Finally, a movie featuring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung and director John Woo on the same screen has arrived.
While Chop Socky: Cinema Hong Kong isn’t a big-budget blockbuster, it’s an engaging documentary that explores the many facets of kung fu films by showing archival footage, analyzing fight scenes and interviewing the aforementioned stars. It accurately chronicles the genre and intersperses clips from classics such as The One-Armed Swordsman. While it doesn’t have the creativity or drama of some other documentaries, this Independent Film Channel production is far better looking than most. It packs a punch you’ll definitely feel, whether you’re a genre guru or an action neophyte.
After noting the recent international appeal of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Kill Bill movies, writer-director Ian Taylor explains that the first Chinese action flicks were filmed in Shanghai during the 1920s and based on wu xia (period-piece kung fu) novels. Eventually, productions migrated south to China’s most famous island.
For even more kung fu movie trivia, check out with our FREE guide—Our Bruce Lee Movies List: Little-Known Trivia From Bruce Lee’s Pictures.
Impressively, Chop Socky shows 50-year-old clips of an important Hong Kong actor who’s usually neglected in other documentaries: Kwan Tak-Hing. Tak-Hing Kwan portrayed the real-life folk hero Wong Fei Hung in more than 70 films and paved the way for Jet Li to play the character in the Once Upon a Time in China series.
The documentary then highlights the more contemporary movies, from swordplay epics of the ’60s to international blockbusters starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. It also features interviews with screen legends like Crouching Tiger villainess Cheng Pei Pei, Spiritual Boxer director Lau Ka Leung and Kill Bill co-star Gordon Liu.
However, Chop Socky isn’t without its faults. First, its 55-minute running time isn’t enough to encapsulate the entire genre. Second, it could use a more powerful narrator, like Star Trek’s George Takei, whose booming voice highlights the Bruce Lee documentary Curse of the Dragon. Finally, it glosses over Bruce Lee’s global influence and focuses only on his hyper-realistic fight choreography.
They’re minor flaws, however, and the rest of Chop Socky more than makes up for them. For example, Jackie Chan hilariously remembers the manic search to replace the Little Dragon: “There was Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bruce Table, Bruce Chair—everything Bruce!” It was in that post-Bruce Lee era that Jackie Chan revitalized the genre by becoming his hero’s antithesis. Out of Bruce Lee’s onscreen superman sprang Jackie Chan’s kung fu clown.
It’s such key moments in Hong Kong cinema that this documentary nails perfectly—and for that, Chop Socky is definitely worth watching.