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A photo still from the wuxia film The One Armed Swordsman. It shows lead actor, Jimmy Wang, holding the bloodied spot where he's now missing an arm.

July – Week 5 – A Final Week of Wuxia

I first discovered wuxia last year when I watched Word of Honor. I didn’t know anything about the genre, but after watching that show, I knew I wanted to learn more. Now, after a whole month of reading and watching it, I can safely say I am officially a fan for life. So what did I get up to during the final week of this month’s deep dive? Quite a lot actually.

The first thing I did was look up the Shaw Brothers. That name came up time and time again as I read and learned about the golden age of wuxia in the 60s and 70s, and how it was the Shaw Brothers films that solidified the genre’s popularity onscreen. But who exactly were the Shaw Brothers? Well, as it turns out, that name is very literal, as they were four brothers from Shanghai who founded Tianyi Film Company in 1925. Tianyi went on to produce the first Chinese sound on film production in 1931. The following year they made the first Cantonese equivalent. The success of that film prompted them to open up a Hong Kong branch of Tianyi, and by 1934, the Shaw Brothers had moved their base of operations there.

After World War II, the youngest Shaw Brother, Run Run Shaw, built a brand new studio in Hong Kong called Movietown. He founded the Shaw Brothers Studio, and over the next several decades, Shaw Brothers produced over 1,000 films. At one point, Movietown was the largest privately owned movie studio in the world. Shaw Brothers Studio produced hundreds of wuxia films, which is why they are incredibly important to the history of wuxia.

So of course I had to watch one of their films. But with literally hundreds to choose from, it was hard to know where to start. Therefore, I decided to go with the most acclaimed. That’s how I ended up watching The One Armed Swordsman. According to what I’ve read, it is considered a classic. And not just of the wuxia genre. Many critics count it as one of the best Chinese films ever made. High praise. I must admit that it is not my personal favourite Chinese film. But I certainly see why it is a classic. It also takes the “Well that escalated quickly” gold medal as far as I’m concerned. Those who have seen this film will know what I’m talking about.

Next I watched the 2002 film Hero, starring Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi. In other words, an incredible cast. This film came to me via a rec, and it did not disappoint. In particular, it featured one of the most singularly beautiful action sequences I’ve ever seen. It was exactly what I wanted to watch on a Friday night and I loved it. I then ended the week by watching the first episode of Legend of Fei, a 2021 wuxia television show. It came to my attention because unlike almost everything else I’ve watched this month, its story is centred on a female hero. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say I was hooked by the first episode. But I will definitely give it a couple more before deciding whether or not to move on.

Finally, I think my favourite find of this past week was an article I discovered by Jin Yong. Jin Yong, if you will recall, is considered by pretty much everyone to be the grand master of wuxia. He wrote countless classic stories, all of which have inspired countless adaptations in film, television, and radio. But he rarely wrote about his own theories of wuxia writing and literature. Which is why the article I found from 1957 was so incredible. Not only does he clearly outline the structural elements required for a successful wuxia story. He is also deeply critical of his own writing within the genre. It is a bit surreal to read a master of the genre humbly suggesting that his writing is actually not that great. I don’t think many people would agree with him. But it was a fascinating read nonetheless.

And with that, we come to the end of July and this month’s deep dive. But I’m not done with wuxia. Not by a long shot. I have a list a mile long of movies and television shows to watch. And yes, I’m still reading Condor Heroes. That book is LONG!

I’ll be back next week with a new topic and a new deep dive. Until then Happy Sunday all!

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!