Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cringe inducing...

That's how I'd describe this recent article on  the Washington Post website on "Shaolin" films and "spirituality," by way of introducnig “Shaolin,” a "new" movie starring Jackie Chan and Andy Lau.

“Most people don’t realize kung fu is internal and external, a peaceful and a martial application, and a Shaolin movie will include both, while most kung fu movies are about anger and shooting,” says Ric Meyers, author of “Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book.”
“Shaolin is all about spirituality, karma, your well-being,” adds Doris Pfardrescher of Well Go USA, which is distributing “Shaolin.” All other martial-arts films are “ just about action, fighting,” she adds, “but Shaolin is about religion, spirituality, being with Buddha.”

 It gets worse.

But Shaolin did not become just an Asian phenomenon. The 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” featured David Carradine as a Shaolin monk. Wu-Tang Clan named their first hip-hop album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” — the 36 Chambers being a reference to a Shaolin movie. The animated hit “Kung Fu Panda” was influenced by Shaolin martial-arts styles. In the “Kill Bill” movies, Uma Thurman is taught martial arts by a Shaolin monk. And even the cartoon series “The Simpsons” helped establish the monastery’s cultural bona fides when Homer visited it during a trip to China.
Since the Shaolin craze began, martial arts have become fairly ubiquitous in movie fight scenes — hits such as “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” helped popularize the form — but Shaolin remains an iconic name and style all its own. “A lot of other martial-arts films are just throwing out different styles,” says Reid, “but when you see a bald-headed monk in a martial-arts film, you know it’s a Shaolin monk. Other movies are just entertainment. The Shaolin movies are a way to tell the audience about the Shaolin martial arts.”

 It might be a bit much, I know, to expect the Washington Post to actually produce an article evocative of what kung fu actually is, let alone why a Buddhist might do such things.  But 2 minutes of googling would have told the author that Pai Mei wasn't a Shaolin monk.

And the "new" movie "starring" Jackie Chan (he has what is almost a supporting role but isn't quite the main point of interest in the story)  is most notable for its implicit flavor of Chinese nationalism more than anything, which, as far as I'm concerned, is not a problem, but would otherwise be expected these days.  Perhaps more to the point, though, is why this film has a Buddhist message (which is more explicit than the nationalist message): because of a warlord's greed, a violent struggle ensues which ultimately takes the life of his daughter, and the only way the warlord can ultimately live with himself is to renounce his past and take up a life with the Shaolin monks, on the eve of their temple's (latest) destruction.  And that story is poignant regardless of any branding.

Then again, the whole story of Buddhism in China in the past century or two is rife with struggle and endurance that people in America barely understand at all, myself included.

Ah, well whatever.

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