Film & TV

The Asian Silver Screen: Martial Arts Edition

Original artwork by Sahina Sherchan

by Soyal Khedkar

Martial arts is a combination of various sports all used as a form of self-defence or attack, and are often associated with East Asia. One might even think of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan when they hear of martial arts. Kung Fu, Jujutsu, Judo, Karate, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Jiu-Jitsu, and many more are all forms of martial arts. Its in-depth spiritual and health orientation with ancient Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tradition was also seen as a form of entertainment in later years. So how are the martial arts so popular? They were brought to light in many martial arts movies and are widely used in many action dramas. Even though action dramas are not categorised as “martial arts”, many actors learn these defence techniques and avoid using stunt doubles. 

November 27 is World Martial Arts Day – and interestingly enough, it is also Bruce Lee’s birthday! So in honour of this extremely amusing and entertaining sport, here are some Asian martial art films for you to watch if you haven’t already:  

Furie (2019)

Furie is a Vietnamese martial arts film directed by Lê Văn Kiệt. In the story, Hai Phuong (Veronica Ngo) is an ex-gangster who was involved in crime amongst many other things. Phuong’s father disowned her after he caught her having an affair with a gangster and being involved in crime. Phuong lives in a small village as a debt-collector barely making a living for herself and her daughter. Her daughter, Mai, wishes to quit school as she is always bullied by her classmates for not having a father, and for her mother’s reputation as a debt collector. One day, Mai is accused of stealing another person’s wallet at a local market. Her mother proceeds to ask her if she stole the purse, siding with the judgemental crowd. Seeing her mother side with a crowd of strangers infuriates Mai, while she pleads that she had merely picked up the wallet lying on the floor, not stolen it. Mai runs away, upset that her mother did not side with her. Hai Phuong looks for Mai to apologise to her, only to see her getting abducted by a bunch of thugs.

This movie is truly the most touching and empowering movie out there. From its sets, cinematography, execution and performance, it is difficult to say anything negative about the film. Something that especially stood out was breaking all the gender norms when it comes to such martial arts films – one woman taking upon a whole gang just to find and save her daughter. Every move and every fight in the movie was insanely thrilling, well-executed, and creative in using the sets. Fighting in a market? Phuong will knock a thug attacking her with a durian. Fighting in a lake? Phuong will choke the thug with seagrass and vines. In a dark, secluded location? A beer bottle should be enough. While the story was packed with fantastic moves from Veronica Ngo, it equally showcased the character’s primary objective of going as far as needed to find her beloved daughter. This movie broke records for being the highest-grossing Vietnamese film in history, and is available on Netflix for you to enjoy!

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)

           Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a Hong Kong Martial Arts film directed by Andrew Lau. This film is a sequel to the 1994 film Fist of Legend. The story takes place in China, where the protagonist Chen (Donnie Yen) fakes his death at the end of the first film Fist of Legend. Chen takes up his friend Qi Tianyuan’s identity and joins a movement to stop the Empire of Japan from invading China. The story takes off when Chen discovers General Zeng’s assassination plan plotted by the Japanese and pushing the blame on someone else. Chen then decides to disguise himself as a masked hero and goes on to defeat the assassins to save Zeng.

           This movie is action-packed, from escaping bullets in a war zone to sailing from one building to the other using a telephone pole wire. The director made sure that the thrill and central aspect of the movie – that is, the action and martial arts bit – don’t die. Every scene tends to get more intense in terms of the story and the powerful moves of Chen Zhen. It’s almost surprising how the film captured the extravagant picturesque of Shanghai in the 1920s while also showing a bloody warzone filled with debris, dust and bullets in the next scenes. 10/10 recommend this, if you’re looking for a martial arts piece that will boost your serotonin!