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Wuxia film
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Wuxia film

Wuxia (武俠), or "martial arts chivalry", is a distinct genre in Chinese literature and cinema.

As a phenomenon wuxia genres are confined and peculiar to Chinese culture; even within East Asian cultures like Japan and Korea there is no equivalence with the Chinese concept of xia (俠), or "chivalry". Samurai bushido traditions share some aspects of with Chinese martial xia philosophy, but most attributes of xia are specific to Chinese society alone.

The term xia has similarly no direct correlative with any in Western culture; though broadly translated as "chivalry" and identified with the Western concept of knights and knighthood, they are not strictly interchangeable. The Christian overtones are wholly missing from the Chinese concept; unlike a knight, the xia ("chivalrous man") need not serve a lord or hold any military power; neither are they required to be from an aristocratic class. The main identification of a xia is a code of conduct and an ideology of honor and social justice dedicated to serving the good of the people. The xia excel in personal combat and may use their armed expertise to serve social unfairness or injustice.

A good description comes from Sima Qian:

He will surely honor his words; he will definitely carry out his actions. Whatever he promises he will fulfil. He does not care his bodily self, putting his life and death aside to come forward for another's troubled besiegement. He does not boast about his ability, nor shamelessly extol his own virtues.

The concept of xia goes back to the Zhou dynasty and the Spring and Autumn period. Referring to a class of warriors (the shi) whose social position is sandwiched between the commoners and the royalties, the xia (sometimes known as xiake or xiashi) is originally the military counterpart (wu-shi) of the more scholarly shi who eventually developed into Confucian scholars. Both are highly prized by feudal princes and warlords, one becoming intellectual advisors who contribute to the governing of the state, the other ending up as guest residents of their masters living by the blade. In ancient China, their preference to use force to resolve a conflict sometimes made them unpopular and inseparable from the common ruffians in the eyes of bureaucrats. The Legalist Han Feizi, for example, listed the xia among the five vermins of society.

The concept of xia however underwent many transformations through the centuries. By the end of the Qing dynasty it has come to represent an ideal hero who wielded power by force, but could withhold it if necessary, and more importantly, possesses a sense of moral justice.

A close equivalence of xia to the English world can be found in Robin Hood, frequently identified by the Chinese as a "xia-robber" (俠盜) -- one with his own justiable code of conduct despite being a law-breaker.

Wuxia Films

Wuxia films or wuxia pian (武俠片 Pinyin: wǔxi pin) is a film genre from Taiwan and Hong Kong. The term "wuxia", from Mandarin Chinese, means "martial arts heroes". Because of distinguishing characteristics, this genre is considered different from other martial arts film styles.

This genre has been around in the Pacific Rim region since the 1950s or 1960s. The Shaw Studio was the forerunner of this type of movies. It was introduced to mainstream Hollywood for the first time in 2000 by Ang Lee's movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, in 1986, John Carpenter's film Big Trouble in Little China drew heavily on the wuxia style.

This genre is characterized by its fantasy component. The heroes in the movie practice martial arts to reach a state where they attain any number of superhuman powers collectively known as shengong (神功), so that they can, among other things:

This type of movie usually has a setting in the past so that the audience can justify the fantasy component more readily with an assumption that the methods to practice these supernatural abilities have been lost. There are occasional wuxia movies in modern settings, but they are usually considered unrealistic. When the Star Wars movie came out in the late 1970s, many Chinese audience viewed it as a western wuxia movie set in a futuristic and foreign world. It is unknown if George Lucas's concept of the Jedi was influenced by the wuxia genre. The audience can readily accept the concept of the Force in the Star Wars series or the superpowers of mutants in X-Men or an alien in Superman. However, the same Western audience may have trouble accepting the wuxia type of fantasy because the wuxia heroes are supposed to be regular people with superpowers.

The Matrix series has many elements of wuxia, however, the heroes and the primary villains of The Matrix gain their supernatural powers by recognizing and bending the rules of artificial reality. They can nonetheless run along walls, leap superhuman distances, and, in more specific cases, fly, levitate, transform into shrieking wraiths, and dodge and stop bullets.

The storylines of this genre are mostly about revenge for killings in the context of a lawless state of society known as Jiang Hu. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a rare wuxia movie that broke out of this mold.

Following Ang Lee's foot steps, Zhang Yimou made Hero targeted for the international market in 2003.

There is a strong link between wuxia films and wuxia novels, such as those of Jinyong. Many of the films are based on novels; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was an example of this.

See also: Qi, Qigong, fantasy film, Cinema of China

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