The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s
by Dr. Craig Reid
To me and other martial arts film fans like auteur Quentin Tarantino, when it comes to martial arts cinema, the 1970s is the most important decade for the genre. Apart from kung fu films becoming an international phenomena and being brought to the masses, the 1970s had major breakthroughs in fight choreography and filmmaking, and we saw the rise of the genre's most influential actors and directors that even most Americans today have heard of such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, John Woo and Yuen Woo-ping. Of course to old school martial arts film fans, this list would include the likes of the Five Venoms, Sonny Chiba, Chen Kuan-tai, Jimmy Wong, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wang Lung-wei, the Liu brothers and hundreds more. In fact, over 20 countries cumulatively made over 2150 martial arts films during the 1970s. Can you list these 20 countries?
But the main impetus for writing my just published coffee-table book, The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s, goes way beyond this, it was literally a matter of life and death.
When I was 16, my doctor told me I'd be dead in five years due to the deadly effects of the lung and digestive disease cystic fibrosis (CF). At that time I was taking 30 pills a day and in the hospital every three months. In case you're wondering what it is like to have CF, imagine having intense flu-like symptoms and dysentery 24-7. Two weeks later my brothers forced me to attend a dusk-to-dawn show at the local driven-in theater in Vestal, Upstate New York. The second film on the slate was Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury (aka The Big Boss). Over one third of the way into the film, when Lee lets loose with those two incredibly fast introductory kicks, I literally screamed. In that split second, I went from being depressed and waiting to die, to wanting to live and learn what Lee was doing.
As I began practicing martial arts, I read about how kids in ancient China dying from unknown diseases would learn Qigong and become strong martial artists and heroes of China. I assumed that since CF was an illness of Caucasians that it was an unknown disease in China and so I thought all I need to do is go to any local Shaolin Temple in Communist China, find an old Qi master and ask him to teach me the secrets of Qigong. As we used to say in the 1970s, "Say what?" That was never going to happen. Instead, in the late 1970s, I moved to Taiwan and by becoming a stuntman in Chinese kung fu films I found a Qi teacher. Five months after learning Qi and to this day, I've been off all medication and therapies since. To show my health improvement was not superficial, with 30% of both of my lungs completely deteriorated, in 1986 I walked 3000.2 miles across America, 26 miles a day at a 4.1-4.5 mph pace.
If not for kung fu film, martial arts and Qi, I would be dead.
The Ultimate Guide is also a book born out of 20 years in the film industry that includes being the first American regular stuntman in Chinese kung fu films and TV in Taiwan in the 1970s (token white dude that got my butt kicked in by a different Chinese kung fu star every couple of months), learning fight choreography from Jackie Chan, being Sam Raimi's fight choreographer, being a fight directing apprentice on Sammo Hung's Martial Law, and on a unique front I was a dubber of Chinese kung fu films...yes, those badly English-dubbed films that became an integral part of American pop culture in the '70s and '80s (always a fun and interactive topic of discussion at film festivals).
How interesting is it that during the early 1970s, when we were at war with Vietnam and there was a definitive anti-Asian sensibility in the country, yet Bruce Lee came along and became a hero to whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. Plus keep in mind that back in those days, any guy that kicked when he fought was considered a sissy, and yet that didn't even deter anyone from resonating with Lee.
During an intense eight-month period I watched over 600 martial arts films and wrote on 500+ movies. Each review, or as I say "martialogy" (biology of a martial arts film), features a concise plot summary, behind-the-scenes reel and real history, fight statistics, insights into martial arts choreography and style, and many surprising factoids. For example, did you know that the real Five Venoms only did three films together?
When I started my video collection back in the 1970s (up to 5,000 films now with 1200 on betamax) it bothered me that I would buy three different titled films starring different actors only to find out that it was the same movie. Thus the second part of this comprehensive book has a definitive index of over 2000 actors, directors and fight choreographers and their aliases, and a complete list by country of every single martial arts film made during the 1970s along with all of their alternative English titles. Furthermore, the Chinese film titles are in Chinese with English translations.
Of great interest to martial arts film fans and book collectors, the book contains 150, never before published color photos from 150 Shaw Brothers kung fu films from the 1970s. Additionally, each martialogy includes fight statistics that tells the reader how many fights each film has and how much time in minutes and seconds is dedicated to actual martial arts fighting and training sequences i.e. Fights for the Buck.
Available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, all other fine bookstores around the country as well as on internet sites such as amazon.com, The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s is in essence a book on Asian history, martial arts history and martial arts cinema history. The development and secrets of Hong Kong's wild and wooly fight choreography and wire-fu styles are also succinctly revealed not via research but from my hands-on experience learning these techniques during my tenure as a stuntman, actor and fight choreographer in the Chinese kung fu film and TV industry.
I hope you all enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. May the Qi be with you.
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Written by Dr. Craig Reid for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM