Film directed by Wilson Yip; written by Edmond Wong and Tai-Li Chan; starring Donnie Yen; action choreography by Donnie Yen
If you live among primarily English speakers, but are also fortunate enough to live near an outlet for foreign movies of all types, then you may find yourself having the following conversation:
“So, what’d you do last night?”
“Went to the movies with my son.”
“Oh, what’d you see?”
(hesitates) “Dirty Ho… It’s a martial arts movie… really…”
If you’re fortunate, people will understand that you’re not creepy. Or maybe they will just keep it to themselves. I had that conversation (no surprise there) during a martial arts film series a number of years ago. I could have lied about the movie title, but I really liked it. It deserved to rise above the snickers at its title.
I was blessed to grow up next door to Ron, who had an early and long-lasting love for martial arts. Both of us being gifted with gab, he shared that interest by introducing me to that coolest of all 70’s icons: Bruce Lee. I’m pretty sure that the first time I sat on a car roof was at the drive-in watching a Lee double feature with Ron. The drive-in closed soon thereafter and it took almost thirty years before I got back to one, but I never stopped watching martial arts films. Lee died, but Jackie Chan capitalized on that earlier breakthrough.
The Hollywood spectacles
that tried to harness Chan’s kinetic energy paled in comparison to the Hong Kong features, which sometimes required serious pursuit. As video stores splintered into niches (followed by streaming services doing the same), seeking one film revealed many others starring a new face. Chan led to Sammo Hung to Jet Li to Donnie Yen.
Watch enough action films and you start to look for something new and interesting. Martial arts becomes dance, which of course leads to the (probably obvious) realization that the action choreographer matters a great deal. Appreciation arises when you suddenly start recognizing the intricacy and planning and practice and grace and self-control involved.
By the same token, we develop favorites, like ballet aficionados and baseball fans. Where would the Wu-Tang Clan be without The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (and we would all be a little poorer)? Just to be clear, if you know any movie has choreography by Yuen Woo-ping, then you must see it… or anything involving Chia-Liang Liu.
Then, there is Donnie Yen. He starred in Iron Monkey (with choreography by Yuen Woo-ping) which we saw about the same time as everyone was losing their minds over Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The latter was a lovely film, but Iron Monkey was fantastic. I don;t take responsibility for anyone’s desire to sit friends down and make them watch it. Follow that maybe with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny.
I hope that Rogue One is a hint of more to come- yes, that was Donnie Yen. It’s a little weird to use Star Wars as the signifier when he comes up in conversation. On the other hand, he was the absolutely coolest thing in a very cool film. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what Ron was talking about all those years ago. Here’s a really wonderful thing that needs to be shared.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 6 more to go.
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