The Jakarta Post
At 67, martial arts film legend David Chiang still embodies the benefits of practicing traditional Chinese kung fu.
Chiang, born Chiang Wei-nien in Shanghai, still looked fit ' and at least 20 years younger than his actual age ' during a recent visit to Jakarta to promote the screenings of his four classic films on the Celestial Classic Movies channel, available only through Indovision cable service.
'I am very happy to know that my movies are featured by Celestial Classic. This is my first time visiting Indonesia and I cannot wait to meet with classic Hong Kong movie lovers here. It is really a pleasant surprise to know that there are fans of Mandarin films in Indonesia,' Chiang said.
The films presented are four of Chiang's most iconic movies: The Heroic Ones, The Generation Gap, The New One-Armed Swordsman and Vengeance.
The movies earned Chiang numerous awards, such as the 1970 best actor award at the 16th Asian Film Festival in 1970 and the 1973 'most contemporary' award for his part in The Generation Gap.
The movies have been a major part of Chiang's life.
'I have been involved in the industry since I was a child, maybe way back before 1963. My parents were also actors, so my involvement in the industry was not really accidental,' he said.
Chiang debuted in a film when he was four years old. His kung-fu skills then earned him a job as a stuntman and a fight instructor for action movies in Hong Kong.
It was legendary director Chang Cheh who first spotted Chiang's charisma and talent, recruiting Chiang to become an actor and giving him 'David' as a stage name.
Unlike other kung-fu stars of the time, Chiang does not have the hardened facade of a trained warrior, presenting a handsome and soft face. He displays solid kung-fu moves and strong acting chops, setting him apart as a performer.
Chiang and Cheh set up a production company called Chang's Scope Company in 1973, securing a deal with Run Run Shaw to have their films distributed through the legendary producer's extensive network of television channels. It was during this time that Chiang also tried directing, producing and scriptwriting.
In 2004, Chiang was inducted into The Avenue of Stars, located along the Victoria Harbour waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. To date he has performed in 137 movies and 43 drama serials.
As an icon in the movie industry, Chiang said that he believed the promotion of classic kung-fu movies was urgent in order to revive the interest of the young generation in the traditional Chinese martial arts.
'Promoting these films are very important ' not just for me but for the younger generation as well so that they know what old-school kung fu is all about,' Chiang said.
Kung fu became a global cultural phenomenon when Bruce Lee, who Chiang considered his 'favorite kung-fu practitioner', displayed his unique Jeet Kune Do style in movies like Game of Death during the 1970s.
The rising fame of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, following Royce Gracie's success in winning the inaugural Ultimate Fighing Championship (UFC) event using the practice, and mixed martial arts (MMA) in general have seen kung fu, the practice that has been giving enormous mental and physical benefits through its rigorous routines for more than a millennium, lose its appeal among martial arts enthusiasts.
The declining popularity of kung fu affects movies as well. Fewer and fewer martial arts movies are produced, and those that do reach the screen usually boast special effects generated through digital enhancements instead of the actors really doing the moves and the actions.
'Movies which feature real traditional kung-fu moves have not been very popular in recent years due to the enhancement of technology,' Chiang said. 'Audiences now prefer special effects. This situation really saddens me.'
'I have to say that nowadays, there are very few Chinese youngsters who are genuinely interested in practicing kung fu,' Chiang said. 'There is every reason to be optimistic, however, as regular tournaments are still available. Hopefully, kung fu will regain its fame.'