Many Americans got their first real taste of martial arts when The Karate Kid
debuted in 1986; connoisseurs got their first taste in 1973 with Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.
But even then, Americans were late to the scene: China’s tradition of martial arts
films dates back to the 1920s, and the great grandmother of them all was Chin
Tsi-Ang. Hers is an underdog story worthy of Lee and Ralph Macchio’s Daniel-san.
Chin began her training in 1917 at the age of eight. Disguised as a boy
since few teachers allowed girls to train, she had already earned their respect by the time they saw through her
disguise. Still a teenager when she
starred in her first film, Swordswoman of Huangjiang, Chin became a
star after making several more — all of which are now lost. Her marriage to
director Hung Chung-Ho was a fusion of creative talent, generating seven
children as well a production company, Sanxing Films.
Following huge setbacks
in the early ’60s — the death of her husband, and the loss of their company to
the Chinese government — she returned to the screen in 1967 and helped usher
in the new wave of martial arts films that already had Bruce Lee hard at work.
Chin Tsi-Ang died last fall in Hong Kong, at
the age of 98. Her grandson, Sammo Hung, has continued the family tradition of
martial arts stardom, having worked in films and television on both sides of
the ocean for decades.
These days, martial arts are more common in American films than ever before;
this year over 18 million Americans will spend some time on real-life training of their
own. The Karate Kid and Enter the Dragon were steps
we took on a path that leads into the past as well as the future. Like
Daniel-san and Lee — and Chin Tsi-Ang before them — we’re prepared to
take this as far as it goes.
See them both tonight, February 27. Enter the Dragon airs at 8; The Karate Kid tonight at 10 . For a complete schedule click here.