Fab 5 Freddy and MC Yan at the opening of their exhibit Kung Fu Wildstyle. Photo: Julie Cunnah
The seminal Kung Fu movie Enter the Dragong starring Bruce Lee screened over the weekend as part of the New York Asian Film Festival. The film was preceded by a discussion of the ongoing influential relationship between Kung Fu and Hip Hop culture by Hip Hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy and Hong Kong artist MC Yan.
The two artists recently collaborated on Kung Fu Wildstyle, a visual art exhibit that integrates elements of New York City, Hip Hop, and the movie Wild Style, all while paying homage to the legendary Bruce Lee. The exhibit is currently on the display in the Furman Gallery for the duration of the New York Asian Film Festival. Fab 5 Freddy and MC Yan were gracious enough to sit with us for an interview about Hip Hop, Kung Fu, and the future of music videos:
How did you two meet and how did the collaboration for Kung Fu Wildstyle come about?
Fab 5 Freddy: I have a buddy Sean, who is an old friend of mine from back in the days who has traveled around the world, living in different places, DJ-ing. He met Yan in Asia and then me and Yan connected. This idea really developed that we would both make work that based around Bruce Lee and Kung Fu’s influence on us and on urban culture. The show turned into a traveling monster.
What was your vision when creating the exhibit? Did you have a statement when creating both your works of art?
Fab 5 Freddy: It’s just a way to show the connection, that there is a perfect fit between the two movements.
What is the relationship between Kung Fu and Hip Hop? How do these movements that originated in different areas of the world mesh so well together?
Fab 5 Freddy: They share a rebellious nature—a flamboyant way of expression. Martial arts connected well with a lot of people at the time but particularly within urban culture in New York. The Kung Fu movies, Bruce Lee, all of that coincides with the development of Hip Hop and it had a really pronounced influence on breakdancing and physical moves. Yan said that in Hong Kong, dancing was one of the first things from Hip Hop culture that happened in Hong Kong. The Kung Fu influence was obvious; break-dancers were doing different moves that resembled martial arts fighting so, on many levels, there was a harmonious way the two connected. Bruce is just great to pay homage to.
Plus characteristics of other relevant movements like Blaxploitation film are also integrated in many Kung Fu movies, like Enter the Dragon (1973).
Fab 5 Freddy: Yes! Blaxploitation developed in the same period too, and it was great to see something like Shaft (1971) and then Fists of Fury (1971). We were able to see different heroes than the standard Hollywood movies provided. There was a different, refreshing flavor.
Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon
Why do you think Kung Fu movies still remain so popular?
MC Yan: They’re full of energy.
Fab 5 Freddy: That’s a good question. I guess because so many are set in Ancient China, so as a kid I used to think, “wow is that really what’s going on?” Now I know they might not have been flying or jumping over buildings and stuff, but I still like the style of filmmaking and production design. When I was in Hong Kong in October for the show, Yan took us to a temple where a lot of Kung Fu films were shot, and you could just imagine the fight scenes happening there.
MC Yan: Actually, that was first temple shown in Enter the Dragon.
Fab 5 Freddy: Enter the Dragon was shot at that temple?!
MC Yan: Yeah, you were there!
Fab 5 Freddy: That’s crazy! We went and Yan showed me how to light the incense and do the offering.
What’s your favorite Kung Fu movie?
Fab 5 Freddy: I can’t diss Bruce Lee, so my answer will be aside from his work because he’s the Michael Jackson of Kung Fu. You dropped a bomb on me. Give me a second.
MC Yan: My favorite is The Shaolin Temple (1982), starring Jet Li when he was very young.
Fab 5 Freddy: I just remembered. There’s a movie called The Bloody Fists (1972). It was very early on, and it had such an impact on me. The fighting was insane. The attitude was raw.
What is your favorite Hip Hop movie?
Fab 5 Freddy: For obvious reasons, it would have to be Wild Style (1983). Second to that, I don’t know if you would call Menace II Society (1993) a Hip Hop movie, but it is so influential. The Hughes brothers came from directing music videos like I did, so I can relate. But for showing Hip Hop as a culture, I would have to go with Wild Style.
MC Yan: Me too.
Freddy, you have directed several music videos. Now, watching music videos is no longer the same. The release of new music videos used to be major events, but that’s not happening anymore. Any thoughts on this?
Fab 5 Freddy: The internet, obviously, was the big change primarily. Also, main outlets on television stopped showing music videos, so that changed the game a lot. But other outlets were created so now you just have to know the right links or how to find the right clip on YouTube. My boy P. Diddy is bringing a new network out in a couple of months (Revolt TV) that will refocus the attention on music videos of all genres, but it will be very connected to whatever bubbles on the internet.
Any upcoming projects to keep an eye out for?
Fab 5 Freddy: We’re working on more exhibits. I’m still developing my memoir. Stay tuned!