Anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of listening to a Ric Meyers commentary track on a martial-arts DVD knows how entertaining and informative the man can be, relating anecdotes, analysis, observation, and historical context in the voice of an enthusiast, not a pedant. It’s too bad, then, that Meyers’ literal voice is missing from Andrew Corvey and Andrew Robinson’s documentary adaptation of Meyers’ book Films Of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book. The film uses Meyers’ words, but they’re read by voice actor Yuri Lowenthal in an animated framing device that has a laid-back martial-arts expert indoctrinating a young know-nothing into the world of Hong Kong action cinema. Corvey and Robinson’s breezy approach is admirably different from the usual talking-head interviews, granted; but if the main talking head had been Meyers, then conventional doc-style wouldn’t have been such a bad way to go.
No matter. Even at a too-brief 80 minutes—and even with the cheesy cartoons—Films Of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie is a fine example of what it intends to be. This is primarily an introductory lesson in the genre, for those who may have seen a Jackie Chan or Jet Li movie and want to know more. Arranged roughly chronologically—and illustrated with copious R-rated clips of blindingly fast bone-crunching and balletic bloodletting—Films Of Fury begins by explaining the importance of real-life martial-arts legend Wong Fei-hung to the kung fu movie, and then traces the development of the genre in the ’60s and ’70s thanks to pioneering filmmakers like King Hu, Chang Cheh, and Liu Chia-Liang, before moving on to mega-stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, and Stephen Chow. The documentary ventures into the subgenres of the supernatural martial arts film (repped primarily by Hung and director Tsui Hark) and John Woo’s “gun fu,” and gets into the direct and indirect influence of Hong Kong movies on Hollywood.
Even more than the basic rundown of the industry’s most important figures, Films Of Fury is useful for flashes of Meyers’ own insights and opinions. The movie considers the connections between kung fu movies and the likes of Buster Keaton, MGM musicals, and James Bond. It explains how bad dubbing obscures some of Bruce Lee’s wit. And it puts clips from Chan’s pioneering Police Story side-by-side with the American films that ripped it off, practically shot-for-shot. Meyers laments the way that special effects have robbed the modern martial-arts film of some of its gawk value, but he’s no snob; he hails popular crossover hits like Hero, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Kung Fu Hustle, and Kung Fu Panda for their artistry and heart, and he’s as jazzed by the gruesome tooth-smashing of Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter as he is by the steely grace of its star Gordon Liu. If nothing else, Films Of Fury makes for a good intro to Meyers’ lively, insightful take on what is often dismissed as a B-movie genre. For more, pick up just about any decent domestic DVD edition of any kung fu classic.
Key features: Four downloadable chapters from Meyers’ book.