Kung fu film

Kung fu film (Chinese: 功夫片; pinyin: Gōngfu piàn; Jyutping: Gung1fu1pin3) is a subgenre of martial arts films and Hong Kong action cinema set in the contemporary period and featuring realistic martial arts. It lacks the fantasy elements seen in wuxia, a related martial arts genre that uses historical settings based on ancient China.[1] Swordplay is also less common in kung-fu films than in wuxia and fighting is done through unarmed combat.[2]

Kung fu films are an important product of Hong Kong cinema and the West, where it was exported.[3] Studios in Hong Kong produce both wuxia and kung fu films.


Wong fei hung
Wong Fei-hung

The kung fu genre was born in Hong Kong as a backlash against the supernatural tropes of wuxia.[4] The wuxia of the period, called shenguai wuxia, combined shenguai fantasy with the martial arts of wuxia. Producers of wuxia depended on special effects to draw in larger audiences like the use of animation in fight scenes. The popularity of shenguai wuxia waned because of its cheap effects and fantasy cliches, paving way for the rise of the kung fu film.[5] The new genre still shared many of the traits of wuxia. Kung fu protagonists were exemplars of chivalry akin to the ancient youxia, the knight-errants of Chinese wuxia fiction.[6]

The oldest film in the genre, The Adventures of Fong Sai-yuk (Part 1: 方世玉打擂台; Part 2: 方世玉二卷之胡惠乾打機房), is a 1938–39 two-part movie about the adventures of folk hero Fong Sai-yuk. No surviving copies of the film exist.[7] A series of films that dramatized the life of Wong Fei-hung, a historical Cantonese martial artist, was another early pioneer of the genre.[8] The first two films of the Wong series, directed by Wu Pang and starring Kwan-Tak Hing, were released in 1949.[9] The major innovation of the Wong Fei-hung films was its focus on realistic fighting or zhen gongfu, a departure from earlier wuxia films. The fights were still choreographed, but were designed to be more believable.[10] Jet Li played Wong in a later revival of the series in 1990s, Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China, and also Fong in the movie Fong Sai-yuk.[11]

Resurgence in the 1970s

The kung fu genre reached its height in the 1970s, coinciding with Hong Kong's economic boom.[12] It overtook the popularity of the new school (xinpai) wuxia films that prevailed in Hong Kong throughout the 1950s and 1960s.[13] Wuxia had been revitalized in the newspaper serials of the 1950s and its popularity spread to cinemas in the 1960s.[14] It displaced the kung fu dramatizations of Wong Fei-hung and brought back the supernatural themes of traditional wuxia cinema.[15] The rivalry between the Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest, and Seasonal Films studios stimulated the growth of kung fu movies in the Hong Kong film industry.[16] The Chinese Boxer (1969) directed by Jimmy Wang and Vengeance directed by Chang Cheh in 1970 were the first films of the resurgent kung fu genre.[17][18]

The new wave of kung fu films reached international audiences after the financial success of Bruce Lee's first feature-length film, The Big Boss, in 1971.[19][20] Lee spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong where he learned wing chun martial arts and performed as a child actor. He left for the United States, his place of birth, and continued his martial arts training as a high school student. In America, he created Jeet Kune Do, a martial arts style inspired by wing chun, and briefly worked in Hollywood as a film and television actor.[21]

He returned to Hong Kong and performed his breakthrough role in The Big Boss, followed by five more films. The movies of Bruce Lee began a trend of employing genuine practitioners of martial arts as actors in martial arts films.[22] Kung fu films were internationally successful and popular in the West where a kung fu fad had taken root.[23] The anti-imperialist themes of his films held a broad appeal for groups that felt marginalized and contributed to his popularity in Southeast Asia and the African-American and Asian-American communities of urban America.[24][25] Audiences were sympathetic with Lee's role as a minority figure struggling against and overcoming prejudice, social inequality, and racial discrimination.[26]

Kung fu comedies

The genre declined after Bruce Lee's sudden death in 1973. In the same year, a stock market crash brought Hong Kong into a recession.[27] During the economic downturn, audiences in Hong Kong shifted to favoring comedies and satires.[28] In the late 1970s the kung fu comedy appeared as a new genre, merging the martial arts of kung fu films with the comedy of Cantonese satires.[29] The films of Lau Kar-leung, Yuen Woo-ping, and Sammo Hung followed this trend.[30] Yuen's Drunken Master in 1978 was a financial success that transformed Jackie Chan, its leading actor, into a major Hong Kong movie star.[31]

The mixture of slapstick comedy with martial arts reinvigorated the kung fu genre. Jackie Chan was the first significant action hero and martial arts performer to emerge from Hong Kong after the death of Bruce Lee.[32] The films of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung integrated techniques from Peking Opera, which both had trained in prior to their work as stuntmen and extras in the Hong Kong studio system.[33][34] They were students of China Drama Academy, a Peking opera school operated by Yu Jim-yuen, which brought elements of combat and dance from Beijing into Cantonese opera.[35] The Peking Opera-influenced martial arts of kung fu comedies were more fluid and acrobatic than traditional kung fu films.[36] In the 1980s, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung transitioned to kung fu films set in urban environments.[37]

Modern kung fu films

The realism of the kung fu genre has been blurred with the widespread use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in the industry. Technology has enabled actors without martial arts training to perform in kung fu films.[38] Wuxia films experienced a revival in recent years with the films of Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou.[39] Kung fu comedies remain popular staples of Hong Kong cinema and the kung fu films of Stephen Chow have been box office hits. His 2001 film Shaolin Soccer combined kung fu, modified using CGI, with the sports and comedy genres.[40] Chow's 2004 film Kung Fu Hustle, choreographed by martial arts directors Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo-ping, was a similar mixture of kung fu and comedy that achieved international success.[41] Donnie Yen, who emerged during the early 1990s in Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China II, is currently Hong Kong's top paid actor, starring in several films which helped him achieve international recognition, such as the Ip Man trilogy and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.

Global influence

The competing Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest studios entered Western markets in the 1970s by releasing dubbed kung fu films in the United States and Europe. Films like The Big Boss (Fists of Fury) and King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death) were box office successes in the West.[42] By the 1980s and 1990s, American cinema had absorbed the martial arts influences of Hong Kong cinema.[43] The Matrix, directed by the Wachowskis, was choreographed by martial arts director Yuen Woo-Ping. Martial arts stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li left Hong Kong to star in American films, but occasionally returned to Hong Kong.[44]

Notes and references


  1. ^ Teo 2009, p. 6
  2. ^ Teo 2009, p. 5
  3. ^ Teo 2009, p. 5
  4. ^ Teo 2010, p. 104
  5. ^ Teo 2009, p. 58
  6. ^ Teo 2009, p. 59
  7. ^ Teo 2009, p. 59
  8. ^ Teo 2009, p. 58
  9. ^ Teo 2009, p. 60
  10. ^ Teo 2009, p. 70
  11. ^ Teo 2009, p. 60
  12. ^ Li 1996, p. 708
  13. ^ Teo 2009, p. 70
  14. ^ Teo 2009, p. 87
  15. ^ Teo 2009, p. 86
  16. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 26
  17. ^ Teo 2009, p. 78
  18. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 25
  19. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 25
  20. ^ Li 1996, p. 708
  21. ^ Teo 2009, p. 75
  22. ^ Li 1996, p. 708
  23. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 26
  24. ^ Teo 2009, p. 77
  25. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 27
  26. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 28
  27. ^ Li 1996, p. 708
  28. ^ Li 1996, pp. 708–709
  29. ^ Li 1996, p. 709
  30. ^ Li 1996, p. 709
  31. ^ Li 1996, p. 709
  32. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 28
  33. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 29
  34. ^ Li 1996, p. 709
  35. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 29
  36. ^ Szeto 2011, pp. 29–30
  37. ^ Li 1996, pp. 710–711
  38. ^ Teo 2010, p. 104
  39. ^ Teo 2010, p. 109
  40. ^ Klein 2010, p. 193
  41. ^ Klein 2010, pp. 193–194
  42. ^ Teo 2009, p. 77
  43. ^ Szeto 2011, p. 25
  44. ^ Teo 2009, p. 159


  • Li, Cheuk-To (1996). The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-811257-0.
  • Klein, Christina (2008). "Kung Fu Hustle: Transnational production and the global Chinese-language film". Journal of Chinese Cinemas. 1 (3): 189–208. doi:10.1386/jcc.1.3.189_1.
  • Szeto, Kin-Yan (2011). The Martial Arts Cinema of the Chinese Diaspora: Ang Lee, John Woo, and Jackie Chan in Hollywood. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-8620-8.
  • Teo, Stephen (2010). Art, Politics, and Commerce in Chinese Cinema. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 978-962-209-176-4.
  • Teo, Stephen (2009). Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-3286-2.

External links

18 Fingers of Death!

18 Fingers of Death! is a 2006 parody kung-fu film made, written, directed and starring James Lew. Also starring are Maurice Patton as Ronald Mack, Pat Morita as Mr. Lee, and Lisa Arturo as Sushi Cue. Lori Beth Denberg also appears in the film.

Broken Oath

Broken Oath (Chinese: 破戒; Po jie) is a 1977 Hong Kong kung fu film from South Korean director Jeong Chang-hwa, with action choreography by Tyrone Hsu Hsia and Yuen Woo-ping. The Golden Harvest production stars Angela Mao.

Chinatown Kid

Chinatown Kid (Chinese: 唐人街功夫小子; pinyin: Tángrénjiē Gōngfu Xiǎozi; Jyutping: Tong4jan4gaai1 Gung1fu1 Siu2zi2) is a 1977 Shaw Brothers kung fu film directed by Chang Cheh, with action choreography by Robert Tai Chi Hsien and Lee Ka Ting, and starring Alexander Fu Sheng and the Venom Mob.

The film deals with drugs, police corruption and gang warfare in San Francisco's Chinatown district.

Crippled Avengers

Crippled Avengers is a 1978 Shaw Brothers kung fu film directed by Chang Cheh and starring four members of the Venom Mob. It has been released in North America as Mortal Combat and The Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms. The film follows a group of martial artists seeking revenge after being crippled by Tu Tin-To (Chen Kuan Tai), a martial arts master, and his son (Lu Feng).

Drunken Monkey (film)

Drunken Monkey is a 2003 Hong Kong martial arts film directed by and starring Lau Kar-leung. It was the first kung fu film released by the Shaw Brothers Studio in two decades. This was the final film Kar-leung directed before dying on June 25, 2013.

Five Shaolin Masters

5 Shaolin Masters a.k.a. 5 Masters Of Death is a 1974 Shaw Brothers kung fu film directed by Chang Cheh, with action choreography by Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing.

The film focuses on Shaolin's historic rivalries with the Qing Dynasty.

Flag of Iron

Flag Of Iron is a 1980 Shaw Brothers kung fu film directed by Chang Cheh and starring the Venom Mob.

Health Warning

Health Warning (alternative titles: Da Lei Tai, Da Lui Toi, Future Flash Kung Fu, Digital Master) is a 1983 Hong Kong film directed by Kirk Wong. It is a dystopian sci-fi kung fu film set in the future.

Hong Kong action cinema

Hong Kong action cinema is the principal source of the Hong Kong film industry's global fame. It combines elements from the action film, as codified by Hollywood, with Chinese storytelling, aesthetic traditions and filmmaking techniques, to create a culturally distinctive form that nevertheless has a wide transcultural appeal. In recent years, the flow has reversed somewhat, with American and European action films being heavily influenced by Hong Kong genre conventions.

The first Hong Kong action films favoured the wuxia style, emphasizing mysticism and swordplay, but this trend was politically suppressed in the 1930s and replaced by kung fu films that depicted more down-to-earth unarmed martial arts, often featuring folk hero Wong Fei Hung. Post-war cultural upheavals led to a second wave of wuxia films with highly acrobatic violence, followed by the emergence of the grittier kung fu films for which the Shaw Brothers studio became best known.

The 1970s saw a resurgence in kung fu films during the rise and sudden death of Bruce Lee. He was succeeded in the 1980s by Jackie Chan—who popularized the use of comedy, dangerous stunts, and modern urban settings in action films—and Jet Li, whose authentic wushu skills appealed to both eastern and western audiences. The innovative work of directors and producers like Tsui Hark and John Woo introduced further variety (for example, gunplay, triads, heroic bloodshed, and the supernatural). An exodus by many leading figures to Hollywood in the 1990s coincided with a downturn in the industry.

Invincible Shaolin

Invincible Shaolin (Nan Shao Lin yu bei Shao Lin) a.k.a. Unbeatable Dragon is a Hong Kong films of 1978 Shaw Brothers kung fu film directed by Chang Cheh. It is one of Chang Cheh's tales of Shaolin's historic rivalries with the Qing Dynasty. It is one of the few Venom films featuring Wei Pai (the Snake).

Kung Fu (TV series)

Kung Fu is an American action-adventure martial arts western drama television series starring David Carradine. The series follows the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk who travels through the American Old West, armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts, as he seeks Danny Caine, his half-brother.Many of the aphorisms used in the series are adapted from or derived directly from the Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Taoist philosophy attributed to the sage Lao-tzu.

Mad Monkey Kung Fu

Mad Monkey Kung Fu is a 1979 Shaw Brothers kung fu film directed by Lau Kar-leung.

Later, the film was released on DVD in Dragon Dynasty.

Mr. Hercules Against Karate

Mr. Hercules Against Karate/Ming, ragazzi! is a 1973 Italian comedy Kung fu film directed by Antonio Margheriti that was filmed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and Bangkok. Produced by Carlo Ponti, the film features Bud Spencer and Terence Hill impersonators Roberto Terracina and Fernando Arrien in a satire of the Kung-fu craze.

Odd Couple (film)

Odd Couple (Chinese: 搏命單刀奪命搶) is a 1979 Hong Kong martial arts comedy film directed by Lau Kar Wing, who also stars, alongside Sammo Hung. It was the first film to be released by Gar Bo Motion Picture Company (aka Gar-Bo Film Company), an independent production company set up by Hung, Lau and producer Karl Maka. The fight scenes are mainly weapon-based, with particular emphasis on the contrast between the dao (sword) and qiang (spear).

The film is sometimes listed as The Odd Couple.

The Brothers (1973 film)

The Brothers (Da di shuang ying in Mandarin), is a Kung Fu film which was also released in the United States under the title The Kung Fu Brothers.

The Fearless Hyena

The Fearless Hyena is a 1979 Hong Kong action comedy kung fu film written, directed by and starring Jackie Chan.

The film has been released on several alternative titles internationally, including:

Revenge of the Dragon (USA video title)

Superfighter 3 (West Germany video title)

The Shadowman (West Germany video title)

The Invincible Armour

Invincible Armor is a 1977 kung fu film starring Hwang Jang Lee, John Liu and Phillip Ko.

Vengeance (1970 film)

Vengeance (報仇; original Hong Kong title, Bao chou) is a 1970 kung fu film directed by Chang Cheh, and starring David Chiang and Ti Lung. The film is set in Peking circa 1930, and centers on a revenge plight of Chiang. The movie has little actual kung fu and instead is heavily laden with knife fighting and judo.

At the 16th Asian Film Festival, Director Chang Cheh won the Best Director Award, David Chiang won the Best Actor Award and received Asia's first Movie King Award, and Vengeance went on to win the Best Movie Award and the Iron Triangle.

Wang Kuan-hsiung

Wang Kuan-hsiung was a Taiwanese actor who was a well-known and popular leading man in the kung fu film genre of the 1970s and 1980s.

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