Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks

Iron Fists and Kung Fu KicksFrom bowl cuts to liking ‘that’ boy band (you know the one), it is easy to look back on childhood and wonder ‘what on earth was I thinking’. And while many adults would be ashamed to admit they share the same interests from childhood, director Serge Ou wears his appreciation for kung fu films on his sleeves.

With his documentary film, Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks (IFAKFK), Ou follows kung fu cinema throughout history and looks at how it has influenced not only filmmaking but popular culture.

With over fifty years’ worth of film-footage showing the graceful (and bloody!) beauty of kung fu, IFAKFK has an easy task capturing the alluring nature of the artform. It is not every day you see performers glide through the air with such captivating energy, with IFAKFK smartly allowing the spectacle to sell-itself.

There is a grass-roots admiration for the men and women who risk limb executing the stunning-yet-dangerous choreography. Their stories highlight the determination from these professionals to ‘achieve-the-shot’ with IFAKFK providing the insider’s scoop on the extreme length’s filmmakers go to deliver a stunt. Once heard, you’ll be more appreciative towards workplace health and safety laws.

Ou traces kung fu back to a time of social unrest in Hong Kong and defines its inclusion in cinema as an expression of protest by the working class. The relevance of this still rings true when considering the current political climate facing Hong Kong today. IFAKFK then explores kung fu’s influence on western cinema, with a heavy focus on Bruce Lee and his difficulty breaking into the American market.

IFAKFK grounds kung fu in conversations of racism and feminism, crafting a relatively alert film showing the alleged progressiveness of the medium. In its wake, IFAKFK makes many broad declarations on what kung fu has influenced, a feat which if to be believed would be just about every activity that involves fast movement. It is a film so enamoured by its subject matter that it would claim Bruce Lee invented running if it could.

Just like the frantic movement of kung fu itself, IFAKFK moves from topic-to-topic in a jarring haste. This flurry of information shows signs of a film excitedly trying to cram as much information as possible, resulting in a well-intentioned but overwhelmingly busy documentary.

Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks screened as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Image: Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks (film still)

Review: Hagan Osborne