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Special Opportunity to View Rare and Classic Chinese Martial Arts FilmsFrom One-Armed Swordsman, image courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Special Opportunity to View Rare and Classic Chinese Martial Arts Films

Bright, new archival prints and new subtitles afford viewers the chance to enjoy some of the most influential films.

By Kelly Graml

Most of the films to be shown have been out of circulation for more than 20 years, and many have never been screened in Los Angeles.

Kelly Graml's article originally appeared under the title "Ahh-yah! Rare look at Chinese martial arts films" in UCLA Today on Feb. 25, 2003. Kenneth Turan also wrote about the series for the cover story of the Feb. 27th edition of the Los Angeles Times Calendar.

BY KELLY GRAML
UCLA Today

Were you one of the thousands who marveled at “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and thought its female warriors, “wire-work” stunts and mystical swordplay were fresh and innovative?

Then you’ll be surprised to know that some of the earliest Chinese silent martial arts films also featured women warriors who leaped, somersaulted and flew while wielding swords in the name of justice.

Today, the reach of the Chinese martial arts film is international; moves dreamt up by Hong Kong masters have morphed into the pixilated mainstream of video games and inspired such Hollywood film directors as Quentin Tarantino.

But according to Cheng-Sim Lim, co-head of programming of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, knowledge about the genre on this side of the Pacific remains woefully sketchy. Few realize that Chinese folkloric tales of chivalrous heroes with remarkable fighting abilities were passed down orally centuries before being celebrated in print and finally on celluloid. The genre drew liberally on China’s religious tenets, its performance traditions in opera and acrobatics, its political history and turn-of-the-century encounter with modernity.

An Archive film series to screen Feb. 28 through March 16 will enlighten campus audiences on the development of the martial arts film from its silent-era beginnings in Shanghai in the 1920s to its creative and box-office apogee in the ’70s. Most of the films to be shown have been out of circulation for more than 20 years, and many have never been screened in Los Angeles.

Lim, who spent five years putting together “Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film,” said, “What with faded color, panning and scanning and atrocious dubbing, the martial arts prints and videotapes that existed gave only the faintest impression of the films’ original impact. We’ve sought to remedy this by presenting as many new 35mm and archival prints as possible.”

All films will be presented in Chinese, but many will have new English subtitles. Later, select films will tour nationally to more than a dozen venues, including the Seattle International Film Festival. For details, please visit the UCLA Film and Television or Asia Institute websites.

Asia Institute