This documentary encapsulates the birth of modern Chinese martial arts and its evolution to what we know today. From its beginnings with the teachings of Zen master Bodidharma to Bruce Lee making martial arts popular with the masses. Through succinct narration, to interviews with experts and practitioners, it provides a good crash course through hundreds of years of martial arts. It covers the science and spirituality of Chi. The training, and the rise and fall of the Shaolin Temple under the Manchus, the Boxer Rebellion, and Communism. To martial arts revitalization through the Shaw Bros. Studios and law enforcement turning to the then underground martial artists to help deal with crime. And, how martial arts adapted to the changing times and went from a secretive art to a well known, popular one... Along the way you are treated to various styles and forms through martial Masters like, Grandmaster Pan, who helped police deal with the Triads in late 60's China and who has practiced Iron Body for the better part of his life, hitting a steel block a thousand times a day. As well as Master Dennis Brown, who teaches martial arts to inner city kids and uses its philosophy to take kids off the wrong path, and a Shaolin monk Sifu Shi Yan-Ming, who moved to New York in order to hopefully start the first Western Shaolin branch. Also there is Grandmaster Pui Chan, a sixth generation teacher of the Praying Mantis style and who is proficient in and teaches 46 different weapons. We are shown animal styles, as well as various weapons, everything from the broadsword, to the chain, hammers, fan, and more.
Now, this hit me out of the blue. Imagine my surprise to find Secrets of the Warriors Power on DVD. I've had Secrets of the Warriors Power on tape from the Discovery Channel for a year or two now, and I'm very pleased this doc has made its way to DVD. I guess if any complaints could be made, Secrets really is a more limited TV production. This is not Errol Morris' Secrets of the Warriors Power, so it isn't really a powerhouse, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Chinese Martial Arts and Were Afraid to Ask" kind of deal. In the scope of just over 50 minutes they cover quite a bit of ground, providing like a Cliff Notes versions of Chinese martial arts history and evolution. But, it is the kind of subject matter that could easily be discussed much better in a longer form (one could keep dreaming about Ken Burns History of Martial Arts). 50 mins is far too brief. I could very easily watch a two hour doc just covering the teachings and legend of Bodidharma, much less separate docs just about animal styles and weapons forms. My only other grumble is the questionable choice of using a female dubber for the grandmasters who need to have their broken English translated. Personally, I would have gone with subs or a male narrator. But, its a minor quibble.
I cannot recommend this enough to those interested in martial arts. It really is quite informative, and utilizes a lot of great footage, whether it be from film, archival, or staged demonstrations. Although brief, its one of the better documentaries about martial arts I've run across. The only real shame is that it wasn't longer and there haven't been more volumes to follow.
The DVD: Winstar does a good job with this release made for/broadcast on the Discovery Channel, and actually offers a longer version than what was aired on TV- including a bit with the Shaolin monks strengthening their testicles by dangling and dragging weights as well as getting full-on kicked in the groin (Gosh, I wonder why they didn't allow that on TV?).
Picture- Good picture. It is a fairly modest TV Production so its not top of the line film, but I was actually surprised at how much sharper the DVD picture was than the TV broadcast. All around quite a nice job.
Sound- Good sound too, once again, technically just a modest TV production so they were not aiming for a big, grand dynamic 6.1 Dolby Digital surround setup or anything.
Extras- A nice arrangements of extras that, because of the docs limited running time, the DVD really needed, and they deliver. –17 min interview with Grandmaster Pan Qing Fu- 20 min interview with Master Dennis Brown- 16 min interview with the films director Jim Grader- 14 mins of Additional Chi Gong Feats (bad video with a Chinese narrator and no subs, but, who cares, it shows some neat iron body abilities like the bending of a spear with your throat).- DVD Credits- and Bio and Contact info.