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Chinese martial-arts films face competition in the West

By Liu Wei  (China Daily)

12:58, January 11, 2013

Lee Bruce(File Photo)

Martial arts is still the best-received genre of Chinese cinema in the West, but none has reprised the glory of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and challenges await those ambitious enough to try their luck.

Earlier this year, Time magazine critic Richard Corliss listed Hong Kong director Peter Chan's Dragon (also titled Wu Xia) as the eighth-best film of 2012, praising it as "a sophisticated, stand-alone delight".

"It is exciting news," says Jia Leilei, a researcher of Chinese National Academy of Arts and expert on wuxia cinema. "But I'm not surprised. Action is a universal language, and the dazzle of Chinese martial arts provides strong, direct visual impact."

However, the old genre's exposure in the West, especially in the United States, may not be as wide as Chinese filmmakers expect.

"Most Chinese wuxia films cannot make it into mainstream theaters, but end up in cinemas in Chinese communities," says Stanley Rosen, professor of political science at the University of Southern California. "A few renowned directors, such as Zhang Yimou, can have their films released in art-house theaters, but most Chinese directors won't have any (US) theatrical release at all."

Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle was, according to Rosen, the most widely distributed Chinese martial-arts film in North America, opening with 2,500 screens in 2004. When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon premiered in 2000, it was released in only 16 locations in the first week.

Some US distributors also shorten the films or change the music, which they think will make the film more acceptable by the audience.

DVD is an effective way for many wuxia films to reach their US audiences. Successful examples include Yuen Woo-ping's Iron Monkey and some old works of the Shaw Brothers.

A major reason why Chinese martial-arts films did not have a wide theatrical release in the US is the language barrier. It's a problem for all foreign films that want to be released in the country, where people are known for being parochial about film soundtracks.

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