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Martial arts can be found in comics, traditional chinese theatre and now on television. Each of those communication vehicles re-inforce the principles and philosophy of wuxia fiction. In addition, the training of the mind and the body is an important element within each story. Each story is a reflection of the public's fascination and interest in the martial arts.

1. Wuxia - the Chinese Martial Arts Fiction
2. Comics, Theatre, Television (Asia, West)
3. Bruce Lee and Heroic Cinema

A. Hong Kong Movies Pre-1970's
B. Bruce Lee and Heroic Cinema
C. Jacky Chan, Jet Li and many others
D. Martial Arts in Hollywood and around the world

Jackie Chan

A fter the death of Bruce Lee, Hong Kong cinema struggle to statisfy the public's demand for martial art films. A series of Bruce Lee imitiators were rushed to the theatres with names like: Bruce Li (Ho Chung-Tao), Bruce Le (Huang Kuang-Li), Bruce Lei (Dragon Lee), Bruce Lai (Chiang Yi-Tao) and many others. However, none of the imitators were able to capture the excitement of the orginal. The public was not interested in any imitations but a true martial arts experience. The movies needed a new star, another dragon, Sing Lung - Jackie Chan.

"The days at opera school were very long. Every day we would train from dawn to midnight, and anyone caught taking it easy would be whipped and starved. "
Jackie Chan reminisces about his youth.

Jackie Chen, whose real name is Chen Gang Lung, was born on April 7th, 1954 in Hong Kong. The son of of a cook and a cleaning lady. By the age of eight, he was signed to a ten year contract to study at the Peking Opera at Chinese Opera Research Institute under Yu Jim Yuen alongside Samo Hung and Yuen Biao. The conditions in the school was harsh but it did provide Jacky with a firm foundation in martial arts and acrobatics. He work continuously in the Hong Kong film industry in minor roles and as a stunt man. In 1972, he worked as a stunt double for the dreaded Mr. Suzuki in Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury (Ching Wu Men). His acting ability and his obvious physical skills made him a likely successor to Bruce Lee. However, he was casted in a series of unremarkable martial arts movies until his break through movie in 1979, when Chan was starred in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow, directed by Yuen Woo-ping. The formula he perfected was to take advantage of realistic fighting, comedy and good character development. He will extend his success to international stardom, creating popular such as the blockbuster hit - Rush Hour. Here are the highlights of Jackie's career:

  • Shaolin Wooden Man (1976), Dragon Fist (1978), Spiritual Kung Fu (1978), and his martial arts parody Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (1977).
  • 1979 - Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, Jackie plays a bumpkin who learns to fight despite his clumsiness.
  • 1979 - Drunken Master, Fearless Hyena (1979), his first directorial effort and the end of his career in period kungfu movies.
  • 1980 - The Big Brawl, his American Debut, followed by some forgettable hollywood showings including Hal Needham's Cannonball Run films.
  • ".... Jacky was strictly trained from his early years his foundation is better than Bruce. Furthermore, Jack's knowledge in Chinese Kung Fu as well as stage technique are very deep. "
    Shih Kien commenting on Jackie
    1985 - Police Story, re-started his career in realistic action movies.
  • 1986 - Armour of God
  • 1987 - Project A II
  • 1988 - Police Story II
  • 1990 - Armour of God II
  • 1993 - Police story III
  • 1994 - Police story IV and V
  • 1994 - Drunken Master II
  • 1995 - Rumble in the Bronx. His return to Hollywood. Directed by Stanley Tong. This movie was made on a budget of $7 million and grossed over $35 million in the US.
  • 1996 - First Strike
  • 1997 - Mr Nice Guy
  • 1998 - Rush Hour. His first big budget Hollywood production. Directed by Brett Ratner, with a budget of $35 million. This movie grossed $145 million in the US.
  • 2000 - Shanghai Noon another big budget Hollywood production.
  • 2001 - Rush Hour II, sequel that was made with a budget of $90 million. This movie grossed $226 million in the US.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures - a cartoon series featuring Jackie.
  • 2002 - Shanghai Knights

Jackie Chan continues to be the leader in the this action-martial arts movie genre.


Jet Li

In 1980, China released its first martial arts film in over twenty years. The movie whas the Shaolin temple (Shaolin Tzu) and was the vehicle that launch a future star in martial arts films - Jet Li ( Li Lian Jie). Filmed under harsh conditions and in production for two years, the Shaolin temple represents a turning point in martial arts cinema. Created after the turmoils of the Cultural revolution, this movie was an attempt to reintroduce Chinese culture to their own people and to the international community. It is based on the story Shihsan Gunseng Jiu Tang Wang (literally meaning "the thirteen martial arts monks rescue the king of the Tang"). It starts with the protagonist Monk Jyue Yuan, nickname Siaohu (played by Jet Li), challenging his miserable fate. Together with his senior fellow disciple known by the nickname Drunk Monk and their master Zih Guan, they form an alliance to fight against General Wang Renze (played by Yu Chenghui). The movie featured real martial artists and authentic martial arts fighting. For example,

  • Jet Li was by then a 7 time national wushu champion.
  • Yu Hu (Yu Tian Tang) studied under Li Jing Shan (bodyguard to Mao Ze Dong and Zhou En Lai). He specializing in bare-hand mantis boxing and Long Xing Mei Hua Jian (Plum Blossom Dragon Sword).
  • Yu Chenghui. Born in 1940, he was a member of the Shandong Wushu Team, and became the All-Around Wushu Champion of Qingdao at age nineteen. He has written many theoretical works including Shuang Shou Jian (Double Hand Sword) and Yu Chi Dao (Fish Wing Saber). He is consider to be a founder of a modern 2-handed jian system.
  • Hu Jianciang graduate of Zhejiang (Shanghai) Wushu Institute. China's two-time all-around wushu champion
  • Qingfu Pan nicknamed "Shao Lohu Fu," which means "Small Tiger," because of the skill and aggressiveness. Wushu champion and head instructor for three Chinese universities.
  • Some Japanese Shorinji Kempo teachers - Sakayama sensei, Atsumi sensei and Yamazaki sensei.

The amazing skills of Jet Li provided him with opportunities in the film industry, eventually, turning him into an international star. Highlights of his career includes:

  • Kids from Shaolin (1983)
  • North and South Shaolin (1986)
  • Wong fei hung (1989)
  • Swordman II (1991)
  • Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
  • Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)
  • Fong Sai-Yuk (1993)
  • Once Upon a Time in China III (1993)
  • Fong Sai-Yuk II (1993)
  • 1993 - Wong Fei-hung chi tit gai dau neung gung
  • 1994, Tai-Chi Master
  • 1994, Bodyguard from Beijing - a copy of Body guard (1992) starring Kevin Costner.
  • 1994 - New Legend of Shaolin, The
  • 1994 - Fist of Legend. more-or-less a remake of Bruce Lee's "The Chinese Connection." but much better in terms of character and story development.
  • My Father Is a Hero (1995
  • 1996 - Black Mask - the dubbed English version does not make sense. Stick with the Chinese version.
  • 1997 - Once Upon a Time in China and America
  • 1998 - King of Assassins again stick with the Chinese version
  • 1998 - Lethal 4 considered to be his break through in Hollywood. Directed by Rihard Bonner, with a budget of $140 million, this Hollywood sequel made more than $250 million world wide.
  • 2000 - Romeo Must Die. His first Hollywood production. Directed by newomer, Andrzej Bartkowiak, on a budget of $25 million, this movie made more thand $50 million in the US.
  • Kiss of the Dragon (2001), One, The (2001) and Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) are good action movie hindered by the lack of plot and character development. Nevertheless, they attracted the interest of the North American public.

Jet Li is no doubt a great action star but to produce memorable movies he still requires the proper vehicle. Ying xiong (2002) directed by Zhang Yimou is an indication of his ability. However, will he fall into the trap of other Hollywood action stars churning out B grade action movies?



Besides the super stars, many great actors and actresses contributed to Hong Kong martial art cinema. Some of the noteables include:

  • Samo Hung Kam Bo - famous actor and director with such hits as Magnificent Butcher (1979), Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and Pedicab Driver (1989).
  • Michelle Yeoh is an outstanding female action star. Starred as Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and reached international acclaim in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
  • Donnie Yen starred in the Iron Monkey (1993)
  • Yuen Wo Ping. He is the director for such memorable movies as Iron Monkey (1993), Last Hero in China (1993), Tai Chi Master (1994) and Wing Chun (1994). Action director for such Hollywood hits as the Matrix (I, II and III) as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  • Bridgette Lin star in Dragon Inn (1992) and Bride with White Hair, The (1993)


[1] An Evening with Jacky Chan, Craig D. Reid [2003/03]
[2] Jackie Chan Adventures Sony Pictures official site for the cartoon series. [2003/03]
[3] The Official Jet Li Website Learn more about Jet Li and his life. [2003/03]
[4] Hong Kong Movie DataBase Extensive information about Hong Kong movies by genre, year, and title. [2003/03]
[5] Kung Fu Cinema Leading news and review site for Hong Kong films [2003/03]

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Last update: 12/13/2003