Warning: By reading this you are fully aware of massive spoilers if you haven’t seen any Martial Art Films
Fist Of Fury
At 1972, Golden Harvest release Bruce Lee’s second film, Fist of Fury. The screenplay was written by science fiction author Ni Kuang who created the character Chen Zhen a fictional student of Hou Yuanjia. The story centers on the death of Hou Yuanjia during the Japanese Occupation in Shanghai China. The title character Chen returned to his Jing Wu School after learning about his master’s death during the match with the rival Japanese school. During the memorial, students from the rival school interrupt the memorial. They present a plaque which states “Sick Men of East Asia” (東亞病夫). They taunt them, even saying that they will eat those words if one of Jing Wu students defeat them. Shortly afterwards Chen walks to the Japanese school and fight all of them. After he handed their hats to them, he literally made them eat their words. Then later on he tells them that Chinese people are not sick people. The statement received the respect of both Chinese and Koreans, even in Japan. Now think about that statement for a minute.
Now a few years before the rise of Martial Arts Films, the Civil Rights were on many Americans mind. At the time up to the present, POC especially black people were seen as less than human. Black people were seen as the similar matter of “Sick Men”. With non-violent means Dr. King showed that black wasn’t sick people. Sadly very few had kept that idea, some reverted back to the old ways. Then you have that few that does honestly show what they are made of and proud that they did it. Especially Marginalized people in the entertainment and corporation field.
Later on in the story, Chen had found out that his master was poisoned. He set out to avenge his master. He fought and killed key Japanese instructors even the Russian boxer. An old saying, Vengeance is a two edge sword. Then Chen comes back to Jing Wu and finds that the Japanese had kill most of the students. With the Japanese police at the door, Chen must own up to what he has done. As you know it, if you are going against the higher power, you know they want blood.
If someone from a marginalized group challenges the status quo, the Mainstream will try to crush it. When Civil Rights activist challenged the government, they was attacked and killed. You couldn’t avenge you father who was killed by the Klansman for fear that more will come or the rich white guy who raped your cousin who was his maid. One time, a black maid was raped by her boss, she killed him in self defense, later on she was executed. In some cultures, your teacher was you second parent. So, some can understand Chen’s anger when he found out that his Master was killed. It was anger that fueled the movie. Mind you, the Japanese at the time had committed crimes in all over Eastern Asian. So when Chen Zhen said that “We are not Sick Men of Asia.” The audience, who grew up or heard stories about the Japanese Occupation, was filled with glee, kind how Maya Angelou felt when her classmate sang the Negro National Anthem. It was trilling message.
In one part of the movie this speaks for itself: Bruce Lee’s thoughts on Segregation in America.
Later on after Bruce Lee’s death there were a lot of copycats of the story Chen Zhen and Hou Yuanjia. The remake starred Jet Li and it was called Fist of Legend. This movie portrayed the Japanese on equal ground with the Chinese. It was good remake, not a clone. It has its own action not like a replica of the original. It explores more on Japanese and Chinese relationship. Most notable scene was when Jet was moved out of the school after fighting his friend because he was with a Japanese girl. Later on he was kicked of hotel for having her with him. That was a power message they had about interracial relationships and how people view them. Then at the same time Donnie did the TV series as well as the recent movie Legend of the Fist which is grittier than the original. A little before that Jet Li with his “last” Martial Art film Fearless, it was about Hou and his path as a Martial Artist. Equally good and it shows how Europe and Japan divided China. It was hinted that the Europeans also had a hand in his death.
Side note: Although film makers like Quentin Taratino do pay homage to these films. They can only copy the style not the substance of the movie. But that is for another time.
Next time: I’m going to jump in Urban Fantasy/Urban Epic and Cyberpunk. Yes Buffy fans I’m eying you now. After that I’m going to return and talk about Wu Xia and Chambara films.