It feels that now, more than ever before, the need for diverse voices in books and film is finally at the forefront of conversation. Quarantine has been an opportune moment to dive into my love of culture — researching new folklore, ancient traditions, food symbolism, etymology, languages. Kung Fu cinema has been the perfect way to do that.
Why is watching foreign films, particularly Chinese films, so important as a writer? I'm a Jewish woman whose ancestors fled Communism and pograms in the early-mid 1900s. Weaving fantasy into real world tragedies highlights historical periods in unseen ways. Being selective to watch Kung Fu cinema provides a rich history into storytelling that we may have overlooked. My most recent novel, Momori: Child of Sand, highlights my Jewish ancestry pitted in 1940s Japan just before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastatingly bombed towards the end of World War II. Research allowed me to find connections of my Hebrew heritage with the Japanese culture I greatly admire. Many don't even realize that the Japanese were unwilling to handover all Jewish POWs to Nazis; POWs were shipped to Shanghai concentration camps, a "more humane" alternative to Auschwitz death camps. So now Chinese influence has come into play as well. Our voices, regardless of where our ancestors came from, is all we have to mend the gap of cultural appropriation. Storytelling creates an idiosyncratic bond that connects our struggles throughout history with a relatable, artistic medium. Until World War II ended in 1945, the Japanese controlled Chinese cinema. So it's no wonder why the Japanese are depicted as the villains in films such as Beach of the War Gods or Dual to the Death. But Kung Fu films explore many more concepts. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (one of my favorites) explores the deep philosophies and charming aesthetics of Chinese Buddhism, mindfulness, and Hung Gar or "fighting monks" martial arts. The fight sequences are also unreal! Gordon Liu was a Chinese actor famous for playing San Te in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (he later starred in Quinton Tarantino's Kill Bill alongside Lucy Liu's character assassin, O-ren Ishii). Gordon Liu was a master martial artist, renowned in Chinese Kung Fu cinema and Shaw Brothers movies. Compact, wide-legged fighting styles in Southern China were compared with Northern China's speedy footwork and acrobatic combat. Dive into Chinese films further and the incredible history through Kung Fu storytelling bubbles to surface. You'll discover roots for qi-gong (a Buddhist breathing practice for meditation) and why Shaolin monks mastered Hung Gar to protect ruling sovereigns and neighboring villages from being attacked. Gordon Liu learnt the "Hung Fist" which is derived from these monks and the folk hero, Wong Fei Hung. The mythos associated with Kung Fu is a writer's paradise for new, inspiring combat, romance, and fantasy. From Shaolin monks and the Five Elders of Shaolin to wokou pirates and revered emperors, there are plenty of gems to thread into a new tale. I even wonder if the Nian stalking Chinese villagers on New Year's may have derived from Kung Fu and Hung Gar monks protecting villagers from ruthless invasion. Kung Fu cinema now holds a special place in my heart. All of this I can attribute to my director/animator partner highlighting Kung Fu films for us in quarantine. He has ultimately made it an incredible at-home movie theater experience and I've been so inspired by the martial arts legends, myths, and folklore, directors' visions, and combative techniques and weaponry he's presented. Here are a few visually stunning martial arts films that I recommend as a writer, or any artist, looking for new elements of inspiration: - The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) - The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983) - Beach of the War Gods (1973) - Dual to the Death (1983) - Lady Snowblood (1973; Japanese film) There is even a special wuxia genre which combines martial arts combat from ancient Chinese tradition with supernatural elements (Duel to the Death being a great representation). Next on my list? Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain. Share your favorite Kung Fu cinema experience — drunken-style, monkey style, whatever style you want. I won't judge.