Shifting Speed in Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: Yuen Woo-Ping's Contribution to the New Chinese Cinema of Attractions

Curator's Note

Chinese popular cinema is entering an unprecedented era as it prepares to challenge Hollywood’s dominance of the blockbuster market. An influx of talent from the struggling Hong Kong industry jolted mainland cinema into another economic and cultural sphere. Yuen Woo-ping's oeuvre exemplifies the roots of this emerging form of Chinese cinema perhaps better than any other filmmaker. Woo-Ping’s post- Matrix (1999) modified direction and choreography brings a modernized transnational visuality to mainland Chinese cinema that proffers new senses of global identity and being amidst its thrills. After completing choreography work on The Matrix trilogy, and several other American financed films, Yuen retuned to a revamped Chinese film industry and the director’s chair in 2010 for mainland China’s first 3D production, True Legend. Although Yuen no longer solely relies on the cinematographic ingenuity with camera angles he used in films such as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow or Tai-Chi Master to produce an idea of motion to the audience, he now provides an urbane alternative yielding the same instinctive effects, but through methods that confront our perceptions. In the film’s closing fight sequence, So decides to imbibe some more liquor from the container attached to his belt in order to wield the drunken boxing style. Immediately afterwards, two of the fighters assault him from opposite sides. Although he does not block their blows, as Neo, with his hands, computer graphics render the motion of his legs to strike in several directions at once when he spins himself on the floor to repel his attackers. This moment jars us, through the dazzling phenomenon it presents, in its unmistakable reference to its stylistic progenitor, The Matrix, and finally how the cinematic representation of drunken boxing has transformed since Drunken Master. The audience is reminded of the distinctly pluralistic philosophy behind the story and aesthetics of The Matrix, distancing them from the ostensibly nationalistic zeal that the film’s closing confrontation initially suggests.


I don't think that this scene necessarily distances a Chinese sense of nationality from the Chinese, though you are more equipped to make the argument having watched the whole movie, and I may be misunderstanding you. I think it's important to remember China's readiness to accept Marx would suggest a tendency to accept the primacy of material culture in considering it though--and that even in the magical/comedic senses of realism that are presented in this scene I can see that--and I can still see a story that represents the engagement of a peasant with colonialist forces. I think it might be important for Chinese audiences to remember this as they continue to gain a middle class and wrestle with economic dominance and national ideology. But it's not up to me to suppose whether or not it is important. That's the job of the Chinese people.

Many kung fu films have historically featured a similar scene in their conclusions. The style is what I am arguing distances us from the nationalism suggested in this particular scene. The scene utilizes a fresh realization of Chinese martial arts that was developed as part of a pluralistic approach to kung fu.

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