Fearless – My favorite martial arts film

Huo Yian-Jia is arguably Jet Li’s greatest role. While Once Upon a Time in China is considered one of his best martial arts movies – with his classic Wong Fei-Hung character – here are the reasons for my statement.

Fearless, the film directed by Ronny Yu and action-choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, (the same choreographer as Iron Monkey, released when I was born: 1993, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, released in 2000) is based on a real-life person. His name was Huo Yian-Jia, known in China as one of the founding fathers of modern Wushu and its sport exponents, and one of the greatest Gong Fu masters who ever lived. Jet Li’s character as portrayed in the film is unique in the martial arts film pantheon, however, which makes me love the movie so much.

Huo Yian Jia isn’t simply on a quest to take revenge on an evil emperor or warlord for some betrayal or dishonor- and he isn’t simply beating the shit out of anyone who offends him. In fact, the whole movie’s moral is basically to not take revenge on the person who would commit such a crime.

Yes, the fight scenes are cool. Nathan Jones’s character, the American wrestler known as Hercules O’Brian – his match with the transformed Huo Yian-Jia is dynamic and uplifting as well as simply pleasing to the eye of one who appreciates great fight scenes. And the opening scene where Yian-Jia fights the three European champions of boxing, fencing and spear-play respectively is a masterly one in my mind.

However…what makes this movie the coolest for me is the characters and how they tranform throughout the movie. Especially, of course, the Huo character who is the roundest of them all, the most multi-dimensional. Being the main character in a martial art movie historically meant not so much that they will transform throughout the movie or learn something, but that, by the end of the film that will have either suffered a noble and cathartic death or finally have smitten their foe who did them wrong in the beginning of the movie. Granted, this is a very Western sort if mindset, that a movie must have multi-facted characters and a plotline that has emphasis. Chinese martial arts movies are very much focused on the action and the characters and plot are secondary.

The themes touched upon in the various scenes are dynamic and personal, and metaphorically rich and beautiful. There is a scene with Anno Tanaka’s character (the Japanese karate master whom Yian-Jia fights at the end of the movie) in which Huo Yian Jia and Tanaka sit at a table drinking tea, simply to greet and get to know each other before their big fight at the tournament. Tanaka chides Huo for not knowing his various teas, the difference between the higher quality and the lower quality ones, and the different flavors’ merits and weaknesses. Yian-Jia politely retorts that he does, but simply chooses not to care about the various differences. He explains to the Karate master that tea is tea, and that the differences depend on the mood of the drinker of the tea. They then mutually analogize this topic to the differences in martial arts.

“The way I see it is…they are no high or low martial arts, there are only good and bad martial arts practioners,” Yian-Jia says to Tanaka.

“…I’ve never really looked at it that way,” Tanaka reflects back.

There are other scenes that are arguably more important than this one in the larger frame of life-context. The one I speak of takes place in the countryside, wherein the drifter Huo Yian-Jia, after his entire family – his mother and his daughter- is killed by the godson of the man Huo Yian-Jia killed, the reknowned puglist master Qin – over something as petty as adultery with Qin’s concubine and one of Huo’s “students”. Huo becomes disillusioned after all of this about life and martial arts, and walks from the province of Tianjin to the countryside. He becomes swallowed and mired in his despair and desparing nostalgia, and almost drowns in his sadness. He is saved from a literal drowing in the river by some villagers. Of course, this is where the love interest must come in, as per usual. Though, even this love interest is pretty unique in many ways. For one thing, Yuechi, or Moon in the American release, and Huo Yian-Jia don’t even make any moves on each other, which I appreciate for aesthetic reasons. Yuechi has been blind since she was a child, but she claims to see “everything beside her heart.” Whether this is truwe or not, my reading into this whole section of the movie is that Yuechi and by extension, the whole village is the second teacher of Huo Yian-Jia and he learns how to love and be compassionate to others. He then extends this love and compassion to Tianjin and his Jin Wu martial arts federation later on, when he unties the different clans of martial arts together.

Oh man, but back to the village! This is the good stuff, right here. The scene when Yian-Jia is doing farm work, planting seedlings in neat rows with the other farmhands, is beautiful. He makes the farmwork a competition by racing the others, but when the cool summer wind blows, lo! the villagers have learned to enjoy life. Their hands outstretch and in unison, they are all feeling that wind, enjoying the breeze’s coolness. The virile Yian-Jia continues to plant his seedlings so he can win.

Later on, Yuechi dutifully redoes his sloppy fieldwork in the evening. He then learns the first lesson of his new life: There is more to life than being the best. Then, when he joins Yuechi out of guilt to help redo his work, she says wih a smile:

“Seedlings are living things too. Like people. If they’re planted to close, they won’t have room to grow healthy and strong. People need their space and to be treated with respect.”

“…I’ll keep that in mind,” Huo reflects back.

When Huo Yian-Jia decides that he is ready to leave, Yuechi already knows.

“I need to discuss something wih you, Yuechi,” says Yian-Jia.

“You’re leaving the village?” she resonds plainly.

She understands and packs some clothes and food for him. He tells her that he didn’t ever tell her his real name, and she responds with a smile, I will always know you as piggy. (His nickname is Piggy in the village because he slept a lot while he convalesced in the house. A child gave him this name because he slpet as much as the swine he fed everyday.)

“My name is Huo Yian-Jia”.

When he fianlly leaves, she sheds tears. He says he would be back to visit, but at the end of the movie, he is poisoned by Tanaka’s dilomat Mr. Mita, and he dies after he wins the tournament.

This movie is more than Enter the Dragon or Fists of Fury. While Bruce Lee, to me, is basically Huo Yian-Jia ( the actual one) for America’s late 20th century – he is that important and that good of a martial artist – and his greatest and most important movies were necessary and important for the time period, Fearless takes it a step further. Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon are tales of catharic revenge and justice, and Bruce Lee’s charisma shines blindingly into the eyes of all those who say “Asian men are the eastern sickmen”; still, I like Fearless more because of its many-layered characters, themes of pride vs.humilty, nationalism and compassion for yourself and others, and actually now as I’m writing this, it could have even been better if longer, if the story of Yuechi and Yian-Jia was fleshed out even more. In my opinion, Ronny Yu was too eager to show scenes of nationalistic pride and probably does not share my views on the importance of that relationship between Yian-Jia and the blind but all-seeing woman who is Betty Sun’s character, Yuechi.

I mean, this movie takes a step towards Wong Kar Wai’s concept, and takes a step towards the Westernization of Chinese films which the Shaw brothers did not forsee or try out, but doesn’t quite make it. It didn’t capitalize on the themes it flirted with. But I commend the step. Verily, it is a going under, an overture to commend the higher man, as Nietzche would say – the higher man being the transformed Huo Yian- Jia, and the going under a literal drowning in a river, and the innermost struggle to find himself in a peaceful village.

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A Timely interview with Malcolm X, on Willie’s Cafe Radio

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WH: Hello everyone, my name is William “Willie” Hanslick, and I am deeply honored and thrilled to have with me in the studio today, a Mr. Malcolm X. How are you doing today, Mr. X?

X: I’m  doing well, quite well, thank you Willie.

WH: Well, that’s good to hear, Mr.X. I find it strange to keep calling you “Mr. X”, however.

X: Oh, I don’t mind at all, Willie. Please do. Until the white man gives me back my name, my culture, and my rights – what is rightfully mine, in other words – my true name will be unknown. And so “X” is the easiest and most efficient way to call a man with no name. It is X, for Xeno, which means “stranger”.

WH: Hence, the well known term Xenophbia, the fear of strangers.

X: Yes. Xenophobia is a word that describes the moral collective psyche today, Mr. Hanslick. A fear of all things unknown. Well, I am unknown to the white man. He doesn’t know me at all, nor do I know him, and until his shackles are voluntarily or involuntarily loosed or broken from our wrists and ankles and minds, we all – black men as well as white men – will not be free.

WH: I want you to talk about your lack of a name further, Mr. X. Why do you say such a thing, if your parents in Omaha had the name: “Little”, then wouldn’t that, by default, make your name, Little, as well?

X: Not at all, Mr. Hanslick. My name given to me by my naive father was given to him by his naive father, who was given to him by my great grandfather. and so on and so forth, right down to my ancestors who were forcibly taken from their homeland. The name my father passed down to me was given to him along the bloodline from his ancestor’s slavemaster, and my father didn’t know any better. I have chosen to take an anonymous stance rather than a false one, because to me, mystery is always more true and more real than farce.

WH: But your name, in the legal documents is Little –

X: Legal documents are papers prescribed by the law that the back man and the brown man had no say in. Only whites had say in the laws back in my time. I believe it is different for you now in 2016. There are women and Asians and Blacks and Latinos in the senate and there was even a black president! This was great to find out. Though I hear tell – after I got out of the time machine, I thought it was 1930 again when I heard someone say in passing that the Ku Klux Klan had endorsed the now current president of the United States. And I was like, ‘did the time machine work? What happened?’ In any case, the rule of law might be different now, but the moral and ethical atmosphere of Amerikkka has stayed the same, especially in the south, it seems.

WH: Can you talk about what might happen in the future, Malcolm?

X: I’m no prophet or psychic, Mr. Hanslick. I can only watch and intuit what will happen. I see racism has put on a new mask over the past several decades. But now I believe that racism again has finally shed its winter coat, and the chickens have come home to roost, and the wolves and the foxes have come to eat them. There are no tricks. There is blatancy in the slaughter. I think that people will see Amerikkka’s greatest evils as what they are, and not in their disguised forms any longer. So people will finally know who their friends are and will know who dislikes them.The evil has come back to the surface, I believe.

WH: I know there has been a lot of shootings of African Americans in the past years. Obviously, this is not the thing you would have liked to seen, and I’m sure your friend and contemporary Martin Luther King Jr. would agree. How can you compare the 1960’s civil rights movement and prior to the political climate of today?

X: It is like Ursala said in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Time does not move in a linear line, it moves cyclically. The proof is in the pudding, Willie.

If America is ever to become a purely peaceful nation, untainted with the cancer of racism, then we need to do our research and stay informed. I’ve heard that America’s new president raped a thirteen year old girl. If the allegations are true, clearly we don’t care about any of our beautiful children’s well-being, girls or boys, black or asian or white, etc. He wants to deport the Mexican immigrants? He will have to learn how to survive without eating a single bean, without a single piece of bread or vegetable for four to eight years, if he is successful. Because without them, we will starve, as they currently tow the fields and make the crops. As one of your contemporary DJs has expressed: America is not riding on a white stallion like Napoleon Bonaparte, in the glorified picture of our nation. In that picture – if verisimilitude is significant at all – we would be riding on the back of an old Mexican lady. Because they make all the food for us.

WH: I can only imagine the frustration that you feel, Malcolm. You and Martin’s sacrifices must seem in vain, Angela Davis’ time in prison, all the painstaking work you’ve done to learn to read and write – it is correct you’re self-taught at literacy?

X: That is correct.

WH: Do you consider it moot, now?

X: No, I don’t really believe so. I believe that my work was not in vain. You all have great technology in order to access the information necessary to stay informed. Our movement, and the movement of the peaceful protests of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., can now be made known to teenage girls and boys from all walks of life and all races. Why, I bet you a young Chinese American man is typing up the transcript of this, our interview as we speak right here today, I will put money on the table that he is doing so!

And so you see, I am not so pessimistic about the future. Exposure is a key element to undermining evil in a society.

WH: Malcolm, one last thing before you go. And I want to vmake it clear that I am not pulling your leg: What is your greatest regret as a spokesman for Afro-American unity, as a former member of the Nation of Islam, and as an activist?

X: (After thinking a bit) I regret not spending more time with my family. I do not point the finger at anyone, least of all my parents, but my Father was murdered when I was six, and my mother confined to the  sterile confinements a mental institiuion when I was thirteen. I was an orphan. I believe, back in my time, that I have little longer to live. I no longer have any opportunity to ea,k away from Allah’s work now. But I do regret not going to my daughter’s basketball games, or meeting their boyfriends, or sitting down with them and asking them what they did at school every day. I would like everyone to have that opportunity one day, if they so chose to take advantage of it.

WH: IT’s been a pleasure. Malcolm X, everyone.

Say tuned for next week’s broadcast. I have a guest on Willie’s Cafe that will show you the great modifications I made to our new time machine. The one and only inventor of Tai Chi, Zhang San Feng, will joining us on Willie’s Cafe. This is brought to you in part by the James Joyce Association for the Arts, where the Status Quo is little fly on the Wall, and in part by Mystery Meats, the Non profit corporation for controversial people’s dissemination of thoughts and ideas across the nation and the globe. Only here on 107.5 the End in San Francisco! Stay tuned for some King Sunny Ade!

King Sunny Ade

An Interview with Friedrich Nietzche, on Wille’s Cafe radio

I-And so, we are sitting here today with the renowned writer of philosophy, Mr. Friedrich Nieztche. Mr. Nietzche, how are you today? Would you like some water?”

FN-Oh please, sir, Mr. Nietzche was my father’s name. Call me Freddy.”

I-Okay, then. Freddy!

FN-Could I actually have a glass of rootbeer? The studies all show that sasparilla is rife with antioxidants for the overman’s nutrition.

I-That’s all very well, Fred, that’s all very well. We’ll brew you a nice cup of old fashioned rootbeer for you. So, Freddy, you’ve been called – now, pardon me for opening this can of worms so early in our little chat here – you’ve been called arrogant and even preposterous by some of your critics in the literary circle…Now, do these claims seem fair to you, I guess I would ask you: what would you say to these people?

FN-Well, first and foremost, sir, I would say that every claim has some context to it. This claim, too, has context. With that in mind, I think it would be preposterous to call them out without knowing said context. Basically, I would have to ask them what they meant.

I mean, wouldn’t you want to know too, if you were called preposterous? Verily, those who are wisest know everything. And to know everything is a great burden. Everything hidden and invisible is now visible, which is both beautiful and an ugly truth-a horrible burden to bear. I would still advocate for knowledge, even if the truth be hard to bear. Such is the will of the overman. Thus spoke me, just now – ah! Could you put some ice in that? Thanks so much.

I-Well, Mr. Nietzche, I would certainly want to have the context told to me, ifI was called arrogant and outlandish, yes. Your language in your book,.the book for None and All, as you subtitled it: Thus Spoke Zarathustra – seems to use metaphor to the extreme, so much so, that to some people, it would go over their heads and make them seems like they’re reading an allegorical sort of poem. Tell me, Mr. Nietzche, were you intending to confuse your readers with poetic language?

FN-Please, call me Freddy. No, not at all! I would say that my allegorical language, as you call it, is a mechanism to make my readers undertand the conntent even more. You see, this book was subtitled None and All because it is indeed a book for all. Or none, if no one has the patience to read it. If I ommitted the imagistic quality of the language and simply wrote in abstract conceptual ideas, only a select few would be able to read the book, and that, I do not want. Plus, all philosophers think in images. It’s not only in our blood, but we understand that images are the most powerful form of word, that a picture is worth a thousand, nay, a million words, and that all people are poets first and analyzers second.

I-Well, we certainly appreciate the images that you have in the book, whether we understand the concepts alluded to or not. A lot of them are very, very beautiful.

I want to talk a little about your conception of women in Zarathustra, Freddy. To some in the 21sat century, the remarks you made about women would seem sexist, mysoginistic, and some are even comparing them to a certain presidential candidate’s own views on women.

FN-Now, see, I think that’s a little unfair. And here’s why: when Donald Trump calls his own daughter a “piece of ass” and says he might want to date a girl like her, this has no context whatsoever, and has no frame of reference besides his own perverted state of mind. When Zarathustra speaks of women being “incapable of friendship”, but only capable of love, and are merely “cats and birds”, or at best, “cows”, he will only say such words with a meaning or purpose or context behind them. It is a complex, intricate context. And no, the context is not: women are cows because they look like them, or are passive and mute. In this particular speech of Zarathustra, On the Friend, there is a deeper complexity to what he is saying. Plus, I was born in a time where the social mores differed from those of today. But the Donald says his daughter is a”piece of ass” most likely because deep down inside, he thinks his daughter is hot. And that’s all there is to that.

I- (Laughing) Certainly bold words need to have some reasoning behind them, especially if they will spark controversy, and if one says something, they better back it up with facts or at least context. As always, Freddy, your words incite passion and curiosity, and so do your words on the air, thank you so much for being here. Your time is very much appreciated.

FN-Thank you so much for having me, Willie.

I-So, that was Mr. Friedrich Nietzche on his book for None and All, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Coming up next, here is a tune by A Tribe Called Quest. They have a new album coming out, the first one they’ve released in 19 years! I recommend listening to these guys if you love the classic gold oldies hip-hop. Once again, I’m William “Willie” Hanslick, I hope you tune in next time to Willie’s Cafe on 107.5, The End in Sacramento, 103.5 the Bomb in Salinas, and V101.1 in San Francisco, this is your place for Non-Profit radio and defineitely not all the greatest pop singles of the 21st century, ad-nauseum. We’re coming back after some short messages with the one and only Malcolm X, don’t you touch that dial!

A Tribe Called Quest – Check the Rhime

A Letter Inside Nothing Afterward

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Dear       “_____”,

What good will this do? In hindsight, all is lost, and the present that was given to me is now lost. My chance to go deeper has passed by like a ship on the sea.

What words haven’t been said that can now be written? I think you know this too: but a fundamental problem that I have and have had for all time since embryonic form is that I write a thousand times better than I speak. I know why now: It is because, in writing, I have a thousand chances to say what is in my heart, and a thousand more chances to change what I have just said. In speech, however, I have one chance – and only one – to say what is in my heart. How can you ask me to do that? I’m not Steph Curry: I’m not that clutch…

Nor did the time allotted for me to develop such a feeling allow me to say such a phrase as “I care about you”, or even a “I love you.” I’m simply not the type of guy to outright say that. You understand it’s not my lack of being able to, per say, because my musical passion proves that I have feelings, so, there is no other way to interpret my actions (or lack thereof) than by interpreting them as lack of feeling for you altogether.

Maybe it’s true, or maybe not. I believe that time is the master, father time will teach us everything. Because what is time? Nothing but a veil, a label, to describe the invisible but ineluctable existence of change itself. That’s all it is. My feelings could have changed. Or, rather, they could have grown, from something shallow and small, to something deep and large and as resplendent as the sea. But now, we’ll probably never know…

Even though you’ve told me with your woman’s conviction that I only liked “the idea of you”, this doesn’t mean that it will be true for all time. Who really knows though? I used to take it for granted as we all do, but I now know that a woman’s intuition is one of the most powerful forces of the universe. Especially yours. Because of it, mine grows stronger every day.

I may be interested in your looks; and I may have been attracted to your looks when I first laid eyes on you, but I knew nothing else beforehand. I am infatuated, nevertheless, with the idea of love, and in the truest sense. Maybe, it’s not the idea of you being pretty, but the idea of love, that I liked. But really, only time can really tell. Or, in other words, change and action spurring inertia to get off its lazy recliner.

Do you, even you, know what love is, and more importantly, what love takes? Like, how much time it takes for it to even exist? At least for me, it takes a tremendous amount of time.

I believe that I have always lacked patience. I know that about myself now. I am no longer in the dark, in denial. I am working industrially and economically, with every fiber of my being to craft a more patient self out of the marble of flailing turmoil that is my mind. Not in order to impress you, but to make my life easier. Time is the greatest gift precisely because it is the only gift. This life is too precious too waste and to be idle. We can’t afford to spend time people who want (or don’t know they want) to squander it for their temporal “desires”.

Another thing that I am astonished about you, is that you can understand that fact in the first place. That you can even have a conception of wasted time and shallow people is astonishing to me, and gives me back my faith in humanity. The industry and conviction of a human. The will to be compassionate. And, like I said, before, it is even more astonishing and wonderful that such a pretty girl could reach such a level of wisdom at such a young age!

This wisdom of yours can tell you many things, my dear friend. But can it enlighten you to the point of psychic abilities?

You said something which made me think. That the idea of you – a pretty girl – being my girlfriend was more appealing to me than you – the entire you. That your image elevated my status in the eyes of others. Being my ultimately submissive self, I had to agree, wholeheartedly. And I still believe there was grains of truth in the statement.I do. My esteem for you was, and still is, strong. It wasn’t merely my own awareness I bowed down to. It was my appreciation for your intelligence and respect for you that broke me.

I know that you gave me a chance to redeem myself. I know this now. But tell me, how could I retrieve something from the depths of my heart when something that deep can only germinate and then grow after a long period of time? The time I am talking about takes more than a year. I know that in our society, time is compressed. “If you’re not first, you’re last”, Ricky Bobby’s Dad once said in Talladega nights. Well, so be it. It’s already been longer than most people my age. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that i am a late bloomer. This is alright. As long as I finish at all, it will be alright.

But, this doesn’t mean that time passed is time wasted. You see, if a guy falls in love with a girl and remains in love for eleven years, (nothing ever coming to fruition because of a unique mixture of pride, cowardice, and coyness), then a matter of three years i will estimate will at least have to pass before those kinds of feelings express themselves.

Of course, “i” realize that you probably don’t want to wait so long. But, I don’t know. Many of the things you said were so vague that I have no choice but to ponder them, as I am now. you do know that life is short, and that five years taught you something, probably a great deal about people. That’s why you have the gall to teach me, your elder by several years! You were right every time, of course, and I will be the first to admit that.

The compulsion to write this manifested itself before I went to work this morning at 6:45 a.m. I wanted to write it so bad, that I wrote some notes down in my little brown journal during work on the times in which business was slow, so that my ideas wouldn’t leave me like fly-by lovers, like so many dry leaves in Autumn. I wanted to write these down and then put my little blog, so that i may indirectly tell you all this. You say you block everyone off for want of privacy and peace of mind. If you’re telling the truth, then I not only respect and understand that, but I love that about you. But, I feel like Maurice Ravel, alone in his study with his kittens, composing long letters to the woman he’ll never see again; I feel like Levin, wondering how to approach Kitty on the ice rink; I feel like a baby bird who fell out of his nest on the eve of Spring. I feel abandoned and confused, even though your explanation was as transparent and as clear as a wiped window and a clear summer’s day beyond it at my grandpa’s old house in Sonoma.

But your objectivity… This always baffled me. It was as clear and as cold as bitter chill in Chicago’s winter. It always complimented my powerful sort of artistic subjectivity well. My passion. What you know of my passion is analogous to how well a mother knows her son’s desire for chocolate chip cookies. But I will ask you this: Do you really know how much I long for those cookies? Or in what way – why I love them so much? Yes, my passion is my music. Yes, my dedication to the development of my craft is evidence of that. But are you not merely a forensic scientist examining her evidence and making indirect, objective conclusions based on them? Or do you truly know?

You know, I wouldn’t doubt the latter. You’re that perceptive.

But, if not, then I wouldn’t doubt that either. My passion is life. I love my well-being more than my music or my writing. those exist to serve life. Not the other way around. If my music or writing functions to drive me to utter loneliness or insanity or even death, then I consider every note I play moot, and every word I’ve ever written worthless, because they ended up killing me. To leave me be so I may pursue these passions by myself is laudable, I agree, but i would rather not. Every time I draw my bow across the strings of my bass would be like dragging it across drying mud; every word that I write with my pen is drenched in delirium and pointless gravitas. And yes, i am ashamed to think this – and am ashamed of my own shame – but I still believe that art, throughout the ages and still – is a poor substitute for real satisfaction in each artists’ life.

In any case, this whole “letter” is meant to serve as a metaphor. I’m sorry if it offends you, if you ever read it. Like I said, matters of the heart, especially for me, take time, tremendous amounts of time.

Take care, and good luck finishing school,

Miles