A question for you. In Pedicab Driver (Sammo Hung, 1989) the roly-poly Hung (star and director) crashes his bike, along with his girlfriend, through the window of a Macau gambling den after escaping the clutches of a lascivious pimp. Eyeing the damage, the boss, played by famed kungfu fight choreographer and director Liu Chia-liang, challenges Hung to a fight to determine who will pay for the destruction. After several thrilling minutes of back and forth mayhem (see video below), Liu stands triumphant (specifically: pinning Hung’s feet behind his ears). But Liu then says that he’s never seen a man fight as well as our chubby Sammo, forgives the damages and even gives money to Hung’s girlfriend, who lost her’s in the accident. This acknowledgement of good training and impressive execution, so common to the amorphous brotherhood-of-fighters world that makes up the wuxia andkungfu genres, changes the meaning of the fight afterwards—gone is the conflict as to who will owe who money and the contest instead is re-defined as being about showing prowess. It wasn’t about winning, it was about exhibition.
Or was it? How do action scenes work in violent cinema when the violence comes first and the meaning comes second? Do Liu’s comments contextualize the meaning of the fight we just witnessed, do we take away our own independent meaning from the fight (like: boy, that fat guy is damn dexterous), do we synergize the two, the during-interpretation and the after-interpretation? What if there was a greater ethical or even moral meaning placed on the scene instead of the throwaway plot point of money owed and forgiven? Can the fight exist or be treated as if it exists without the post-fight context of meaning?