Although personally I study traditional Okinawan karate-do, I am also interested in martial arts in general. I enjoy watching martial arts films, too, and some of the very best of those are specifically kung fu movies. And so when Ric Meyers' work Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book, published by Emery Books in 2011, was offered through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, I was very pleased when I was paired up to review the book. Meyers is an inductee of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame for his contributions writing about Asian martial arts films and to the martial arts movie industry. In addition to numerous articles and reviews, he has so far written three major works on the subject: Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas in 1985, Great Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan and More in 2001, and finally Films of Fury in 2011. (He was also a contributor to The Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Movies.) Films of Fury, in addition to being a stand alone book, is also a companion to the documentary Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie which was also written by Meyers.
Films of Fury consists of an introduction, a preface, ten more or less thematic chapter exploring kung fu films, actors, directors, and choreographers, a list of Meyers' personal top one hundred kung fu films up to 2010, and an index. The first chapter, "Kung Foundation," gives a basic overview and history of kung fu and kung fu films. From there Meyers examines Bruce Lee in "The King of Kung Fu," the films of the Shaw Brothers studio (many of which have only recently made their way to Western shores legitimately) in "The Shaw Standard" and Jackie Chan in "The Clown Prince of Kung Fu." "The Clown Prince's Court" looks at other influential players active around the same time as Chan. The changing roles of women in kung fu films is explored in "Women Wushu Warriors," Jet Li's career is featured in "Jet Powered" and the films of John Woo and the rise of firearms in movies are the focus of "Gun Fu." "Kung FU.S.A" examines the (mostly) sorry state of kung fu films in the U.S. Finally, there is "Kung Futures" in which Meyers looks at where kung fu films are heading and who we should pin our hopes on to be the next "greats."
The chapters of Films of Fury are arranged in a vaguely chronological order but as each one generally focuses on a particular subject rather than a specific time period there is plenty of overlap in history. It's somewhat difficult to establish a comprehensive timeline because of this, but overall I liked the arrangement by topic. Films of Fury seems to be written with a Western audience in mind which compounds the problem of discussing the history of kung fu cinema chronologically since many of the films were released abroad at different times and under different titles. Occasionally, Meyers' writing seems to devolve into a listing of titles and names (which are unfortunately not used consistently throughout the book) and sometimes he'll talk a bout a specific title at length without explicitly establishing why it is important to do so, but for the most part the book is interesting and engaging.
Although it is obvious that Meyers is quite knowledgeable about kung fu movies, Films of Fury is far from a scholarly work on the subject and serves more as a pop history. Meyers writing style is extremely informal which makes the book more approachable but is also cringe worthy due to bad puns and jokes (see the chapter titles for some examples) as well awkward grammar and structure. I also had hoped for better reference materials. Despite there being a "selected index," there are no coherent listings of the films or people mentioned which makes navigating and finding specific information in Films of Fury troublesome. However, Meyers enthusiasm and passion for kung fu movies is readily apparent as well as contagious. After reading Films of Fury, I wanted nothing more than to sit around and experience all the martial arts films discussed for myself.
Not available in a library...