Chinese Martial Arts in the Global Film Industry

Martial arts in China can be traced back to more than 4000 years . It was usually practiced in the battlefield by soldiers. During the Zhou dynasty, martial arts changed into the concurrent and philosophical trends of the society. These were mainly Confucianism and Taoism. Taoism involved transposing the fighting systems into the Ying and Yang, which are also known as the universal opposites. It resulted in the soft and hard techniques in kung Fu today. This system of divination contributed in a major way in to many mystical events in modern day kung Fu. Taoism is believed to have a cosmic energy also known as Chi power. This energy was sought to harness or boost the power of the warriors. Confucianism on the other hand is included in martial arts practice as part of six arts that is practiced in ideal worldly living along mathematics, calligraphy and music.

The warrior monks form the most famous art of Kung Fu history from around the sixth century. This was after the arrival of Bodhirama. Whether the shaolin monks were well vested in kung Fu before bodhirama is a matter of debate. To be the warrior elite, the shaolin monks had to dedicate their life to kung Fu. Their prowess spread across the provinces and they were engaged in military campaigns. They brought peace to their province that had been taken over by bandits. In the 17th century kung Fu experts travelled to learn the secrets of shaolin monks. The type of kung Fu practiced by shaolin monks is demanding on the body and demands rigorous training and dedication. Around the same period, Taoist monasteries also taught different styles of kung Fu. Before the twentieth century kung Fu was practiced by the elite in the society. This included the military elite, the learned people, warrior monks and members of selected families.


Kung Fu symbolizes the strength and the pride of Chinese history. It was accepted as Chinese traditionalism after many defeats in the hands of foreign powers in the twentieth century. This relationship was further strengthened through films depicting martial arts. The films have contributed to the construction of the Chinese native national identity. Chinese film makers have adopted a new approach on how martial arts is portrayed and Chinese films are endowed with both political and cultural significance. The film have evolved as a symbol of Chinese nationalism since the 1960’s to date. In the global framework of exchange and identity, gender, racial and sexual politics are similar to other types of transnational identities in that they are entangled in power relations. These relations are interconnected with inequalities that have happened as a result of histories in colonialism, imperialism, patriarchal globalization, domination and nationalism.

The cosmotical approach addresses how new formations and inequalities address the issues that are associated with the sexual nature, gender and ethnicity in globalization. This perspective is critical in addressing inequalities and mobile aspects of globalization that have been subjected to retteriterotalization and territorialization of power. Nationalism and patriarchy are hegemonic forces that operate in a way that allow gender and sexual politics to reproduce heteronormative operatives. Cosmotical perspectives usually engage with contexts of gender, sexuality and race in the eastern and western contexts. It is important to analyze the impact of hegemonic forces of popular cinema as a primary locus on inequality and the difference in exploring how martial arts films will demonstrate femininities and masculinity that will collide and collude in the geopolitical body including the western stereotypes of the orient in a global context. Chinese movie makers have showed that they could invade the mainstream market with thousands of martial arts films. Their ability to make critically acclaimed and profitable films across various genres has proved their knowledge in geopolitical awareness, art-house and commercial film making. Chinese movies such as the banquet and the hidden dragon are proof of the success of Chinese film makers in art and commercial cinema. They reflect the chineseness, and femininity as repressed markers and domains on a transnational scale.

The Chinese movie industry have used successful movie stars like Jackie Chan to market into its media and enhance a new phase in the country’s transnational trajectory. The transnational paradigm shift of celebrities like Jackie Chan reveals the working of an artistic stereotype of an asexual martial artist stereotype as a deliberate history in exploitation and racialization of Asian and Asian Americans in the Hollywood history of film. Chinese celebrities have shown that their transnational film practices, global marketability and star image provide tools for remapping and mapping out the terrain of the Chinese movie industry and Hollywood. The work of such celebrities has inevitably and controversially collided and colluded with power politics such as global capitalism, and hegemonic masculinity. Chinese movie stars like Jackie Chan have not only engaged in contexts of power struggles and various discourses but they have also embodied inequality, marginalization, awareness and otherness in a way that has enabled them to work with major filmmakers in Hollywood.

The success of martial arts film has encouraged Asian film industries to target their products to the world especially to the Hollywood market. Hong Kong film directors have transformed the way action films are depicted in Hollywood and around the world. While Hollywood continues to show a creative conscious and an increasing awareness of Chinese martial arts. The genre of martial arts inspired film continue to become a transnational site for a phenomenal entry of Chinese film into the Hollywood. The films are inseparable from the perfomative body implicated in body politics and geopolitical context. The films display spectacular choreography, athletic skills, wireworks and Chinese tradition that flourish by negotiating the conflicting and complex experiences of national modernity and postcoloniality. In the global arena martial arts films have had a major influence in martial arts film traditions. Martial arts Film artists have embraced contemporary forms, styles , narratives, traditions, genres and ideologies of martial arts cinema and they engage with issues of martial arts or action film encounter with technology and new media.

The banquet is a 2006 wuxia film that is set in ancient china during the Tang Dynasty. It has a bit of drama mixed with Kung Fu and has been described as a loose adaptation of Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It is about a young beautiful empress Wan, who is in love with the crown prince Wu Luan. However the empress becomes betrothed to the prince’s father instead of the prince. The Emperor dies under mysterious circumstances and his brother Li is the main suspect, who inherits the throne and his new beautiful wife. The new Emperor is threatened by the crown prince Wu Luan and sends royal assassins after him before he attempts to reclaim the throne. Wan is however worried about his former love and sends warriors to protect him, which ends up becoming a bloodbath, but the Wu Luan manages to escape. Wu Luan return to the palace and reunites with his former love Wan. The emperor is however not impressed at his return and tries to kill him in a staged duel. Some of Li’s subjects start thinking of him as a usurper and plot against him. Wan’s place in all this drama is also unknown. Whether she is still enamored to Wu Luan or if there is something more sinister and self-serving that is going on in her head. The climax of the movie takes place in an elaborate banquet where all players have gathered. In China, deceit and deception never goes unpunished. With that rule in place the twists and turns in the movie are quiet predictable.

The film is artfully made and staged beautifully. However it does not convey any real emotions to the audience. It is presented in a confined manner. The setting and art in the film is spectacular but it more than dresses up each dialogue gesture and heavy scene in an obvious manner. It is more of an ornate theatre drama where everything in perfectly arranged and everyone has impeccable manners including the people with murderous intentions. It has a beautiful restraint where people allow their loved ones to die before acting out of any passion. The actors also speak with measured tones and action scenes have an abundance of slow motion which makes them seem like they will never end. The action also seems unnecessary and unmeasured given its themes of deception and desire. The crouching tiger style of fighting is seen many times in the film and is more of an opera style fighting than realistic and action packed. There is a decent amount of fighting which can be seen when the prince is trying to defend himself. Despite its numbing elegance, the Yuen Woo-Ping action is entertaining and there is an erotic charge in some of the intimate scenes. The film ends quite well with a statement on deceit and deception. It also shows a cycle of multiple levels and the outcome is truly unpredictable. However the film does not benefit from the conflicts in its lavish exterior. The film gets the right artifice and delivers an elaborate and beautiful visual experience. Aesthetically it is considered to be one of the best.

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