Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks (2019)

Posted in Reviews by - October 31, 2019
Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks (2019)

Fast-paced, star-studded and thorough account of the global reach of kung fu cinema. This Australian documentary looks mostly at the genre’s influence in the west, using the popularity of the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong in the 1960s as its starting point – a time of broiling political unrest which found kinship in Hollywood’s hippy movement. Using a virus analogy, the trend is shown spreading from the New York grind-house into African-American communities, 1970s blaxploitation films, hip-hop and breakdancing. In France, Sebastien Foucan explains how Jackie Chan‘s stunts influenced free-running and later its more stylistic interpretation, Parkour. In Australia, Brian Trenchard-Smith discusses bringing Sammo Hung and Wang Yu over for a spot of ‘Ozploitation’ for the 1975 film, The Man from Hong Kong; and Danny Philippou explains how kung fu films have influenced his popular homemade YouTube films. Thailand and Indonesia are footnotes, but the fledgling talent found in Uganda’s zero-budget Wakaliwood Studios is given ample screen-time, where a DIY film industry has been spawned through a love of martial arts movies.

The overall message is clear: kung fu movies transcend language, culture, class and race, maybe more so than any other film genre, and its potency and popularity as an art-form can’t be denied. In the interests of brevity, the film favours its English-speaking contributors, which unfortunately means that absolute legends like Sammo Hung are given extremely short shrift. The loudest voices are the historians – people like film professor Eric Pellerin, Bruce Lee biographer Matthew Polly, and Hong Kong film expert Mike Leeder – who add sociopolitical context to help move the story along. Where the documentary really excels is in its excellent clips and references, many of which fans will already be familiar (King Boxer, Billy Jack, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and so on), and some fantastic archival footage. There’s behind-the-scenes footage from Shaw Brothers, including a great interview with Sir Run Run Shaw (“I can guess what the people want better than most of the other producers”), not to mention David Carradine’s kung fu-themed fitness tape. If you’re new to this whole thing and need a crash-course in why kung fu theatre continues to hold such power and importance, this is an excellent place to start.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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