Thursday, April 27, 2006

finally! I can read kung fu!

Oh glorious Buddha! Thank you!
I just made the best discovery in ages!

So after watching kung fu films for sometime, I always wanted to go to the source, the countless martial arts "pulp" novels that were the basis for some of the films I was watching. Plus, the romantaized depiction of Tony Leung Chui-wai writing the novels as cig smoke drifted in the air as seen in WKW's IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE certainly didn't help. Then I came across the English translations of the works of Louis Cha, known to most by his penname Jin Yong (or Kam-yung in Cantonese), one of the most influential modern Chinese-language novelists who is also the co-founder of the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao. Oxford Press published in three parts, his epic wuxia (martial arts) saga, "The Deer & The Cauldron" and while the hefty hardcovers are pricey, you can find them at most public libraries. This tale is filled with kung fu monks, traids, secret snake poison sects, deadly vixens, blind leathal eunuchs, and more characters and plot twists than you can imagine. And at the centre of it all, is the quick talking son of a brothel whore, Trinket. The tagline that Newsweek gave it, "Martial Arts meets Monty Python" hits the nail on the head. Cha's novels have been turned into lots of HK movies and TV series, with DEER being filmed as ROYAL TRAMP 1 & 2 and the Shaw Brothers version TALE OF A EUNUCH. Other titles include THE SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL BLOOD, SWORD OF MANY LOVES, EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES, ASHES OF TIME, KUNG FU CULT MASTER, SWORDSMAN, SWORDSMAN 2, THE EAST IS RED and many others, not counting the TVB series. Plus his best buddy is Ni Kuang, who wrote a mind boogling amount of the best Shaw Brothers films like THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN, THE FIVE VENOMS, THE CRIPPLED AVENGERS and ENTER THE FAT DRAGON (not Shaw) and even created the sci-fi/horror hero Wisely (SEVENTH CURSE). Check his brief (and incomplete) bio here. So how does this fit in with my new discovery?

Well, earlier this week I was writing the into for the Heroic Grace 2 series that will play at the Ontario Cinematheque here in Toronto this June (announcements to follow here including news on a FIVE VENOMS screening!). There will be two films by the prolific director Chu Yuan who made lavish martial arts films based on literary works by another martial arts author, Gu Long. While I know a little about Louis Cha, I know nearly nil about Long, aside from the films based on his novels that I have enjoyed including: THE MAGIC BLADE and CLANS OF INTRIGUE. Yuan's style matched Long's writings, and their films were all the rage before the kung fu comedies of Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan (does he really need a link?), Yuen Wo-ping and Lau Kar Leung. Then when TV series came along, that format was better suited for the complex plots and many characters and audiences swithced to the tube.

But what about this discovery!?! I have always lamented that there were never any subtitles on the multipart television serials that star decent film actors and have great behind the scenes talent. The other night while idlely flipping through websites, I learned that the big HK television studio TVB has released a classic Louis Cha series starring Andy Lau, THE RETURN OF THE CONDOR HEROES on dvd with English subtitles at last! I love decent television series so can you imagine a Sopranos or Deadwood set in the martial world!? And with a script by Wai Ka Fai (director of TOO MANY WAYS TO BE NO. 1 and FULLTIME KILLER) and martial arts by Ching Siu Tung (where do I start? from CHINESE GHOST STORY to HERO)! Now the price is a little steep at around $70-80, but for a 12 dvd set, but maybe not a bad investment with some friends (Kagan, Don, Pauline, Carol... reading this?). How can I test this new fangled concept to a gweilo like myself? Maybe with another series...

Some sleuthing just turned up bit torrent links for the first two episodes of another TVB series with English subs starring some legends of kung fu cinema! Yuen Biao! Gordon Liu! Yuen Wah! Lau Kar Yan!

REAL KUNG FU is a period series about Leung Tsan, a talented Wing Chun master, with Biao as the lead character.

Now if you get hooked on the first two episodes, I believe that the dvds with subs can be rented at TVB outlets, so head to your nearest Chinatown. I just downloaded these today and haven't watched them. They could be crap, might have too much romance and filler, but til I crack open my wallet and pencil in some time for CONDOR HEROES, I doubt I will be complaining! Get ready for bit torrent kung fu action with Episode 1 and Episode 2!

(links for this blathering, giddy post come from the Hong Kong Movie Database, Kung Fu Cinema, LoveHKFilm and the discovery was found on Kung Fu Fandom)


tapeheads said...

That's really cool about the books. I just put one on hold at the library! Thanks for the tip.

Don Marks said...

Do you have any idea of the actual dates for Heroic Grace at Cinematheque Ontario? I've been pumped since I saw the "coming soon" listing in the last programme, but I want to make sure I don't schedule anything opposite.

Also, I'm sure Pauline and I would be happy to join in with splitting the cost of a Return Of The Condor Heroes set. Is that the same story that Eagle Shooting Heroes spoofs or am I thinking of something else?

Don Marks

Anonymous said...

Real Kung Fu does have A LOT of filler, but it's a passable diversion. Yuen Biao isn't as acrobatic as he used to be, but he's still pretty good.