Martial Arts Grindhouse

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Chih-hao using the ‘Iron Fist’ Technique

Martial arts films offer overly exaggerated violence and nonstop-action. Some movies have high-flying stunts, while others have fast-paced sword fights. Despite the artfully crafted fight scenes, the movies have very thinly veiled plots, plots that can be boiled down to the basic concept of a good group or single person fighting a bad group or single person. However, the simplicity of the plots and the spectacular nature of the stunts and fighting are what make them so alluring. These films also have a trans-national ubiquity that allows these films to be accepted by many nationalities, not just those from the films’ countries of origin. This is because of the film’s ability to discuss the simple topic, of good versus bad, that all people tussle with. Martial arts movies simplify complex internal struggles between good and bad, and externalize them through physical combat. Honor is used as an indicator of good and bad; those without honor are bad, those with honor are good. Both Five Fingers of Death and Baby Cart at the River Styx represent the martial arts movie genre through the dramatic use of violence and the underlying tones of honor that dictate each character’s actions. When these different codes of honor are externalized, they can be used to examine a character’s actions and determine whether or not they are “good” or “bad.” Those characters who act with honor are portrayed as being “good” while characters who act without honor are portrayed as “bad”. It is through the conflict of the good and bad that the viewer is ultimately able to determine who has honor. In Five Fingers of Death, there is a focus on social-based honor where those who are good uphold noble qualities such as respect for elders. In Baby Cart at the River Styx, a warrior-based honor, shown through self defense and acknowledging one’s opponent, is demonstrated through the constant conflict between characters, revealing a different style of honor portrayed in martial arts movies.

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