I've been watching the new AMC show Into the Badlands. I came across this article explaining how choreographer Dee Dee Ku works. He gave all the actors a crash course in martial arts, six hours a day for six weeks. During that period he had everyone doing wire-work and acrobatics too. He then started to choreograph for each actor based on their strengths and talents.
The article explains that it would be a disaster if the show was just martial arts with bad acting, and equally bad if it was just good acting with terrible martial arts. I wonder if it is occurring to anyone else that if you want to be in the movies these days, both acting and martial arts are a requirement. Of course readers of this blog already know that martial arts and acting were originally a combined subject, separating them was a flawed product of modernity.
My wife pointed out that in the first half of the 20th Century, if you wanted to be in movies you had to be able to sing and dance.
At the same time, I've been reading the massive and repetitive Chinese epic, Canonization of the Gods (Fengshen Yanyi). Every character has magic weapons.
The weapon below makes an appearance in Into the Badlands, in the hands of the character The Widow.
The weapon is called Chinese Hooked Swords. Occam's Razor would suggest that, since this is a crazy looking weapon, it must come from Chinese Opera. But still we can consider how it might be used in actual combat. Please feel free to do that in the comments (here are some close ups). I have a more complex explanation. Notice the similarity to this Tibetan ritual weapon:
What are those hooked blades for? Well it turns out they are for flaying. The English word flaying usually means cutting off the skin. But in this case they are for separating the flesh from the bone.
This has both theatrical and legal significance in China. In the Qing Dynasty legal code, the punishment for killing your father, or committing treason, was a type of flaying called "Death by a Thousand Cuts." It was a public mutilation of the body. In fact, there were several variants of this punishment. In one version, the executioner had a basket full of blades. Each blade had the name of a place on the body to stab, gouge or flay. The basket was covered with a piece of cloth so the executioner could pick a blade without looking. This way, heaven could intervene and make it a quick death by selecting the "heart" blade early on--or alternately it could take hours before the heart blade came up, making the death slow and painful. In another version, the cuts were made in a specific ritual order, presumably to cause the most suffering.
In the epic Canonization of the Gods, Nezha wants to kill his fatherbut instead he publically cuts off his own flesh. He gives his flesh to his mother and his bones to his father. This was one of the most popular plays during the Qing Dynasty and dates all the way back to 1300. So what kind of sword was used on stage to accomplish this task?
What kind of weapon is designed for flaying oneself? I should point out here that the Tibetan weapon above is used in the Tantric ritual called Chöd, specifically for visualizing removing the flesh and offering it to the Buddha. Are the hooked swords above related to a Chinese variant of this ritual?
The weapon below is also pretty weird. My friend Maija thinks it is a pair of knuckle dusters that got carried away with itself, adding spikes and blades--perhaps for someone with giant hands.
This weapon has many names, as does the weapon Nezha uses for flaying himself on the stage. One name that is used by martial artists and in the Nezha Operas is Qiankun Jian, or Heaven-Earth Swords. This might explain why as a weapon it seems better designed for cutting oneself than for cutting an opponent.