hip hop music

December 28, 2003

Hip-Hop and Kung Fu Movies

While checking up on which new DVDs to look for in chinatown I came by an excellent breakdown of the relationship between Hip-Hop and martial arts movies:

Challenge of the B-Boy Master: The Impact of Kung Fu Movies on Breakdancing

Back in the mid-to-late 1970s, the earliest power moves of Breaking were created by B-Boy masters living in New York City. One of the biggest influences on the creation of moves like the "headspin" and the "windmill" was the Hong Kong kung fu movie. B-boys watched the amazing physical abilities of their favorite kung fu actors in films by Shaw Brothers, Seasonal Films, and Golden Harvest Studios. They imitated and expanded upon the ritualized combat they saw in these films, adding new moves to their dance.

These films were seen in the US, but only in a limited number of theaters in major cities. In the book Kung Fu: Cinema of Vengeance (1974), Verina Glaser said, “The basis for the success of the kung fu films in the States was the same ghetto audience that carried the wave of ‘black’ Hollywood action films a year or so previously.” In New York City, the two places to see kung fu movies were 42nd Street and Chinatown. Kung fu movies placed the majority of importance on the action, and less time on character development and production values seen in Hollywood films.

There was a big parallel between Hong Kong and NYC. Hong Kong and New York were both densely populated, with a large divide between the rich and the poor. Both cities had high crime rates and tough ghettos. These films were made as escapist fantasies for the people of Hong Kong, and they ended up serving the same purpose for the inner city youth in the United States. Ken Swift said “Every kung fu movie was like styles, people got they ass whipped, and they went back and got revenge, and it was cool, and that was like something maybe we saw this as kids in the hood, as something we dealt with every day in our lives, you know what I’m saying, dealing with the way we had to live, in school and at home.”

The year was 1971 and America got its first taste of the exciting and dance-like choreography of Hong Kong martial arts films with the Shaw Brothers production King Boxer (AKA Five Fingers of Death) starring Lo Lieh. At this time, Hip-Hop as we know it did not exist. Street gangs like the Black Spades and the Savage Skulls fought each other in the streets of the Bronx for control of turf. Eventually, the pre-rumble dance of these gangs would be incorporated into the Hip-Hop dance known as Up-Rocking. Trac 2 of Starchild la Rock, a legendary b-boy crew from the seventies, related a story about the gang origins of Up-Rocking. He said that the night before a rumble, the gang leaders had a dance off with each other, one on one. This let everyone in the area know who was going to be involved in the real deal the next day, and anyone else should stay out of the way...

Posted by jsmooth995 at December 28, 2003 6:28 PM

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