Mystery of Chess Boxing
Sunday, December 12, 4:15 p.m.
Museum of the Moving Image - Bartos Screening Room
Dir. Joseph Kuo. 1979, 90 mins. 35mm print. In Mandarin or Cantonese with English subtitles. With Li Yi-Min, Jack Long, Mark Long (aka Lung Kuan-wu), Jeanie Chang, Simon Yuen. A riff on Jackie Chan’s box office-shattering Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978), this is the movie that provided inspiration for the Wu-Tang Clan, with Ghostface Killah taking his name from its unforgettable bad guy (Mark Long). The action’s on overdrive right out of the gate, and these fights hurt. When a young novice is sent to learn “real kung fu,” he’s upset that the master makes him play chess all day. Of course, he’s been learning kung fu the whole time. This schtick was the core of the Shaolin kung fu flick and later of Jackie Chan’s kung fu comedies, and it would eventually find its fullest expression in the West via The Karate Kid. Kuo delivers it here with an intense, acrobatic style that makes it easy to understand why this movie played for almost ten years in Times Square, finally tapping out in 1989 on a double bill with Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.