My Father is a Hero: The Opening Scenes

My Father is a Hero begins with its opening credits being intercut with footage showing a large squad of impressively drilled children, who include one of the main characters Siu Ku (played by Xie Mao), doing a wu shu routine. By doing this director Corey Yuen has established this film’s martial arts credentials right from the get go, and this is perhaps not such a bad idea as the first half of the film is very dominated by dialogue. The dialogue scenes focus on establishing characters  and the way they relate to each other, which makes them important and engrossing for the viewer to watch. However, they are slow and word heavy. The few action scenes early on in the film are important, therefore, for 2 reasons: they break up the slow pace of the film and prevent it from being too lugubrious; and they allow choreographed movement to stake a claim. My Father is a
Hero
is dominated by elaborately choreographed action in the later stages of the film, and for this to be accepted by the audience as an integral and appropriate creative strategy for bringing the film  to a conclusion, Yuen needs to establish choreography as being one of the film’s most important aesthetic and story-telling devices right from the beginning.

The wu shu display also has another purpose. It, and some scenes showing Ku competing in the wu  shu competition that follows, lets the viewer know that this little kid is martial arts adept. This makes his (very active!) inclusion in the fight scenes that follow easier for the audience to accept. Intercut with the wu shu competition are scenes showing the first fight of another of the film’s main characters – Kung (played by Jet Li), father of Ku and an undercover cop, is shown taking on a gang of passport forgers. Thus both father and son are introduced to the audience as skilled fighters. Kung’s fight starts in an alley way and then reconvenes in the stairwells and roof cavities of the stadium where Ku is competing.* In his direction of these fights, Corey Yuen is indulging the Hong Kong martials arts choreographer’s typical love of exploiting architecture in the staging of fight scenes – he also does this to great effect in this film when he stages a shoot-out  in a large glass building to explosive effect. In bringing Kung’s fight with the passport forgers into the same building that is housing Ku’s wu shu competition, he has also cleverly brought the martial  arts of father and son together into the one space to allow them to collaborate. There are some nice  moments featuring rolls, backward bends, somersaults and pole fighting, where the movements of the father, fighting a bad guy on a walkway in the roof cavity, mirror or suggest the movements of the son sparring down in the auditorium below, and this consolidates the audience’s sense of connection between these 2 characters. This prefigures the last climactic fight scene where father and son once again crucially cooperate to bring the villains down. It also establishes the central conflict of Kung’s story arc, which is the conflict between his duty as a policeman and his duty as a father. In the first few minutes of the film we see him fulfilling both duties, but only just. It becomes very apparent during the rest of the film that he is virtually unable to reconcile these duties as successfully as he does in the moment when he watches his son competing, while shouldering a sack containing the criminal he has just nabbed.

It pays to bear in mind that this film has one of the martial arts movie genre’s major box office attractions, Jet Li, headlining its cast as well as having one of the genre’s most respected martial
arts choreographers, Corey Yuen, as its director. I may be wrong, but I imagine that the Hong Kong  audiences who would have turned up to watch it in cinemas in 1995 would have had the expectation that they were going to see martial arts. For them, scenes featuring a wu shu competition intercut with scenes of Jet Li’s character beating up a couple of bad guys would have answered this expectation and perhaps made the preponderance of slow dialogue driven scenes
in the first half of the film easier to take on board.

The script writer and producer of this, at times, dark and intense martial arts soap opera is none other than Wong Jing. The films that Wong directs in his own right are notoriously juvenile and politically incorrect and always determinedly played for cheap laughs, and it is hard to believe that the author of My Father could be the same man. However, there is one stylistic hall mark that all Wong’s films have in common – “The opening is likely to be breathless. Within the first sixty seconds there will be a gag, a chase, or a suspenseful encounter.” (David Bordwell, on Wong Jing’s films, Planet Hong Kong, p. 172). Wong Jing’s High Risk, for example, opens with terrorists invading a school and blowing a bunch of kids up in a bus. My Father opens with a wu shu competition and Jet Li taking down a ring of passport forgers.

Under the skilful direction of Corey Yuen, the action scenes right at the beginning of My Father play an important part in getting this film off to a good start. Yuen has other dramaturgical uses for  choreographed movement, and I will address these in some short blogs to follow.

*(footage of Kung thumping a struggling bad guy he has trussed in a sack and slung onto the back of a bicycle, all the while he is peddling towards to stadium to watch Ku, could only ever happen in
a kung fu movie)

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8 Responses to My Father is a Hero: The Opening Scenes

  1. Pingback: My Father is a Hero: prefiguring action | Dangerous Meredith

  2. Joseph Kuby says:

    Wong Jing can be serious if he wants to be as can be seen in Crying Heart (which was praised on the internet movie database but panned on the Hong Kong movie database).

    Jing’s dramatic writing stands out in The Prodigal Son, Legend of a Fighter and The Magnificent Butcher because they have an antagonist in the showdown who is not the true villain of the story.

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  3. Jeez, I didn’t know he wrote those. I make a lot of cracks about Jing’s directing in my blog but he is talented isn’t he?

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    • Joseph Kuby says:

      Indeed, he is.

      He’s the inspiration for my first novel: a multi-genre extravaganza. It’s about a Canadian girl whose love of Chinese movies saves her life (psychologically as well as physically) on more than one occasion.

      This allows me to draw the line between rip-off and tribute. There are eleven movies which influenced it…

      1) Crocodile Hunter – a criminal who wants to rape an actress.

      2) City Hunter – a villain which a surname similar to MacDonald.

      3) Return to a Better Tomorrow – firing two shotguns at once.

      4) God of Gamblers Returns – a children’s story/adult story hybrid.

      5) Kung Fu Cult Master – two stories in one.

      6) High Risk – indirect lampooning.

      7) The Big Score – a close one’s family is horrifically terrorized.

      8) Royal Tramp – a joke about dark-skinned people at night.

      9) Pantyhose Hero – a serial killer targeting homosexuals.

      10) Naked Killer – keeping rapists in the basement.

      11) Sixty Million Dollar Man – biomechanical domestication.

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      • sounds like a great novel Joseph. Have you got a publisher yet? I would love to read it. If you want to spread the word about your writing then feel free to do so on a facebook page I am administrator on called Heroic Sisterhood – http://www.facebook.com/#!/HeroicSisterhood (we welcome Heroic ‘Sisters’ of both genders! If you like Asian action movies and are of the male persuasion then we accord you honorary sisterhood). Lots of people on this page would be very interested to hear about your book, I am sure!

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      • Joseph Kuby says:

        I haven’t got a publisher yet. 😦

        It turns out that I’ve already pressed the like button for that group. 🙂

        I wouldn’t want to disappoint those people because it seems like my novel won’t get released. 😥

        I’ve been rejected by over a hundred literary agents. =(

        This response from an agent pretty much sums it up:

        “I admire its very cerebral, creative energy. However, I’m afraid its experimental style and subject matter are not a good fit for our agency.”

        After being rejected by over a hundred agents, I decided to change the name of my second e-mail account to the initials of my forename and middle name because then people can’t judge me for my gender or try to make preconceptions of who I am based on what they can find on the internet (racial identity and cultural interests). =-(

        It seems like it worked because it was only after I changed my name that agents want to read my manuscript. So far, there’s been one male and one female who rejected it after reading it. I still have to get a response from another male and female. Joanne Rowling changed her name to J.K. Rowling because she was told that boys wouldn’t want to read a book written by a woman. :-/

        In my case, my novel is about a girl who grows up to become a woman so the assumption was that a male would get things wrong. Also, when I studied Sociology, I learned that women do better at school than men. Generally, women are perceived as being more sophisticated. :-

        Additionally, there’s a trend for popular female writers versus male ones. For instance, Stepehenie Meyer was advertised as the next Rowling. Another example is E. L. James being advertised as the next Meyer. If I remain ambiguous, I will be described as the next James (which is coincidental given my middle name). =-/

        Basically, preconceived notions suck! =-

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      • You sound like you have had a thoroughly frustrating time of it. Preconcieved notions do suck because they enable lazy people to check their powers of analysis and discrimination at the door and to make decisions without having to actually think and assess things fairly.

        Fingers crossed that you get an agent or publisher for your book one day.

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  4. Joseph Kuby says:

    It’s definitely been frustrating as can be seen by these responses…

    (bearing in mind that the concept is about a Canadian girl who grows up to become a seductive counselor and creative vigilante for abused women in Seattle)

    The 12th agent to reject me had typed:

    “I’m afraid I will be passing — I’m just not enthusiastic enough about the concept of your story to feel that I’d be the right agent for the project. I realize it is difficult to judge your potential from a query; nevertheless please know that I give serious attention to every letter, outline, and writing sample I receive.”

    The 15th agent:

    “We are afraid that, despite its qualities, we do not feel sufficiently enthusiastic to offer to represent you.”

    An Irish agent:

    “Wow. Certainly unique. I must be too old for it though.”

    One of the last English agents that I e-mailed typed this:

    “Many thanks for sending me this material, which I read with interest.
    I considered it carefully but I’m afraid on balance it just doesn’t quite
    grab my imagination in the way that it must for me to offer to represent you. So I shall have to follow my gut instinct and pass on this occasion.”

    A female agent:

    “While this sounds like a strong project, I’m afraid it doesn’t strike me as a likely fit with me and my particular editorial contacts.”

    A male agent:

    “Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we are the appropriate agents to represent this material. In this very competitive market, we are simply not enthusiastic enough about our ability to sell this work to offer you representation.”

    A confused agent:

    “For one reason or another, your project does not seem right for my list.”

    An American agent:

    “Thank you for the interesting query. The concept has many worthwhile elements but due to our workload and current areas of expertise, I do not believe we are quite the right agency for this project.”

    An agent named Mickey:

    “I’m sorry but I’m overwhelmed with submissions and this didn’t pique my interest enough to add to my stack of manuscripts.”

    An agent named Ashley:

    “Too big a concept for us.”

    An agent named Laney:

    “While your project certainly has merit, I’m going to pass.”

    An agent named Olga:

    “Your idea is fascinating, but after careful consideration, I regret to say that Trident is unable to offer you representation.”

    A lukewarm rejection:

    “I’m afraid I’m so swamped with current commitments that I’m unable to give proper consideration to your work, although it sounds interesting.”

    A contradictory rejection:

    “I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its poise and polish, so I ought to step aside, but I truly appreciate the look, and I wish you the best of luck!”

    An American agent with a Chinese background sent me an e-mail one day after receiving my manuscript:

    “After looking over your manuscript, I’m sorry to say we cannot help you with marketing.”

    An American agent named Ann:

    “Although it certainly has potential for success, it does not appear to be right for this Agency. We pass and wish you better luck in placing your work with an agent who will make us look shortsighted.”

    An agent named Robin:

    “I don’t believe I could successfully interest a major publisher in your manuscript.”

    An agent named Farley:

    “You have an interesting idea for a book and there’s a lot to like about your approach. But in the end I’m afraid I didn’t come away from this quite fully convinced this was something I think I’d be able to represent successfully.”

    An agent named Barbara:

    “Your novel certainly sounds creative. Right now, my client list is full and I won’t be considering any new proposals for representation until early next year.”

    An agent named Nicole:

    “While I appreciate the thought and dedication put into your work, unfortunately I am not enthusiastic enough to pursue this further.”

    An agent named Andrea:

    “I’m afraid these pages just didn’t draw me in as much as I had hoped. I’m pressed for time these days and, what with my reservations about the project, I suspect I wouldn’t be the best fit.”

    An agent named Morris:

    “We’ve read your material, and I’m sorry to say that we don’t think it is right for the specific talents of the people working at our company at this time. Publishing is a tough business, and the response of any individual agent — or indeed dozens of agents — is not necessarily a comment on the inherent value of the project. Every agent has individual tastes and individual business requirements.”

    An anonymous agent:

    “We currently handle a very limited range of fiction and your work is really beyond our scope.”

    An agent named Laurie:

    “Alas, I must reject what you have been kind enough to submit. I am very selective about taking on new clients since the publishing industry has become so narrow in its focus and harsh in its treatment of debut and midlist authors.”

    An agent named Annie (after I sent her the first ten pages):

    “I really enjoyed its unusual style and humor. Unfortunately, experimental fiction is difficult to sell these days in this increasingly difficult publishing market.”

    An agent who either accidentally sent me this e-mail to me or wanted to let me know what was typed to somebody else:

    “This query sparked my interest mostly because he’s attempting to write a book with multiple genres. I think this might be interesting when it comes to understanding the narrator’s inner psyche. However, I have never read a book like this, so I don’t know if it could actually work. Therefore, I was wondering if you have tried to represent or read a book like this before.”

    An agent named Jeff (after receiving my manuscript):

    “The material just doesn’t work for me, but no doubt another agent will feel differently.”

    An agent named Mary:

    “We are sorry to say that your novel is not something we would feel 100% confident of being able to handle successfully.”

    An agent named Amy:

    “While both intriguing and bizarre, I’m sorry to say this manuscript is not for us and we will not be requesting more material at this time.”

    Like

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