Articles, Blog

Gateway Films for Getting into Asian Cinema | Video Essay


It can be intimidating to take your first step into foreign cinema Language barriers And cultural barriers But if you are a cinephile You probably knows more about Asian cinema than you think Because a lot of your favorite Hollywood movies… have elements inspired by Eastern culture Some more obvious and others Here is an ode to Asian culture in Western made movies “I know Kung-fu” Well, you are in the wrong place for that. Anyway, I want to talk about THIS You may already know about wire-fu a technique originated in Hong Kong It’s basically actors being pulled by invisible wires Popularized by The Matrix in the West it has since been used in many Hollywood movies What you may not know is that this visual has more cultural significance than just flying How’d you do that? The air You can’t see it but it feels your lungs You treat the air the same way You step on it as you with a stone You swim through it as you with the sea And all you have to do is believe It’s called “qing gong”, Literally means the technique to be light It’s a martial technique for scaling obstacles And in Chinese martial art novels This technique has been greatly exaggerated to a point where characters can jump on water or even control their own body weight Explanations for this technique differs One version says these martial artists can control an unseen life force called “qi” Qi… Internal energy The essence of life By manipulating this force in and around them the martial artists can be lighter than air and gracefully float around like dragonflies After the release of The Matrix the visual of Qing Gong continues to evolve The film you are watching here is called Hero Director Zhang Yimou takes inspirations from religious wall paintings his characters in Hero fly and glide like the gods and goddesses of China If you are fan of The Matrix for its kick-ass action and philosophical stories Then maybe you should give Hero a watch “The force is what gives a Jedi his power” “It’s an energy field created by all living things” “It surrounds us and penetrates us” “It binds the galaxy together” Didn’t we just talk about this? It’s no secret the Star Wars takes a lot of inspiration from Asian culture the force is pretty much just qi Instead of lifting a user, it lifts other things And the lightsaber… Katana in space The connections between Star Wars and Eastern culture are numerous From the visual design To the fighting To the philosophy behind the iconic weapon “This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight” In Chinese culture swords are considered a gentlemen’s weapon “An elegant weapon from the more civilized days” Because it demands skill rather than strength “That lightsaber was Luke’s and his father’s before him” “and now it calls to you” Recognizing the owner by the sword And the one swing one kill fighting also draws parallel with katana combat After Star Wars and Kurosawa Japanese sword movies continue to evolve One of my favorite, surprisingly, is an adaptation to manga Rurouni Kenshin It’s a film about reformed assassin with a sword that doesn’t kill who must find his own way to protect the people around him If you want some amazing sword fights Or are into the mystics of swords Rurouni Kenshin comes highly recommended See the similarity? This is called “battojutsu” The sword drawing technique Basically quick draw for swords The origin of the technique is convoluted One version says it was technique used by samurai to counter assassination attempts That’s not to say Western quick-draw is inspired by battojutsu Here’s Shane doing it, before Kurosawa But with Kurosawa’s love for western movies And Sergio Leone’s love for Kurosawa it’s safe to say these two genres influenced each other and the parallels are uncanny The intense stares The fast and accurate kills And of course… putting a weapon back Much like qing gong the art of battojutsu gets more exaggerated over time In popular media, you can often see the objects being cut remains one piece until the sword is put away As if reality is too slow for the swordsman The film you’re watching right now is called Zatoichi It’s one of the longest-running film series ever And it’s still going on to this day The titular blind swordsman was THE folk hero in the mind of a generation Much like the Clint Eastwood cowboy If you want to see some good action in a western-style folktale Zatoichi is a great choice I suggest the 17th entry: Zatoichi Challenged Anyway, this is called “dim mak” Not that one Remember the concept of qi? In Chinese fiction, by interrupting the flow of qi in someone You can paralyze them and it can be done with finger injecting qi as well You can also reverse it by restoring the flow It’s acupuncture, but with the force The extreme version of it can cause someone to die and is referred to as death touch The “five point palm exploding heart technique” from Kill Bill originated from a movie that features the original Pai Mei But not used by Pai Mei At least not in the original Chinese version In Clan of the White Lotus, the technique is called “hundred steps soul reaping palm” And it’s used by Bak Nin, who belongs to the same clan as Pai Mei When struck by this technique the victim dies within 100 steps due to the qi being shut down In recent years though with Chinese audience wanting more realism in movies Dim Mak no longer shows up in movies as often and if it does, it’s for comedic effect But if you don’t mind your classic style martial flicks with some comedy in it Fong Sai-yuk I and II are two movies to watch out for Featuring the titular folk hero of China, played by Jet Li It’s an amazing blend of old-school action from the Shaw brothers era and the more up-to-date story and visual of the Jackie Chan era So that is some of the gateway films for you to get into Asian cinema And some background explanations to help you understand them better But if you’ve still find these concepts overwhelming Well, maybe let yourself get confused It’s like going on a vacation Where’s the fun, if you already know everything about it?

100 Comments

  1. Bard TV Author

    If there's one thing I've learned from watching Chinese cinema then it's the fact that there's no gravity in China. People flying all over the place. Makes you wonder why the they even bother with airplanes ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    Reply
  2. Gerrylynn Mako Author

    What about the movies Chinese super ninjas, five deadly venoms and how the Chinese like to use the elements or animals in their martial arts films? I also love the zatoichi films and seen them all Atleast ten times.

    Reply
  3. Dynamite TNT Author

    I feel bad for seeing more European and Australian influences in Kill Bill than Easterns, and I'm Asian.
    Also, you just ignored the rest of Asia

    Reply
  4. president camacho Author

    stop saying asian. you obviously are only focused on chinese cinema. with forced mentions of japanese cinema because they have been so influential for decades.

    Reply
  5. Samuel Raji Author

    Hero is just 2 hrs of melodrama/fights. It's a good movie regardless. Also watched Yojimbo going to watch Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (wrong order).

    Reply
  6. AGASTHYA Author

    Are Indian movies not "Asian" enough or you just go by the "Bollywood stereotype" & IGNORE great filmmakers like ANURAG KASHYAP?? 🤔

    Reply
  7. Eason Liu Author

    Great videos man. As a Chinese and a film lover, I find your videos are funny and educational. 特别喜欢你对中国电影的一些批评和期待。加油!

    Reply
  8. Young C Author

    Omg thank you that’s some great explanation of 武侠,轻功and 气, I’ve been trying to explain them to friends and can never get it right, now all I have to do is send your links xD

    Reply
  9. Yusef Wateef Author

    Great list, but what about Takashi Miike (三池 崇史,) who are is for the indescribable madness that Asian Films bring to the world! I want a full Miike video from you that showcases what I am talking about. My contribution: "Takeshi Miike Equals Shocking Scenes Of Extreme Violence!" https://yusefwateef.com/2013/04/29/takeshi-miike-shocking-scenes-of-extreme-violence/

    Reply
  10. Eric McJilton Author

    I love the recommendations on what films to watch as it's been years since I've seen some of those! I'm a big fan of Asian cinema and you definitely have a new subscriber! This is the 3rd video I've watched of yours! Please keep up the awesome content!!

    Reply
  11. Rufei Author

    The technique of battou-jutsu is much more generalized. In Italian treatises on longsword combat, you can see what essentially is the same posture, which in this video is called "Posta di Coda Longa" or "The Long Tail Guard" – https://youtu.be/Cob3JMmtctY?t=64

    Reply
  12. Dương Tiểu Tà Author

    just go full hardcore mode and dig in Yin Yong's books adaptation TV series pre-2010 if you need some thing to binge watching

    Reply
  13. Bowman C. Author

    Actually that invisible wire thing isn’t originally from Hongkong. It’s a tradition from Peking opera. Many elaborate contraptions were made for Chinese traditional opera styles.

    Reply
  14. Daniel Rosa Author

    As a fan of film, I've been weirded out by a lot in ten years. By a lot. I plan to keep doing so! And as a Brazilian, the one that weirded me out the most was a silent film from Brazil ^^

    Reply
  15. Devine Organ Author

    I only just started watching your videos. But your analysis of films is insightful and unique, and the fact that you're speaking to an english speaking audience about a type of cinema that can be very culture locked for a native english speaker is very helpful and amazing for people like me. I love foreign films, but with a culture like Chinese culture that is so long and complicated and ongoing and so, just, big, I have difficulty sometimes grasping how to watch or interpret them. Thank you for deciding to make this channel and deciding to do it for an english audience. These videos are very well done and incredibly educational.

    Reply
  16. Michael O'malley Author

    I Personally Love Stephen Chow films there so funny and different from western comedies that there's a sense of fun and effort put into the jokes and there's a fun humbleness about them!

    Reply
  17. JanPospisil42 Author

    My advice to beginners: Stay the fuck away from Zhang Yimou.
    After having watched hundreds of Chinese and Hong Kong movies, I still have a distaste for his films. They're often critically acclaimed for being artsy and colourful and pretty, but good grief are they pretentious and overly serious.
    So no Hero, no Flying Daggers, no Shadow.
    Watch something proper good, ideally something funny – like "Iron Monkey". The story is simple enough to follow and the film is just pure joy and entertainment.
    Or some Tsui Hark – he's directed, produced and written a ton of movies, so stuff like "Chinese Ghost Story" would be great. (again – funny, quite cheesy, but also romance and suspense.) My favourite of his is the remake of "Dragon Gate Inn" (= "New Dragon Gate Inn").
    Or maybe try something way older, like the "36th Chamber of Shaolin" – that one has a good understandable revenge and coming of age structure.

    Reply
  18. Samrat Mukherjee Author

    the finger technique is real its from Indian martial art you find the name its not about transferring your force but destroying or dislocating nerves of the body which paralyze you a body consisting of nerves system gets paralyzed when the nerves stop sending data to the brain and more

    Reply
  19. MrCompassionate01 Author

    A lot of the things you mentioned about Jedi is mostly inspired by western knights who also were seen as gentlemen, could be recognised by iconic swords and fought to honour ideals. The force however is definitely chi.

    Reply
  20. icyrazor Author

    Here's a fun fact. The Rurouni Kenshin live action trilogy's action director/stunt coordinator is Tanigaki Kenji who was Donnie Yen's right hand man for many years before branching off on his own to Japan

    Reply
  21. Dustin Catalan Author

    I still remember one of my first Asian films as a child was watching the Red Dragon with Jet li. It introduced me to Asian cinema and I absolutely fell in love with it. It was the film that created my love for martial arts and Asian films. Then in then 4th grade I remember going to stay the night at my friends house, his brother had Hero on DVD and I had to watch it because Jet Li was in it. So growing up I would watch jet li in anything and Jackie Chan from the rush hour and police story films. I loved watching them fight with their different styles. So I lost it with they made forbidden kingdom. I had to beg my mom to take me to see it in the theaters and I loved it. The reason I love Asian cinema and foreign films is because I get to learn more about the world and different cultures.

    Reply
  22. drakke125 Author

    i personally love to watch tv shows so live action wushu chinese/taiwanese shows, as well as tokusatsu (jp live action shows)

    My personal fave is Laughing in the Wind 2001 (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu), I believe it's the Shanghainese version. it's by far the most beautiful and well done and acted martial arts shows I've ever seen, if not among them. The protag is quite interesting and so is the love interests and villains.

    Reply
  23. Prince of Arfon Author

    I’ve seen very few Asian films, but I would say my “gateway” films that make me want to seek out more are the films of Studio Ghibli and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” They are fairly accessible for a Western viewer, especially one who is already a cinephile, and can easily become favorites. And I saw “Seven Samurai”’ because I already loved “The Magnificent Seven.”

    Reply
  24. kobyashi Author

    The Raid & The Raid 2 from Indonesia. You'll love these if you liked John Wick. Less shooting but more martial arts and more gore, directing and cinematography almost if not on par with the John Wick films.

    Reply
  25. Zenon Filho Author

    What a refreshing view of arts and cinema! How about a "gateway" series? Would love to hear what you have to say about Brazillian cinema!

    Reply
  26. Last Word Author

    Awesome video. I just want to add that Star Wars also takes a lot of inspiration from Middle Eastern / Muslim culture. For example Luke grows up on a planet called Tatouine which is an actual place by the same name in Libya (Tataouine) and the Jedi homeworld is called "Jedha" (Jeddah is a city in Saudi Arabia) and Al-Jeddi in Arabic refers to a mystic warrior. Beyond that, a lot of the costumes with robes are a mix of Japanese Kimono and the Arab Thobe. These are some of the more obvious inspirations another is the Force. It is described like Qi as stated in the video and it also requires people to 'submit' to it which is what is required of a Muslim to Islam. Submit as in submit to the will of God and Righteousness to gain peace. The Jedi gain enlightenment by submitting to the force. These are some of the obvious things there are more subtler tropes as well like gaining knowledge through apprenticeship.

    Reply
  27. Keeno K Author

    I watched Ip Man yesterday when I was drunk, I'm not sure why and I can't remember the end but it seems because of this youtube recommended me one of your videos and I think I'm watching them for 2 hours now. So I guess I'm a fan now. Thanks drunk me that you make stuff that hungover me can enjoy too.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *