Experience the Magic of Wuxia

The Clock Man – the story, not the whole book – is a wuxia story set in another world and wrapped with a detective noir bow. Normally I hate referencing what I’ve written as it relates to something else but in this case it’s okay because reasons.

“What is wuxia?” you might be asking. For that matter, what is detective noir? We’ll save detective noir for another time because it’s much more common in the United States and focus on your new best friend: wuxia.

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Wuxia, pronounced wu-she-ah, is a primarily Chinese genre of fiction and movies that incorporates martial arts and sorcery. Think of it as a Chinese version of the classical knights and magicians of the West. Perhaps the best examples in the West would be movies like A Chinese Ghost Story, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle. To a lesser extent, but no less important, would be Big Trouble In Little China.

Like most genres, wuxia has rules that define it. The protagonist must have certain characteristics.

  • altruism
  • justice
  • individualism
  • loyalty
  • courage
  • truthfulness
  • disregard for wealth
  • desire for glory

Wuxia stories tend to follow those rules, but the key point is the martial arts side of things. Anyone who’s ever seen a Kung Fu movie and enjoyed has enjoyed wuxia, even if all they were paying attention to was the martial arts side of things. The best Kung Fu movies had a solid plot that was chassis for the martial arts. The movies that were fairly plot-less were really nothing more than martial arts porn. Think of the differences between a pair of Van Damme classics: Kickboxer and Hard Target. Kickboxer was essentially martial arts porn – there was a story but it was really only there so Jean Claude could do the splits. Hard Target was a different beast entirely – there was a story and, over-the-top as it was, the story carried the movie rather than the martial arts carrying the movie. Hard Target was also special in that it was directed by the master of Hong Kong action cinema: John Woo. Woo’s movies tended to emphasize gun play, but he got his start directing some classic Kung Fu cinema.

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The movies are fairly common in America, but the books are far less available. Most of the titles are written in Chinese and there’s simply not enough of a market to translate them and print them for a Western audience. There is, however, a group on the Internet that’s made it their goal to find, translate, and bring these stories to those of us who don’t read or speak Chinese.

And, of course, there are those of us who are taking the classic wuxia genre and importing it into the West. Oddly enough, it’s incredibly difficult to write and have it make sense. The action sequences in particular are tricky to block out in any kind of sensible way. I actually wrote a blog post about what it takes to put the martial arts into text. It’s a very different style of writing from gun play. With a gun the bullet hits someone and that’s pretty much it. With fighting the writer has to be very cognizant of positions, types of strikes, and the general outcome of those strikes. In other words, it’s either going to take a lot of research or a lot of experience.

What started out as Chinese swords and sorcery has expanded over the years. I’d actually argue the works of John Woo – even the gun play heavy movies like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled – are modern twists on classic wuxia tales. It’s the flexibility of the genre that makes it appealing to me as a writer. Well, that and a general love of martial arts. But it allows room to navigate and write a swords and sorcery fantasy story without having to rely on the common stories in the West. It also allows for some flexibility in the characterization. Much like Woo takes Chow Yun Fat’s character Ah Jong in The Killer and turns him into a kind of anti-hero, I took Felix Crow and turned him into a kind of anti-hero.

There’s also the magical side of classical wuxia that is ripe for play. I’ve used magical elements – well gods and demi-gods more than magic – in Henchmen and Arise – but never really referenced them as magic. In The Clock Man, I actually got to explore magic and make some use of it. In Greetings From Sunny Aluna I’ll get more of a chance to create a wuxia world. In the interim, The Clock Man was my take on wuxia and my first shot at blending martial arts and magic.

The result: kwan daos, magic, martial arts, a snarky dragon, and a hint of Steampunk make up the world of Felix Crow and Chan. Wuxia – Eric Lahti style.

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