Most noteworthy part of this movie is that it featured realistically the life and the mentality of Kung Fu practitioners who do the real fighting training. The Kung Fu experts in the movie were placed in strong contrast with the normal folks, mainly by the amount of advantage they had in terms of power attrition against the normal folks. Throughout the show, we were constantly reminded at how the cops were struggling to keep up with the lunatic antagonist, having to rely on Xiahou Wu, Donnie’s character.
Donnie Yen acted as a Kung Fu expert who was once a police instructor. Due to his desire for victory and proof of superiority over other martial artists, he killed his opponent in a martial art school challenge. The challenge seemed to have taken place in a modern looking gym with punching bag and striking mitts, suggesting that this Xiahou Wu killed his opponent to prove a point against his style. To many, martial art school challenges are known as ‘dojo challenges’, in Cantonese this is called ‘Tek Gwoon’. That Tek Gwoon incident landed Xiahou Wu in jail.
Xiahou Wu is a disciplined and well conducted man, and even the jail warden can vouch for that. Throughout the show he practices formalities of the pugilist world. In fact the Kung Fu salutation of left palm over right fist is a symbol of the movie. Well, with some rough and conditioned knuckles of course. This is in strong contrast with Donnie Yen’s rowdy and vulgar character in Special ID, surrounded by more rowdy, more vulgar gangsters. The movie also goes well to show that serious pugilists are not like gangsters; they are good at fighting but they know how to conduct themselves and treat their opponents with respect, even the antagonist Feng Yuxiu addresses his victims with cold blooded courtesy.
This movie uses a bit of non-linear storytelling to invoke complex thoughts in the minds of viewers. And it varies from viewer to viewer; a teen boy who have not done martial arts before will find it cool; a middle aged man who’ve done decades of real Kung Fu will be able to relate to the intensity and the cruel nature of martial arts; a woman who’ve never gotten into a fight before will have a different view.
An interesting part about this movie is the emphasis of their style of Kung Fu being a multi-discipline art that consists of fist, kicks, wrestling, weapons and internal strength. The murdered victims are all experts of their own specializations, from kicks to weapons. The cold blooded murderer would challenge these experts to a life and death duel, beating them at their own specializations.
This leads people to start thinking about its similarity to a form of modern combat sport called MMA, or Mixed Martial Art. This form of modern fighting sport that originated from the West uses Boxing (fists), Thai Boxing (legs), Ju-jutsu and Wrestling (grappling). These are basically the modern sport preferences for martial arts styles to be included in a combined system, like how Quan Fa (fists), Tui Fa (legs), Qin Na (joint locking), Shuai Jiao (wrestling) and Nei Gong (internal strength) is the syllabus for a well rounded Kung Fu practitioner. The difference is that Mixed Martial Art is actually a sport with rules, just like other sports such as rugby and badminton; whereas Kung Fu is a martial arts discipline which aim is to prepare for real life self-defense situation. So you will not see strikes to the groin and grabbing throats with fingers in the former.
Much unlike sport fighting, in the movie the Kung Fu killer Feng Yuxiu (played by Wang Baoqiang) has a twisted mind, and only want death as an answer. He would not care if you are crippled or disfigured, he’s going to kill you anyway. The punch line he said in the movie: Kung Fu is not a game for children; it’s a skill for killing. As martial artists, sometimes we do sparring. And during sparring, victory or defeat is determined by points or knockout, and the sparring is interfered by the referee if it infringes with the rules. Of course, as martial artists we are all training for the real scenario, which will not be like sparring, especially if the other party wants to take your life.
The realistic part of the movie is that it features the training methods of the Kung Fu experts. Instead of showing you the scene of the characters’ training, it shows you the seasoned conditioning tools used by the characters. The Kung Fu experts in the movie are also shown to have marks on their hands from fist conditioning. This feature reminds us of the necessary hand conditioning that Kung Fu practitioners do if they want to perform in a real fight.
Many will think that punching targets with a bare fist is only to train the strength and hardness of the punch. But contrary to popular belief, unconditioned people actually hurt their hands more than their faces in real fights, even if the person throwing the punches is stronger, fitter and more skilled. Fist conditioning is necessary for function in a street fight, so you can use your hand for striking continuously. In sparring competitions gloves are worn to protect the hands of the participants and to prolong the matches to make it more interesting for spectators. Sparring competitions with gloves do not touch on the reality of hand conditioning in real life fighting.
This part of the movie will also let people who have no prior training know that Kung Fu training rightfully has conditioning exercises. The conditioning requires endurance as well as discipline. Say if you want to learn Hung Gar Kung Fu and the school in your neighbourhood does not practice the conditioning methods the style is well known for, then you might be shortchanged and not get a complete learning experience if you join that school.
The action of Kung Fu Jungle was put together by a skilled cast; that includes Donnie Yen himself, Wang Bao Qiang, Fan Shao Huang and Xing Yu. Wang Baoqiang is a rather young and new star in the Kung Fu action movie circle. Born in Hebei province, he started learning Kung Fu from the age of 6 and was trained in the Shaolin temple from the age of 8 to 14. Prior to this movie, he has acted in many movies and TV dramas, mainly in comedy roles.
Wang Bao Qiang’s Feng Yuxiu was rather badass in the movie, as in he’s the type of villain who wants it and doesn’t care about people trying to get in his way. This movie features more fighting with the villain than the hero, which is usually the other way round. The way the plot advances is unconventional in the way that the focus is placed on the villain and the good guys are desperately tracing his tracks, while discovering how brutal he tries to ‘artistically’ kill his victims, and how he crazy he was with his own training. The amount of Kung Fu that he accumulated over long periods of intensive training has pushed his ability far beyond that of Xiahou Wu’s peers.
The chief investigator couldn’t figure out what he’s thinking and relies on Xiahou Wu for his knowledge and understanding of this mysterious killer. Xiahou Wu explained to her that the reason why Feng Yuxiu is killing people in duels with bare hands is that he wants to prove that he is the best fighter. This is something uncommon in a murderer that normal people do not understand. Why would a killer want his victim to fight him in a prepared state? Isn’t catching his victim in a surprise attack much more convenient and trouble free?
The logic behind this is simple! Xiahou Wu explains that the ultimate dream of a martial arts fanatic is to achieve the state of the true best fighter in the world. And combat sport will not be enough to satisfy this desire because it’s limited by rules and selection. To Feng Yuxiu it probably feels like a game that children play which resembles fighting. The real answer is on the streets, to the death, where it’s illegal, and that’s why we have a police case here.
Many martial artists relate well to this part of the movie; that best way to find the answer for a better fighter is indeed to take it to the streets, a no holds barred street brawl. However, only certain people are unlucky enough to experience that. So the rule controlled fighting sport remains as the only legal choice, though not the ‘True-est’ choice.
The rest of the cast also acted their roles convincingly. Some of the ‘hidden’ Kung Fu experts that Feng Yuxiu challenged try their best to avoid fighting with him, such as Xing Yu and Fan Shao Huang. They only fought when he left them with no choice.
In the movie Xiahou Wu mentioned the term Wu Chi, which stands for martial arts fanatic. Compared to practitioners of modern martial arts who train only when they are in the gym, many traditional martial artists actually do solitary training on their own. Due to the high levels of self discipline in these martial arts fanatics, some of them can reach a very high level and are still hidden among the population. To them, they do not seek fame as a celebrity champion. And to most of those who experienced much fighting, living a mundane social life may be their preferred choice.
Kung Fu Jungle is not just another action pact martial arts movie; it is also a tribute to some of the greatest masters of Kung Fu cinema, with cameo appearances and media references. The most prominent familiar face we could recognize is David Chiang. He had acted alongside famous actors such as Chen Kuan Tai, Ti Lung, Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun in many old school Shaw Brothers traditional Kung Fu movies as well as numerous HK drama productions.
Those who are born before 80 and have watched the Fok Yun Gap HK drama series will remember Tsui Siu Ming. Besides acting in the Huo Yuanjia and Chen Zhen drama, he also directed multiple Kung Fu films. Like most of the stars in the movie, he is also a real life Kung Fu expert, who is of the Taiji Praying Mantis style. Besides acting and directing, he is also a singer, and the owner of many businesses.
Yuen Cheung Yan is also another old star of the Kung Fu movie scene, having starred in many Kung Fu movies from the 60s till now. He and Yuen Woo Ping learnt their skills from their father Yuen Siu Tin(he is the begger who taught Jackie Chan drunken fist and the snake style Kung Fu). For those born after the 80s, you would remember him as the beggar selling martial arts manuals in Kung Fu Hustle. In Kung Fu Jungle he appeared as an old Kung Fu master who was challenged by Feng Yuxiu in Foshan.
Indirect appearances are Jackie Chan and Yuen Siu Tin who appeared in the movie while the television in the hotel’s living room was playing a scene from Drunken Master. Another television in the movie also played a scene from Seven Swords featuring Lau Kar Leung.
Apart from the fights between the main characters, the most interesting fight in my opinion is the fight between the wrestler and Feng Yuxiu. Both Wang Baoqiang and Yu Kang are trained martial arts actors, so technically they’d be precise and convincing. Both of them also acted in Donnie Yen’s previous movie Iceman.
In that fight, they used a crime scene investigation perspective to showcase the damaging Tiger Claw holds the crazy challenger did to the tattoo artist, dislocating his elbow and piercing his flesh. The two actors were also crisp in executing the joint locking and counter locking techniques. To trained eyes like us, we’d see an excellent technical exchange of Tiger Claws and Eagle Claws; to untrained movie goers, that would’ve been a frenzy of arm grabbing.
Indeed, the art of Qin Na uses the various limits of the human joints to control the opponent and break his joints. Every technique has its own loophole, though a very well conditioned grip will be very hard to escape. As with the Qin Na principles, one who have no experience of Qin Na will be unfamiliar with the concept of joint alignment and positions which are shown in the movie.
The fight scene also demonstrated the use of acupuncture points in Qin Na fighting. The fingers clamp onto these points on the body to weaken the muscles related to it by jamming the nerves. Other than grabbing, when these pressure points are struck with precise strikes it can inflict shocking pain or seal the breathing of the person. It is useful to know where these weaknesses are and protect them. Qin Na is likely to be the Kung Fu killer’s greatest strength. In the final fight scene, he overwhelmed Xiahou Wu with offensive Qin Na.
After the fight in the tattoo studio, the chief investigator asked if it is possible for the same person to be a master of all fists, kicks and Qin Na. Of course, it is possible to be good in different areas as long as one spends long periods of time to train each discipline.
The weapon fight with Fan Shao Huang and Wang Bao Qiang was pretty impressive too. In the sword fight they used real Shaolin sword techniques at certain points of the fight, parrying and grinding swords. The later part of the fight involved the defender using the long metal pipe against the killer using a short penknife. The killer indeed had a better control of distance.
Weapon fighting is a very unique part of this movie because the Kung Fu action movies in a modern setting hardly feature traditional weapon techniques in a duel situation. Most fights are fought unarmed or against many minions armed with rods and knives. Surprisingly the ‘realistic’ answers to this kind of situation will be a flurry of spinning Bruce Lee kicks.
Kung Fu weapon techniques can still be used in the modern world with poles and other improvised weapons, you don’t have to be dress like an ancient character to use it. Among both Northern and Southern styles, weapon techniques also tend to have a common base system. This is because weapons have always been the main focus of Kung Fu until the modern era.
In the movie Feng Yuxiu is a Northerner and uses a Northern fighting style. It’s another contrasting point to note how he does things without caring for consequences. Northern Chinese are known to be the daredevils whereas Southern Chinese are known to be more conservative. We know it in our daily lives, those people who have lesser hesitation will surge ahead compared to those who tend to be bogged down with plenty of considerations.
To mainlanders who are familiar with the Wang Baoqiang as a comedian may not be able to take him seriously, but to those who are watching him for the first or second time, it can be quite scary when you meet a character who thinks on different channel from you, who is going to hurt you and there is no way you can negotiate with him. There is a phrase: the dog’s bark is worse than its bite. Feng Yuxiu is a hungry wolf who will bite you to death without giving off a bark. This is very different from the vulgarity screaming characters in Special ID.
People have many misconceptions about martial arts, movies and real fighting. The reality side is that in real fighting chances are you will face someone with a very different character and thought pattern from you. You may be sheltered with the comforts of civilization in a middle or upper class family, but those from a more desperate background will have nothing to lose when they decide to enter a fight with you. Criminals and thugs will not treat you like your martial art class buddies. This is especially true for the ladies because most martial arts schools tend to give females a more gentle treatment, and that is not beneficial for their self-protection ability.
Put the lower tiers of practitioners aside, there is high possibility for people like Feng Yuxiu to exist in countries where law and material comfort are scarce, and people go to desperate measures to survive. For those who are thinking how to make their lifestyle more luxurious, and to earn more ‘face’ among their social circle, they may not understand how living circumstances can bring a person out of social norms to achieve what they want. Becoming a martial arts expert is one very good example, especially it means that one has to put in tremendous effort to master fists, kicks, Qin Na, wrestling and weapons. From the reality of fighting the movie depicted, we can imagine a pampered Singaporean girl who learned self-defense from a commercialized school encountering a serial killer in mainland China.
Although most non-martial artists would not have noticed, the movie also depicts Xiahou Wu to be using a more Southern style and Feng Yuxiu to be using more of a Northern style. Xiahou Wu is from Foshan, and some will believe that Feng Yuxiu is also from his school, but he is actually a Kung Fu fanatic who’ve virtually cross-trained with Xiahou Wu in an exchange of letters and prison visits.
Most prominent of Feng Yuxiu’s fighting style is the eagle claw and the circular movements of Bagua palm. He would dart around quickly, relying on his body movements while Xiahou Wu tend to stand his ground. In general, the strategy of Northern fist is circular attacks and prancing around for opening.
On the contrary, Xiahou Wu who hails from a Kung Fu school in Foshan uses a style resembling the Southern fists. Southern fists is based on stability and watching the opponent sharply for a chance to counterattack. Xiahou Wu faces off with his opponents with the tiger claw hand, frequently blocking opponents with turning stances and Bong Sau technique.
At the finale of the movie, the 2 fighters ended the fight with staff fighting. This is where we can see the contrast between Northern and Southern Staff. The Northern Staff uses flowing circular spinning movements, and Feng Yuxiu defended against strikes of the staff with the staff’s body, which has resemblance to that of the Liuhe spear. The Southern staff on the other hand uses a rebounding half circular stroke that hits the top and the bottom consecutively, and engages the opponent’s weapon by circling with the striking end of the staff.
While Kung Fu enthusiasts who are both familiar with Southern and Northern styles may be able to identify the difference of style among the 2 characters, there are still many common strokes that Southern and Northern styles share. In forms demonstration, it is certain that the styles will perform in a different flavor from each other for identity and preferences. Still, in combat techniques interact and are mixed up thus the style difference will not be that prominent.
In his movies Donnie Yen uses a fast and fierce style of choreography which delivers a realistic presentation of fighting styles, compared to the early Jackie Chan era movies where fighters perform their techniques one by one to let the audience identify the moves.
Speaking of the realism of choreography, people may think that the stop – feint – attack approach is more realistic, because that’s what people see in street bully videos and ring sport. In a life and death situation, a Kung Fu fighter cannot afford to have too frequent pauses; once started the defense and attack have to continuously flow until the other person is decapitated.
There are still some special effects and wire work in the movie, however there wasn’t excessive use compared to most other movies of the genre. Kung Fu Jungle is actually quite realistic for a movie. Real Kung Fu moves are also supposed to be aggressive, techniques have to be ferocious and rapidly changing; when you get the upper hand you just hammer the lights out of your opponent.
The choreography of the movie included a handful of traditional Kung Fu moves, a big deal of them Hung Gar Kung Fu techniques. However, as with the Donnie Yen style of choreography, the techniques are done in a fast and direct manner with immediate effects, instead of the prolonged fight scenes with minutes of pattern changing without getting hit in the old school 70s and 80s choreography. To sum it up it’s more fighting, less posing. Furthermore, it’s the same styles the movies from two different eras are using.
This movie is not just ground breaking for Kung Fu movies. It displays Kung Fu moves in a realistic violent manner using direct applications. What’s more the movie’s set in a modern urban environment. Over the past few decades we’ve been trained by Hollywood to think that all modern people hold their hands up like a boxer in a street fight. This is about to change, we’re about to realize that wearing T-shirt and jeans does not stop us from using deadly Kung Fu moves which has always been a part of our culture, for millennia.
The moral of the story? Real fighting is ugly and illegal. Most if not all the time, both parties have to pay a heavy price for it. We look forward to more kick ass Kung Fu action from Donnie Yen and his crew. To all the followers of our blog, we will be coming up with a Kung Fu analysis video of Hung Gar Kung Fu in the movies (including this one), so stay updated on our Youtube channel and facebook page.