The daughter of a good friend recently discovered Jackie Chan, and has since fallen in love with the master of comedic kung fu and his death-defying stunt work. She's watched most of Jackie's movies, and we've had some great conversations about him and his work. And did I mention that she's only nine years old? That's right, she's nine, and she loves Jackie Chan. But at the same time, she has no idea who Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu, or Jet Li are, nor does she really care. I figure, at some point, if she wants to know more about kung fu movies, I can always show her the documentary, Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie. And if she doesn't ever want to know more about martial arts mayhem and wushu asskickery, the DVD can collect dust until I meet another kid who might possibly appreciate this documentary, because to be perfectly honest, I don't see how anyone other than a child can not be annoyed by this film.
Not to blast Films of Fury, but I was expecting something more from what looked like a promising doc. With writer Ric Meyers attached, I thought for sure this would be a grade-A documentary about the martial arts genre. Meyers is an undisputed expert on kung fu movies, and if you're a student of those films, or want to know as much as possible, you've got to read his writing. But you don't need to watch this documentary written by Meyers, and directed by Andrew Corvey and Andrew Robinson. To be sure, there are other docs about kung fu movies out there, including Toby Russell's Cinema of Vengeance, which has almost no production value, but is far more informative than this one, or Art of Action: Martial Arts in Motion Picture, which is far more slickly produced and entertaining than Films of Fury.
Films of Fury is essentially a "clip show" documentary that relies heavily on clips from dozens of movies--some very well known, others only well known to fans of Hong Kong cinema. And as far as clip content goes, this film delivers an awesome sampler of work from great directors and legendary actors. But there are no interviews to be found anywhere in this documentary, which is a major strike against the film. But the real failure--at least for me--are the animated segments that serve as the narrative thread that weaves this doc together. The film is hosted by annoying animated character who delivers quick quips that sound as if they've been written to appeal to pre-teen viewers. This cartoon character, who overstays his welcome pretty much before it even starts, goes a long way in making Films of Fury a don't-need-to-watch-this-again sort of documentary, which is a shame, because the world can always use another good chop sockey doc.
As if the animated character that makes this documentary difficult to watch wasn't bad enough, the film suffers from other fundamental problems. There is no true sense of chronological film history, as the clips seem to jump around, thereby never building a true sense of historical context. Important players like the Shaw Brothers and Raymond Chow are hardly mentioned or not mentioned at all. And did I mention that there are no interviews? For me that is the ultimate failure of this doc, even more so than the animated host.
The last few years have seen some great documentaries about films outside the mainstream of Hollywood. The slickly produced and somewhat bombastic Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed by director Mark Hartley, as well as Alex Stapleton's Corman's World are examples of what solid documentaries about film can be like. The same is true for The Spaghetti West, a somewhat dry documentary about Italian westerns that still manages to be informative and entertaining, without overshadowing the subject matter. But the one thing these films have in common is that while relying on film clips, they also rely on interviews with the people who made the movies, and never once fall into the trap of trying to be cleverer than either. And ultimately that's what Films of Fury does.