, Prophecy of the Bear, and The Berserker’s Return. He’s also in the process of editing his next book, Wasted Youth: A Flint Punk Rock Memoir. Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, J.P. now lives in the Metro Detroit area with his wife and three sons.