What is kung fu? The average American has absolutely no idea.
According to Ric Meyers, author of the new film “Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie,” the term “kung fu” means simply: “Human achievement.” Although most people associate the world of kung fu with the yelping, high-kicking action of Chinese martial artist Bruce Lee, the earliest examples of kung fu can be seen in the films of Buster Keaton and Gene Kelly. Even James Bond had a hand in introducing kung fu to the United States. Keaton’s physical comedy, Kelly’s mesmerizing dance moves and Bond’s larger-than-life stunts are all excellent examples of “human achievement” and, thus, examples of kung fu.
What isn’t kung fu? “Fighting,” Meyers told me during an interview at New York City Comic-Con.
At its origin, kung fu refers to the mastering of a particular skill through hard work and practice, as well as the strengthening of one’s body and mind.
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“Kung fu is a self-improvement system where fighting is a side effect,” Meyers explained. And when it comes time for a martial artist to throw down, kung fu is a Chinese fighting style in which one combatant takes in his opponent’s energy and, in turn, gives it back to his enemy. In that sense, kung fu is not so much a slug fest between two brutes as it is a battle between two “X-Men” characters. Seriously.
This week, “Films of Fury” world-premiered on XFINITY On Demand. The movie is based on a book of the same name by Meyers, who has also penned books on fantasy films, science fiction movies and the exploitation flicks. The 58-year-old kung fu movie guru was first introduced to the genre while working as an assistant editor for Atlas Comics in the ’70s. Fascinated by kung fu films like “Baby Cart in the Land of Demons” and “Drunken Monkey in the Tiger’s Eye,” Ric sought out more information and books on martial arts films. When he came up empty-handed, he did the next best thing – he wrote the book himself.
In 1978, Meyers traveled to Hong Kong where he met and befriended a 24-year-old Jackie Chan and immersed himself in the world of martial arts films. Seven years later, he published “Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas.” Since then, Ric has continued to be one of the world’s leading experts on the subject of kung fu films, participating in dozens of kung fu DVD commentaries, serving as a consultant on the movie “Kung Fu Panda” and writing several more books.
“Films of Fury” is the visual culmination of Ric’s kung fu knowledge, a dazzling collection of kung fu movie clips organized into chapters that tell the rich history of the kung fu genre and showcase its top talent. An animated kung fu film buff narrates the movie, ushering audiences from the genre’s beginning in ancient Peking Operas, to Bruce Lee’s debut in the United States, to the twists and interpretations of the genre (such as “gun fu”) and beyond.
“If anybody gives the movie a chance, they’ll enjoy it because it will illuminate and educate and exhilarate,” Meyers said. “You haven’t been told that everything you know is wrong, everybody is telling you the wrong things. Kung fu is the optimum thing you can do with the human body. The word means ‘human achievement.’ If you don’t like human achievement, don’t watch the movie.”
“If you like human achievement and concerted effort and fun and dancing and singing and opera and ballet and superheroes and costumes and weapons and science fiction – it’s all based on kung fu,” he continued. “Kung fu is life and life is kung fu.”