Fighting Without Fighting: Kung Fu Cinema’s Journey to the West

Reaktion. Jul. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781789145335. $22.50. FILM
For a span of months in 1973, the No. 1 movies in the United States had titles like Five Fingers of Death, Lady Kung Fu, and The Chinese Boxer. White (Legacies of the Drunken Master) explores why the genre films were popular and how they may have faded at the box office, but their influence continues to inform Western culture. Beginning with an overview of martial arts in Chinese culture, White traces how narratives built around hand-to-hand combat traveled from Chinese literature to opera and finally to motion pictures, starting with early (and sadly lost) silent films. He discusses how Western (chiefly American) audiences were primed to receive these violent, anti-authoritarian, and poorly dubbed films in the wake of the turbulent 1960s and increasingly graphic fare offered by Hollywood. He then explores how imagery from these movies influenced Black power, white suburbs, and feminism, resulting in cultural icons like Wu-Tang Clan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Matrix franchise.
VERDICT White’s scholarly take on Hollywood’s infatuation with kung fu offers multiple entry points for readers, from film historians to sociologists. Action film fans will come away with a deeper appreciation of these films, and an expanded watch list.
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