Study Buddy: From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan and John Woo, how martial arts films represent Hong Kong locally and abroad

  • Hong Kong martial arts films had famous stars reflected Hong Kong attitudes over the decades and were most people’s on-screen introduction to the city and its culture
  • Use the provided pre-reading activity, comprehension questions, vocabulary practice and writing prompt to test your understanding of the article
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Hong Kong martial arts films are the city’s best known export. Bruce Lee (above) in a still from Fist of Fury. Photo: Criterion Collection

1. Pre-reading questions

1. Do you like to watch old Hong Kong martial arts films?
2. Who is your favourite Hong Kong martial arts actor or director? Why?
3. Do you think there is any hope for Hong Kong to return to its filmmaking heyday from the 1960s to the 1980s?

2. Comprehension

Read the following text and answer questions 1-18.

Source: Adapted from “From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan and John Woo, how martial arts films represent Hong Kong both locally and abroad” by Richard James Havis, South China Morning Post, 8 May 2022.


1. Which word in paragraph 1 refers to serious artistic ideas?

2. The main purpose of paragraph 2 is to …
A. explain why Hong Kong’s martial arts films were better than American Westerns.
B. show how American Westerns were better than Hong Kong’s martial arts films.
C. show how American Westerns affected Hong Kong films.
D. compare American Westerns with Hong Kong martial arts films.

3. According to paragraph 3, SCMP’s martial arts film column …
A. will focus more on local culture.
B. will focus on films from the past two years.
C. will come to an end.
D. will become more popular.

4. According to paragraph 3, what did director Lau Kar-leung focus on?

5. Find a word or phrase in paragraph 3 that has a similar meaning to “kept for future generations”.

6. In line 18, what does “its” refer to?

7. Decide whether the following statements are True, False, or the information is Not Given in paragraphs 6 and 7. Fill in only ONE circle for each statement. (4 marks)
(i) The rising tide of Chinese nationalism helped make Bruce Lee an international star.
(ii) Bruce Lee was more popular than Jacky Chan in Hong Kong.
(iii) The success of martial arts films in the early 1990s was all about mainland China from Hong Kong perspective.
(iv) Tsui Hark’s films reflected the uncertainty and confusion in Hong Kong about its place in the world.

8. Who or what does “it” (line 30) refer to?

9. Complete the following paragraph based on the information in paragraph 8 by writing ONE word in each blank below. Use the correct form of the word. (4 marks)

Hong Kong became (i) _______________ around the world because of its martial arts films. Thanks to Bruce Lee, who remains (ii) _______________ with SCMP readers even today, kung fu began to (iii) _______________ in the West starting in 1973. Foreign audiences found his (iv) _______________ of underdogs appealing.

10. The word “Tinseltown” in line 41 refers to …

A. Hong Kong.
B. Hollywood.
C. the US.
D. the West.

11. In line 49, “the genre” refers to _______________________ films.

12. In line 50, what does “The city has moved on” imply?
A. Most of the actors and directors have left.
B. Many people have left Hong Kong.
C. Hong Kong people have new interests.
D. Hong Kong people don’t like martial arts any more.

13. Find a phrase in paragraph 11 that means “there are fewer gifted actors”.

14. What is the tone of the writer in paragraph 12?
A. wistful
B. angry
C. indifferent
D. confused

15. Find a word or phrase in paragraph 12 that can be replaced by “intellectuals”.

16. Refer to paragraphs 1, 3 and 12. For each paragraph, what would be the best heading? Match the headings in the right column with paragraphs 1, 3 and 12. Two headings are NOT used. (3 marks)

17. Use the information in the article to match each famous actor or director (A to H) to their features or strengths below (i to viii). Write the letter of the person on the line next to the strength. One strength does not relate to any of the people, so choose “H. Not stated”. (8 marks)

18. How does the author feel about the end of SCMP’s weekly martial arts film column?

A. confused
B. reflective
C. neutral
D. angry

3. Vocabulary Practice

  • aspiration (n) (line 3) – strong desire to do something  
  • authentic (adj) (line 11) – real, not a copy
  • catapult (vb) (line 34) – launch something or somebody quickly
  • charisma (n) (line 22) – a powerful personal quality that some people have that attracts and impresses others
  • choreographer (n) (line 12) – a person who arranges and designs sequences of staged combat used in film
  • compendium (n) (line 60) – a concise but comprehensive summary of works
  • looming (adj) (line 27) – something serious or threatening, likely to happen soon
  • permeate (vb) (line 10) – spread through every part of something
  • phenomenal (adj) (line 2) – very great, huge, amazing
  • spearhead (vb) (line 19) – lead

Place one word from the box in each blank, using the correct form of the word.

1. A new Bruce Lee movie is currently in development, __________ and directed by his daughter, Shannon.
2. There was always a cloud __________ over our face-to-face classes – the possibility of new waves of the local outbreak of Covid-19.
3. She has written a __________ number of books, which earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
4. The news media latched onto his speech and __________ him to national prominence.
5. She was always a nature lover and talked about her __________ to become a wildlife photographer.
6. To help Michael learn more about the natural history of Scotland, Steven has shown him a __________ to give him a broader understanding of the topic.
7. He knew immediately that he was alive, because of the searing pain __________ every cubic centimetre of his body.
8. Some parts of the Hollywood star’s life story are so unbelievable that it may not be __________.
9. It’s the same impulse that drives celebrity worship: that attraction, even adoration, audiences feel toward those possessed of exceptional __________ and physical attractiveness.
10. The fight __________ job is to know when to apply and stage acrobatic moves and daring stunts in the fight scene.

4. Writing

Write about 400 words on the following topic:

You are the chairperson of your school’s Film Club. The club members are interested in organising a major film exhibition about Hong Kong’s martial arts film heyday from the 1960s to the 1980s. Some secondary schools in our neighbourhood have agreed to contribute to the project. The club members are willing to work for free. You estimate that it will cost about HK$30,000 for all the exhibition materials and online support.

Write a letter to Mr John Lee, the chairman of ABC Company, which is well known for its efforts to preserve Hong Kong’s cultural heritage, asking for a donation. Consider mentioning the exhibition’s purpose, a detailed plan, student involvement, a financial plan, the cultural value and the promotion of the company’s name and involvement. Sign your letter as Chris Wong.

Yuen Woo-ping (left) and Donnie Yen (right) on the set of Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019).


1. Pre-reading sample responses

1. Do you like to watch old Hong Kong martial arts films?

(a) Yes, I like to watch them once in a while, mainly with my parents and grandparents, since it brings back memories of their younger days.
(b) I watched many of them in the past, but I think once is enough. I prefer modern martial arts films since the camera work and choreography is so much better than in the old movies. But I respect the old Hong Kong martial arts movies for introducing me to the martial arts genre.

2. Who is your favourite Hong Kong martial arts actor or director? Why?

Bruce Lee is my all-time favourite martial arts actor. He had unbelievable speed and talent, and he almost singlehandedly made Hong Kong martial arts films a global success.

3. Do you think there is any hope for Hong Kong to return to its film-making heyday from the sixties to the eighties?

No, I think the Hong Kong market is much too small to make a difference. Films back then could be made on a very low budget, but now most films require a big investment, and they have to appeal to the huge mainland market if they are going to be successful. So it makes sense for top Hong Kong acting and directing talent to work in the mainland if they want to succeed.

2. Reading comprehension (33 marks)

1. highbrow
2. D
3. C
4. southern styles of kung fu
5. preserved for posterity
6. Hong Kong’s
7. (1) F (ii) NG (iii) T (iv) F
8. (Hong Kong) culture
9. (i) famous/popular (ii) popular (iii) boom (iv) portrayal
10. B
11. martial arts/kung fu
12. C
13. The talent pool has shrunk.
14. A
15. literati
16. (i) D (ii) B (iii) A
17. (i) A (ii) G (iii) H (iv) C (v) E (vi) F (vii) B (viii) D
18. B

3. Vocabulary practice
1. spearheaded
2. looming
3. phenomenal
4. catapulted
5. aspiration(s)
6. compendium
7. permeating
8. authentic
9. charisma
10. choreographer’s

4. Writing sample letter (452 words)

Dear Mr Lee

The Film Club at my school would like to organise a cultural heritage exhibition about Hong Kong’s martial arts film heyday from the 1960s to the 1980s. We believe that more than any other factor, this industry introduced Hong Kong to the world while creating a lot of enjoyment for film-goers around the world, not just those interested in martial arts films. We would like to help preserve and promote this valuable part of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage.

We have discussed the idea of a joint effort among the film clubs in five secondary schools in our neighbourhood, and they are all interested in contributing to the project. This will involve creating posters and information boards and organising video clips of memorable scenes in famous Hong Kong martial arts movies. We would like to package the exhibition materials so that they can be safely moved from school to school without damaging them.

This will require a lot of work, of course, but the members of our club and of those in neighbouring schools are willing to work for no payment. We have also asked members of our schools’ art clubs to help, and so far the response has been positive. We are confident that we can produce a professional and interesting exhibition.

However, there are some significant costs involved: numerous presentation boards and posters, packaging materials to move the exhibition from school to school, stands, a video projector and screen, a dedicated website, and so forth.

We know your company has been deeply involved in preserving the historical and cultural heritage of Hong Kong in many valuable projects, and we wonder if you would be interested in supporting this exhibition. The club members are willing to work for free, despite the long hours of work anticipated, but we estimate that the materials listed in the previous paragraph will cost about HK$30,000. Would you be willing to support the exhibition with a HK$30,000 donation? If so, we would be happy to promote your company’s name on all of the information boards, posters and online promotions as the sole sponsor of the exhibition. I have enclosed a sample poster and information board for your reference.

We believe this exhibition would be unique in Hong Kong, and that it would preserve and raise awareness of an important part of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage, particularly among Hong Kong’s young people. Of course, students’ families and other members of the community would also be invited to the exhibitions in the various schools. We would be pleased to be associated with your company, given your stellar reputation in preserving and promoting Hong Kong’s cultural heritage.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Wong


Sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club

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