In all my 50 years of watching martial arts movies, Fist of the Condor is the second film that reveals the real secret training method on screen of ching gong (in Condor, Defy Gravity skill), undoubtedly influenced by Jimmy Wong Yu’s Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976). It is also the only film in the West and possibly the East that comes close to understanding one of the most important aspects of Chi (Qi) and how that affects one’s health and inner power.
Beyond the film’s significant substance, collective exuberance and personal joy, there’s an exhilarating electric charge that quickens the pulse with a zealously renaissance sense of a terrifying and tantalizing suspenseful interpretation of one of martial arts most important tenets, in the East and West, “Who is the most dangerous opponent that you will ever face in life?”
When you realize the metaphor is not too encrypted, you’ll find it mesmerizing when you consider the film arose from another legendary bird’s ashes of fiery discontent, on probably one the most emotionally draining, anger intensifying, population-splitting and country-dividing true global dangerous opponent the world has ever faced…COVID.
After we shared stories about how Bruce Lee instantly gave both of our lives purpose and direction while watching our first Lee movie, the 8-year-old Zaror in the-mid 1980s with friends seeing Enter the Dragon on Chilean TV, I esoterically noted and asked that not only did Marko want to make Condor, yet maybe something else wanted him to make the movie too?
The mindfully reflective Zaror shares, “Wow! That is a good question though. I believe this film is from the soul of my honest expression. It was during COVID, we’re in quarantine, everything closed, no movies, no connection, isolating myself at the beach with few folks around. Doing long meditations at beautiful sunrises and sunsets, I was trying to re-think my purpose and my life because we were facing the end of the world. “I thought, ‘If this it, how would I like people to remember me? If kids see me and see my last movie, what do I want that movie to be?’ I wanted to do a love letter to everything that inspired my life, being the martial artist that I am, the human being that I am. “I captured the cultures of the martial arts world and kung fu movies and brought them into our culture, our reality. I also had all these notes that I collected through my life on training systems, philosophy, nutrition that captured the Latino culture and gave them to the director. Merging them was the whole concept behind Fist of the Condor, honestly expressing myself, and wanting to create a Latin American kung fu film as an homage to everything that inspired me.”
Prior to the fall of the Incas by Spanish conquistadors circa 1572, where in years past the Chilean Mapuche warriors halted the Inca invasion in Central Chile, Inca Rumi Maki masters hid a sacred manual containing the deadly secret Fist of the Condor. Flash forward to today-ish, the secret has fallen into evil hands (Zaror) leaving the manual’s only rightful guardian (Zaror) as an incomplete martial artist that has a weakness every vicious assassin bent on killing him know.
These are the days of reckoning, there is no hiding place, the days of black and white, clarity and parity, evil and good, there are no half measures, no reprieve for the two warriors that will go hell for leather to kill each other. The Inca spirits are maybe the judges, jurors and executioners that will hand down a verdict of death and one spared. Who’s really in control, good, evil, the Condor, Inca spirits, the Condor Woman? It is like two boats on the edge of a water fall, paddling like nuts, jumping through hoops or oops!, not fully knowing what is safe or accidental, or if that has already happened or not. Only time, emotion and Chi may delineate the truth.
Condor is an eclectic provider of more nods to many classic martial arts films than a Bruce Lee bobble-head doll. I’m actually nodding my head as I’m writing this. They’re subtle, blatant and secretive, where part of the fun is looking for these homages that are hidden in plain sight, I’ve already mentioned two. Few more clues: Duel to Death (1982), Billy Jack (1972), Carradine’s Kung Fu, a Lee film, 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), The Brave Archer (1977) and many more.
If anyone is familiar with Chinese wuxia films or has had the chance to read my blog about wuxia martial arts novels (https://blackbeltmag.com/martial-arts-movies-wuxia), the most obvious nod, which is the most logical, is the film’s title that is based on where the film is shot and honors the country’s national symbol, the Andes Condor in Chile. The film’s titillating title comes with a lovingly brotherly spiritual tribute to arguably the most popular wuxia novel in history, The Legend of the Condor Heroes (1957), by Louis Cha.
For bird buffs. Although the novel’s title Condor Heroes refers to legendary condors twice as big as humans, the literal Chinese translation The Legend of the Bird of Prey Shooting Heroes, the bird is an eagle. Condors are New World vultures only found in parts of North America (California, Arizona) and South America (the Andes Mountains). Old World vultures are the vultures we are familiar with, whereas the cinereous and red-headed vultures, the two main species in China, are not condors. Yet in the West, the English word, Giant Condor is more attention grabbing than an eagle, certainly Cha and his publishers were aware of this.
Marko’s Martial Journey: Bruce Lee to Mexico to Hollywood to Prodigal Son “After Enter the Dragon,” Marko enthusiastically avers, “That changed my life forever, Lee didn’t live long (we both sigh), and I was just a little kid, but it was such a powerful moment, he showed me that my life was going to be connected with martial arts and it never stopped.”
Due to the military regime prohibiting martial arts, his mother, Gina Aguad (first female black belt in Chile; played Condor Woman in Condor), got him into a tae kwon do (TKD) school, yet he still wanted to learn kung fu. His city-wide search failed; he could only find a karate school.
He shivered, “It was a big thing for me because in the Bruce lee film Fists of Fury, kung fu are the good guys, karate are the bad guys, and I’m like, ‘Aaaaah, nooo, I cannot do this.’ When I must throw my black pants aside, the Bruce Lee kung fu shoes, and white socks to having to wear a white gi with a belt…man, that was one of the hardest days of my life. I’m not kidding.”
Yet a friend told him about karate master who was so amazing and after meeting him, Zaror agreed. So, he began learning Okinawan Kenshin karate noting, “He changed my attitude, it was very strong for me, everything changed. I just had to empty my mind and start over.”
Eventually returning to TKD, the WFT system with the same TKD master, he once again, had to empty his mind and start over. It seemed with age, as young as he was, he was becoming wiser. The old master took Zaror aside as he fondly recalled, “He told me I was an amazing martial artist, ‘You could be very good at this, you have such ability, but I feel in this style you won’t reach your maximum potential. Try join the national TKD team.’ I did. I’ve never forgotten his words; they were powerful. (pause) Empty my mind and start from zero.”
I wondered if things would have turned out differently if the wide-eyed wee lad Zaror who wanted to be like Bruce Lee, knew back then that Lee’s kicking skills were influenced by TKD. When he was 18 and due to being on the Chilean national TKD team and participating in competition, Zaror got the opportunity to fly to Mexico City where a new martial art life direction opened up…or did it? He hooked up with the former Chilean kickboxing champion Jose Luis Mosca and began kickboxing training with him. Then one day something caught his eye, a movie poster in the gym with Mosca in it, a hitman. “And that’s when my eyes went boom,” Zaror blurted. “I’m like, ‘You’re doing martial arts movies?’ Before seeing this, it was never my dream to be in movies. My brain clicked. I have to get to Hollywood (he snickers), it’s not far from here.”
Mosca invited Zaror, to participate in one film, and then it happened, “That’s when everything started for me, this is what I wanted to do. Did five movies in Mexico that were low budget and made for the Latino communities that live in the U.S., near the border that don’t speak English.”
He got a scholarship to attend Telivisa to train as an actor to be in Mexican soaps operas. His first bite of the apple was at hand. He was offered a job working in a soap opera, yet no fights, and they told him if someone slaps him, he cannot block it and kick them. He declined, realizing that he must stay honest to his journey and make it to LA, Hollywood, and start from zero.
When Zaror arrived in LA, it was tough, finding a place to live wasn’t easy. To make ends meet and meat, he became a waiter, dishwasher and began teaching in a gym. Then, to keep the dream alive he started training at the LA Valley College amid the stunt community.
He recalled, “I’d see these guys flying in the air. Training hard every day. Everyone started talking about this legend. One day he shows up at the gym and I asked, ‘Who’s he?,’ someone replied, ‘Oh, that’s Andy Cheng, Jackie Chan’s stuntman.’ He was nice to me. A year later he asked if I was interested in doubling the Rock in The Rundown (2003). He was my first big mentor in learning how to do a fight scene.”
Zaror quite all his jobs only to find out that he didn’t have a work visa and that Andy had to find someone else. “I told Andy that I didn’t want to get him in trouble, yet he told me not to worry saying there is no one that can do what you do at your height, the flips, corkscrew kicks. Yet he still needed to run auditions. Three months went by, and I thought no way I’m getting this job. Then I got the job, Andy got me the job. He became like my older brother that I had in the U.S. He fought for me, got me the visa and the opportunity to be in the U.S.”
And that’s when Zaror met famous stuntman JJ Perry who was doubling for Sean William Scott and together they did the excitingly dangerous and insane tumbling down the mountain stunts. “Yet I still wanted to do fights,” Zaror affirmed. “The stunt was dangerous, and I just didn’t want to do tumbling, crashing cars, guns, horses, motorcycles. Being a stuntman is an honorable profession, yet I still wanted to follow my dream and honestly express myself as a martial artist. This was a second red apple, the opportunity for another incredible career, to be a stuntman.”
He declined the offer and returned to Chile, not distraught, yet hopeful, adding, “With that money, I put together all that I learned, what I did with Andy Cheng, to create my own movies and that’s how we created Kiltro (2006), the first Latin American martial arts movie in Chile.”
In the same wuxia martial arts novel article mentioned earlier, I also detail the history and importance of the worlds of Jiang Hu and Wu Lin created for wuxia novels. Jiang Hu is an alternative society made up of beggars, martial art heroes and villains, and outcasts who coexisted with normal society yet lived by their own laws, morality codes and systems of brotherhood. Wu Lin is a subworld of Jiang Hu for martial artists and swordsmen only.
Condor intelligently weaves the blueprints of these worlds that were so vividly revealed in many Shaw Brothers films of the 1970s where age old storylines of whoever owned the secret weapon or kung fu manual would be the head of Jiang Hu, right down to where the villain and hero agreed to fight at a specific time and place and were bound by the rules to fight no matter what.
Director Chu Yuen’s film were popular because he was known for having many short fights evenly spaced apart to create the illusion of lots of kung fu action. Director Ernesto Diaz either knowingly or unwittingly, by dissecting the script into nine chapters with a fight, training sequence and/or a bit of both within each chapter, to where sometimes they would meld into the next chapter’s angst of action. He created a Chu-ish flavor within a distinctive Chilean menu.
Parts of the fight choreography include old style editing cuts and fight postures used in early 1970s Hong Kong/Taiwanese wuxia films. Overdone snapping stop shots of a kick, block, posture or a panning flying punch were tricks of the trade back then that made actors look like they had Lee speed. Hats off to Zaror, for creating what could be construed as a condor kung fu style if the condor was a bird of prey. Zaror’s hands don’t copy anything white crane-ish. His low looming stances clearly show his straight spreading fingers bending up like when a condor glides through the air with its long wing-tip feathers arching up so the condor can maintain lift while in flight.
Another condor skill is when Zaror is lifting and pushing heavy objects onto to the ground as if it was a wing unfolding its powerful wing muscle pushing out an unwanted condor attacking baby condors in its nest.
The training Defy Gravity skill sequences are uniquely taught by the Condor Woman in a way that creates hyper concern to the hero where his growing doom is as nervy as surgery. He’s hurdling toward the desperate, at a time when he needs a calm head and a steely resolve to face the prevailing pressure of the world’s most psychopathic assassin sent to unmind and unwind the hero’s psyche. Enter a zealously potent fight with a twisted mischievous ambience that features two animal styles, one surreal, one funereal, where each unrelenting combatant will be bruised, bemused, to where heightened devotion to emotion is but a flicker of light created by Zaror.
It makes sense that in this new-fangled Chilean world of Jiang Hu that the finale fight, ending Part 1 of Fist of the Condor pits the psychotic Kalari (Eyal Meyer) spotlighting the ancient Indian martial art of Kalaripayattu that is rarely seen in Western movies. It’s refreshing to witness this multi-animal style that many will find it unfamiliarly fresh yet cool to observe.
The ground fighting is most grand and so entertaining as these crouching low to the ground fighters, looking like ferocious, body-twisting mongooses, jump over and under each other with great camera choreography beautifully capturing each movement.
A bright barn light starts to dim and flicker as if the light is losing voltage. The light goes out, it’s toss in the towel time for the hero. What’s going on is one the major points that Zaror is trying to get across.
He explained, “Voltage is the Chi, our whole system works with the Chi, Chi is our inner energy, inner power, and Chi gets affected in different ways. There are lot of ways to build it up or ways to lose it, and emotion is one of them and that’s what we talk about this movie.” I close my asking every martial artist the same final question, how has martial arts influenced you as person and filmmaker.
After a long-drawn breath, Marko averred, “Martial arts showed me my life purpose. It didn’t influence me, it made me who I am today, in every realm, dimension. The way I approach my work and all my relationships, are based on the spirit of martial arts.”