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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 08:33 GMT
How Hong Kong took Hollywood
Uma Thurman in Kill Bill
Kill Bill: Tarantino has a long-running fascination with Far Eastern films
The forthcoming second part of Kill Bill will undoubtedly continue Hollywood's fascination with the Far East - kung fu, swordplay, and dramatic violence.

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill features both Japanese swordplay and Chinese martial arts - one of the many Hollywood blockbusters that either borrows or steals from Far Eastern cinema.

Not the first time Tarantino has had this charge levelled against him - Reservoir Dogs was claimed to have large parts of it taken from the Hong Kong movie City Of Fire.

But as well as the two-part Kill Bill, other recent blockbusters which borrow heavily from the region include The Last Samurai, Paycheck, and the concluding part of the Matrix trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions - and that is just in the last few months.

The Matrix series in particular is heavily influenced by the Far East, and especially Hong Kong. The fight scenes were choreographed by Hong Kong's finest action director, Yuen Wo-ping. Much of the gunplay is taken from the films of John Woo. There is Buddhism in the script.

Indeed, the hero of the Matrix films, Neo Anderson - played by Keanu Reeves - is strongly influenced by an ancient Chinese figure, the Wu Xia warrior. This was a supernatural knight, who first appeared in literature over 2,000 years ago.

The knight "is one who is morally upright, who possesses certain attributes", Cheng-Sim Lim, curator of the University of California, Los Angeles film archive told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme.

"They can jump tall buildings in a single leap, they can fly, they can shoot bolts of chi - the bodily force - out from the palms of their hands. They can move huge boulders, and they can punch other people from a distance."


The presence of such strong influences from just one city in so many films is remarkable - however it has surprising origins.

Keanu Reeves in The Matrix
The Matrix series borrows heavily from China
According to legend, kung fu was brought to China by an Indian Buddhist who settled in the north of the country in the Tang dynasty, over 1,000 years ago. He is said to have set up a Shaolin temple, and taught martial arts to his disciples.

But the origins of the kung fu that is part of popular culture are from around 100 years ago when a soldier, who had learned from the Shaolin monks, was forced to hide in a Cantonese opera troupe.

It is said that eventually he taught the moves to the members.

"They can't use actual fighting on stage, so they transform it into some kind of dance-like action," explained Hong Kong film archive programmer Law Kar.

"Then the Cantonese actors brought the tradition into Chinese cinema.

"So in early Cantonese cinema, in the 1960s and even in the 1970s, the scenes of fighting in films are in fact opera-stage fighting. They're not real kung fu."

Instead, the kung fu seen on screen is more balletic, and based on movement.

Cheng-Sim Lim said that this was what made it exciting on film - and why it had proved so influential.

"There is a clarity to the way they construct these scenes," she said.

"You don't just move the camera in a blur to suggest action - you actually show the action.

"That's what's so incredible, because you see people - even though they may be wearing wires and all that kind of stuff - you see the body in motion, and it's beautiful."


Far Eastern cinema first become popular in the US as a result of World War II, when a number of American GIs were stationed in the Pacific.

But the films really took off because of one man - the legendary Bruce Lee.

"In the 1960s and 1970s, you had the social movements for ethnic pride that followed the black civil rights movement of the 1950s," Cheng-Sim Lim said.

Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee was a hero to many ethnic Americans
"You had a figure like Bruce Lee becoming really popular among African Americans, and I think that happened because in Bruce Lee, a lot of minority communities in the US found a symbol of ethnic pride - in this self-assured Asian man who could stand up to his oppressors."

Nowadays the influence of the region is so mainstream that Jackie Chan is a bona fide Hollywood star, with comedies like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon to his name.

Director John Woo, the name behind a number of hit Hong Kong films in the early 1990s, including The Killer and Hard-Boiled, was lured by Hollywood into shooting such films as Mission Impossible 2, Face/Off and Paycheck.

But both admit to themselves having had strong Western influences.

Chan has Buster Keaton as one of his heroes, while John Woo is a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock.

"I love all of his movies," he said recently in an interview about his film Paycheck.

"I find in all Hitchcock movies very romantic. So I wanted also to make this movie romantic, and pretty much like a love story."

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