Over on Kung Fu Cinema forum this week, Drunken Monk started a thread about kung fu movie collector cliches. There's a few amusing observations on there about fans of the genre, but it got me thinking about one aspect of my behaviour that can probably be described as a 'personal cliche'.
The cliche I have in mind is this: I'm a Pokemon collector.
Get a grip, daft lad. I don't possess a single card, figurine or novelty lunch box adorned with Nintendo's famous cash cow. What the hell am I on about, then?
I'll elaborate. Let's use the phrase differently. I'm a 'Pokemon-style' collector.
By which I mean, 'I gotta catch em all.'
I'm talking about kung fu movies. Of course, to aim to collect every single martial arts movie ever made is a lofty, probably unachievable aim. No, I'm not talking about that. I'm referring to my own personal penchant for thematic collecting.
When I first started out collecting kung fu movies, I would buy or trade almost anything. I still will. But my kung fu fandom to date has been characterised by collecting in themed chunks, whereby I identify something I like and try to grab everything related.
The first time this happened was when I discovered Vengeance Video dvd releases. In little over a year, I had the entire set. I love the low quality of the covers; the pictures on the front, the shoddy English on the back, and the hit-and-miss nature of the films themselves. I was like a man possessed - I just had to have every single release. That went for the Rarescope releases, too, and the US-only releases. Even stuff like Born to Fight was sought, bought and placed in numerical order (by the numbers on the box spine) on the shelf. Normally, I wouldn't buy Born to Fight, but it's a Rarescope - and I gotta catch em all.
The same tale was played out with Hollywood East, Pegasus video and Firefly releases. There's very few I haven't got. I was even so lax as to fail to check 'akas' to avoid owning two copies of Cantonen Iron Kung Fu.
Surely that's just me being a weird hoarder of tat then? Not necessarily. DVD brand releases aren't the only aspect of kung fu collecting that I acquire in thematic chunks. I've also gone through phases of ordering blocks of films by style and by star. I ordered a load of Tien Peng wuxia films in quick succession. Shapes classics. Yasuaki Kurata films. Wilson Tong-choreographed movies. Shaw Celestial releases. Recently, I've been enjoying early-to-mid 1970s bashers, so I've been making lists from Hong Kong Movie Database about the 1972-1975 films of Barry Chan, Chen Sing, Charles Heung, Nik Cheung, Chan Wai Man and San Kuai. I see something, I like it, I want as much as I can related to it.
I'm keen to stress here that if other films from other stars in different styles became available, I'd still get them. Even in the most intense periods of thematic acquisition, I still received films not related to the flavour-of-the-month. I'm not that stupid. However, the phases of interest I go through are most definitely a personal cliche. If I'm watching a film and enjoy a style, performance or the choreography, I find myself split between excitement at the thought of discovering more of the same, and sighing at my narrow-minded predictability. I just know that if I watch a Japanese samurai film and enjoy it, that'll be the next Pokemon session.
There's frustrations too. Sometimes the object of obsession is incomplete. During my early Hwang Jang Lee collect-a-thon, I realised that the existing print of Canton Viper is bloody awful, with no English subtitles or dub. Yet, it's one of his best performances. Until Houndslow Team finish their project of translating a better print, I'm stuck. At least with that, though, there's light at the end of the tunnel. What about if I wanted to collect the complete works of Judy Lee, Carter Wong or Jimmy Wang Yu? Where the hell am I going to get The Magic Ring, Mr Kwong Tung and the Robber, and Tiger Boy? I'm really opening myself up here to future angst, yet I can't help it. Respect for the stars, styles and films of the genre mean that I just want to see everything they did, even when it's not possible. I can dream, I suppose.
I blame Godzilla. When I got into those films, they were easy to track down and complete. It lured me into a false sense of achievability. Little did I know when I first caught the kung fu bug that there'd be scores of lost, unbelieveably rare, unsubtitled/undubbed, awful-quality-print films out there to tease and taunt me with their inaccessiblity and unwatchability.
In the meantime I'll just have to both enjoy and carefully manage this particular obsessive personality trait. I don't break down into a blubbering wreck if I can't get a film starring Tien Ho. It's a bit deflating, but it doesn't matter. I'll be onto another star next month! And it never gets in the way of enjoying the films.
Wow, Iron Fisted Eagle's Claw was good. Now, what else has Bruce Liang done..?