Tag Archives: kung fu

New Shows + Movies by Women — April 9, 2021

April brings new network shows and new anime series. Anime tends to release seasonally, with many series running under a single unifying director and episodes broken off to episode directors. This is somewhat akin to showrunners and episode directors in the U.S., but the two aren’t completely comparable.

In fact, showrunners are most prevalent in U.S. series. Part of this is due to our history of 20+ episode seasons to fill network TV space. Most countries don’t run narrative shows with this many episodes a season unless you’re specifically talking about soap operas.

It’s a lot easier for a single director to manage an entire series when that season is 3-to-12 episodes. As streaming takes over and U.S. audience interest in higher-quality, limited series has increased, we’re seeing a bit more single-director series – but the showrunner concept has mostly held on here. It’s not unique to us, but showrunners are more of a rule in the U.S., whereas most countries tend to offer a higher ratio of director-driven series.

Showrunners aren’t an advantage or disadvantage. Sometimes they’ll strictly be producers who ensure a series is delivered on-time and on-budget – more a manager and less of a creative force. This is especially true for franchises. However, the showrunner approach can often mean a writer is given the reigns of a series, which is somewhat less common in director-driven industries.

Obviously, a director can be a showrunner as well, and someone can be writer, director, and producer all – so definitions aren’t hard and fast. The reason I’m seeking to make this difference is that often I’ll feature a series here as having a showrunner, or being directed mostly by women. Other times, I’ll list a series simply as being directed by a woman.

This week provides a good example why. The three U.S. series that premiered this week have showrunners. The three anime series are all run by directors. Some of that difference is semantic, but it’s worth noting that the three showrunners for the U.S. shows are all writer-producers. The three directors of Japanese shows are all directors.

This isn’t just a difference between live-action and anime, either. Most live-action series from East Asian countries such as China, Korea, Japan, or Taiwan are run by directors as well. Most of their experience has come along a directorial path. Most series from the U.S. are run by showrunners – who tend to come up as writers or producers more often.

If you see series listed with these differences, this is why.

On another note, I want to highlight a pair of new short documentaries on MUBI by Argentine-British filmmaker Jessica Sarah Rinland. “Black Pond” is a 42-minute doc about an English natural history society that cares for bats and provides detailed local scientific information.

Her 67-minute doc “Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another” considers the changing face of conservation through the journey of an elephant’s tusk.

NEW SERIES

Kung Fu (The CW)
showrunner Christina M. Kim

Nikky runs away from home and joins a Shaolin temple. There she learns kung fu – until it’s attacked by a woman seeking a magical sword. Nikky returns to San Francisco and the family she left, only to discover that they face their own threat.

I caught the pilot and it’s effectively what you expect from a CW superhero origin story, with the exception of course that most of the cast are Asian. That in itself makes it refreshing and worth watching. It’s fun.

I can understand the criticism aimed at it. Many elements introduced in the pilot are cliché, but that’s nothing new for superhero stories or series pilots. A series that actually bothers to include those who are rarely represented feels a lot more interesting to me than most of the action or superhero material out there.

Showrunner Christina M. Kim has been a writer on “Lost”, and a writer and producer on “Blindspot” and “Hawaii Five-0”.

You can watch “Kung Fu” Wednesdays at 8 pm Eastern on CW, with new episodes streaming the day after online at The CW.

Rebel (ABC)
showrunner Krista Vernoff

Rebel is a lawyer who takes on corporations both in the courtroom and the sphere of public opinion. The show is based on the real-life work of Erin Brokovich, and counts Brokovich as one of its executive producers.

The cast on this is notable. Katey Sagal seems like the ideal lead for this, while Andy Garcia, Mary McDonnell, and Adam Arkin also feature.

Showrunner Krista Vernoff has been a writer and producer on “Shameless”, “Wonderfalls”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, and the original “Charmed”.

You can watch “Rebel” Thursdays at 10 pm Eastern on ABC. They’ve streamed the first episode here.

The Way of the Househusband (Netflix)
directed by Kon Chiaki

A once-infamous Yakuza boss now commits himself to taking care of his family and supporting his wife’s career. The manga was a hit for its juxtaposition of daily domestic tasks against Tatsu’s relentless intensity.

Director Kon Chiaki has helmed adaptations of “Higurashi When They Cry” and the Book of Sunrise arc of “Naruto Shippuden”. She’s also taken over as current director of the “Sailor Moon” series, including this year’s two part theatrical release “Sailor Moon Eternal”.

You can watch “The Way of the Househusband” on Netflix.

Blue Reflection Ray (Funimation)
directed by Yoshida Risako

“Blue Reflection Ray” is a magical girl series based on an RPG. The game followed an injured dancer who’s granted powers to visit another world to defend ours from monsters.

Yoshida Risako has directed an arc of “The Irregular at Magic High School” as well as the movie.

You can watch “Blue Reflection Ray” on Funimation. It will simulcast as new episodes become available every Friday.

Koikimo (Crunchyroll)
directed by Naomi Nakayama

A schoolgirl saves a businessman. Instead of thanking her, he becomes creepy and starts stalking her. Should’ve let the dude faceplant. I have no idea how the anime handles the concept – whether it does so responsibly or as an excuse for a romantic comedy.

Naomi Nakayama has been an episode director on “Hunter x Hunter”, “My Hero Academia”, and “Casshern Sins”, among others.

You can watch “Koikimo” on Crunchyroll. It will simulcast as new episodes become available every Monday.

Chad (TBS)
showrunner Nasim Pedrad

Nasim Pedrad stars as a 14 year-old boy in his first year of high school.

Pedrad is writer, star, and showrunner on the show. The Iranian-American star is best known as a cast member from “Saturday Night Live” and “New Girl”.

You can watch “Chad” on Tuesdays on TBS. They’ve posted the first episode here.

NEW MOVIES

The Last Right (VOD)
directed by Aoife Crehan

A man he meets on a flight leaves Daniel in charge of a coffin. He doesn’t know the person whose corpse he now has to get to a remote Irish island.

This makes the feature debut of writer-director Aoife Crehan.

You can rent “The Last Right” on Amazon, Google Play, Redbox, or Vudu.

The Power (Shudder)
directed by Corinna Faith

It’s 1974, in Britain. A nurse works the night shift at a crumbling hospital. When the power is cut across the country, something inside the hospital starts to awake.

Writer-director Corinna Faith has worked primarily in documentaries. This makes her second narrative feature.

You can watch “The Power” on Shudder.

Have You Ever Seen Fireflies? (Netflix)
directed by Andac Haznedaroglu

This Turkish coming-of-age film follows Gulseren as she tries to make sense of her world amidst her country’s political turmoil.

Director Andac Haznedaroglu has directed a number of Turkish series, and shifted over to feature filmmaking in 2016.

You can watch “Have You Ever Seen Fireflies?” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

Fight Scene Friday — “The Grandmaster”

by Gabriel Valdez

Ziyi Zhang. Much shade is thrown her way. “She’s a dancer by training,” goes one criticism, which conveniently ignores the by-now years of martial arts training she’s undergone with masters most of us could only dream of tutoring under.

Another criticism reminds us she’s no Michelle Yeoh, as if there can only be one female movie martial artist at a time. And, for that matter, if we’re talking purely practical martial arts skill, Jackie Chan’s no Michelle Yeoh either.

I often hear: she couldn’t actually win that fight. Well, this is probably true for half of movie martial artists. I’m not going to judge which ones could and which ones couldn’t, and that includes Zhang, but if that’s your schtick I’m pretty sure at least half the people who fly in kung fu movies can’t really do that either.

The simple reality is that Zhang is one of the best movie martial artists working today, and she fuses dance with martial arts to realize a balletic choreographic style that is relatively new in much the same way Jackie Chan’s fusion of stuntwork and martial arts once was. Being such a unique talent allows directors to frame their stories around her.

One such film was The Grandmaster, which I ranked as the second best film of 2013. The Grandmaster tells the tale of Ip Man, the Chines historical figure and cultural hero who would later go on to train martial arts cinema’s formative light: Bruce Lee.

Most recountings of Ip Man are mythologized to an egregious extent, but that’s what every culture (including ours) tends to do with historical figures. There are a few things that are intriguing about The Grandmaster‘s retelling, however:

First off, this is director Wong Kar-wai’s only real entry into martial arts cinema. He tends to make movies about love, alternating frame stories, and crime melodrama. His movies are utterly beautiful, almost like moving paintings, as you can see from the scene above.

Secondly, while The Grandmaster as a title seems to refer to Ip Man, the narrative leads you to believe that the grandmaster being spoken about is Ziyi Zhang’s character, Gong Er. She has even defeated Ip Man in a contest of kung fu. She is a woman, however, and so cannot inherit the traditions or certifications of a Chinese martial arts school. Because of China’s attitude toward women, the style her family practiced dies with her, while Ip Man’s style is free to live on through him. In this way, The Grandmaster is an absolutely searing refutation of gender politics in China, and a portrayal of all that’s been lost through China’s focus on patriarchy, privileging men while devaluing women, and focusing on the birth of sons over daughters.

In the scene above, midway through the film, Gong Er confronts Ma San, who has murdered her father and stolen the school’s certifications – and therefore the right to continue teaching the style – for himself.

What’s unique about the choreography is the use of slow motion to focus on the precision of hand movements. Most schools of kung fu focus on rhythm through a precision of hand movements, arm placements, and accompanying steps. The position of a hand can dictate the entire attitude of a movement. By slowing the choreography down, we’re able to see the intentions of key strikes, where they hit and miss. It translates the intention behind each move and how each character shifts attitude in order to counter the other’s. It’s derided by some American critics for being too focused on aesthetic, but the truth is the fight is communicated in terms of each character’s internal strategy better than most full-speed fights.

It stands not just on its scenery and art design, not just on the unique aspects Zhang brings to choreography, but as a fight that plainly communicates how moves are strung together according to this particular martial arts philosophy.

And it’s just one of several such scenes that make The Grandmaster one of the most unique and important martial arts movies ever made.

Bits & Pieces — Fight Choreography as Philosophy, Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan Chinese Zodiac

One thing I’m noticing about Jackie Chan’s choreography: he keeps his own unscripted mistakes on-screen. Obviously, there are many that can’t be kept – the unintentional hits and misses highlighted in the painful gag reels he shares during the credits. Yet when Jackie starts a kick too early and has to adjust, or adds a needless extra step or miscued move, he’ll keep it. These are minor imperfections, corrections, and hesitations, but there are enough of them to give his choreography – for all its acrobatics and complexity – an everyman feel.

Here’s what makes it work: he doesn’t keep the unscripted mistakes of the actors who play his villains. They represent an unassailable perfection, intimidating because they don’t miss a step. This reflects a concept often associated with Buddhism, and reflected through many Eastern martial arts, including the Southern kung fu, hapkido, and taekwondo in which Jackie specializes.

The idea is that perfection is something that can only be achieved for a moment. The very second you reach it is the very second you lose it. In accomplishing perfection, it now takes on a different meaning, because you can always go beyond something you’ve accomplished. Life is the pursuit of perfection, a constant moving of the goalposts further and further down the field. True mastery over anything is in realizing and understanding that you cannot master it, but rather let it flow through you. Thus, to consciously realize you are doing something perfectly is to become too aware of it; perfection slips away when recognized.

It’s a philosophy repeated throughout many kung fu films, but few choreographies represent this better than Jackie’s. His characters again and again are flawed, extraordinarily acrobatic one moment and tripping over themselves the next. Their techniques can rarely match up against those of his villains – it’s only through creativity, adaptation, and indomitable spirit that he can match them. It inverts the classic Western superhero trope – that heroes have to win all the time, and villains only have to win once. In Jackie Chan films, the onus is reversed. Since villains win all the time, it’s the heroes who only have to win once. Jackie’s opponents aren’t the villains he fights; his opponent is the perfection they embody.

It is the most often overlooked key to Jackie’s success – no matter how many times we’ve seen a Jackie Chan film, no matter how many times we’ve seen him win in the end, his kung fu is filled with so many holes and imperfections that we can never be absolutely sure it will defeat the taller, more limber, more technically perfect martial artists opposite him. Cinematically, it’s a lesson learned from Charlie Chaplin, who Jackie credits as one of his greatest influences – to root for the underdog, you’ve got to believe he really could lose.

This works because it transforms the fight into something we can understand. None of us can do the things Jackie Chan can do, so why make us root for him to do them well? There’s no tension there; we know how talented Jackie is and that he’ll always win that last fight. But we’re never asked to root for him to win. We’re asked to root for him to overcome himself in order to do it. Winning is secondary.

That personal challenge, surpassing your own capabilities, achieving that fleeting moment when you don’t master the moment at hand, but rather let it flow through you – that’s what we’re cheering for. We know how hard it is to overcome ourselves. It’s the most constant, difficult, and frightening challenge in life. Because it’s the fight we so rarely win, it’s the fight we can never be sure Jackie will win. Beating someone up – we know Jackie Chan can do that in his sleep. Overcoming ourselves…that can only be achieved for a moment. Every time we accomplish it, it takes on a different meaning, because there will always be something in yourself to overcome.

It’s what makes Jackie Chan’s choreography so universal, so meaningful. The acrobatics and flips, leaping off buildings and running up walls, are astounding, yes. Yet he’s made a career not of fighting villains, but of fighting himself and his limits in the same way we all fight ourselves and our limits. That’s why he’s transcended cultures. It doesn’t matter what language he’s speaking, we all know that fight when we see it. It’s the one that scares us the most, and it’s the one he faces for us over and over again. In that way, he demonstrated first to Hong Kong and then to a world of fans – very few of whom can leap off buildings or run up walls – how to surpass their own limitations and fears. He hasn’t pursued a career of being perfect. He’s pursued a career of being imperfect.

Since those limits and fears win all the time, we just have to win once. Then we find new limits, new fears, the goalposts move, and we start over again, better than we thought we could be yesterday.