This sample essay on Martial Arts Action Cinema provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
Films from Hong Kong consist of many different genres however they are best known for their martial arts action films. The history of this genre is rocky with much confrontation growing into what is now so wildly accepted that Hollywood has grown a large appetite for Kung Fu action films.
Starting back in 1924 in Shanghai, Tan Sri Runme Shaw began a film company known as “Unique Film Productions” where they produced many silent films.
Silent films being both the first movies presented in Malaya and the most practical for they could be understood by many dialect groups in Singapore at that time, making these silent films an instant success with the masses (Shaw. com). With hopes of expanding the market, Shaw decided to move his business to Hong Kong to produce quality Chinese movies in 1959.
This Shaw organization quickly gained the name “Shaw Brothers” as they began to dominate the film industry in Hong Kong.
Similar to Hollywood at that time, the Shaw Brothers ran the studio on what is known as the star system and mass production. Top Chinese investors were eager to pour money into the company allowing the brothers to develop extensive studio facilities for post production including a colour laboratory to ensure consistent quality control (shaw. com). There was no match to the Shaw brothers flourishing business, quickly becoming the largest privately owned studio in the world.
Until the Shaw Brothers a typical Hong Kong budget was around $800 HK dollars or less, while the Shaw’s films were extreme with budgets up to $50,000. By the 1970’s their studio’s established itself as the best known and most successful movie producer in Hong Kong, producing over 40 films a year the output terms even rivaled with major Hollywood Studios. Raymond Chow, a top executive with Shaw Brothers decided he wished to explore his own options and left Shaw Studios and with Leonard Ho formed the company Golden Harvest Studios.
Golden Harvest took chances on independent producers and crew. Chow “knew it would take something really big to make the film world take notice” and he was willing to try out new talent for a change (page 165). Golden Harvest studios didn’t have to wait that long for success, in 1971 an already popular US Born Chinese cult figure was causing a buzz in the TV series circuit. Chow picked up on him quickly. This man was quickly signed to Golden Harvest which later introduced us to him as Little Dragon, or better known today as Bruce Lee.
This was the break Golden Harvest needed, not to mention the action film genre. Bruce Lee’s first movie “The Big Boss” showed China a different type of hero, “harder, faster, a more exciting kind of martial arts fighting” (Yang, 145). At this time all other martial arts action films (which would have been mainly produced by the Shaw Brothers) were stiff combat of swordsmen films. The formula for these action flicks were growing old on the audiences and Lee’s films appeared to be excitingly different. “The Big Boss” was reflective of china’s street dealings.
Bruce as the hero was not of the stereotypical martial arts hero, which would be a “noble, stoic man in search for honourable revenge”, Lee’s character was a street fighter, a juvenile delinquent who was a character the audience could relate to even with his deadly skillzzzzz. This breakthrough performance took Golden Harvest from an independent company to a contender against the infamous Shaw Brothers. Bruce lee had turned the Hong Kong movie Industry into Havoc, every independent film company searched for a Bruce Lee equivalent.
The Shaw Brothers were almost a monopoly with the biggest actors, biggest directors, not to mention spending the most money on each film. But with Bruce Lee on the scene the giant had stumbled when they had lost Lee to Golden Harvest. His films had set the standard that everyone else wanted to follow in Kung Fu films. Jackie Chan, a fan and coworker to Bruce Lee in his early days believed “Bruce’s movies are like seeds that never had the chance to sprout” (Yang page 99). Lee’s last film “Enter the Dragon” was the first co-production between American and Hong Kong film studios.
The film proved to be an international Hit, famous for its stunning martial art action sequences. When Lee tragically passed away at the age of 32 on July 20th, 1973 the Hong Kong action cinema was faced with a staleness that grew overwhelming. Bruce Lee died, People were not watching action films anymore, and they were turning to melodramas, romances, comedies, anything that did not appear to be a mockery of Bruce Lee’s genius. His death not only hurt Golden Harvest but the martial arts action industry as a whole.
With Martial arts movies being less popular this meant most people in this field were out of work, especially stuntmen such as the now famous Jackie Chan. These stuntmen almost all shared a similar background in Chinese Opera, which is much different than Westernized Opera that we may be used too. It was here they would learn how to sing, fight and perform acrobatics. Many had no other qualifications for jobs besides stunts in action films, and work was becoming extremely scarce. With the major kung fu studios trying to find a replacement for Bruce Lee, everyone was forgetting the option of reinventing the martial arts movie.
Jackie Chan “wanted desperately to bring humor and humanity to a genre that seemed to have lost its sense of both” (Yang pg 220). With several failed attempts Chan was giving the opportunity to have more creative freedom with the movie “Half a Loaf of Kung Fu,” which was the first real attempt of a martial arts parody movie. Chan’s producer who thought it was a flop put it in the vault with hopes never to release it. Jackie Chan was giving another chance, this time he incorporated a new style of Kung fu which he had invented called Cat’s Claw kung fu, involving him leaping around making meowing noises.
Although not a real kung fu style, the acrobatics and tumbling that were incorporated looked amazing on camera, the fight was considered to be just as exciting as Bruce Lee’s battles yet “completely unique in look, feel and tone” (Yang pg 221). When Seasonal Films (an off branch that had started from Shaw Brother Films) had finished the production, they realized that the finished film was different from any kung fu movie ever made. The film was “Snake in Eagle’s Shadow” which turned out to be a blockbuster hit, during its time it had become the biggest film in the history of Hong Kong, bigger than any of Bruce Lee’s films.
His next film proved himself not to be a fluke; “Drunken Master” had been an even bigger hit than “Shake in Eagle’s Shadow”. In “Drunken Master” his team of stuntmen had created a whole new set of kung fu styles, called Eight Drunken Gods martial arts, and based on the drunken style kung fu that Wong Fei Hung was supposed to have practiced as his secret weapon. With these martial arts techniques they added “wild acrobatics, street brawling, slapstick antics, comic mime, and even real drama” (Yang pg 222).
Actors such as Jackie Chan were not getting remotely comparable wages to Hollywood. Even after Chan’s success he was still receiving according to his strict contract $3,000(HK currency) when he was being offered 2. 7 Million dollars to sign with the now international production company Golden Harvest. Due to the Shaw Brothers control over the entertainment industry, there was the creation of “Triads” a group of Hong Kong gangsters who have been a part of the Hong Kong performing arts since the turn of the Century.
Since many early film stars come from the opera, there was always a tie between the triads and the movies. The biggest fault can be laid at the feet of the Shaw Brothers, which basically controlled the movie industry until the rise of Golden Harvest. Shaw Brothers with their domination were able to pay slave like wages to its employees, even the major stars of China, got almost nothing to compensate. To survive, several actors and stuntmen turned to the triads, acting as “small time muscle men to get money they weren’t getting as actors” (Yang, 184).
Jackie Chan found himself to be one of the many actors who were threatened by this mob into accepting an unacceptable contract with his past employer who was jealous of Chan’s success. These situations caused much of the Hong Kong talent to move to Hollywood where they would receive less threats, more money and world wide recognition. Hong Kong has been the second largest exporter of movies to North America, Europe and Pacific Rim countries in recent years with more than 200 films mostly action genre being churned out by a place with a population less than the size of New York City (alkdfjalkdjflaksjdf).
With major Hong Kong talent moving to the United States, China’s ticket sales have dropped from 45 million which once stood in 1989, down to 25 million as of last year, a downward trend which has been said to show no sign of slowing. Directors such as John Woo and Woo Ping who had made themselves famous while working in China, have become Hollywood’s secret choreography and action scene weapons. In 1978, Woo Ping changed the direction of Kung Fu films in Hong Kong when he directed Jackie Chan’s “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” followed by “Drunken Master” films that are said to have saved Martial Arts action films.
While John Woo left Hong Kong for Hollywood around seven years ago believing the industry slump is a result of hand over fears. John Woo is known now internationally for his stunning choreography in action scenes. Now a days not only the talent is expanding internationally but so is Studios such as Golden Harvest group, the studio that launched the careers of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and John Woo and began the Kung Fu style of the 1970’s cinema is now leaving Hong Kong. They are in the process of finding a new site that may take it outside of Hong Kong.
The Government of China has been trying to prevent the deterioration of this industry by grants to local film industry, up to 100 million Hong Kong dollars. What once was the world’s third largest film producer, behind the United States and India has now been cut to one third of its previous level because of the Asian Financial crisis. With the decline in quality films thanks to the departure of Hong Kong film makers and stars you have to wonder if China will be able to reestablish itself again in such a money absorbed industry.