With Yeun Woo-Ping’s True Legend in selected cinemas, the martial arts expert talks to LWLies about Kung Fu on the big screen.
With Yeun Woo-Ping’s True Legend out now in selected cinemas and making its way onto Blu-ray on October 25, LWLies chats with martial arts expert Master Simon Lau about the differences between Kung Fu and its fantastical depiction on screen.
LWLies: What is the difference between Kung Fu and martial arts?
Lau: Chinese martial arts in films is often referred to as ‘Kung Fu’, however this is not a strictly correct definition. Kung Fu is not actually a style of martial arts. Kung Fu means 'diligent training in an art', this can include cooking or flower arranging as well as Wushu which means ‘martial arts’ or ‘system’ in Chinese.
Are the history based epics like True Legend primarily meant to inspire nationalism and pride in Chinese culture?
No, I would say their primary purpose is to entertain the audience, set against the rich cultural heritage of ancient China.
Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li are iconic figures. Are their individual techniques as good as film conveys?
Bruce Lee was in peak condition at the time of his films and his technique was excellent, however performance is not the same as reality. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are both excellent performers of martial systems from Chinese culture such as traditional Chinese Opera and Wushu. These martial systems are concerned with conditioning the human body to deliver energy or ‘Chi’ through dedicated training. In movies, the fighting is not actual fighting, it is a performance, carefully planned and choreographed to maximise the excitement and fuel the audience’s fantasy. In a real fight there is no technique, only the aim to strike your opponent and deliver sufficient power to stop them.
Many directors employ fast fight scenes which are often sped up. Is this a disservice?
No not at all, films are fantastical adventures intended to entertain audiences. What film makers do or don’t do has no reflection on the true art. Actors perform martial arts often with no martial arts training whatsoever.
Wire fu is currently very popular. Is it an innovation or a distortion?
Wire fu is just a device to enhance the fantasy.
Do you think producers of martial arts flicks cater for western audiences since the rise in popularity of the genre?
No, Western audiences don’t care what art is used – only how beautiful or amazing it looks.
Have you been offered roles working as an advisor and would you take up such an offer?
I have been involved in several television shows on both sides of the camera. If I found the film’s story inspiring and the team behind it were sincere and talented I would consider the role.
Where does your own dedication and passion for martial arts come from? Have there been any films that have inspired you at all?
Like musicians and artists, dedication and passion in our art comes from our character. It is our character which makes choices unconsciously in our daily life. It is not like our personality which is conditioned and developed throughout our life time. What attracts you to someone initially is their personality but what you end up living with is their character! Inspiration is a message from the soul. If you are inspired by a character in a film then you have no judgement, criticism, bias or prejudice towards that character because the film’s message and story has connected directly to your soul and resonates within it.
Do you take note choreography and has any particular film or scene ever impressed you for its creativity or realism?
Ye, I appreciate choreography when it is good. Fist of Fury is one of the most impressive films I have seen for its choreography because at the time Bruce Lee was hungry for success and he had such strong will and an unshakeable conviction. Without this kind of conviction, one’s best efforts will come to nothing. Bruce Lee’s performance at the peak of his physical and mental condition was awesome.
A great majority of Kung Fu movies focus on the body as a weapon, what else does it teach that they ignore?
Trust and loyalty are key components of training not often involved in movies. The student shows loyalty to the master and the master trusts the student. Dignity and integrity are central aspects of the training and often ignored in movies.
Do you think cinema has successfully embraced of spirit of Kung Fu?
No I don’t think it has. As soon as you leave the cinema you have already forgotten the message because there is no insight into the true spirit of martial arts.
Have you ever seen anything that truly portrays its philosophy?
No, martial arts philosophy comes from Taoist and Buddhist influences and is based on harmony and balance. People would not go and see films based on these principals as it would seem boring to them! People want to see films based on revenge and hate where characters have been unjustly treated and now set out on a mission to exact revenge and retribution. Many people feel a connection to this attitude of ‘un-justified’ treatment leading to ‘unhappiness in their daily life’ which then becomes their number one excuse to be unhappy.
Has cinema obscured the educational elements in favour of entertainment?
Martial arts have been romanticised in movies to enhance the fantasy aspect of the films and or the violence. Violence and romance are elements we all have within us. If the story is good then it becomes like a reflection on our own situation and in that way it can be educational as it to make you realise that you also have violence and romanticism in you.
Have you any personal favourite martial arts movies purely as a viewer?
Not really, however, Hero was set in a culturally rich setting which was attractive.
Master Simon Lau teaches Wing Chun Kung Fu at simonlaucentre.co.uk