Young child playing a flute in a classic martial arts film
Stories & Ideas

Thu 16 Dec 2021

Them's fightin' words: Jason Phu on martial arts dialogues in 'Analects of Kung Phu'

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Jason Phu’s video work presents us with a guide for surviving contemporary life through the lens of martial arts films.

Aside from bareknuckle action and breakneck stunts, martial arts and wuxia films are packed with wisdom and life lessons. Artist Jason Phu has reclaimed these wise sayings and remixed them into a moving image philosophy for surviving contemporary life. Divided into chapters featuring insights and meditations from different movies, TV shows and videogames, Analects of Kung Phu: Book 1, The 69 Dialogues between the Lamp and the Shadow offers a guide to ourselves and society taught by action stars and movie heroes.

Jason Phu is the 2021 recipient of the Mordant Family Moving Image Commission for young Australian artists.

The Mordant Family Moving Image Commission for young Australian artists is created in partnership with Professor Cav. Simon Mordant AO and Catriona Mordant AM, the City of Melbourne, John Allsopp from Web Directions, and ACMI.


Jason Phu:

Enter the Dragon was one of my all time favorites of Bruce Lee I used to watch that with my dad. His sort of "watahh!" sound appears quite a bit in martial arts films. That particular sound people don't realise actually is quite unique to him.

Hi, my name is Jason Phu I was awarded the Mordant Family Moving Image Commission for my work The Analects of Kung Phu. And it's spelled with a P-H-U, so it's a little pun, tongue in cheek thing. In its rawest sense the work is montages of kung fu films and wuxia films.

So if people aren't familiar with wuxia films, they're I guess what you might call the Marvel films of ancient China. So the themes in the work for me draw on a lot of the sayings that do come from the tenets of Chinese culture which are Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism.

When you watch the work, you will realise it's actually a conversation between two people, and it shifts into whether it's a conversation between one person and their own mind, or whether it's a conversation between the viewer and the work.

But for me, I've also taken the broad sense of what martial arts and kung fu films could be and how different cultures might have referenced these films.

A lot of the imagery that I have in this work comes from films that I've mostly grown up with, like Havoc in Heaven and Drunken Master to you know contemporary favourites like Kill Bill. It's this giant compendium of wise sayings that have come from those films. For me, I've always wanted to actually move more into video, and movie because I see it as a more accessible format of art.

What I've always loved about video is that it has a language that everyone already understands because everyone watches movies and videos.

I'm hoping audiences will first and foremost enjoy the work. You know, if someone can take one of these sayings and it makes their day better or their life better or changes their perspective a little bit, then that's great as well. Yeah, just use it however they want.

Learn more about the work