Various Artists – Kung Fu Super Sounds (De Wolfe)
Trawling through the archives of the Shaw Brothers Kung fu soundtracks must’ve been an exhaustive, rewarding affair, and it’s gifted the listener with a perfect time capsule, a glimpse into mad fusions and extreme musical statements. That every single one of these assorted works is composed by Westerners is of no surprise – though the cinematic devices were pure Hong Kong, there’s always been an eye on Europe and the Americas. What was saleability, it seems, has now become nostalgia.
Consequently, there are devilish Mahlerian trills throughout the orchestral movements, but also light Afro-American funk touches. Horror House from 1975’s The Four Assassins utilises painfully shrill Shostakovich-esque military woodwinds, but the incomparable energy of the bongos on anything from Dirty Ho provides curious balance. Similarly, the final chord of Ivor Slaney’s Shaolin Handlock theme recalls the very same of Holst’s Mars, while the triumphant workout of Return To The 36th Chamber is pure faux-heroic blaxploitation fare.
Moodier mise en scene dictates eerier music, and the images conjured by pieces wherein assassins are stalked and hunted work extremely well. You can hear footsteps, approaches and attacks – the very tenets of soundtrack composition are rammed in your ears so hard that it’s impossible not to see Gordon Liu tiptoeing before roundhousing their fucking head off and flying toward a tree via wireworks. Notions of this material will be familiar to Wu Tang Clan fans, and their remaining number would undoubtedly revel in this retrospective delight. Their heavy sampling of the imagery, dialogue and ideology of many Shaw Brothers classics have lent their oeuvre a distinct credibility and lofty, almost religious dynamic, but to gain the most entertaining readings of these great snippets, one need only dwell on the source material.