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Chinese cowboys

Chinese cowboys
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First Published: Sat, Sep 29 2007. 02 45 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Sep 29 2007. 02 45 AM IST
It may have something to do with the popularity of Rajnikant in the Far East, or it may not, but kung fu movies have always been popular in Chennai. When I was growing up in the city in the 1970s and part of the 1980s, the theatres preferred kung fu movies (closely followed by Bond movies and horror movies) to any other. Thus, I’ve seen my fill of kung fu movies, including much of the output of Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest Films (and even some B-grade American martial arts movies starring Jim Kelly—Chuck Norris came later and I haven’t stooped to that level yet, although I must confess that I have seen a couple of episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger).
There weren’t too many Westerns screened in Chennai in those days (although Mackenna’s Gold did its round of almost all theatres in the city over a decade), but the few that I saw were enough to convince me that there was something similar to the two genres.
Then came the VHS and the consequent video library revolution in India, and as I caught up with Kurosawa and Leonne, it became evident that there was indeed a connection between all samurai, kung fu and cowboy movies.
China’s Wuxia (martial arts) books and movies based on these are similar to Westerns. Ang Lee’s movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is based on one such book, the fourth actually, of a quintet called the Crane-Iron Pentalogy that was written between 1938 and 1942 by a man called Wang Du Lu (his wife still lives, and Ang Lee acquired the rights to make the movie from her).
I’ve looked for English translations ever since I saw the movie, and couldn’t find any. Then, I discovered Andy Seto’s comic-book interpretation of the quintet, called Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (CTHD). Seto specializes in stories dealing with the martial arts and his choice for his comic-book interpretation of the Crane-Iron books is obviously an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the movies.
Still, Seto’s books in the CTHD series are unique. They combine Manga-style characterizations of people with a unique portrayal of chi, or the inner strength, Wudan (a style of kung fu) warriors possess. The result is something I’ve never seen in a comic book: kung fu (or Wudan) in print.
I’m sure the actual books are far better, but there is one big edge Seto’s kung fu stories have over kung fu movies. They do not come with the irritating Chinese music directors assume all kung fu movies should come with.
Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Sep 29 2007. 02 45 AM IST
More Topics: Cowboys | China | Ang Lee | Martial Arts | Kurosawa |