Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Hall of Kung-Fu: McVicker's Masters

I was walking down Madison Street past the site of the old McVickers Theater at 25 West. In the 70s the McVick was where we got to see triple-feature Kung Fu and Blaxploitation films for $1.50 and $2.00. In the 1980s I would have an office in the Chicago Building on State and Madison.

I ran into yet another acquaintance from those martial arts days. George, whose name I did not remember, reminded me about how people would get into fights during these really badly done films. The excitement was just too much for some people, it seems.

We called the joint McVicker's Masters Hall of Gung-fu back in those days. Some folks came to see the films, some came to be IN the films. The inherent contradictions were sometimes resolved by a beat-down. "Southside Boxing" tended to reign supreme in those situations. No real masters hung out at Kung-fu movies all day, right?

There were few of these Hong Kong films I grew to love. I liked 5 fingers of Death, but it was more for the curiosity than quality. It was not until Brice Lee came along that the action got more exciting and stylish in Hong Kong films for my taste.

I was wild about the chambara films presented at the monthly Japanese Cinema screenings. Omar Kaihatsu, a Japanese American Insurance salesman, did the programming at Francis Parker High School , an independent private school on the North Side that had 35mm projectors in the auditorium.

Kaihatsu-san played the best of the Samurai Cinema as well as classic Japanese arts films and family films like Tora-San. I usually had to sit through the occasionally enjoyable, tear-laden Toro-san film series to get to Zatoichi's madcap bloodletting adventures.

This is where I saw Kurosawa's Sanshiro Sugata and Masaki Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion.

I saw Shohei Imamura's Vengence is Mine and Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes, all are films that influenced the ways in which I saw and interpreted cinema.

I was always disappointed that the Hong Kong films of the late seventies never matched the Japanese action films in look and feel. What was great about them was the scene itself. I got a real education and introduction to global cinema by going to Kaihatsu's programs. By the time Hong Kong Kung-fu came along I was throughly jaded by the stylizes images and well choreographed action of chambara.

Our conversation went back to who is still working out, teaching, alive and sane. Of course the name John Keehan arises, per usual. He asks me if I heard about this film being done about Count Dante. I guess the word is really out.

He gave me the names of some people to talk to and went on his way, but not before offering me his provate detective services should I so need them in future.

Meanwhile I have been hearing of a black Shao-lin Society based someplace on the Southside. They held an event a few months ago and I am a bit curious about them. From the description I got of the event they seem to practice a type of cultural immersion. It will be interesting to find out more about them. I put George right on it.

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