Martial arts movies are true guilty pleasures — one of the more overlooked and undervalued of all the film genres. I was raised on a steady diet of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sonny Chiba, and Chuck Norris films. Later, I got to know Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jean Claude-Van Damme, Steven Seagal for — for the better or (sometimes) worse. These amazing fighters led the way for more recent talents, like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais. The ’70s and ’80s were arguably THE greatest decades of martial arts movies (Enter the Dragon, Drunken Master, The Octagon, Bloodsport)… sure, you had to squint at times to get past bad acting and absurd plots, but we reveled in the pure visceral insanity of two (or more) trained fighters going toe-to-toe. Karate vs. Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do vs. Muay Thai — for martial arts junkies, it’s incredible to watch contrasting styles and techniques pitted against one another.
These days, great martial arts films are few and far between. Since 2000 we’ve had Ong-Bak, Crouching Tigher, Hidden Dragon and Ip Man, which are amazing, transcendent works… and yet, Hollywood just doesn’t invest in these types of movies anymore. Today, the martial arts genre has largely been absorbed by the blockbuster genres of superhero, sci-fi, thriller, crime, and espionage. In fact, most contemporary action films incorporate martial arts in some capacity, and as a result there just aren’t many dedicated films in the genre produced outside of Asia. So it was exciting to read a Variety report that Rick Famuyiwa (Dope) is in talks to direct Son of Shaolin, based on the graphic novel by Jay Longino and Caanan White. Intriguingly, Sony has the film rights, and Dwayne Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions company is backing the project (Johnson is not expected to star in the film). That’s a lot of firepower, and hopefully it’s enough to give this picture the greenlight. The graphic novel, which comes out this September, is a modern day martial arts movie influenced by classic Hong Kong cinema. According to details in the Amazon.com listing, Son of Shaolin as:
“A kung-fu epic set in the back alleys and subway tunnels of Harlem, New York. Kyrie, an aspiring street artist who is struggling to make ends meet, learns that he is the last living descendant of a secret sect of ancient Shaolin elders. Confused and unsure of where to turn, he finds a father figure in the mysterious Master Fong. Fong trains Kyrie in martial arts in anticipation of an attack from Red Fist, a relentless killer who has already murdered the rest of Kyrie’s bloodline.”
We need successors to great martial arts movies like The Raid: Redemption, Fist of Legend, and Supercop. Is Son of Shaolin the start of a martial arts resurgence in Hollywood? That’s maybe a bit too much weight to hang on this particular film, but it’s a start, and hopefully all the martial arts junkies out there will flock to this and kickstart the next great decade of martial arts films! What’s your favorite martial arts movie or fighter? Let us know in the comments down below!