Growing up in the 80’s, local channels would always show really cheesy martial arts films like Drunken Master, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Daggers 8. All of them were really cheaply made and they basically follow the same pattern. In fact, the two Jackie Chan films I mentioned earlier, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master had the exact same cast of actors!
They kept on repeating the same films over and over again. And I kept watching them over and over again. Partially because they were only good thing on TV but also because they were extremely entertaining. My childhood mind was blown away with the martial arts and the extremely simplistic story was easy to grasp. I could easily follow everything that was happening even though I was maybe 2 to 3 years old!
It was these films that got me interested in watching the other martial arts films of the time. I wanted to see the films of Bruce Lee (I already heard of him when I was young but I never got to watch any of his movies) so I would ask my parents to rent out old Betamax tapes (yep, I’m really showing my age here) like Enter the Dragon and Way of the Dragon. Basically, a lot of “dragon” films that had to do with martial arts. And I loved those as well! Maybe not as much as the comedic outings of Jackie Chan but they were still a hoot to watch.
The childish comedy portions weren’t actually the highlight, of course. But, for what they were, these short comedic bits were also pretty good when I initially watched them. But what I actually really found funny was the way they dubbed the voices. This was a time when dubbing a film into a different language wasn’t done with sophistication. As such, there was a certain kind of trashy charm that came with these films. They actually became more memorable for the really hilarious voice acting!
While were on the subject of the sounds of the film, I have to mention the sound effects they kept using throughout these older films. They sounded incredibly fake! All those “whooshing” sounds whenever they perform an attack. The dull “thump” when they block a strike. The whip-crack “ker-bish” whenever an attack gets through the defense. It all sounds phony but strangely appropriate.
Another big reason why I loved the old-style kung-fu films were a mainstay of 80’s action films: the training montage! These were really elaborate exercises that would probably break me even today! But they were impressive feats of strength during the day. In fact, they are still impressive to watch even today! None of the Karate Kid’s “wax on, wax off” namby-pamby labor tasks! This was really hardcore and I could see how it would help the hero of the film become tougher.
But the main reason why I love watching these were the fights! I love how they always have these elaborate fighting styles! How they all have to come from different schools to learn these different forms of martial arts. It doesn’t really seem like a good idea to just focus on just one form of kung-fu when I was a kid. Shouldn’t they all try to learn the techniques? After all, the only reason why Jackie Chan beat the bad guy from Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. He combined two kung-fu styles and created his own martial arts style! Of course, I was reading too much into it: it’s a movie!
Would these kinds of films work today? I doubt it. If they do make an old-school martial arts film, it would be more like a parody instead of a homage. Today’s general audience has become more “sophisticated.” At least they like to think they are. Also, when we think of martial arts movies today, all we see are really elaborate and usually brutal films. Films like The Raid are and Ip Man are still a blast to watch but are to be taken seriously without a ounce of irony. It’s just the signs of the times.
If you enjoy watching the martial arts films of the past, I do suggest that you try watching the older films. They may be cheesy and hard to take seriously. But they have a charm of their own. Try it out. You may find out there’s an entire library of older martial arts films you’ve missed out on.
What’s your favorite “classic” kung-fu film? Let me know in the comments section below!