View Full Version : Opinions: HK movies and evolution opinions

02-09-2001, 08:10 AM
I'd been thinking about the heyday of the HK action movies, the mid-'70s to mid-'80s. It went almost dead for a few years, then of course Jet Li's Once Upon a Time I kick-started it again for a while.

Does anyone else feel that the majority of more recent (mid-'90s to late '90s) HK martial arts and/or action films seem more "small-scale"? By which I mean the feeling is different, there is less a feeling of big-scale and excitement, even in some films that seem well-made.

Exceptions to this are the first three Once Upon a Time films, also Drunken Master II. Perhaps many of the old-school cinematographers/performers/extras are almost all gone. There was a rich feeling in movies like Sammo Hung's The Victim, Knockabout, Prodigal Son, Wheels on Meals, etc., and the Liu Chia-Liang Shaw films, and others.

When I saw Jackie Chan's movie Gorgeous, Jet Li's The Defender (Bodyguard from Beijing), Black Mask, etc., although in many ways entertaining, they seemed "cramped" and a bit empty somehow.

Oh, well, enough analyzing! :)

02-09-2001, 03:07 PM
Nah. One can never analyze this type of thing enough, Jim.

I think that the reason HK films seem more "small scale" now (including those of Jet Li) is because the actors are no longer traditionally trained hardcore martial artists.

There is a big difference between an actor who trains martial arts for the camera and an actor who trains martial arts for martial arts (e.g. Gordon Liu, Bruce Lee).

The advent of camera tricks, in my opinion, has WORSENED the overall level of martial ability by making it easier on the actors. Back in the golden 70s, you had to have real ability or the camera would expose you unmercifully.

Also, movies today reflect our times. They are now geared toward sensationalism and perversion as opposed to extolling the traditional virtues of hard work and humility. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was not immune to this.

I am convinced that 70s style movies today can be made with vastly enhanced quality, but then where would you find traditional style actors (other than Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Jet Li) with the necessary charisma and ability to pull off these movies successfully?

02-09-2001, 07:57 PM
I agree.
In the 70s you had a lot of people in HK training in kung fu. I don't know how it is now, but I imagine kung fu training isn't nearly as popular or commonplace as it was. I know when I lived in Taiwan, kung fu's popularity had declined considerably after about the mid-80s.

It seems besides traditional people, you had a large selection of former Peking Opera performers, and even actors with limited martial experience but who trained very hard and learned quickly for the camera (i.e., such as Leung Ka-Yan, Alexander Fu Sheng, etc.). It seems now the only pre-trained people are mainland Wushu players, which may be okay but there is a "sameness" to everything.

Although I enjoyed "Crouching Tiger," and feel the cinematography was awesome, to me it still lacked the feel of my old favorites. Nowadays, the main focus is on flying around and high kicks.
In the 70s there was a TKD kicker in HK films, Hwang Jang-Lee who did all his flashy aerial kick stunts without any wires or tricks, and it looked better and more powerful than the triple kick stunt in "Crouching Tiger."

I also notice in HK movies now that the up-and-coming actors' looks are more important than talent. A lot of the old '70s kung fu stars would never pass the "looks" test nowadays, though they had better talent.

02-09-2001, 09:35 PM
Yeah, you guys both make a lot of good points.

Definitely looks are a lot more important in kungfu movies now. I don't think the 5 venom guys were exactly teen-hearthrobs--nor was Chen Kuan Tai or Ti Lung--but they definitely had ability and presence on-screen. Also, I think the "lightness" of action movies worldwide is kind of the problem, as Eastern and Western filmakers have always drawn off each other. Cheng Cheh and Lau Kar Leung were definitely influenced by directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah--but I don't think there's too many new, influential action directors in the West right now, either.

I agree with you, HKV, that the potential is there for 70's style KF movies to be made with greatly improved quality, I'm not sure we'll see it, though.

02-10-2001, 03:27 AM
Oh, the great Hwang Jang Lee.

That guy was a MONSTER kung fu talent. I still can't believe somebody can be that talented AND skilled.

A lot of the TKD guys back then (Tan Tao Liang, Alexander Lo, Bruce Li, Casanova Wong) were obviously tough and battlehardened martial artists. They lent a tremendous credibility to the screen, as their personalities and abilities were tailormade for the parts.

Personally, I don't think that the mainland Wushu artists are convincing at all.

They lack the true martial strength that comes from constant repetition and usage of techniques with battle intent behind them, which was very much the case for the toothless girlie flick "Crouching Tiger,Hidden Dragon".

02-10-2001, 05:02 PM
Ky-Fi & Huang:
In thinking about it, I also agree that today they should be able to make 70s-style kung fu movies better than ever...but unfortunately I don't think they will.

The trend seems to be set. Ever since the brief revival of kung fu films in HK in 1991 with Once Upon a Time, directors like Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Kuei (Cory Yuen) have seemed content to choreograph outlandishly fantastic fight sequences. In a video interview Yuen Woo-Ping stated that audiences' tastes dictated what type of movies are made. However, I feel it's a vicious circle...if you only make movies with wire work and flying and mediocrely-trained actors, of course that's what people want to see, because that's all there is. And I'm certain the popularity of martial arts video games years ago are a direct influence on the movies.

It seems the fad among many Hollywood actors/actresses now is to appear in at least one movie where they can do HK-style fight scenes. Of course, they need a crash course in martial arts. So you get The Matrix (not at all bad, IMO), Romeo Must Die (more of a hip-hop film than a Jet Li film), and Charlie's Angels (except for one small scene with Cameron Diaz, the fights were a joke). I saw the scenes for an upcoming Steven Seagal film (with DMX) that looks like it has Yuen Woo-Ping-style stuff in it).

To make a good, up-to-date traditional kung fu film, someone would have to buck the trend, and I doubt anyone wants to leave the comfort zone. They'd also have to bother with finding real martial talent who can also act the parts convincingly. Why do that when they can just give a half-a$ crash course to name Hollywood stars or Cantonese pop stars/beauty contest winners?

Another thing...have you guys noticed that since HK-style action has come to the States that the majority of fight scenes, even in Crouching Tiger, are shot in the dark and with unclear, jumpy camerawork? They need good camerawork like in the old Liu Chia-Liang (Lau Kar-Leung) movies that showed every small-hand movement closely and convincingly.

02-11-2001, 05:30 AM
But then people would actually have to LEARN traditional martial arts - as Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburn did for "The Matrix".

Those guys looked good, but they were amateurs compared to the old school greats.

The unclear jumpy camerawork is designed to hide the inability of the actors, not highlight it!

To me, the "Karate Kid" was far more convincing than just about all of the 70s HK movies, let alone today's prettyboy skin flicks.

02-11-2001, 08:28 PM
Although there were things I thought were hokey about the Karate Kid film, I will say one thing about it...it has heart. It wasn't a slapped-together movie.

Actually, there are some things in it that are reminiscent of my all-time favorite KF film, Shaolin Martial Arts, from 1974, directed by Chang Cheh and starring Fu Sheng. I feel this film started the trend of long, seemingly initially meaningless tough training that pays off in the end. If you can find it, check it out...I saw it years ago. Far better quality than most of the "rushed production" type of kung fu film.

By the way...in an earlier post you mentioned Tan Tao-Liang. I saw him at the 1993 Tat Wong tourney, his school (which I think is around Monterey Park in L.A.) was competing. Their TKD looked very good. And you're right, his background (and many of the old-school KF movie stars) was hard-core.

02-12-2001, 04:38 AM
Personally, I don't even care if the actors are hard-core martial artists or not. Let's face it, great real-life fighters don't necessarily look good on screen, and vice-versa, and the long choreographed Shaw Brothers fights aren't too realistic. I just appreciate it when the incredible physical skills are showcased. Especially the 5 venoms guys, just unbelievably acrobatic and skilled with weapons, and so fluid in their movements, and the fight choreography and editing really let their skills come through. I just don't understand why, when you've got somelike Jet Li, capable of physical feats that very few others would be, directors like Yuen Woo Ping feel the need to totally exaggerate his ability with the wires and the speeded up camera. I enjoy a nice wire-fantasy epic like Crouching Tiger now and then, but the wire stuff just does not work for me in standard, non-fantasy KF movies.

02-13-2001, 07:49 PM
I agree with you on the idea that Jet Li needs so many cinematic tricks to enhance his screen abilities. What's the use of getting someone of his level if 50% or so is totally fake? I was particularly bothered by the flying stuff in Romeo Must Die, which was not meant to be a fantasy film.

As far as hard-core or not, IMO, though the 5 Venoms actors were not necessarily fighters, they went through long and hard training in Peking Opera, which would still count. The editing helped, but also, films back then did not have the quick-cut editing like from the '90s and esp. today. So they had to display more actual physical skills to do the complex one-shot sequences.