2013 films featuring Fudebakudo

Zhang Ziyi scene from The Grandmaster

Red and black: Zhang Ziyi in the forthcoming film The Grandmaster. Note the red light above her right shoulder shining directly into the audience’s eyes. And the black coat. Coincidence? You be the judge.

As usual, Fudebakudo’s involvement in the history of the martial arts must always remain hidden because it is, at its heart, a secret martial art. So we can expect no explicit references to the Exploding Pen in two of 2013’s forthcoming martial arts movies. Instead, the directors of both will have used the classic “colour code” of having some red-and-black things prominently placed in certain scenes to tacitly acknowledge Fudebakudo’s presence. Some people — specifically those who are not scholars of Fudebakudo’s influential role throughout the martial arts — will say that just because a film has some red and some black stuff in it doesn’t mean it’s all about Fudebakudo. But that’s exactly how secret colour codes work, isn’t it? Nothing happens by chance in movies these days, and if a director has told the lighting crew or props mistress to throw some scarlet and noir into the frame, you can be pretty sure it’s down to Fudebakudo and not just because it looks pretty. In the martial arts, every move has meaning.

Anyway, two martial arts films that will raise the profile of the martial arts in 2013 — where “raise the profile” also means “cause martial arts clubs to experience a tiny surge in membership from misguidedly enthusiastic newcomers just after their release” — are:

  • Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster, which is going to be beautiful
  • Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin, which is, er, going to have Keanu Reeves in it

Naturally there are going to be some major differences between these films (not least because one is about Chinese martial arts and the other about Japanese). Nonetheless it’s probably fair to say one is going to be more palatable than the other, which has nothing to do with that.

The Grandmaster will be beautiful because Wong Kar-wai has form on making his films visually artful. It is also being made in the same cultural context as the events it portrays — specifically this is a Hong Kong production concerning the story of Yip Man, much of whose life was spent there.

Hollywood’s 47 Ronin, however, well… hmmm. Fudebakudo is something of an old hand when it comes to revisionist history, but rewriting a well-known historical story to make sure that Keanu Reeves (yes, he was the little Buddha before he was Neo, which may have singlehandedly set an entire religion back several decades) appears at the end with additional snogging duties really takes the biscuit. That criticism is already based on having kindly overlooked the fact that he’s playing a character (ahem, a non-Japanese character) who has no sensible reason for being in the story at all, of course.

Some of us are still reeling from having seen perky little Tom Cruise sort out Japan’s affairs in the Last Samurai [no link provided, deliberately] (notwithstanding any personal opinions on Mr Cruise and his acting chops, it’s worth remembering that the “Nathan Algren” character that Mr Cruise plays in that film should really have been French).

Ah well. Happy new year.