Kung Fu and Popular Culture
Over the years Kung Fu has evolved in popular culture, initially it was mentioned in books and comics but over the years it has been transferred to the silver screen. When Bruce Lee burst onto the stage introducing his unique Kung Fu movies to the Hollywood film industry this was the new turning point of martial arts in popular culture. The past 30 years has seen the birth of martial arts films and different genres but more importantly it has paved way for the new generation of martial art superstars. Hong Kong's Star Avenue clearly pays tribute to numerous Kung Fu stars and of course in memory of the legendary Bruce Lee a statue of the star is a key highlight of the avenue.
Lee began the study of Kung Fu at the age of 13, training with the legendary Wing Chun master Yip Man.
His training in Wing Chun would later set the foundations for his own form of martial arts Jeet Kun Do. Lee’s first break into the acting world was when he was offered the role of Kato in “The Green Hornet” television series although only lasting one season this helped Lee gain recognition
Having only made 4 internationally recognized films the success of these films were a complete box office hit. Lee’s first film “Fists of Fury” was what catapulted him into stardom the film. Following the success of his first film Lee began to write “Enter the Dragon” and “Return of the Dragon”. In 1972 filming “The Game of Death” filming was later put on hold due to talks of a deal with Warner Bros. The deal was finalized and filming for “Enter the Dragon” began.
Sadly in 1973 Lee fell into a coma after taking a painkiller for a headache and could not be revived. He did not live to see the success of his films and the popularity that he contributed to Kung Fu films. However, 30 years after his death, the legacy of Bruce Lee lives on.
Another famous Kung Fu movie star that would gain international recognition is Jackie Chan. Despite specializing in Kung Fu Chan’s style of movies always carry a sense of humor and is now one of his signature traits. At the age of seven he was enrolled in China Opera Academy where he specialized in Kung Fu, acrobatics and singing.
After completing his studies at the age of 17 Chan became a stuntman but due to the failing Hong Kong film industry he was left with no choice but to join his parents in Australia. In 1976 Chan got his first break and was noticed by Willie Chan who was searching for a stuntman and had been impressed by Jackie’s previous work.
He had success with his films “Drunken Master” and “Fearless Hyena” in Asia. Though his breakthrough in Hollywood did not come until “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon”. Today he is one of the biggest Chinese superstars in Hollywood and continues to entertain many with his comedy films.
Jet Li began the studying of martial arts at the age of 8 years old in Beijing and after 3 years of intense training at the age of 12 he won his first national championship for the Beijing Martial Arts Team. He continued to
represent China in over 45 countries where he would perform martial arts at different national functions. At the age of 17 he retired from martial arts and took his first steps into the film industry. His first film was “Shaolin Temple” which turned out to be a series. Li gained recognition with more iconic roles with the legendary folk heroes Wong Fei Hong and Fong Sai Yuk.
He also gained success starring in some Hollywood blockbusters alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood. In 1998 he made his international debut in "Lethal Weapon 4" co-starring with Mel Gibson. He continued with box office hit "Romeo Must Die" in 2000 where he starred with the late Aaliyah. Li's most recent film sees him with an a-list cast of action film actors in "The Expendables" series. With such success this most definitely cements Li's status as one of the biggest martial arts actors in the industry.
With his family background in martial arts it is only natural that Donnie Yen would go on to study and experiment with different martial arts. Yen first came into contact with martial arts under the influence of his mother who is a master in the Fu Style Wu Dang Quan.
Growing up in Boston Yen dropped out of school and focused on martial arts and with his parents becoming concerned about his future decided for him to take a two year trip to Beijing to learn martial arts with the Beijing Martial Arts Team.
His first breakthrough in acting came in 1992 where he starred with Jet Li in “Once Upon a Time in China II” where there is a combat scene between the two. As for international success his role in 2003 “Hero” again where he worked with Li and an all star cast, seen the film get nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 2003 Oscars. In 2008, landing the role as the legendary Yip Man (Ip Man) was the highlight of Yen’s career, he portrayed the grandmaster of Wing Chun in the film and received worldwide acclaim with his performance. Today he is said to be the “It person” of the martial art film industry and is in hot demand.