中英对照版 2017年第5期 郭闻捷 2017-09-07
Chinese-English No.5 2017 Guo Wenjie2017-09-07
“Every Chinese director has a wuxia dream.” Wuxia is a sort of knight errant in Chinese folklore, with wu meaning “martial” (as in martial arts), and xia , “a chivalrous swordsman”. By fulfilling his wuxia dream, a director helps to popularize Chinese Kung Fu throughout the world.
The invention of films aroused the imagination of wuxia fans, as it marked the shift of martial arts moves from literature to reality, and wuxia films soon became an important staple of the Chinese cinema. Over the years, most well-known Chinese film stars got their big break in Kung Fu films: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and so on, and the first Chinese film to receive an Academy Award was a very traditional-style Kung Fu film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon . With the progress of the film industry, a greater number of filmmakers joined the bandwagon, and wuxia films became more commercialized and specialized, so that most of the mainstream types of martial arts became represented by their own film series, e.g. for nanquan there’s the Once Upon a Time in China series; for yongchun there’s the Ip Man series; and for Tai Chi Chuan there’s the Tai Chi series.
In the 1970s, after releasing two classic newage martial arts films, Come Drink with Me and One- Armed Swordsman , the Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Limited set their sights on Tai Chi Chuan. Prior to this, Tai Chi Chuan had always been regarded as a form of exercise and health preservation, and thus had never been featured on the big screen. The film Tai Chi Chuan , released in 1974, was directed by Bao Xueli, who had previously worked as cinematographer for renowned director Chang Cheh, with renowned author Ni Kuang, the writer of One-Armed Swordsman , penning the script.
By today’s standards, the Shaw Bros. version of Tai Chi Chun is relatively simple in structure, with rather poor performances. With the exception of “pushing hands” moves from Tai Chi Chuan, the martial arts choreography differs little from other films. However, it still carries very significant meaning because of its pioneering in featuring Tai Chi.
A decade later, in 1985, the Xi’an Film Studio made a Tai Chi-themed film, called Magic Tai Chi. Almost another decade later, Hong Kong wuxia films underwent a renaissance: director Yuen Woo-Ping, who came from a long line of martial artists, updated the fight sequences of old-fashioned Kung Fu films in new and innovative ways, leading to a resurrection of wuxia films throughout the 1990s. In 1993, director Yuen Woo-Ping, along with the male-female duo of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, created the most classic Tai Chi film to date: The Tai Chi Master.
The series of Hong Kong wuxia films, represented by The Tai Chi Master, featured not only visually pleasing action and complex stories, but also many elements of humor, making the films much more enjoyable. For example, in the film, when explaining why Zhang Junbao, the founder of Tai Chi Chuan, was also known as Zhang Sanfeng, it is said that he suffered from mental disorder due to guilt, and every day he would go crazy exactly three times, hence the name “Sanfeng” (san means “three”, and feng has a homonym which means “crazy”).
After 2010, producer Chen Kuo-fu and director Stephen Fung got together to reproduced the series of Tai Chi as a source of creative arts, with a reported investment of RMB 220 million yuan, using an unconventional format in which two films were shot and screened at the same time. In terms of the plot, the first film, Tai Chi I tells the story of Yang Luchan as he enters Chenjiagou (literally the “Chen Family Gorge”, settled by the Chen family), where he learns the art of Tai Chi Chuan, which is normally not passed on to members of other lineages; the second film, Tai Chi Hero , focuses on Yang Luchan’s departure from Chenjiagou, as he accepts the challenges of other various major sects of martial arts. Director Stephen Fung abandoned the realistic aesthetics that had been implemented in wuxia films over the decades before, letting his imagination run free, and added elements which he loved and was skilled at, like video games and animation, to the film. The result was that the series featured pacing, cinematography, music, and many more elements, completely unlike previous wuxia films.
The development of Tai Chi today has brought it back to its original status as a form of health-keeping exercise, and it remains one of the most commonly seen morning park workouts of the middle-aged and elderly. There is an important Tai Chi-related film which is not a wuxia one, namely, Pushing Hands by the Taiwan director Ang Lee. This film and The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman are known as Ang Lee’s “Father Knows Best” trilogy, since they are all based on father and son relationship, from which perspective they explore the difficulties of traditional Chinese culture. In the presence of intergenerational and cultural conflict, Pushing Hands does not provide an answer to such issues, but leaves the viewer an open end.