Kung fu Origins A great place to begin is language: the word for “martial” in Chinese is “wu,” and it is constructed from two other Chinese words: “zhi” which means to stop or cease, and “ge” which means describes a weapon. So from this the original meaning to stop using weapons. There is a lot of irony wrapped up in martial arts films because they are always about some fighter struggling not to fight, but it always comes down to that. But we can see that the origins of kung fu come from this idea of defense. I think any true teacher will tell you that. Watching our actress train during her first lesson, even her teacher told her running is always option. You fight when there is no other choice.
Although the Chinese martial arts have been around for centuries they’ve only been a part of the Western world for the last few decades. But the origins of the martial arts are hard to pinpoint because the practice was being used in ancient times before people were recording history, before people were even literate so the traditions were passed down orally. In the beginning there may have been thousands of martial arts styles but the weakest were weeded out and best were refined. Martial arts would then continue to evolve with the traditions of the bagua or eight trigrams concept, and the yin yang theory.
Bagua is one of the three internal styles of Chinese martial arts and is based on organizing natural phenomena into eight symbols that come from ancient Chinese divination text. The primary idea is that change within these phenomena is a means to defeating an opponent. Yin and yang is the foundation of many martial arts styles including wing chun and comes from the idea that harmony can only been accomplished with the balance of two opposing, complementary and interdependent forces. Force cannot defeat brute force. You’ll notice that both of these symbols are incorporated at least in part into our logo. What’s fascinating about the martial arts is that there is a “hard” and “soft” or “internal” and “external” side to the techniques. Fighting is only one part. But there are deeper philosophies (Buddhism, Taoism, and more) that have to be uncovered to truly achieve any kind of mastery. It’s been fascinating to watch the actress being trained by an actual martial arts master and to learn so much about Chinese culture in the process.
What?! You missed our amazing table read back in February?! Let me tell you about it. Hosted by the marvelous Teka Lark Fleming of the Blk Grrl Book Fair and fab production designer Skira Martinez at the glorious Cielo Galleries in the heart of central LA it was pretty live! The event opened with Teka Lark interviewing the writer-director-producer Rae Shaw who talked about her passion for martial arts movies, ethnically diverse characters, and female heroines including martial arts dynamos like Michelle Yeoh, Angela Mao Ying, and Pei Pei Cheng.
Next up the actors performed in a table read of the pilot episode: lead actors La’Raia Gribble and Jim Lau led the spectacular night by endowing their charming teacher-student relationship with comedic moments but some tender ones too. Supporting cast was also on point and included Ace Gibson, Angela Monique Imperial, Kwesiu Jones, Jason Gilmore and Trenekia Gilmore.
Later in the evening Rae Shaw also described the path to creating this incredible web series and its pilot season of 10 episodes on Youtube and mobile app. That’s right a BKC App that explores a young girl’s journey to becoming a doctor as she defends her community from local menaces with the help of her premed teacher who also happens to know kungfu. The app would include the webisodes and a game and some other interactive components. She also spotlighted a few reference films in telling the story: Girlhood, Karate Kid, and A Touch of Zen—a legendary King Hu film that’s been referenced by everybody in the martial arts world from Quentin Tarantino to the Wachowski’s sibs! Then at the end, there was a great raffle giveaway that included some cool gifts like the Chang Cheh’s kungfu classic Ten Tigers of Kwangtung, a framed African stenciled pic, and the super cool handmade BKC leather bracelets— made in South LA! Yeeeeeah Compton! Check them out on our rewards site HERE!
It all started with my love affair with Netflix and the battle with finding good quality films that are also entertaining. They had a sudden influx of martial arts movies a few years ago, but not the modern ones, the really old Shaw Brothers ones by Chang Cheh. Simple plot lines but off the chain moves! I was obsessed!
I immediately jumped into watching all the venom mob movies and fell in love with Chiang Sheng who is sadly deceased. He was this incredible martial artist who had gone to the famous Peking Opera School. When he performed he was silly but serious, rhythmic always kind of dancing around. Supposedly he was called “Cutie Pie,” because he was also terribly adorable and had these great dimples. He was also typically the good guy though not always.
I didn’t remember him from earlier kung fu movies nor his style of kungfu which was laced with acrobatics. He could leap into single hand backflips and run up walls like he belonged there. I found out that he became an assistant director for Chang Cheh and as I researched him more, I found that he also became a choreographer for Cheh. Then I discovered that he and 2 other of the venom mob players had all gone to school together Philip Kuo Chui and Lu Feng who is still around—they were all like heartthrobs in their era. Their moves were amazing! They would do 100-300 sequence moves in one take! There was no cutting and the camera barely moved. I was awed. Then I was buying up as many DVDs as possible.
The other thing that happened in these movies as I watched more of them is that Chang Cheh was very interested in portraying a male brotherhood that was very chilvarous. Most times women in the films, did very little because they needed to be saved, but sometimes there was more there. In Flags of Iron, there’s a storyline about women being kidnapped and brought into brothels against their will. In this movie in particular, a woman that they save returns and she says something like, “Did you think you only needed to save me once?” It was something very heavy in a mostly light-hearted ketchup-blood action movie. But a lot of these films would kind of roll over some of these really dark themes having to do with women. I think the idea of Black Kungfu Chick really began to take seed there as I watched women’s roles in these movies.
Eventually I moved over to the internet and youtube to find more movies and I started rewatching movies with female leads that I remembered watching as a kid. I found a few blogs that directed me where to watch the best female martial artists— I remembered Pei Pei Cheng from the classic Dragon Inn. I also rediscovered Bruce Lee and Michele Yeoh and fell into Angela Mao Ying— she has a movie called Broken Oath where she does kung fu but also throws scorpions—she’s so badass—to avenge her murdered parents; but I had to really hunt down A Touch of Zen by King Hu whom I would compare to a Terrence Malick. The first part of the movie is all about Hsu Feng’s character being mysterious and a part of some political rebels with a very slight love plot. She ends up sleeping with this guy who is chasing her simply to fulfill his mother’s dream of having a legacy.
But she’s all business when things get a little crazy. This all felt very radical to me for the time. But the second half gets all zen—monks, sun, and forest and desert—and leaves the action plot completely behind. I was fascinated when I looked him up to discover that the industry there (like the industry here with the Malick’s) didn’t approve of his thoughtful and more spiritual expressions. King Hu’s work didn’t have the ketchup bleeding of Cheh nor the flagrant acrobatics, but his films were very cinematic and the movements were very carefully choreographed like in an opera. He also frequently worked with female leads who barely ever fell in love. They were dutiful and not playing. All these ideas from the 70’s just felt incredibly relevant now, these issues that women grapple with— trying to find a way to protect themselves and those they care about, can a woman be strong, vulnerable, demure and sexy?, can a woman have a job and have love too? This desire to find the balance I feel is a universal female struggle. That is where Black Kungfu Chick began to form.
We’re steadily moving forward mapping out and chilin’ at locations in South LA and still gathering up our awesome crew! We just finished our first series of camera tests at glorious Panavision Woodland Hills where we compared the gritty real super8 color reversal and negative to super 16 and digital and digital VHS. That’s right folks! We’re going super8 on this one! Yeah JJ!! To capture the look and feel of those 70’s martial arts films! Black Kungfu Chick is happening right now with the nostalgia of the past! Don’t miss out!
As we get closer to the funding and production we’ll be locking down locations in Compton, Watts and Willowbrook, looking for local musicians, and trying to roll up with a crystal sync max 8 super 8 cameraaaa. Our favorite art-inspired location is the watts towers but there’s a chance we may be headed into Leimert Park too—shhhh! But mainly now we’re concentrating on funding ($50KKKKKs) to get what we need to secure all those super8 film rolls and camera, a fantastic crew, and some dope set dressing and props cause Tasha’s all that and a bag of chips!