To call “Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks” a documentary on martial arts films is only painting half of the picture. While the movie certainly accomplishes that feat, and admirably so, what’s really at work at its core is the examination it offers of how significant an impact martial arts has made on every aspect of entertainment, and how one development has fed into another.
With a who’s who of experts to guide viewers through the ebb and flow of the history it explores, “Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks” is a true Hall of Fame run of everything that martial arts aficionados adore.
“Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks” isn’t as much a documentary on martial arts as an entertainment genre than a dissertation on the impact of martial arts on popular culture.
Features Bruce Lee, Billy Jack, Jackie Chan and more…
The movie hits on all the points you’d expect, from the martial arts movie stone age embodied by “Billy Jack”, the rise of Bruce Lee to worldwide fame and the Shaw Brothers era, to Jackie Chan redefining everything about action, stunt work, and pain itself. Where the movie really excels however, is in the attention it gives to the lasting impact of all of these on the culture and climate they were born out of.
Jackie Chan did Parkour before Parkour!
With Bruce Lee and the era of 70’s kung fu schlock arriving, millions of African-Americans would find an unexpected paragon during the Civil Rights movement. Meanwhile, Jackie Chan’s genre-redefining approach to stunts and action filmmaking is pointed to by renown stunt coordinator Jeff Imada as the forerunner to parkour, with the movie immediately segueing to the legendary freerunner to reinforce the point.
VHS: A Trip Down Action Memory Lane
The movie touches upon other eras as well, with the rise of VHS being a trip down memory lane worthy of a documentary all on its own. The rise of B-movie stars like Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock leads right into the 21st century’s own subculture of action stars lead by the likes of Scott Adkins.
Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo Movement & YouTube with Amy Johnston & Eric Jacobus
At the same time, it also takes a turn into Billy Blanks’ creation of Tae Bo that took the world by storm in the mid-90’s. The movie also hits upon the advent of YouTube, with Amy Johnston and Eric Jacobus sharing how YouTube videos have opened doors for them that wouldn’t have even existed twenty years ago.
Covering almost any other subject matter, the movie’s approach might come off as scattershot, but in “Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks”, it’s the most comprehensive structure the movie could have taken to drive home its thesis that martial arts has found some kind of home in just about everything involving a camera or an internet connection.
Simply for the extensive collection of interviews with authors, stunt people, professional competitors, and everyone in between, “Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks” isn’t to be missed. However, what really seals the deal is just how thorough a job the movie does on cementing the spot martial arts has permanently carved out in every corner of popular culture. “Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks” is true joy for action lovers and a true rundown to remember!
- The movie was shown at the 2019 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas on September 17th, 2019.
- Scott Adkins and Cynthia Rothrock also both appear in the documentary film “In Search of the Last Action Heroes“.
- irector Serge Ou has an extensive background as a documentary filmmaker, including the docu-series “The Story of Australia”, “ANZAC Battlefields” and the documentary “Stranded”.
- “I would never have believed that Keanu Reeves would do kung fu or that a kung fu movie would win an Oscar. That just seemed impossible.” – Mike Leeder (speaking on “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”.)
- “How do you appeal to the world? Well, you make yourself the fall guy.” – Eric Jacobus (speaking on Jackie Chan.)
- “Jackie had his own style, and he used his acrobatic abilities and learned how to scale walls quickly or jump over a table and come back, slide on a table, flip over, do things like that, which to me is the precursor to parkour.” – Jeff Imada (speaking on Jackie Chan’s influence on action filmmaking.)
- “This was individuals controlling their entertainment for the first time” – Don “The Dragon” Wilson (referencing the rewind feature of VCR’s during the 90’s.)
Film Rating: 8.5/10
Have you seen “Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks”? What are your thoughts on this nostalgic love-letter to the genre of martial arts cinema and which action star from the documentary’s lineup impressed you the most?
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