The Spiritual World of Kung-fu Movies

I have written an essay about the supernatural aspects of martial arts in several Chinese films.

Martial Arts

I start off by writing about the ideas behind Chinese martial arts themselves, mainly how they are relevant to both body and spirit. They are about developing both and improving oneself for the sake of it and not for competition. As a result, the techniques revolve around fighting without needlessly exerting strength or emotion. Having this spiritual connection makes it very easy for religion to come into play, namely Daoism.


Daoism holds many interesting concepts, but the one most relevant to supernatural abilities in martial arts is the concept of qi. Qi, also known as “chi” or “ki”, is the energy that flows throughout the world and within every living being. This energy has many effects and thus ways to manipulate it, like feng shui, were created. As a result, techniques were conceived to control and use the qi within the body as well. These techniques range anywhere from hardening the body, create a “blast” of energy, and even flight itself. Obviously these aren’t realistic, but there is some truth to the original conception of these techniques. Either way, they make for some entertaining stories, or in this case, movies.

Reviewing Chinese Films

I proceed to use specific examples of Chinese martial arts films by looking at the movies Enter the Dragon, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Painted Skin.

Enter the Dragon

Starting with Enter the Dragon, starring Bruce Lee, I comment on how it’s unquestionably a martial arts film, but it doesn’t use much in the form of the supernatural. It mainly exaggerates them by using real and flashy techniques throughout the film.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Next up is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is a film about a few warriors and the conflict surrounding a blade known as the “Green Destiny.” Throughout the several weapon-based fights of the movie, they show off supernatural abilities mainly in the form of flight (qing gong) and running across rooftops. They also go into having the proper mindset to use these abilities and effectively fight in combat.

Painted Skin

Lastly I look at the movie Painted Skin, a film based on a Chinese ghost story of the same name. The movie is more of a love story than a ghost or martial arts one, but it holds fight scenes that display similar qualities. Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the fighters run and rooftops and use a form of levitation to show their skills, however to a lesser extent since they only use it to jump onto roofs instead of straight up flying. All of these films exaggerate martial arts for the sake of entertainment, but the latter two take this further by suggesting that martial arts can grant abilities like flight.


The main lesson in the essay is to understand that Chinese martial arts are deeply rooted in spirituality and the supernatural. These arts may not give people legitimate superpowers like various forms of media may suggest, but they do have some truth and power to them.

One thought on “The Spiritual World of Kung-fu Movies

  1. Daniel Konopka

    This brought back memories of high school Chinese class, watching martial arts films like these. While they are fun to watch, they are still exaggerated and misrepresent the arts. This is also true in the case of religious practices like Santeria and Vodou in Afro-Cuban cultures. Many of their practices involve things like animal sacrifice and spiritual possession, so therefore have been oftentimes skewed by our media into looking like some form of witchcraft. This can give a bad image to the cultures that do such practices.


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