Circus Martial Arts

City_Under_SiegeI just saw "City Under Siege" a film by Benny Chan at the Hong Kong Film Festival.  The best line in the film is this exchange:

Question: "Do you practice a lot of martial arts here?"

Answer:  "No, it's just a circus."

If you've been reading this blog you know that the Chinese circus tradition is Martial Arts.  To my delight the film's makers are strongly rooted in the gongfu theater tradition and share a historically informed ironic love of it.

Here is the plot.  While on tour the mean circus crew and the one nice guy clown happen into some biological warfare and are given a dose of mutating virus which makes them act like they are on a million doses of PCP.  The mean guys and one girl get meaner and go on a robbing and beating up police spree, the nice guy gets some confidence and fights back.  The physical comedy is top notch.  So is the gongfu.  And so is the physical embodiment of evil.

Here is the second best line in the film:  "Even acupuncture doesn't work!"  It is delivered by a doctor super cop brought in  from "The Mainland" with his super cop half wife lover side kick.  (Yes, I said half wife--he has nick named her "Tai," half of what you call a married woman: Taitai).  He is pickled cucumber cool and she is Sichuan pepper hot.

Did I mention the steel whips and nine section staff work?  Yea, it's great.  And this movie takes it's flying daggers really seriously!  If at all possible you should bring a date to this movie because the mandatory love interest scenes are actually touching and sexy at the same time!

The fighting sets are inspiring and modern.  The morality of the story is classic and timeless, almost Faustian:   Vanity, greed, power and desire create a hell realm on earth.

Unfortunately last night was the last showing at the Festival but if this film doesn't get a wider release my faith in humanity has been misplaced.  Keep your eyes out for it, or have it beamed directly into your central nervous system by satillite if you have that service.

Great news:  The San Francisco Film Society has gotten it's hands on the theater in the basement of the New People Building in Japan Town.  It's a great place to see a film and they have a lot of interesting stuff coming up, including a showing of the new Shaolin movie this weekend.siege

It's all Local Now Baby!

Samurai bones are being brought back from the dead...sort of.
Very large numbers of fighters had been beheaded – many almost certainly as a result  of trophy-taking practises by the emperor’s forces. In 14th century Japan, victorious warriors often only received rewards for success in war if they proved their achievements by presenting the decapitated heads of enemy warriors to their leaders.

Decapitated enemy heads thus became a bizarre currency of a military accounting process which rewarded victors only if they could furnish proof of their military accomplishments.

One of the skeletons, looked at in detail by Dr. Wysocki and featured in this Sunday’s Channel 4 documentary, is a probable female samurai. In the 13th and early 14th century, many Japanese women, under the Shogun’s rule, were relatively emancipated, enjoying virtually the same property rights as men, the right to inherit property and were, like men, required to perform military guard duties.

Or maybe like this.

And this is of note, particularly since a new student collapsed from medication in my class on Saturday, we called 911 and took care of him.  He is doing fine now, thank goodness.

MV5BMTk4ODk5MTMyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDMyNTg0Ng@@._V1._SY317_The new movie Warrior is excellent.  I'm not linking to the video preview because I think it gives too much away.  Here is all you need to know.  It is emotionally very well composed, better than "Good Will Hunting," of a few years back.  It is the third major film to use a new style of stage combat based on Mixed Martial Arts, the first was the steam bath scene from "Eastern Promises," the second was "Red Belt."  The fight scenes are really good.  I never knew what was going to happen next and was totally engrossed in the ups and downs of winning and losing and doing the right thing.  The theme of the film is fighting for love.

Here comes the Hong Kong film festival this weekend!  Looking to checkout "Mr. and Mrs. Incredible," and "City Under Siege."

The corruption at The San Francisco Unified School District just won't stop.  (Here too.)

Here is some sobering news about China, and a rather dark vision too.

If that is too much for you to take in, this funny culture crash story about Chinese religion should brighten your day.

I've got some great stuff for you on African American martial arts in the next few days but while you're waiting check out this old master!

Oh yeah, and I love this invention!

Four Events at University of San Francisco Worth Checking Out

A talk by writer/director Christina Yao, with excerpts from her film

Tuesday • August 30, 2011 • 5:45 PM
USF Main Campus, Fromm Hall
Enter from Parker Street between Golden Gate & Fulton, San Francisco


An Evening of Enchanting

Monday • September 12, 2011 • 5:45 PM
USF Main Campus, Fromm Hall
Enter from Parker Street between Golden Gate & Fulton, San Francisco


Matteo Ricci (1552 - 1610)

Wednesday • September 14, 2011 • 5:45 PM
USF Lone Mountain Campus, Room 100
Enter from Turk Street near Parker, San Francisco


"Excerpts and Explanations"

Monday • September 19, 2011 • 5:45 PM
USF Main Campus, Fromm Hall
Enter from Parker Street between Golden Gate & Fulton, San Francisco


Stripping For the Dead?

strippingdeadI don't have much of a commentary on this yet, but it is a must read.  When people claim that a type of Kung Fu is 'just x' or 'just y' and it was 'originally just z' but then got mixed with 'a little p influence,' they are usually just repeating something they heard from someone who either didn't know, or was trying to cover something up.  The real history of religious Kung Fu theater ritual is itself an incredible treasure, way more interesting and complex than any of the spins we have heard yet.  This is the first I've heard of stripping for the d


ead, and I've been reading about this stuff for a long time.

Here is the Director/Anthropologist's website.

This article about the film is pretty good too.

Kung Fu: The Hard Way

I just watch the first part of this 4 part video made by the BBC in 1983.  It's quite good, it's asks most of the right questions, sometimes it's answers are too brief and too general, but if we started from this very good basic explanation, how did we get side tracked?  The basics are here, Kung Fu was a devotional and exorcistic religious practice, a highly developed form of actual fighting skill, it played a roll in social cohesion, children's moral and physical education, triad organizations, rebellion, theater, dance, medicine, health and music.  The well established ties between Indian and Chinese civilization during the Han and Tang dynasties likely played some roll in it's development, especially in the realm of meditation and yogic action.

In answer to the above question I've come up with five reasons that the nascent field of Kung Fu studies has been so retarded.

  1. When Qigong fever got out of mainland China it really confused the issues of Kung Fu's origins with a false narrative.

  2. This particular BBC documentary focuses on Hong Kong, and manages to avoid getting caught up on the propaganda narrative of Chinese Nationalism dominant in both mainland China and Taiwan.

  3. The Western ideas of mystical energy, self-defense, moralistic non-violence, and the belief that categories must be clear and distinct-- all have played a roll in inflating, diminishing or obscuring some aspect of the actual history of Kung Fu.

  4. Buddhism exploded in the West, which amplified the 'Shaolin comes from Bodhidharma' narrative and tinted the glasses through which we look at everything Chinese.

  5. The traditional Chinese distinction between Orthodox and Heterodox religion was so 'foreign' to Western notions of religion that it took over 100 years of scholarship and cultural exchange to become comprehensible.  (See here,... here,... here ... and here.)


San Francisco International Film Festival (Picks)


The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) kicks off tonight (April 21-May 5, 2011).  Here are my picks!

13 Assassins:  This is the latest from Takashi Miike.  He is on the list of my top 5 all time favorite film makers. So of course I loved it.  It is a classic Samurai movie with all the standard themes, a profound and full hearted willingness to die, the collapse of honor, incomprehensible cruelty, and explosively visceral nowness.  What is most notable about this film is the incredible integration of many different choreographic styles of fighting.  Watch the trailers here! (Japan 2010)

End Of Animal:  Directed by Jo Sung-hee.   Super weird slow pace that still manages to keep your attention.  No music but a great soundtrack.  This is another "what genre am I watching?" style film from South Korea, I'm a fan.  Darkness and otherworldly powers do creep in.  (South Korea 2010)

The High Life:  Directed by Zhao Dayong.  This film is an interesting piece of art; as entertainment it moves slowly.  A man trained in Chinese Opera makes his ghostly living as a hustler.  A jail guard forces all the inmates to read his published works of poetry.  Readers of this blog will see an implicit undertone of exorcism.  I read an interview with the director online in which he downplays the significance of censorship; wouldn't you?  (China 2010)

Those are the ones I've seen, here are the ones I want to see:

The Journals Of Musan:  Directed by Park Jung-bum about a North Korean refugee. (South Korea 2010)

Outrage:  Directed by Takeshi Kitano.  Yakuza!   Need I say more?  (Japan 2010)

Stake Land:  Directed by Jim Mickle.  Vampire zombies?  In my book, if movies are rated on a scale from 1 to 10, all horror movies start with an automatic 5 points from which they can only improve.  (USA 2010)

The Stool Pigeon:  Directed by Dante Lam.  Crime thriller. (Hong Kong/China 2010)

The Troll Hunter:  Directed by Andre Ovredal.  Good title, right? (Norway 2010)

For times and locations everything is right here!