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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: "Your Kung Fu's Good" Edition!


By Dr. Craig D. Reid

288 pages; softcover; Color; 2010

Over the years there's been a nice sampling of books devoted to the loyalists of the martial arts film genre. The movies have been both loquaciously lauded by dedicated fans and mightily maligned by critics who refuse to understand there's more behind these movies than rampant fight scenes. One of the most celebrated and key components of the genre has been missing in North American territories in such a glossy package--The treasure trove that is the Shaw Brothers film library. Now that's not to say Dr. Reid's book is strictly on Shaw Brothers, there's yet to be a book devoted to that crucial crux of martial magnificence.

All the photos found herein are still photos from a long list of Shaw Brothers productions many that have yet to be released stateside. The book covers not just Shaw Brothers movies (although it's a major focal point), but also indy features and martial arts films from Japan and America. As much as I am impressed with such a meticulous endeavor, I am also slightly disappointed with it, but not to the point I would discourage anyone from buying it.



Reid has taken a laborious approach to writing his book by including extraneous information such as the percentage of the fights in a film, the amount of fights, the length of the fights, the number of training sequences, the length of the training sequences and so on and so on. This level of minutiae is extraordinary and will likely be most appreciated by those who only care for the fights in these movies. Reid refers to this complex key system as martialogies. I found it to be both unnecessary and interesting at the same time, but more the latter than the former. It's definitely a different take towards the material and no doubt there will be those who will find this a vital addition.

The major downside for me with this lushly put together compendium is that you never get the impression of whether or not the author enjoys the films he is discussing. Reid does however provide historical background information and a lengthy synopsis that details the entire movie, but nothing by his own estimation in the way of if the films discussed are any good. Still, Dr. Reid is anything but ill equipped to produce such a massive endeavor as a detailed catalog of kung fu flicks considering he is a doctor, a martial artist and has lived in Taiwan and met many of the actors and technicians featured in this very book. With such a huge undertaking, mistakes are unavoidable and there's some here, but the total package is what's most important and Reid's book is a monumentally essential tome for both casual and cognizant fans of the Kung Fu/Wuxia genres. Undeniably one for the shelves.

From veritable superlativeness on a subject surrounded in a mystique of misunderstanding, we move to one of, if not the very first English book "of note" written on the subject....


By Richard Meyers

284 pages; softcover; B/W and color; 1986, (2001)

I'll try to hold back with any verbal mud slinging towards Ric Meyers (I've never met him, but seen him at the horribly put together Lo Mang Expo; he may be a very nice individual otherwise) and the bizarre onslaught of made up information (he does contribute articles to the outrageously fabricated tabloid WEEKLY WORLD NEWS after all) that rivals the wildly erratic tales of Chinese choreographer/director Robert Tai Chi Hsien and focus more on his book. This volume first made its appearance on the market under the title FROM BRUCE LEE TO THE NINJAS: MARTIAL ARTS MOVIES in 1986 less about 30 pages from this current printing. That edition also had contributors Amy Harlib and Bill and Karen Palmer. This revised edition from 2001 has only Meyers name on the cover. In an odd bit of self promotion, Meyers even reviews his own book on amazon.

The book covers the history of martial arts and the various styles. It's not too in depth, but enough that one gets a feel for the material. The emphasis is on Chinese kung fu movies with almost equal breadth given to Japanese samurai features and a small portion held over for those inferior American martial arts actioners. Those seeking pictures will find them in abundance here with the assorted over-sized images randomly placed throughout. The subject may be a modern martial arts Hong Kong film, but the adjoining photos will likely be a B/W image from a Shaw Brothers production, or some other kung fu flick.

For the time, this book was definitely a must own as there was little in the way of similar material in this form, or even available photos for the films discussed inside. Your general opinion of the author may, or may not come into play as to a purchase (that he's considered "America's foremost expert on Asian action movies" and referred to as "the dean of martial arts film experts" is a crime against humanity). Still, if you can find it cheaply, or if you're a curious and casual new fan to the genre, I hesitatingly recommend the book. Since this volume was released, there are far better books on the subject (Bey Logan's HONG KONG ACTION CINEMA for example and primed for a future review), but Meyer's "effort" should be noted for appearing at a time when there was little to nothing else to reference to. It's a keeper, but only for its vintage and that it covers other aspects of the martial arts aside from the movies themselves.



Samuel Wilson said...

I picked up that Reid book as soon as I saw it. Martial Arts + 1970s = How could I not? But from what I've read so far it could have used stronger editing. Reid's writing style is somewhat clunky and he warns us up front that he's fond of puns and bad jokes. But its comprehensiveness will make it a valuable resource regardless.

venoms5 said...

Some of the region 3 DVD's of those Shaw movies are still available. I also share Reid's excitement regarding THE BLACK TAVERN (1972). It's part of an article I've got partially done at the moment. Great, gory, trashy movie that one.

Fazeo said...

I bought the Reid book awhile back but haven't cracked it open yet, but I look forward to doing so soon.

venoms5 said...

It's nicely put together, Fazeo. Hopefully there will be another one.

achillesgirl said...

Reid is on my shopping list. You are much nicer to Mr. Meyers than I would be! I will never forgive him for his ignorant, arrogant commentary on Leung Siu Lung in "The Fist, the Kicks and the Evils". I cannot abide that man.

venoms5 said...

Well I didn't want the post to turn into a 'Ric Basher', haha. I actually deleted a lot of stuff I wrote because it was turning into that very thing.

I have that DVD, too. I'll have to listen to that track, I don't think i have yet. All his commentaries are howlers, though. On one of them, he even argues with Bobby Samuels over an actor and what movie he was in. I forget the movie, though.

achillesgirl said...

Glad you could restrain yourself! I'm not a huge cinema book collector but I do want the Reid book.

Sean M said...

I received this book from Amazon last week.Having only seen a small cross section of all the martial arts films made in the 1970's it's difficult to be too critical but i have to agree with Brians misgivings about Reid not providing individual ratings for each movie which in terms of me wanting to investigate further would be probably more useful than his "martiology" system.Though saying that Reid ,in fairness, states "this is not a book of recommendations but a book of knowlege" and from what i've read so far it certainly is packed full info and pictures.
Still i find the extensive indexes of actors aliases and films listed by countrys relatively uninteresting and feel that the space would've been used up better with a who's who of the genre's major players.

venoms5 said...

Hi, Sean, long time no hear! To include all the martial arts films of the 70s would require a few more volumes. But considering I have all the Shaw movies on DVD, a plot synopsis and number of fights/training scenes, etc does nothing for me. A fine, intriguingly put together book, just mildly disappointing to me.

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