Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition

Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition

Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition

Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition


The traditional martial arts genre known as wuxia (literally "martial chivalry") became popular the world over through the phenomenal hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). This book unveils the rich layers of the wuxia tradition as it developed in the early Shanghai cinema of the late 1920s and in the Hong Kong and Taiwan film industries of the 1950s and beyond. Stephen Teo follows the tradition from its beginnings in Shanghai cinema to its rise as a serialized form in silent cinema and its prohibition in 1931. He shares the fantastic characteristics of the genre, their relationship to folklore, myth, and religion, and their similarities and differences with the kung fu sub-genre of martial arts cinema. He maps the protagonists and heroes of the genre, in particular the figure of the lady knight-errant, and its chief personalities and masterpieces. Directors covered include King Hu, Chu Yuan, Zhang Che, Ang Lee, and Zhang Yimou, and films discussed are Come Drink With Me (1966), The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), A Touch of Zen (1970-71), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), The Promise (2005), The Banquet (2006), and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006).


The wuxia film is the oldest genre in the Chinese cinema that has remained popular to the present day. Yet despite its longevity, its history has barely been told until fairly recently, as if there was some force denying that it ever existed. Indeed, the genre was as good as non-existent in China, its country of birth, for some fifty years, being proscribed over that time, while in Hong Kong, where it flowered, it was generally derided by critics and largely neglected by film historians. In recent years, it has garnered a following not only among fans but serious scholars. David Bordwell, Zhang Zhen, David Desser and Leon Hunt have treated the wuxia film with the critical respect that it deserves, addressing it in the contexts of larger studies of Hong Kong cinema (Bordwell), the Chinese cinema (Zhang), or the generic martial arts action film and the genre known as kung fu (Desser and Hunt). In China, Chen Mo and Jia Leilei have published specific histories, their books sharing the same title, 'A History of the Chinese Wuxia Film', both issued in 2005.

This book also offers a specific history of the wuxia film, the first in the English language to do so. It covers the evolution and expansion of the genre from its beginnings in the early Chinese cinema based in Shanghai to its transposition to the film industries in Hong Kong and Taiwan and its eventual shift back to the Mainland in its present phase of development.


Before beginning this history, it is necessary first to settle the question of terminology, in the process of which, the characteristics of the genre will also be . . .

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