Kung Fu in the Movies

When Bruce Lee broke o­nto the Hollywood scene in the early 1970’s most people in the West had never heard of Kung Fu. Judo had been around for some time, mainly because it was taught to our GI’s during World War II and Korea. But this was a completely different form of self defense and its’ ballet like moves, coupled with Bruce’s natural o­n-screen charm launched Kung Fu into mainstream popularity.

Movies like “Fist of Fury” and “The Way of the Dragon” established Bruce Lee as an international star and soon he was teaching his skills to the likes of Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris. However, Bruce’s untimely death in 1973 left a huge audience of moviegoers without a Martial Arts hero.

Without a major star, Martial Arts movies became more of a cult attraction and the smaller markets were saturated with low budget fight-em-up movies, very few of which did anything but annoy the major audiences. But Kung Fu had now given way to other forms of Martial Arts such as Hop Ki Do and Tae Kwan Do.

In the late 1980’s an American star began to emerge and Hollywood soon had another Martial Arts cash cow in the form of Steven Segal. Steven not o­nly had a screen presence like Clint Eastwood, but his movies were along the lines of Dirty Harry, where the rogue cop goes to war for the underdog. This time the weapon of choice was a pair of fast hands.Segal’s movies were serious and they did well, but there was still a void where humor was missing in the genre.

In 1997, Jackie Chan, who had played bit parts in Bruce Lee’s movies, managed to get o­ne of his Chinese productions into the American mainstream, and even though the audio was dubbed, “Mr. Nice Guy” was a big success. Chan had the tongue and cheek wit that was missing in Martial Arts movies for almost three decades. In 1998 he starred with Chris Tucker in “Rush Hour” and the world had a new Martial Arts hero. Today, Jackie Chan movies continue to draw huge audiences there are new productions slated all the way through the next decade.