Cultural Exchange

Chinese Movie:Tradition-Based, World-Oriented

Kung fu movies are the pioneer and knock-out product of Chinese movies in the international stage. Many Chinese stars enjoy their overseas popularity because of their famous action movies. Several days before, the 4th Jackie Chan International Action Movie Week concluded. The event was co-organized by the program division of CCTV-6, Datong Municipal Government, and Jackie Chan’s international company. On the seminar, experts discussed the meaning and future of this genre. 

Chinese kung fu movie rose in the world thanks to Bruce Lee, who had combined Chinese ‘Wing Chun’ with western boxing and created his own school of kung fu that went viral throughout the world, the Jeet Kune Do. This kind of martial art became so crowd-pleasing that the Chinese word ‘kung fu’ was widely accepted within the English speaking community. The past half century has witnessed China’s efforts to publicize their domestic movies in the world. Till now, kung fu movies have already been a symbol of Chinese movies.

Gao Xiaoli, an art critic with Literature and Art Weekly, commented, “in the past, western action movies had been all about muscles and weapons, but Bruce Lee changed their patterns. Now, many western-made action movies involve eastern martial art directors. Kung fu polished by special effects has become a frequently-seen factor in many of the most phenomenal western movies.” 

Leng Song, Secretary General of the World Media Research Center at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that “foreign action movies have been following Chinese kung fu movie even till now.” This kind of movie  is well received overseas because it conveys Chinese spirit. Professor Liang Ming from Communication University of China said, “Chinese kung fu and the martial art spirit are well known throughout the world. To some extent, ‘Chinese’ equals to ‘Kungfu’. This impression actually shows their appreciation of China, and this will help our culture to ‘go global’.”

Chinese actors and filmmakers, including Jet Li, Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, Donnie Yen and Stephen Chow, have put great efforts into internationalizing kung fu movies.  Above all, Jackie Chan, who once underwent Beijing Opera training, added a flavour of suppleness to kung fu and combined this martial art with comedy to create his own style of kung fu movies. Influenced by generations of Chinese marital artists, Hollywood started to imitate the martial techniques and plots of Chinese kung fu movies, phasing out their immature martial routines. 

Ng See-yuen, president of the event’s jury, referred to kung fu movies as one of Chinese name cards. He also put forward that “Chinese culture will be better promoted if the movies show Chinese culture and virtues of martial art apart from kung fu itself .”

“The most welcomed Chinese movie type in the world is still the kung fu. In North America, 8 out of the top 10 highest-grossing Chinese movies are about kung fu.” Stated Yin Hong, vice chairman of China Literature and Art Critics Association.

Nevertheless, this kind of movie needs Chinese culture to be its root and source if it is to gain broader popularity. Leng Song regarded kung fu movie as a showcase for Chinese culture, “in this kind of movie, the evil are punished, the kind are lauded, and justice is done. This shows our long-standing values of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, loyalty, filial piety, integrity, braveness, gentleness, you name it. We should add more Chinese philosophy into kung fu movies to let the world feel the unique charm of Chinese culture.”

Gao Xiaoli expounded the close relationship between kung fu and Chinese philosophies of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, “they embody Chinese believes that ‘human is an integral part of nature’, and that ‘the Way follows nature’. Take Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as an example. What moves the Oscar jury and the audience is not kung fu itself, but the in-depth reflection of the movie on betrayal, forgiveness and self-sacrifice. I can see that this is the future trend of kung fu movies.’’

Kung fu movies are not solely owned by China, but also by the rest of the world. Professor Zhong Dafeng from Beijing Film Academy said, “the reason why Chinese kung fu movie is widely accepted by the world, especially by the West, is that the virtues upheld by martial artists are not only in line with Chinese tradition, but also recognized by the modern world. Self-reliance, independence, love for people, world and nature... these are what all people need in the modern times.”

Kung fu movies should absorb nutrition from traditional Chinese culture. Jia Leilei is the former vice president of Chinese National Academy of Arts. From his perspective, Jackie Chan’s on-screen and public image is about dreams coming true. Jackie applauded for arduous efforts and continuous endeavor in his movies, as well as such humanitarian acts as saving others from danger and helping people through difficulties. He does well in reducing cruelty of violence through dramatic effects. In his own way of performance, Jackie is changing the landscape of the world’s action movie.” In comparison, “other genres of movies are not doing well, be it fantastic or realistic. Also, many domestic movies gained high box office at home, but saw mediocre returns in Hollywood.” Movie critic Hu Jianli commented from another aspect.

There is no doubt that kung fu movies are playing a leading role in advertising Chinese movies in the international market. With time, however, as special effects turn more mature and the plots become cliche, kung fu movies are now mired in a bottleneck despite its vast popularity. Under this circumstance, a diverse and balanced ‘movie ecosystem’ is needed for breakthrough. Associate Professor Zhou Wenping from Guangzhou University proposed to integrate kung fu into different movie genres instead of applying this factor solely to action movies.

Gao Xiaoli offered his analysis on why kung fu movie business was declining, “on one hand, they are not near and dear to people’s heart. Film-makers should make their works more down-to-earth and meet people’s appetite. On the other hand, while advanced sci-tech may help the movie industry boom, many movies turn out to be similar due to the use of sci-tech. They become nothing like Jackie Chan’s works -- each of them are special.”

True that kung fu movies have made prominent contributions to the development of Chinese movie, but they are just one genre after all. Just as Chinese culture is more than Kungfu, Chinese movies are more than kung fu movies. Other types should also be given due attention. Recently, low-cost kung fu movies have increasingly aroused people’s interest, and at the same time, many domestic movies of various themes and genres have won international awards. They presented meaty stories about China from fresh angles, diversified Chinese movies and became a new window for the world to China. With the words of mouth earned by kung fu movies, we should promote different types of Chinese movies, and build a sound ‘movie ecosystem’ for China in the international arena. In this way, the world will be able to see more touching Chinese stories as well as our spirit and power. (Original article from Guangming Dailly)