How do you like your spirituality served up? Do you like it with a side of sweaty men beating each other and a heaping helping of raw fish? If so, well garsh darnit, you’re in luck, because the Chinese Student Alliance is hosting a free one-week Kung Fu movie marathon, and they are handing out free sushi instead of popcorn.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes hesitate at seeing heavy, intellectual films midweek. Although I don’t always admit it to my film-snob friends, sometimes I just need to be entertained. But spare me the chick flicks and raunchy comedies, I need to feel like my mind wasn’t in a vacuum for two hours. This is why Kung Fu films are perfect little adventures when your mind is packed with information, or just slow from a weekend of hard partying.

“Kung Fu is something about Chinese culture that many people are really intrigued with,” said Rachel Anderson, President of the Chinese Student Alliance. “Kung Fu movies are fun…sometimes, they are so bad that they’re good. I have many memories of getting together with friends and renting obscure [Kung Fu] movies and laughing our asses off.”

Come on, even you occultist Kung Fu film viewers can admit to traces of corniness. Anderson described Kung Fu as more of a visual art form. “The fight scenes just kick ass,” she commented.

“When you watch a fight scene from an old school Kung Fu movie, you have to realize that there are no harnesses or stunt men. The actors practice a thousand times, and have it down to an art form…when I watch old Kung Fu movies, I just can’t believe that they’re pulling some of this stuff off. After you watch a Kung Fu film, you’re left in awe.”

However, the fight scenes are not violent for the sake of violence. This is drastically different from the gratuitous films spawned on American soil, where rivers of blood score the ground, and entrails are strewn all over the set.

The violence in Kung Fu movies comes from a very different place than American films, according to Andrews. Instead of pure revenge or hatred providing the impetus for the fights, Kung Fu films are “very connected to Buddhism,” according to Andrews.

“Buddhist monks used martial arts as their only form of protection…they weren’t allowed to use their skills for revenge. It is a common story line that a renegade monk will want to seek revenge, but will find strength in his spirituality.”

To understand a bit more about the history of Kung Fu, I was drawn to the immortal pages of Wikipedia. According to it, Kung Fu is a Chinese term that can be translated into “achievement through great effort”. Three essential elements must be present for the particular martial arts to be considered Kung Fu: motivation, time and self-discipline.

Kung Fu has developed into a broad term that is used synonymously to represent Chinese martial arts. Long before the expression Kung Fu was ever uttered, China began developing soldiers that were well-schooled in martial arts. Sun Tzu’s famous book, “The Art of War,” which he wrote in the 6th century BCE, discusses incorporating the practice of martial arts into warfare.

The roots of Kung Fu began to grow into a unique form of martial arts under the tutelage of the Shaolin Buddhist monks by Bodhidharma in about 540 A.D. According to the web site of the Shaolin Gung Fu Institute, Bodhidharma recognized that the weak physical condition of the monks was keeping them from performing most of the Buddhist meditation.

Bodhidharma began by teaching the monks a form of Indian yoga. This got the monks up off of their tookuses and when they later gave retired soldiers shelter, the monks were receptive to learning martial arts techniques the soldiers had learned for combat. The monk’s need for self-defense was a result of attacks from bandits and criminals.

Buddhism is a religion of peace, so naturally the martial arts the monks learned and developed were solely to protect themselves from harm. According to the Shaolin Gung Fu Institute, “the Shaolin practitioner is never an attacker, nor does he or she dispatch the most devastating defenses in any situation. Rather, the study of Kung Fu leads to better understanding of violence, and consequently how to avoid conflict.”

Though I’ve described Kung Fu movies as being funny and fun, they also connect directly with the historical background of Kung Fu. The films reflect Chinese culture, especially elements of Buddhism. So although they are a light watch, they have inherent value, especially because we Americans are a tad bit egocentric, and tend to not seek out and learn much about other cultures.
The old Kung Fu films that will be shown at the festival will be ones that were made in China and were intended for Chinese audiences. Anderson scoured Amazon.com lists and forums from people who are “obsessed with Kung Fu.” She also strove to get films that contained the original language, rather than being dubbed over by fakey English voices. Anderson noted that this way, the message of the film will be able to cut more cleanly across cultural borders.

One of Andrews’ favorites, “The Chinese Connection,” will be showing on Tuesday, January 17. It stars Bruce Lee, so it’s sure to be a safe bet for Kung Fu newbies. On Wednesday, “The Master of Flying Guillotine” will be shown. On Thursday is “The Buddhist Fist,” and Friday is a double feature with “The Street Fighter” and “Sister Street Fighter” in sequential order. Andrews looked for a film that has a strong female presence, and she found it in “Sister Street Fighter,” which stars the bum-kicking lady fiend, Hiroshi Miyauchi.

The films will all be shown for free at 7 p.m. every night of this week in classroom 110 of the Science Lecture building. Free sushi will be provided on a first come, first serve basis.
To learn more, you can contact the Ethnic Student Center— another sponsor of the event— at 650-7271.

Upcoming events from the Chinese Student Association are going to be focused in May, which is national Asian Pacific Islander Heritage month. Comedian Eliot Chang is booked for an appearance, and Andrews is planning on hosting another Kung Fu film festival featuring more recent Chinese films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Hero.”

Also, for those who are bummed that the CSA will not be throwing a big Chinese New Year bash, consider attending the Lunar New Year Celebration on January 21, which will be an event that has been put together by a collaboration between the CSA and the Vietnamese Student Association. For more information, contact Christine Nguyen at (425) 269-8849 or vsa@cc.wwu.edu.