Smith, Stephen, New Statesman (1996)
STEPHEN SMITH gets a kick out of a kung fu video retrospective
The life of a kung fu monk is a demanding one, as those of us who have lived it know to our cost. That's right, gentle reader, I once trod the unforgiving shingle of the path to enlightenment. I strove for the ineffable oneness that comes through meditation, and through being able to fight in the style of a snake or a tiger. But I proved unworthy and fell prey to dishonourable emotions.
It all happened more than ten years ago now. I found myself on a remote island reached by boat from Hong Kong. It was dominated by a great golden Buddha, and the only accommodation available to weary travellers was provided by monks. But callers at their gate had to pass an exacting initiation test. Demonstrating humility and candour, we had to prove that we had the price of a bunk bed and buffet-style breakfast on us. It was my destiny to fulfil the task without error. As I entered the temple compound, I could sense the monks thinking: "This young man has everything it takes to live among our elite brotherhood. When he takes his wallet out, his quicksilver hands speak for themselves. He is a natural in the ancient western art of parting with money on holiday."
My chance to learn the monks' secrets came before the night was out. The tolling of a bell roused me from the spiritually nourishing discomfort of my bunk. I slipped into my clothes and hurried through the darkened grounds in the direction of candlelight and chanting, which issued from the temple itself. The forbidden mysteries of kung fu would be mine! But all at once, my way was barred by a snarling dog; then another, and another. They had been set loose overnight. I turned on my heel and fled back to the dorm, realising to my shame that I had been set a challenge and had failed.
I had long resigned myself to remaining uninitiated in the mysteries of the Orient when I heard about Kung Fu Connection. A new video label that has just released its first films, it specialises in "pure kung fu", according to the label's promoter, Richard Larcombe. "No gunplay, no faking, no wires," he promised, perhaps recognising in me the younger man who had set himself the impossible goal of mastering the discipline at its most rarefied. Larcombe was not lying. Shaolin vs Lama (18) and Born Invincible (15), the first titles in the series, are a double bill of double-jointed action. As well as boasting perhaps the best fight sequence featuring a whole roast chicken ever filmed, Shaolin vs Lama spotlights a peppery old abbot with an industrial vocabulary. …