You chop socky Judge Joel Pearce, he counter with the spinning crane death leap.
"Hong Kong's unique gift to the history of filmmaking."
I like the idea of a primer for the history of various film movements. Classic film in any genre can yield a list of strange and confusing names for newcomers. Hong Kong action is one of these genres, one with a long history that few moviegoers know. Chop Socky tries to fill us in on that history, but it ultimately doesn't quite go far enough. Still, it will help people who want to explore Wu Xia and Kung Fu movies, but don't know where to start.
Chop Socky tells the history of the Hong Kong action genre through film footage and interviews with key figures. This history begins before film existed, in the acrobatic Beijing Opera, which combined stylized martial arts with singing, storytelling, and sword fighting. The martial arts genre as we understand it now has evolved from these stage roots through a series of directors, stars, and technical advances. Chop Socky follows this history clearly and concisely, stopping to describe key films and performers. Both the Wu Xia (swordplay) and Kung Fu movements are explored, as well as the inextricable ties between them. Ian Taylor, the film's director, obviously knows his stuff, and has worked hard to dig up remarkable footage.
A lot of information is crammed into the film's short running time. Beyond the history lesson, we learn about the philosophical roots of the genre and technical developments that changed how these films were made. The Hong Kong action directors have always provided more bang for an audience's buck than any other group of directors in the world, thanks to their willingness to edit in the camera, try new techniques, and push the boundaries to outdo one another. The interviews give us a first hand account of this process, which is fun to explore. Most of this information comes first hand from the directors and actors who were there, so it is both sincere and reliable. This also makes it a lot of fun to watch, as we get to see how well these stars have aged.
The biggest problem with Chop Socky is how much is missing. There's only so much that can be covered in depth in under an hour, but the time constraint leads to major gaps. John Woo gets much of the interview time, but there are no clips from any of his films. The closest we get is a couple shots from The Replacement Killers, which he was involved in, but which lacks the credibility of The Killer or Hard Boiled. Jet Li is highlighted, but the history of martial arts superstars ends with Jackie Chan. It would have been good for them to include a section on Jet Li and the return to serious, heroic action stars, maybe show footage of Stephen Chow or other new performers and directors who push boundaries to take the genre in new directions.
The other gap is Hollywood's adoption of the concepts and styling of Hong Kong action. This is mentioned in the film, but is only supported with a few clips from X-Men and Kill Bill: Volume 2. While these are both good examples that used Hong Kong cinematographers for the action sequences, I think that the Hong Kong influence on Hollywood is much deeper and subtler. Our spy films have used martial arts sequences for decades. We've been importing their actors and using them in (usually inferior) Hollywood action films. Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark, Ang Lee, and John Woo have all come to Hollywood to make movies. Trying to cover the Hong Kong and Hollywood connection in the course of a few minutes is impossible.
Unfortunately, the quality of the disc leaves much to be desired. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (with some clips in other ratios), but it's not anamorphic. This results in the lack of detail that's so often present in Docurama discs. The film is presented with a basic stereo track, which is adequate for the material. Most of the films are in mono anyway, and the rest of the film is just interview footage. This footage is clear, and the subtitles (much of the film is in Mandarin and Cantonese) are burned in but easy to read.
There aren't many extra features on the disc. The back cover promises deleted interviews, but there are only about five minutes in total. Beyond that, there is just a short network advertising clip. It would have been good to have a list of recommended films that were mentioned in the film.
Ultimately, Chop Socky is more useful for the curious than for experts on martial arts films. It gave me a list of movies I want to check out now, but I don't feel that I know a lot more about the history of martial arts films. Still, those of you that think martial arts movies started with Jackie Chan ought to check it out and discover the world of action you've been missing. Because of its brevity, I would recommend it as a rental.
Not guilty, though I would have liked to see a lot more.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Deleted Interviews
Review content copyright © 2005 Joel Pearce; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.