Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book, by Ric Meyers (review)

You may have come across this review on, say, a web search, looking for reviews of this book by reviewers well versed in the subject of kung fu movies. If so, keep looking. I am far from an expert, indeed, I’ve seen at best a handful of the movies Meyers discusses. Nor am I knowledgeable about kung fu, which has, so far as I know, not been a significant contributor to the mixed/blended martial arts I’ve been doing the past few years. No, I came to this book as an interested person, not as one with expertise or experience.

It’s fair to say I learned a bit from it. Meyers seems to have covered the subject in breadth, if not particularly in depth, with chapters devoted to the basics of kung fu and early kung fu movies, Bruce Lee, the Shaw Brothers Studio, Jackie Chan, Chan’s collaborators, women in Kung Fu movies, Jet Li, John Woo, American kung fu movies, and the future of the genre. An appendix lists details for Meyers’s choice of the top 100 kung fu movies from 1966 to 2010. If nothing else, reading this book left me with a short list of kung fu movies I want to watch, or re-watch, with some confidence that I’ll enjoy at least some of them.

Unfortunately, gaining that knowledge came at the price of having to read the text, and the text is, well, not good. For one thing, it’s badly edited — if indeed it was edited at all. Errors of syntax and vocabulary abound: “… so Liang decided on another tact…”, for instance, or “… he backed it up with on-screen kung fu skill hitherto fore unseen by anyone”. (Meyers uses that phrase, “hitherto fore”, at least three times in the book, so apparently he thinks it’s really proper usage.) Structurally the book sometimes reads like a drive down a rock-strewn dirt road, with changes of topic seemingly occurring more often in mid-paragraph than not, and while he usually focuses on one actor or director at a time, summarizing their career before moving on to the next, occasionally he’ll insert one career into the middle of the discussion of another. Then there are Meyers’s grating writing habits, the most irritating of which is his inability to use the word “racism” on its own; every time it’s “standard operating racism”. That got old about the third time he said it, and while I didn’t try to count instances of the phrase, if I had I probably would have stopped somewhere around twenty.

Then there’s the “Selected Index”, and who knows on what basis it was selected? Chinese Connection 2 merits an entry but Chinese Connection doesn’t, presumably because the latter is just the American title of Fist of Fury but still the omission (not even a cross reference) seems odd. Even odder is that Meyers devotes over a dozen pages to the career of Michelle Yeoh including several pages about the “very important” (Myers’s words) film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon… and yet that movie has no entry in the index.

In the end I’m glad I read Films of Fury for what I learned from it. But would I read another Meyers book? No, I don’t think so; I doubt if I could face the prospect of another 300 pages of such ham-handed writing style, even if the content is of some value.

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