Wuxia Novelist: A Writer's Blog

Wuxia Novelist: A Writer's Blog looks at the broad range of issues encountered by me as a novelist working in the Chinese wuxia (heroic fiction) genre. I have, however, a very broad background and this blog will not narrowly focus on one genre of literature, rather I will consider books, movies, and ideas that relate to my life as a writer. For more information about my background please visit my author's website: www.thedragongateinn.com or www.facebook.com/WuxiaNovelist

Location: United States

Check out my author's website: www.thedragongateinn.com for everything you could ever want to know about me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New FaceBook Site!

As part of the promotion of my new novel, I've started a Facebook site and would love you have you all visit. I've been thinking of moving from my website, which is presently giving me technical problems - that's why there are no images or mention of the new novel - to this Facebook site. I think I can handle changes and interact with readers much more adroitly via Facebook than via a website. It's an experiment and I hope you'll put up with my rather slow learning curve on that site. However, I will keep up with this blog site. Oh, and the address: facebook.com/WuxiaNovelist  And I do appreciate your suggestions on how to make that Facebook page better!

Hope to see you there!


The Innkeeper

Tanzong, Scroll 1 - The Story

Listening to Rain is the first "scroll" in a planed trilogy featuring the historical character, Tanzong, a warrior monk from the Shaolin Buddhist Monastery. This first volume is centered on the Isle of Pearls, present day Hainan Island. The subsequent volumes will follow Tanzong's adventures across the Tang dynasty empire, which stretched from the east China coast westward along the famed Silk Road into Central Asia. This first volume will be published at the end of February, 2012 - if all goes as expected. It will be available on Amazon as a paperback and in Kindle eBook format.

Back Cover Text:

China, 627 C.E.

The Tang dynasty’s rule remains tentative after a decade of civil war. The rise of a new uncertainty in the far south thrusts the fledgling dynasty between its most powerful enemies in the north and the possible revolt of the southern aborigines. The emperor and his grand minister delegate a two-man assessment team – the Shaolin Blade, Tanzong and the Imperial Commissioner, Li Wei to travel into the southern regions and negotiate with the aboriginal leader.

The first volume of this epic wuxia adventure tale follows the duo to the mysterious Isle of Pearls. To get there, they must use secret Taoist underground waterways, fight off the airborne attacks of the Thunder Lords, cross storm-tossed seas in a shaman’s bronze ship, and then sail aboard the Dragonfly, with the female aboriginal pirate captain, Byung Nhak, as she engages the local warlord, the Iron Shaman and his fleet of Seahawks. Their heroic journey continues into the center of the island through the unexplored “Land of Drifting Ghosts” mountain range in search of a legendary lost Buddhist monastery. While the long hidden Celestial Masters sect of Taoism and an enigmatic Tibetan princess pose an immediate threat, Tanzong’s internal conflicts offer the greater danger.

The series will follow Tanzong’s adventures throughout the medieval Chinese empire.
Author’s website: www.aadalia.com


The Innkeeper

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tanzong is Arriving Soon!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wuxia at Boston University - continued

A few blogs back, I wrote about my Boston University Writing Program course, “Paradox of the Hero/Heroine in East Asian Cinema and Fiction.” At that time, the movie list was in the process of being finalized for this Fall, 2011 semester and I wrote that I would reveal it in this blog once the semester was underway. Well we’ve been underway since the first week in September and I’ve had few chances to come up for air! But now I have a moment or two and would enjoy discussing my choices. However, I must first preface any discussion with an explanation of my criteria for choosing these films.

My course is in the Writing Program, thus it is first a writing course. We teach students how to write academic articles. We use an array of primary and secondary sources for them to construct academic essays. These are not opinion pieces, blogs, or movie reviews. In my course, the primary sources are the movies. We treat them as historical artifacts, statements of particular viewpoints, understandings, and interpretations of the heroic fiction tradition in East Asia. Since everything must be limited by the length of one semester, East Asia is represented in the course by Chinese and Japanese cinema; though I hope in the future to expand into Korean cinema. Further, given the time constrictions and the nature of the course – as a writing course – the number of films I can show as primary source materials is also extremely limited. The students are required to write three formal papers. The first paper has one draft and the other two have two drafts each. Thus there is a lot of time spend on writing, as it should be in a writing course. Over the years, I’ve found that seven is the maximum number of films I can fit into that one semester time slot. The greatest difficulty for me is choosing ONLY seven movies that can represent the cinema tradition of the East Asian hero. On the Chinese side, I focus on the indigenous wuxia tradition to furnish the heroes/heroines. And on the Japanese side, the samurai tradition.

The films are not primarily chosen for their cinematic qualities – this is not a film course – or for their spectacular fighting scenes - naturally, if those aspects exist along with my more immediate criteria, all the better. My main selection criterion is simple: the films must represent some aspect of the heroic tradition, as they are being presented as primary source statements of this genre, and it should have some appeal to an audience that might for the first time be seeing this film genre. With all of that in mind, here are my selections for this semester in order of viewing (I juggle the list every semester):

1. Hero/Yingxiong (2002) Zhang Yimou. Not only is Hero a visually gorgeous film, but it is also the director’s attempt to redirect the genre away from its often simple revenge theme toward a higher ideal – nonviolence. This makes it an interesting source in that we must first understand the traditional wuxia genre before we can consider Zhang’s attempt to redefine it. Most students fall in love with both the visuals and the ideals put forth. Further, in the classroom and in their essays, they never cease to debate the heroic characteristics of its various characters.

2. Swordsman/Xiaoaojianghu (1990). I like this film because it deals with a number of wuxia themes: the carefree “Daoist” swordsman, the relationships between male and female, between master and disciple, between the Han Chinese and the Miao minorities, and the nature of friendship among a number of themes. My students, however, tend not to like the movie, complaining that it is hard to follow and thus confusing. This is the second time I’ve tried it and since I’m getting the same thumbs down on it, probably the last time.

3. 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978). This choice was the result of a friend’s urging. His point was that the movie does a fine job of showing how a xia (hero) is actually developed. It has proved popular with my students.

4. Zu Warriors/Legend of Zu (2001). This represents the idea of the xia taken to the height of the Chinese fantasy tradition. I was very uneasy about using this as it is really all over the place when it comes to the plot. But it has held up well among my students and has made for some interesting comparisons between mortal and “immortal” heroes in the East Asian tradition.

5. Seven Samurai (1954). For me, this is the top of the East Asian heroic film genre. I can’t say enough about this film. Kurosawa was a genius and the film is a product of that genius. It is also a favorite among my students, many of whom have never seen it before. I consider it one of the greatest expressions of heroism ever filmed!

6. Bride with White Hair (1993). Even though most classes don’t like this movie – all over the place plot-wise and poor film editing – I find it remains the best expression of a type of wuxia heroine that is rarely, if ever, filmed – I call her the Tang dynasty swordswoman as opposed to the Confucian swordswoman, who is the norm for the genre. During the Tang dynasty (specifically the 9th century), there arose a literature that prefigures the wuxia literary tradition. The Tang chuanqi (“tales of wonder”) literature presented fantastic (as in fantasy) swordswomen who could fly, had magical powers, and had no need or dependence on men. Later in this literary tradition, the Confucian swordswoman arose – (think Mulan) and became the norm. She did her heroics and then returned to the proper Confucian mold for a woman – a wife or other form of dependency on or subservience to men. In this movie, however, the “white-haired demoness” needs no man!

7. Princess Mononoke (1997). This film continues our consideration of the female side of this East Asian heroic tradition. The movie is usually a big hit with my students for both its beauty and its complexity of characterization.

In addition to these seven movies, the students also have a number of secondary source readings (316 pages to be exact). Not all of the readings deal with the movies or themes in this genre, as some also deal with writing skills and techniques – remember, this is a writing course! The students are being taught how to weave a secondary-source supported argument/thesis/claim about one or more of the primary sources (the films).

Naturally, I am open to further suggestions on movie titles to include in future editions of the course. But to be considered, the films have to follow the criteria that I laid out above. At this point, I will replace Swordsman and maybe another one, but at the end of the course, we have our “academy awards” celebration where the students (there are fifty-five students divided among three sections) vote on their favorite movies. This voting also figures in my considerations. Look forward to your suggestions.


The Innkeeper

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wu Xia (2011) Film Review

How “Wuxia” is Wu Xia (2011)?

Director Peter Chan’s new movie, Wu Xia, was invited to this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has been touted by some reviewers as the revival of the wuxia film genre. Brad Brevet, in his “Cannes Movie Review,” however, is one of the few reviewers to question the genre of this genre titled movie:

Wuxia is actually a genre of Chinese fiction centered on martial arts with a hero at the center of its story that "fights for righteousness and seeks to remove an oppressor, redress wrongs, or to bring retribution for past misdeeds." You'd never guess that based on the detective story that makes up the first half of this film.

He goes on to point out that the, “The foundations of wuxia, however, are set in the early goings with references to such skills as Qinggong, Neijin and Dianxue…” But Brevet doesn’t look any deeper. And why should he, as he doesn’t have a background in the genre, citing Wikipedia as the source for his understanding. I would like to look at that issue in my consideration of Chan’s movie.

If you title your movie with the name of a film genre, then you would seem to be making a statement about the content of your movie. Does Wu Xia live up to its title? Not really.

While Wikipedia’s definition is fine for causal browsing – I don’t allow Wikipedia for formal references in my university course on this genre – we can drill down a little further. Most of my readers know that the genre name wuxia is broken down into two Chinese characters: wu, which relates to martial activities and xia, which is generally recognized to represent “chivalry.” But let’s be more specific, as in the West, “chivalry” brings to mind medieval European knighthood, damsels in distress, Christianity, and “courtly love” – none of which was present in the ancient Chinese concept of xia.

Note that I write “ancient,” for modern Chinese filmmakers have changed that – but that’s a rant for another blog. So what would work better than “chivalry” as a tentative translation forxia in the compound wuxia? I would offer “altruism,” which I understand in this context to be the opposite of “selfishness,” in the sense of “thinking first of the self.” Thus, a possible translation of wuxia could be “martial altruism.” Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it! But it is easy to understand in a global cultural context if we think of heroes like Robin Hood and, perhaps, today’s “superheroes” who use their powers in defense of justice, etc. They are all altruistic heroes who “fight” for the “good” of humankind. With this little linguistic exercise in hand, let’s turn back to the movie Wu Xia.

There is little question that the hero, Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen’s character), is “martial,” but is he altruistic? I would suggest that besides protecting his family (which we could understand as “selfish”) there are, at most, only two instances in the movie where he places himself in harm’s way for others: 1. In the paper shop robbery (and even here, some reviewers claim that Liu is only acting out of self-defense); 2. In the village square when it is being attacked by some of the “72 Demons” gang (which was brought on by his presence in the village). So the question for me is whether the Liu Jinxi character lives up to the appellation of xia – same character as inwuxia, but used as a proper noun to describe a “hero.” If he is not a xia, then where’s the wuxia in Wu Xia?

I’m not completely trying to be silly here, but am serious about how we define this genre. In the Chinese historical origins of this class of heroes, they were understood as personalities who “seeing an injustice on the road, pulls out his sword to help.” Further, early Confucian philosophers disdained them for valuing “personal freedom above family solidarity.” In other words, in the early xia tradition altruism was an equal opportunity value – you would help anyone regardless of family ties, and sometimes, in spite of those ties. How far we’ve come story-wise where the xia are frequently involved in love affairs and family matters – sells more tickets, and keeps those Confucian values of social stability well entrenched. There was a time in the 20th century when both the Republican and Communist governments banded wuxia movies as being dangerous for the country’s morals – but in those days the film industry was partly to blame for introducing blatant sexuality into the wuxia genre – to sell more tickets.

Back to our movie. I don’t find much wuxia in Wu Xia. The character with the most appeal – storytelling-wise – is not the main character, Liu, who is rather flat, but Takeshi Kaneshiro’s intriguing constable/detective, Xu Baijiu. And he is not a xia in the sense that he uses martial techniques to help others. Rather, he uses his brains to solve crimes and sort out his own life. In this, he actually has a character arc – rare in most “wuxia” movies that tend to obsess with the martial aspect. Detective Xu, rightfully so, is the most interesting character in this noir mystery tale.

As for the plot, a number of reviewers have pointed to David Cronenberg’s brilliant, A History of Violence as the template for the Wu Xia screenwriters. I made the “mistake” of following that clue and watching the movies back to back. It is clear that Wu Xia has A History of Violence as a model, but it is equally clear that in terms of storytelling the former can’t hold a candle to the latter. Cronenberg gives us a man and his family torn apart and stitched back together by a terrible “history of violence.” Wu Xia attempts and fails to give us the same. It fails at the storytelling level because the main character has little character, he is easily upstaged by the supporting character (detective Xu), the Lu family only gives us a shallow sense of the horror they are going through (compared to the family in A History of Violence), and the plot is so poorly conceived as to end, as reviewer James Marsh writes, “in one of the most staggeringly unnecessary examples of deus ex machina in recent memory.” Usually, when a writer has to resort to the deus ex machina “device,” it signals a lack of imagination. And that is what is so sad about such a beautifully shot movie.

The camera work and genuine Yunnan settings are fresh, new, and vibrant. The idea of introducing traditional Chinese medical understandings via detective Xu (who is miles beyond Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee) is innovative, but not original – see Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes(2009), which is probably not the first to use this interior body view technique. Donnie Yen’s fight choreography is great, especially the amazing scene with Kara Hui! The use of Jimmy Wang Yu as the villain (here’s where Wu Xia has one up on A History of Violence) is brilliant – he’s also far beyond the “hero” as a vibrant character. But once again, wuxia cinema is unable to sustain an overall coherent story – the villain seems to prove too much for the writer’s imagination. Wu Xia is not a wuxia genre movie. Rather, I see it as a stylish noir mystery.

No doubt, my understanding of the genre is fairly idealistic as I feel that the fighting should express some sense of altruism, a sense of forgetting the self in the support of others – not just one’s family, which is natural to most people. And, no doubt, this is drawn from both my study and teaching in my Boston University Writing Program course, “Paradox of the Hero/Heroine in East Asian Cinema and Fiction.” Where’s the paradox? As I understand it, these wuxia heroes represent the values of selfless equality in cultures that place the family before a sense of social equality. Traditional xia values transcend the local and the familiar for the universal and the other. In this sense, the traditional xia are still relevant to our globalized world. Now all we need are writers who can give this ancient tradition a contemporary appeal – or at least, film companies that can properly title their films!


The Innkeeper

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens - SEE IT!

I've seen a lot of negative reviews on this movie, and there are a good number of positive ones. Don't bother reading either! JUST GO SEE IT! It is TOO much fun to miss. Can you imagine James Bond and Indiana Jones in the same movie! But I mean when they're really on their game. Daniel Craig brings his steely 007 persona to his cowboy role, as Harrison Ford does his Indiana Jones persona, but with a more potent weapon than his bullwhip - his curmudgeon-ness! They are great as cowboys!

Also don't think you know what happens in the movie based on reviewers and teasers - the film makers have done a good job of hiding all the nooks and crannies to this movie. So you're in for some nice surprises.

This movie is sheer entertainment and I don't find it necessary to intellectualize or pick it apart in terms of storytelling. It's too much fun to do that. But if I had to, I suppose that the aliens kind of leave you flat - certainly no sense of humor among that bunch. And I suppose I could say that the heroes are only as good as the villains...BUT it's Harrison Ford & Daniel Craig!!!! Who cares about the villains when you're having this much fun!

And if I have to be "serious," I do think that the SciFi aspect works with the Western side if you see the aliens as the "savages" vs. civilization - which in Cowboys & Aliens means both white and Native American defending a common home, which is kind of nice to see.

However, if you compare the movie to "pure" Westerns, then the Coen Brothers True Grit is way beyond it, as is the movie it is supposedly patterned after, The Searchers. But that wouldn't be a "fair" comparison since Cowboys & Aliens is a cross-genre movie, not a "pure" Western. And underscoring my main point here, the movie is sheer entertainment - go to see it for the fun of it and not to analyze it! You will not be disappointed!

I know I'm "cheer leading" here, but I just had so much fun with this movie, it's hard not to!

I hope to put up a review of the new Chinese movie, Wu Xia, in the next installment of this blog - I want to watch it one more time before I write.


The Innkeeper

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

And Up We Go! And a few Movie Comments

It's a bumpy ride to the top (I hope). In May, the Chinese edition of Dream of the Dragon Pool fell to #29 on the publisher's best seller list. However, the great news for June is that it has risen to #17 on that same best seller list! Fingers crossed for the July number, which will appear at the beginning of August.

I've been going through movies for my upcoming Fall East Asian Heroes class at Boston University and am closing in on a final list of movies, which will be revealed on the first day of class. I enjoyed 13 Assassins, but will not be using it in class. I also enjoyed an oldie, The Fate of Lee Kuan, a King Hu classic - I won't be using that one either. Samurai Spy (1965) is amazing for its cinematography and story, but not for my class. And Reign of Assassins is cool, but also not for my class.

This might leave you wondering, "Well, what are his standards for his class?" Since the class is first and foremost a writing class and the movies are our primary source material to consider the nature of the East Asian hero, I'm picking movies that exemplify some aspect of that type of heroism. If I was giving a class in East Asian heroic cinema in a film department, then probably all the movies I mentioned above would be candidates. But I'm not.

I teach within the Boston University Writing Program and our objective is to teach well composed, intelligible forms of academic writing. So the movies I show are the primary source materials that my students use to investigate the nature of the East Asian hero/heroine. Along with each film, there are readings (our secondary sources) that the students will use to support their arguments/theories/claims regarding those primary sources (the movies). Thus when I pick a movie to use within the course it has to represent some aspect of the East Asian heroic tradition and be supported by secondary source materials to assist in the student analysis of the movie.

In early September, when the course starts, I will post my film list on this blog.


The Innkeeper