Hong Kung Fuey

4 Dec

Martial arts movies are predictable. A weak man or boy, picked on and put down by society, must rise up and assume the mantle of a champion. He starts out fearful and powerless, a victim of peer pressure or simply belonging to the wrong tribe. He is an outsider. Eventually it is revealed that our put-down hero is the chosen one; an individual with deep and hidden powers to wreak justice upon the forces of evil.

The Forbidden Kingdom uses all of these tropes. Our protagonist is a young man named Jason, obsessed with martial arts movies. He frequents a pawn shop in china town, looking for unsubbed chinese kung fu movies. After bragging to some girls about kung fu, we find that when presented with a real opportunity to fight he backs down. Bullies approach him on the street and push him around. They force Jason to lead them to the home of the pawn shop owner, intending to rob the place. In the heat of battle Jason grabs a mystical staff, transporting him to the unfamiliar forbidden kingdom.

We find out that the staff belonged to a creature called the Monkey King (played by a very awesome Jet Li), trapped in stone by the evil leader of the Jade Army. The Monkey King awaits the day that the chosen one returns his staff, thus freeing him. The only problem is that Jason is a bumbling fool. He can’t fight. The people he meets in his journey through the Forbidden Kingdom keep asking how good his Kung Fu is; Jackie Chan’s character says it best, Jason has none. If he is to succeed, he will need help, and Jackie Chan agrees to teach him how to fight. Jason of course wants to learn all the techniques he’s seen in movies and video games; the no shadow kick, the buddha palm technique, the iron elbow, the one finger death touch. Jackie Chan pours him some tea. In fact, he keeps pouring until the cup overflows on the ground, a throwback to a classic Zen koan that Bruce Lee loved:

A wise and learned professor decided to seek out a zen master. For even though the professor knew many things, he desired to know of zen as well. He traveled for many days and many nights, finally arriving at the humble home of the master. There, the professor told him everything he knew, trying to impress the master with his knowledge. He told him of all the things he’d studied, and all the books he had read. The zen master began pouring the professor a cup of tea. In fact, he kept pouring until the tea cup was overflowing onto the table.
“STOP!” The professor said. “Can’t you see the cup is overflowing?”
“Exactly,” the zen master replied. “How can I teach you anything when your cup is already overflowing? You must empty it first.”

Learn it all, then forget it all.

In time, Jason does learn Kung Fu. He comes to conquer his fears, to face the Jade army, and take up the mantle of his destiny. For the love of a friend he gives up everything, fighting to the death to save others. He becomes a man. But more than that, Jason walks the path of a Warrior. The Warrior archetype is a classic element in martial arts movies, the fantasy genre, and video games. The Hero must become not only a master of combat in order to save the day, he must also become a master of himself. The Warrior/Hero archetype is one that we all love to read about, watch on the big screen, and play out in video games. Given the choice between being the Fool and being the Warrior, who would choose Fool?

We all do, every single day. Once the movie or game is turned off, so is the archetype. Auto-failure is an easier and safer option. On a daily basis we face conflict and choices that define our lives, and presented with the opportunity to be Warriors, we choose Fool. Our problems are insurmountable and the real-life villains are too powerful. The Warrior is left in a controller, or on the pages of a book.

The Warrior’s journey is never easy, and neither is ours. In the 2010 remake of the Karate Kid, Jackie Chan’s character says that “life will knock us down, but we can choose to get back up.” We’re not Kung Fu masters, zen monks with mystical powers, or Monkey Kings. But we can choose to be the Warrior; we don’t have to leave it on the big screen. Martial arts movies, filled with cheesy and predictable tropes, offer us a powerful choice for our real lives.

We can be the Chosen One of our own lives. What will you choose? Fool, or Warrior?



If you want to read more about the warrior archetype or martial arts, go pick up a copy of On the Warrior’s Path by Daniel Bolelli. It’s a good read, and he says it far better than I can!


2 Responses to “Hong Kung Fuey”

  1. Verdus December 4, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    But… Fools are funny! <_<

  2. Caulle December 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Oh god you’ve opened the floodgates. My next 10 posts are going to be Kung Fu movies. Or maybe I’ll just make one and talk about my top 10 instead.

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