Kung-fu cinema's Shaolin heroes in the Longue Durée of Chinese revolt

White, Luke (2012) Kung-fu cinema's Shaolin heroes in the Longue Durée of Chinese revolt. In: Riot, Revolt, Revolution, 5-7 Sept 2012, University of Brighton.

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Abstract

Martial arts have been a theme of Chinese cinema going back to the 1920s. However the late 1960s and early 1970s saw a major shift in their on-screen protrayal, ushering in the genre of 'kung fu'. This was a genre whose violence, anti-authoritarian rebelliousness and proletarian heroes arguably echoed the rise of youth countercultures and the anti-colonial revolts which swept East and South-East Asia in the late 60s in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and the Vietnam War. Hong Kong itself experienced widespread riots and political turmoil in 1966 and 1967 – the very moment of the birth of the new style of 'kung fu' cinema.

Such a genre, in fact, connects strongly to longer folk traditions of riot and revolt in China. The purportedly real Shaolin heroes whose lives and exploits became a central stay of kung-fu movie plots were members of Cantonese revolutionary secret societies that resisted both Manchurian colonial rule and Western encroachment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Furthermore, the 'authentic' performance of these folk heroes' martial arts was central to the kung-fu genre's pleasures and aesthetic effects. Such martial arts have in fact themselves been intimately intertwined with a history of peasant uprising and revolt that reaches back at least to the Yellow Turban revolt of 184AD.

My paper sets out to examine the ambivalent political valence of kung-fu cinema and its aesthetic of violence in the context of the rise and defeat of the revolts of the 1960s, and in turn attempt to write these into the long histories of revolt, resistance, and revolution in China. Are such cultural expressions as the kung-fu film to be understood as fostering the energies of a radical moment, or as recuperating it?

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords (uncontrolled): kung fu, martial arts, Hong Kong cinema, film, folk tales, Shaolin, Tiandihui, Lau Kar-leung, Chang Cheh, cultural memory, invented tradition, popular culture, peasant revolt, wuxia literature, millennialism, riot and revolt, social change, Hong Kong 1967 riots.
Research Areas: A. > School of Art and Design > Visual Arts
A. > School of Art and Design > Visual Arts > Diasporas
A. > School of Art and Design > Visual Arts > Visual Culture and Curating cluster
Item ID: 9762
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Luke White
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2013 05:08
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:25
URI: http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/9762

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