The origins of Kung Fu cinema

Ren Pengnian

Ren Pengnian, from Kung Fu Cinema

I’ve just come across Electric Shadows, a blog on the history of the Hong Kong film industry and Chinese martial arts films. The blog, written by Jean Lukitsh, started a year ago, but has just started up again from scratch by re-posting its original posts (on the Kung Fu Cinema site). These feature a series, ‘The Origins of Kung Fu Cinema’, a genre which goes back rather further than you might think. Part 1, Shanghai Dawn, takes us back to the first years of the Chinese film industry and says that Robbery on a Train, directed by Ren Pengnian in 1919, may well qualify as the first Kung Fu movie. By 1925 there were around forty to sixty small studios making martial arts films in Shanghai. Part 2, Butterfly and Oriole, continues the history, focussing on the actresses Hu Die (Butterfly Wu) and Chin Tsi-ang (Chen Zhigong). Part 3, The Oriental Female Fairbanks, has more on Ren Pengnian and his actress wife Wu Lizhu (Wu Lai-chu) and their films of the 1920s and early ’30s (Chinese films continued silent for longer than in the West).

It’s a fascinating account of the kind of popular cinema from an earlier era which seldom makes it into film histories, with links to YouTube clips of silent Kung Fu films (none of Pengnian or Wu Lizhu’s films survives, alas).

Update: The series continues, still in the silent era, with part 4, Ambush on all Sides.

2008 Man with a Movie Camera

2008 Man with a Movie Camera

1929 and 2008 Man with a Movie Camera, from http://dziga.perrybard.net

You may remember the posts on video artist Perry Bard’s remarkable project in ‘database cinema’ to create a modern version of Dziga Vertov’s avant garde documentary classic, Man with a Movie Camera, by inviting anyone interested to upload modern equivalent shots to those in the original. You can find all about the ongoing project on Bard’s website, at http://dziga.perrybard.net, but she got in touch to correct an earlier post about the project with this information:

There was an initial deadline which may have led to some confusion however the project is open and ongoing.The reason for the deadline is that people tend to like the excitement of doing things at the zero hour and we wanted as much material as we could get for the launch in Manchester October 11. It continued screening there for two weeks, then screened in Norwich during the Aurora Festival, in Leeds during the Leeds Film Festival. There are links to photos of these events on the site.The site now contains a full length version of the remake which plays as a split screen with the original. We don’t have the server capacity to keep updating the remake but with each screening event it works through a daily download meaning that the film is different each time it screens as more than one person has uploaded entire scenes and shots. The possibilities are infinite. Please participate by logging on to http://dziga.perrybard.net.

There’s also a two-minute trailer available, and the full-length split-screen film (in its current version) is available from Google Video.