American Kung Fu Primer [PODCAST]

This month, Donovan Morgan Grant returns to provide an overview of the American kung fu movie, which is also the story of the evolution of the action scene and the United States’ cultural perception of China, Hong Kong, and Japan. We start at prehistory, before the advent of martial arts styles, and move through the watershed year of 1973 — challenge the conventional wisdom that that was the beginning — and continue onto the Golden Age and the resulting Doldrums, both pivoting around the rise and fall of The Matrix. Throughout, we introduce the careers of the action icons like Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and whittle down a list of recommendations. … More American Kung Fu Primer [PODCAST]

02/26/2022 – Turning a Corner?

To my mind, Li Bingbing’s appearance in the good old-fashioned, all-American movie The Meg was conspicuous, only another in a line of conspicuous Chinese faces in Hollywood films. This week, it was reported that she won’t be returning for the sequel. Good. We talked briefly about Li Bingbing for our look at the historic and folkloric warrior women of China, as she played a staple character originating in literature, the White-Haired Witch. Of course, she played that character in The Forbidden Kingdom, and she was a bad guy witch. That’s the rare case where you have to cast Chinese actors in Chinese roles, and they did, for the most part, going so genuine-article that they overlooked Chinese-American talent. Bingbing was already an established star, racking up industry awards since the late ‘90s, but it wasn’t until 2011 that she began her Hollywood career proper, with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, costarring with Jun Ji-hyun of all people. From there it was Resident Evil: Retribution as Ada Wong, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and The Meg in 2018. … More 02/26/2022 – Turning a Corner?

04/11/2021 – Pilot Pains

It’s just how things are these days, that the credits on the Kung Fu revival fade in and make a promise soon to be unfulfilled: “Based on Kung Fu by Ed Spielman.” This new show has nothing to do with the earlier one, which was a western, and the current narrative in television is that Kung Fu has been reclaimed by the Bruce Lee estate, by way of Cinemax’s Warrior. Why go back and reclaim again, in that way we ordinarily do, by only populating a problem canvas with better faces? The whole thing needed restructuring, from the draft phase, and it was already done. It was done. So I guess, well, now time for the next one! Hell, bring on The CW’s Kung Fu, because I don’t need to hear the argument that The Hunger Games is a ripoff of Battle Royale. If The Hunger Games can offer anything new, anything extra or different or special, why argue it shouldn’t exist just to boost your cult film creds? (Battle Royale does not count as “cult”). I’m perfectly willing, even possibly excited, to see the Y.A. version of “martial arts woman,” because I want to see all versions. I want to see a martial arts woman in everything I ever watch — provided she’s treated with respect. Or rather, demands respect — takes it, by the throat. … More 04/11/2021 – Pilot Pains

“Warrior” Couldn’t Be More Relevant in 2021

Just as some believe anti-violence in film can be achieved by sickening the audience with ultraviolence, any cinematic depiction of racism necessarily traffics in the imagery and narratives of racism. And necessary they may be in turn, all the brutal historical dramas which bring atrocities to vivid life beg the question: isn’t there another way? Perhaps there have been or could be movies about racism that forgo such descriptions as “confrontational.” Instead, we could have two strangers from opposite sides of the track building a new and honest relationship with nary a slur slipping out. Sometimes you want that, and that’d be nice. But sometimes, you want to see a racist guy kicked through a wall. … More “Warrior” Couldn’t Be More Relevant in 2021

Sisters of Mulan Part II: Golden Swallow vs. The White-Haired Witch

Whether it’s Wang Cong’er taking up her righteous sword against the Qing Dynasty or Ching Shih living the freest possible life yet expressed, rebellion lies at these restless hearts. Where there is war, there are warriors, and where there are warriors, there are warrior women. It’s really that simple, and so I think it’s only right how we’ve gone to great lengths, by way of mythology and science both, to complicate it. Selective history is exactly that — it is conscious. Before I raise hell about all the Chinese warrior women omitted from my American public school education, what about all the important American women of history I only learned about later and at random? Why were they excluded? Did the people who made the choice to exclude even know about them? Were they excluded for them too, and then, who was the original excluder? By George, this goes all the way to the top, or at least, to some rather unpleasant gentleman. … More Sisters of Mulan Part II: Golden Swallow vs. The White-Haired Witch

Crisis in Xinjiang: Introduction

I’ve been racking by brain recently with how to introduce the humanitarian crisis in Xinjiang to With Eyes East, a movie/K-pop blog. It’s important, generally, and especially important as the current video duo on the YouTube channel is about Chinese history. It’s crucial context for the next installment of “Sisters of Mulan,” which partly discusses the authoritarian Mainland government. My first thought was to attempt outlining a “solution pipeline,” not to present myself as answer-having, but to discover our part in the answer — I was imagining something like “write your U.N.,” and by the time I get there, the whole thing looks ridiculous. It’s an enormously serious situation, and I feel terrible applying my brand of naive slacktivism to it. So before I do come up with a personal solution here, here are two very helpful articles from Just Security, the first communicating the urgency and the second recommending proper responses from world bodies. … More Crisis in Xinjiang: Introduction

Sisters of Mulan: The Warrior Women of China

What about Mulan? I always thought she was a real historical figure, maybe because she was also pretty. The movie has only a dash of the supernatural — seasoned just right — and we certainly never learned about Chinese history in school, so how, before I looked it up, could I have known, how? Well, it turns out that the Mulan story dates back to a poem, not an actual, factual woman who rode off to war in her father’s place. But that’s such a good story, I want it to be real. And because our perception today of Mulan is so tied in with female empowerment, that she’s the Disney princess who kicks butt and challenges a woman’s place in society, shouldn’t that have some basis in reality? Obviously you can enjoy the Mulan story or the movies any way you’d like, and feel empowered by them, so the answer is no. But if the answer is yes, the question “Was Mulan real?” becomes “Is Mulan believable?” And to answer that question, I’d like to take a look today at the historical figures with similar stories, and their depictions in movies. Because it’s not enough that Mulan has spiritual sisters, we have to understand that she does. And so, our story begins where a lot of great stories begin. … More Sisters of Mulan: The Warrior Women of China