Trick or hiiiiii-ya!

Alicia Bessette

Martial arts movies are an unapologetically over-the-top art form, and I deeply appreciate them. Jackie Chan’s one of my favorite kung fu stars. When I watch him spinning like a cyclone to ward off a gang of axe-wielding thugs, I feel grateful and empowered. Performers like Chan promulgate potent ideas — namely, that justice really does prevail, and that evil is instantly recognizable, and can be defeated with cheesy humor and a flying knee to the face. It’s Chan’s utter concentration that wows me. The timing and flow, the here-and-now urgency, creative solutions to a life-or-death dilemma, and — most of all — laughter in the face of danger.

Those who know my softer side seem to find my indulgence in martial arts films either amusing or downright perplexing. I practice yoga; compose airy songs for piano; and write gentle characters. And yet I insist on seeing Tony Jaa movies on opening night, and Matt and I usually leave the theater fake-elbowing each other and screeching, “Hiiii-ya!” That an apparent peacenik like me is a fan of Muay Thai boxing seems the ultimate contradiction.

Just as the beatific Seane Corn balances on her hands with ease and grace, so, too, Jackie Chan achieves absolute mastery of body and mind in close-combat scenes. Of course, his dazzling heroics are pure movie magic. He’s not really beating up misogynists, thieves, murderers, drug-lords, and other assorted bad guys. But that’s part of the thrill: the illusion he creates is so convincing, it makes us cringe, laugh, and root him on.

Martial arts films and Halloween draw from the same aspect of make-believe. We can open the door to the trick-or-treater wielding a plastic knife and a scary mask, knowing it’s innocent fun, an expression of the yang. We can file out of the movie theater without a scratch.

According to Halloween’s pagan roots, the veil that separates the dead from the living becomes very thin, so thin as to allow us contact with loved ones passed. Rules that govern every other day don’t apply. The dead might walk, and if they do, candles in pumpkins will light their way. In this sense Halloween honors themes of the greatest stories ever told: love, chance, fear, adventure, danger, reverence, fate, mystery, mortality, and courage. As do the most farcical martial arts movies, by embracing the idea that dancing with death is, in effect, celebrating life.

~Alicia Bessette

14 Replies to “Trick or hiiiiii-ya!”

  1. Wow! Bessette throws a curve ball for a strike.
    They don’t celebrate Halloween here in Iquitos, but they do celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Families go to the cemetery to place flowers on graves and have headstones re-painted (this is how Grippa got his start).
    Maybe I’ll carve a Jackie Chan pumpkin.

  2. I like these movies, too, Alicia! I haven’t seen a Jackie Chan movie in a long time, but now I want to, soon.

    I love “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” for its blend of romance and ass-kicking.

  3. Ooh, what I could use for a little of that martial arts focus in my writing right now!
    Is there really humor in Jackie Chan movies? If so I’ll check it out. I have to say, even though I don’t even kill bugs, I LOVE me some TErminator/Die Hard-style movies.

  4. Beautiful, simply beautiful! Martial arts movies and Halloween, not two things I would ever think of in the same thought, but you have found a way to allow connection. I love the notion of the candles in the pumpkins lighting the way for the dead, and I love the last line, “dancing with death is celebrating life.” So true!

    And you talk about the contradictions. Being a walking contradiction, I can completely relate…the metalhead yogi…. It’s all about balance, isn’t it? Finding a way to lovingly honor all parts of the Self. We are a culmination of every aspect of humanity, and those “other” pieces that are still a part of us albeit smaller, have to be allowed space and honored as well.

    Thanks for making me think in a different way and for getting me in the Halloween spirit. I am a huge Stephen Chow fan; I’m sure KUNG FU HUSTLE is on somewhere!

    Enjoy Halloween and the hiii-ya!

  5. Since this is about Halloween, I have to say that my favorite horror movie of all time is the original Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis! I still sleep with the lights on:-) Of course, I also like the Scream series and the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, When a Stranger Calls, etc etc etc. I love to scare myself to death! That’s why I ride roller coasters and would only read The Exorcist after dark and alone. Then I imagine every creak as the ax murderer in the hallway. I really don’t like Halloween! I steal home. Turn off all the lights. Eat by candlelight. All to avoid the “trick or treat!” brigades:-) In my mind, that’s legalized extortion.

  6. Hi Alicia!

    Coincidentally, a friend of mine just sent me a little blurb about the Day of the Dead, which explained: “The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.”

    I like to imagine doing fake ninja kicks and backflips with my “departed” loved ones. Doesn’t get more celebratory than that…

  7. As far as the martial-arts thing goes, I’m a big fan of the new-agey Chinese films a la “crouching tiger”, “hero”, etc. They are just visually stunning in a way that is, as a “western” audience member, alien and exotic to me. There are few movie moments burned into my psyche, and one of them includes the green fabric work used during the climactic final duel in “Hero”.

    Another is the final shot of the Blair Witch Project, with a certain boy standing in a certain corner of a dark room. Eeeeeeeeeek!!!

    I’m hoping the weather tonight allows me to pursue my traditional halloween practice. I like to go out late, after all the trick or treaters are gone, and enjoy the bracing air, jack-o-lanterns with funny, menacing, or grotesque faces, and imagine that I am keeping one step ahead of the menacing spirits joining me on the late walk. It’s a great night to feel the moodiness of nature as she retreats into hibernation.

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