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

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Wuxia: A Question of Balance



The qi of springtime is on the move up here in the mountains around the Dragon Gate Inn. Stand anywhere on the ground, especially in your bare feet, and you can feel the earth’s urge to grow flow through you. It’s a great time to be doing taichi outside – energy is everywhere!

I’ve been to the movies and had a great time watching Iron Man ride his energy to a great height - way above all those other “super heroes.” There might have been some qi involved, but to my eyes, it was mostly the energy of good characterization – the critics are right on, Robert Downey Jr. IS Iron Man, great job! If I could afford it, I would have turned around and gone right back in and seen it again. I’ll contain myself till the DVD is released – definitely one I’ll add to my collection.

So once again, good characters and good storytelling trumps a lot of money spent on special effects. Don’t get me wrong, the special effects were fantastic, but it was Downey who made it work. And let us not forget Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane – more spot on characterization.

But is it “wuxia”? Look at it: wu for martial, certainly. And xia for chivalry – however you define it, Tony Stark’s character arc attains it once he realizes how naïve he’s been about his weapons industry. Good stuff! This is not mindless gunfire and explosions, not an excessive emphasis on the martial side – there is a balance here and that, for me makes the best kind of wuxia.

Once upon at time, even East Asian wuxia had this balance. It wasn’t just revenge driven martial arts. I still return to the altar of Seven Samurai to be reminded of what heights this genre can attain. And apparently even Western movie makers can still reach that level. Mark Pollard (www.kungfucinema.com) has a great review of the David Mamet movie Redbelt. I haven’t seen this one, yet, but Mark writes,

REDBELT is the American FEARLESS, THROWDOWN, and TWILIGHT SAMURAI all rolled into one. It is the American martial arts movie that finally hits the mark dead center in action and philosophy and at the right time and place. For anyone with an interest in a great dramatic story, MMA [mixed martial arts] fighting or any martial arts regardless of technique, this is a must-see film.

I think it’s great that a screenplay writer of Mamet’s stature has decided to work in this genre. This is a good thing and another example of balance.

As for your humble Innkeeper’s projects, I’ve got my fingers crossed for the possible publication of a murder mystery I wrote a number of years ago. Naturally, it’s set in China, but Beijing of the 1980s, when I worked there, when China was just making the decision to leave Mao’s communism and turn to Deng’s capitalism. Yes, there are martial arts involved, but it’s not a martial arts novel. Rather it’s about the partnership of a young Chinese skilled in the “old ways” and a young American skilled in the “new ways” - a balance of East and West to oppose an ideological extreme. I’ll write more about it, when the publishing prospects are more certain.

At the same time, there is a long, long, on going project – a trilogy sent in my beloved Tang dynasty. First volume is complete with the second volume in progress – slow progress, I’m too distracted with all this other stuff! But this trilogy is epic stuff that will take the reader the length and breadth of 7th century China. And yes, it does involve a Shaolin monk - along with an assortment of historical types: would you believe Chinese pirates, Taoist shamans, aborigine shamanesses, swordsman and women, headhunters and cannibals, Turkish horsemen, and the various natural spirits of that broad land- and seascape that defined the 7th century Chinese empire. And, if I do say so myself, its pretty fantastic stuff. Can you tell, I'm having a good time with this!

There’s more going on, but let’s have some sense of balance here! Enough, for now!


Zaijian!

The Innkeeper

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mark Pollard said...

Had I give it even more thought, I would have emphasized the importance great writing has in improving what is still essentially an action movie. Balance is indeed the keyword. REDBELT has the feel of a completed work, not just a rough idea largely conveyed through motion and convention.

There remains a lot of territory to be discovered, particularly with the adaptation of wuxia lore to Western storytelling. The core values that make up great wuxia fiction need to find expression through channels that Western audiences can relate to. That would in turn give meaning to the action.

May 13, 2008 at 12:45 AM  
Anonymous Dawud Khuluq said...

Albert, I liked Iron Man too. Fun movie. Did you happen to see The Forbidden Kingdom? Pretty good, I think. Especially when you realize it's sort of a mystical dream of a kid whose perception of China is shaped entirely by kung fu movies. I can excuse some of its inaccuracies regarding the Monkey King and Journey to the West.

May 23, 2008 at 10:48 PM  

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