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WuXia Is Swordplay Epics and Heroic Romances

August 5, 2015       Arts and Culture

WuXia Is Swordplay

Epics and Heroic


Fan Favorite Donnie Yen in 14 Blades, a 'Save the Kingdom' Wu Xia Film

Wushu is about to become an official Olympic Sport come 2020, if they finalize the announcements in September 2015! Yay!  Wrestling got dropped from the roster to give way to Wushu: probably because Wushu was a more visually appealing event than two big men grappling each other to the ground until someone gave up.

Kids into martial arts might be interested in checking out Wu Xia films for inspiration if they want to train as athletes for their schools since an Olympic sport usually becomes adopted as part of most school sports activities and inter-school competitions both locally and regionally.

The best way to appreciate Wushu is not only by watching Wushu performance in sports comptetition but by watching the cultural media export inspired by the Chinese art of fighting: Wu Xia films.

The Flying Sword Hero or Heroine

You might recognize them as Kung Fu films before the 90s.

Then, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon heralded a new age for the genre as an art film rather than the chop-socky, martial arts comedies and gauntlet-showdown Chinese fight epics they used to be. Since then, Wu Xia has become the more popular form of the Hong Kong fight film: the Swordplay Hero epic romance.

The Modern Wu Xia film became known worldwide because of
this movie:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, an epic romance
with wire-fu stunts of flying swordsmen.

As 'Flying Swordplay' movies these mega-budget, special-effects laden, Chinese kung-fu romances are often set in the pre-20th century period, or fantasy epics off Chinese literary myths or Wuxiaa fiction bestsellers.

Kung-Fu films have been around since the silent film era, but the current Wuxia blockbusters are more than just cult favorites among geeks looking for a fight film or a throwdown slugfest from Kung Fu classics of old..

One of the best swordplay hero epics with the typical tragic romance
is 14 Blades.  Video is from donnieyenfilms channel on You Tube

(Other Asian culture attractions for film fans include Bollywood movies where the highlight of the movie are the MTV quality, extended song-and-dance numbers, often 3 to 4 in a single movie, some taking place in the middle of a raging fight scene).

Most of the current Wuxia stories are actually romance tragedies and adventure quests than just a mere fight film.

Passion and Warfare

Wuxia is translated roughly as Fighting Wanderer (Wu is things pertaining to warfare and Xia are a form of chivalric person). Characters that appear in a Wuxia story are often martial arts experts, have a strong sense of honor and duty, seek righteousness, are courageous and strive to keep honest amidst vain deceptions.

Although appearing as the usual stereotype for heroic characters, almost like comic book superheroes, romantic Wuxia characters are exactly what attract the genre film cult fans to every new title that comes out of Hong Kong.

Regardless of age, the dozens of situations and dilemmas heroes face, whether they are the cops and Triad members of modern Chinese crime stories, or the flying sword heroes of the period films, are all grounded in the drama of seeking righteousness and true love. Similar to the bushido code in Japanese culture, where keeping honor was worth one's life.

Wuxia heroes AND heroines are not just superior warriors; in the fantasy and myth driven movies, they possess supernatural skills to fight demons and other forces of darkness, They can fly, focus their chi into ranged energy attacks, have shape-shifting abilities, or heal the injured companions of their troupe. Each hero in the movie is proficient with a particular weapon. Most of the recent releases have fantastic elements woven into a period romance story grounded in Chinese history, but not all Wuxia movies are exclusive fantasy or supernatural yarns.

Wuxia movies are like American Westerns, in the manner that the story takes place in far flung locations where law and order is weak, vampires and fox demons plague the land, and only heroic swordsmen or swordswomen (with names such as The Divine Constabulary) are the ones who take up the cause of the downtrodden or the demon-afflicted community, or the timeless 'Save the Emperor' plot.

The studio best known for producing classic wuxia would, of course, be Shaw Brothers, Renown Wuxia filmmakers include King Hu, Tsui Hark and Chang Cheh film studios

If you want to get intimate with Wuxia movies, check out these recent blockbuster favorites, (spoiler alert too):

A Chinese Ghost Story 2

[2011] A Chinese Fairy Tale (English retitle)

Story: Demon hunter Yan (Louis Koo) is attracted to female demon Siu Sin (Liu Yifei) and she feels for him too: After sharing candy and a good conversation on a beautiful summer afternoon. Yan realizes their affections cannot last so he places her under a spell of forgetfulness so they can move on. There is a tree spirit demon that has been afflicting a community so Yan and partner Liu seal the demon away. This evil spirit manages to break the seal with the assistance of his female tree spirit demons, luring travellers into her evil tree palace in the Black Mountain and draining their Chi energy. When the heroes return to the mountain to prevent the seal from breaking, Yan meets up again with Siu Sin and together they stop the Boss demon from doing the apocalypse.

A remake by Hong Kong director, Wilson Yip (of SPL, Ip Man fame) of the popular 1987 movie of the same name, "A Chinese Ghost Story" is an all-out fantasy flick with amazing CGI effects and the wire-fu swordfight scenes that you will enjoy with popcorn and rootbeer and your date. The romantic scenes might look like they are an afterthought to the rest of the film, but all the action and adventure in a dreamlike fairy tale setting makes it all worth it.

Impressive character costumes and the elaborate gothic sets in A Chinese Ghost Story make their mark in this sleek WuXia film. With all the glamour shots in the movie, Liu Yifei (Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils) will become THE demon tree spirit of every kid's romantic fool's wish; haunting them if they ever get lost in a mountain trail in the East. The love triangle in the movie may not be as riveting as other Chinese Wuxia films, but the movie is still amazing.

A Chinese Ghost Story 2 is a dark fantasy horror mix with unforgettable scenes: A Tree of Darkness Lair where female demon spirits lure unwary travelers to their doom. The Boss demon extending her hair like 'Tendrils of Death': to whip, stab and strangle and parry sword attacks of the Demon Hunter heroes. A water bubble trap that slows down the enemy's movement. A supernatural sea of leaves that almost drown Yan the demon hunter hero.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

A fish demon spirit (demons in China are evil spirits with animal-monster forms that can assume human disguises) attacks a remote fishing village in China and an inexperienced demon hunter, Xuanzhang (Wen Zhang) tries to fight it and rescue besieged village kids at the same time to no avail. Fortunately, his soulmate arrives in time, veteran demon hunter, the lady Duan (Shu Qi), comes to the rescue and traps the accursed water demon into an inert doll form.

Xuanzhang believes that demon spirits can be redeemed from their evil ways but he lacks the knowledge to the enlightened path where he can inflict 'Great Love' that overcomes even evil spirits. His master lets him loose to seek the enlightened path and become a better demon hunter. Encountering a Pig Demon, who subverts other humans into his Pig Demon Army by eating disguised roast pork delicacies that are actually the accursed flesh of his previous victims; our hero is accompanied by Duan, who is already smitten with

Xuanzhang because he is virtuous and has an innocence like a child's. Duan claims him as her husband and affectionately teases him all through out the story to goad him into marrying her. To stop the Pig Demon Spirit, the fighters get a team together but they still need to find Wukong (Huang Bo), the infamous Monkey King, another mischief making spirit imprisoned in a mountain by Buddha 500 years ago.

A typical Stephen Chow movie, expect charming characters, slapstick humor embedded in carefully choreographed fight sequences, and a romance story.

You'll see steampunk make-shift Chariots chasing a giant Pig Demon Spirit, and Shu Qi with her demon-seeker glaive bangles that multiply into many glaive attacks then come as the one magical bangle on her arm. Shu Qu is her usual quirky lass, tough-as-nails, martial arts expert: with a heart only for the patsy hero. She always does comedy very well and her fights scenes are a pleasure to watch.

You'll see the now ubuiquitous supernatural Wuxia fighting team: a swordfighter who can supernaturally guide magic swords like guided missiles, and an old man with polio, who magically supersizes his shrivelled leg into one giant hammer of a stomping foot to attack the unfettered Monkey King.

Chinese CGI films are not yet seamlessly slick or sleek as the best western CGI fantasy films, but Journey to the West delivers one of the best Chinese myth stories with horror and fantasy elements like no other. You might even like this better than similar horror-themed Western YA films that are popular right now.

This is a prequel to the Monkey King epic story from Chinese myths and can pass as a family movie than the usual heavy romance Wuxia film. Grab a copy of this future classic over some YA fantasy book movie.

The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom

The emperor dies afflicted by a plague because Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming) of the Wudang Clan, entrusted with the emperor's medicine, is set up by the eunuch Wei Zhongtian (Ni Dahong). Behind the ruckus, Wei seizes power.

Yihang flees and runs into Lian Nishang (Fan Bing Bing), who at the time is fighting an extortionist, general Jin Duyi (Vincent Zhao), stealing rice from her kinsmen. Yihang fights at her side in several combat situations and helps battle the spread of the plague in Lian's mountain lair. They fall in love.

Yihang tries to track the emperor's murderer and is engaged in a series of tactical and political control manuevers, some ending in epic sword fight brawls. In the middle of all the double-crossing and betrayal, Yihang and Lian save the mountain lair from the plague, kill off the treacherous troops of the back-stabbing Wei, and redeem the emperor and the throne. As a straight historical fiction, you get all the Wuxia swordplay action you crave for plus some interesting political subplots. The tragic love story every serious Wuxia movie is notorious for is here for all you fans of weepy endings. Your princess here is the gorgeous Fan Bing Bing ("Shaolin", "Sacrifice" , X-Men: Days of Future Past). Fall in love with her all over again as the White Haired Witch fighter of the story.

Based on the same novel by Liang Yusheng. Instead of getting CGI fantasy film, we get all the good stuff one expects from a good Wuxia movie: Wire-fu swordfight action—bound to be copied by other western action films soon, romantic escapes and gorgeous costumes and settings.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection

Demon spirits getting redeemed by romantic interludes with humans is a favorite theme among Wuxia fantasy movies. Xiaowei (Zhou Xun) is a fox demon, saves a human life using her magic. As punishment for her deed, she is imprisoned in a frozen lake for 500 years.

When freed again, she searches for a way to become human but she need to feed on human hearts to survive. Legend has it that she can only become human if a mortal gives her his heart according to his own free will.

One day she meets a mysterious stranger and sets a trap for him but the stranger is immune to the fox demon's allure because it is actually Princess Jing, disfigured from a bear attack from her youth, and searching for her beloved bodyguard, General Huo (Aloys Chen Kun), the one who saved her. The eight year search leads her to bump into the fox demon. Since being disfigured by a bear attack, her bodyguard lost interest in the princess which triggers the love triangle, with Xiaowei finding the perfect opportunity to turn into a human by exploiting the weak romance. Xiaowei does find love in the Princess and the story takes the usual tragic end favored by Wuxia romance epics.

HD movie trailer of Painted Skin:  The Resurrection, a fantasy Wu Xia
movie.  Video is from Movieclips Trailer channel on You Tube

Chinese fantasy-romance as Wuxia fairy-tales are now the rage, and Painted Skin: The Resurrection is one of the best among them. This one is as good as any of the blockbuster western fairy tale retellings.

The setting and character costumes, the CGI effects and the drama of the love triangle all make this one of the most intoxicating Wuxia movies, because fairy tales are timeless and the female-centered romance is one of its strongest suits. Painted Skin: The Resurrection broke all box office records in China when it came out. There is plenty of highly charged visuals in the movie, not only in swordplay scenes, but in the quiet moments too: When the Fox demon and the disfigured princess are taking a bath, they temporarily change bodies but the scene isn't played for cheap thrills. It is a very solemn and endearing moment.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

White Snake (Eva Huang) is a snake demon spirit and together with her sister Green Snake (Charlene Choi), they thrive in a mountain forest paradise isolated from humans. In a chance encounter, White Snake saves the life of herbalist Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) from a rampaging river, but Xu Xian thinks the accident was just a dream and goes on a quest to find his female rescuer. White Snake is smitten by the young man too and decides to go down from her mountain paradise lair to enter the world of humans. White Snake finds Xu Xian and the two get married.

While the Snake Spirit and Xian have their romance, Buddhist monk Fahai (Jet Li) who has been hunting demons in the nearby hinterlands, runs into the White Snake while in town. Fahai is bent on banishing White Snake and the conflict unravels the demon spirit's true from to her husband and a big supernatural fight ensues in the end. The tale might seem to be a rather ordinary romance drama with supernatural elements, but this is an adaptation of a 17th century tale by Feng Menglong.

There are plenty more modern Chinese martial arts films out there like the Detective Dee series as well as The Four, just check them out on You Tube and get a copy of their DVD or BluRay release if you can.  Seeing them at a local arthouse theater near you would also be waaay better than just watching the film at home.  Long time fans of Kung Fu already know about Wuxia films but with the upcoming possibility of Wushu becoming an official sport in the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, expect more kids, and schools the world over to get into watching Wuxia films for inspiration. 


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