King Hu

Many HK martial arts films focused on the fight scenes and displaying assorted styles of kung fu; too often their plots, rife with anachronisms, were just a device for stringing the fights together. Widely acknowledged as a master of the historical martial art film genre (Wu Hsia P'ien or Wu Xia Pian in Chinese), Hu aspired toward authenticity with his meticulously researched art direction. He favored the Ming dynasty (1386-1644) as a setting for its stories as it reflected aspects the Chinese political climate of his day.Some have criticized Hu's films for the sometimes excessive stylization of their fight scenes. Surprisingly, the filmmaker has stated that he knew nothing about kung fu or martial arts. He preferred the more cultured thrills of the Peking Opera which he began attending as a child. Playing down the fighting in his films, Hu has likened the choreographed action to dance. "I am very interested in the Peking Opera and particularly its movement and action effects, although I think it's difficult to express them adequately on stage, where the physical limitations are too great." Such sentiments explain his casting Shanghai-born ballerina, Cheng Pei-Pei, in his epic "Come Drink with Me" (1965). This "stunt" casting paid off as the film broke box-office records during its first run. Cheng Pei-Pei, subsequently a contract player for the Shaw Brothers, went on to become a major kung fu star. "Come Drink with Me" is also notable as one of the first Chinese films to employ the camera movements and visual techniques (i.e., quick-cut montages) of modern Western cinema to classical martial artistry. Hu's films were also influenced by classic Chinese literature and paintings in addition to Peking Opera.In addition to working with the major male action stars of the 60s and 70s, Hu was responsible for launching the careers of several actresses including Polly Ling ("Dragon Gate Inn" 1967) and Hsu Fung ("A Touch of Zen"; "The Valiant Ones" 1974). Angela Mao Ying was already well known prior to her association with Hu but his "The Fate of Lee Khan" (1973) provided her with one of her classiest vehicles.Having gained notoriety in the West with the flashy calling card that was "A Touch of Zen," it was only a matter of time before Hu came to America. He settled in Southern California in the mid-80s. Hu became attached to a long-in-development script by David Henry Hwang and Gary Tiesche about Chinese immigrant railroad workers in 19th century Northern California. He died after heart surgery in Taipei, Taiwan before the project could come to fruition.