SirPalomides

Daoists in popular literature and film

Recommended Posts

I thought it might be fun to talk about the various ways Daoists appear in popular culture. An influential work in this regard is Pu Songling's Qing dynasty collection Liaozhai Zhiyi (usually translated as "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio" or something similar). So far I've only read about a fifth of these stories but they are a ton of fun. Many of them revolve around poor scholar-bureaucrats in backwater posts falling in love with ghosts, fox spirits, and other strange beings, some of them malevolent, some friendly. Daoist priests sometimes feature- again, sometimes as villains and sometimes as heroes who rescue foolish scholars from dangerous situations. Tons of films have been made from these stories, including the Chinese Ghost Story series (dir. Ching Siu-Tung) that @Zhongyongdaoist and I were talking about. (I'm ashamed to say I've only seen the first film)

 

 

This story shows the priest in his role as exorcist and also as someone who rescues souls from hell. The climax of the film sees the Daoist (played by Wu Ma) storming the underworld to rescue the soul of the scholar's ghost lover. I suppose this could be thought of as a reimagining of the popular Daoist pudu rite.

Edited by SirPalomides
  • Like 4
  • Thanks 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sweet topic.  I'd never heard of Chinese Ghost Story... I'll check it out.

 

 

I have one that I didn't know what a Taoist movie, but on rewatching it as an adult, it simply blew my mind with its insight and subtlety.

 

 

1970-something.  My Dad took me to see a Peter Seller's film Being There.

I recall Dad was not pleased with the movie, it was not like the Pink Panther series.  I was only 8 or so, but I recall that the way Sellers portrayed his character was very impacting, though it was so understated and simple.

 

I recently rewatched it several years ago when it leapt to mind like a fire spark and was utterly gob-smacked.  For me, Peter Sellers portrays the best 'Cucumber Sage', 'Grinning taoist idiot master' I've ever seen on film.

 

In the film, Sellers plays a simple (mentally simple) man, who as a child was taken in by an eccentric millionaire, who seeing his misfortune at his mental simplicity, raises him and gives him a job, tending his garden.  The garden is closed off from NYC.  Sellers lives his entire childhood and adult life in this mansion, tending its garden.  Idyllic, simple.  He masters the gardening, but it's literally the only thing he knows.

 

When the old man dies at the beginning of the film.  Peter's character is driven out into a world he has seen only through windows.

 

He has no idea how society operates, the whims of personalities and the intricacies of human interaction.

He knows one thing.  Gardening.

 

Well dressed as he is, in the millionaires old clothes, folks assume and project onto him in his simple demeanor, all manner of assumptions about his status.

 

He responds to every situation in the only way he knows.  He relates all questions asked of him, to gardening.

His answers, so simple and rudimentary, are assumed to be analogies and sagely wisdom is attributed to him.

 

He ends up being sought out for advice by Presidents and Diplomats, while he calmly engages their questions with mild boredom and a simple desire to be able to tend another garden, or watch some tele...

 

Being There.  Daoist Idiot Sage.

 

Check it out!

 

  • Like 4
  • Thanks 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Recently, there is an increasing interest in China with 'web novels' and large part of it is 'cultivation novels' that focus on daoist cultivation. My favourites are 'I Shall Seal the Heavens':

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/i-shall-seal-the-heavens

 

and 'A Will Eternal':

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/a-will-eternal

 

The first one is more dramatic and bitter one, the second is more lighthearted. They are huge, about 1500 chapters each. You can read first several dozens of chapters for free and then you'll have to pay.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's one you can download for free from Project Gutenberg. The tales were collected and edited from original sources by Richard Wilhelm. It was published in 1921. There's aspects of Daoism in many of these stories from Chinese popular culture. I have an excellent commentary on the one titled The Disowned Princess.  It's written with much reference to Daoism, alchemy and the I Ching by Marie-Louise von Franz, a close colleague of Carl Jung's and a specialist in fairy tale interpretation. It's published in her book Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales

 

cfb01.jpg

 

 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Kylie Chan has written a battles and romance epic modern fantasy series about immortals, gods and demons, first book is called White Tiger.

It might not be very strictly daoist but when i was reading it my interest for the religious side of daoism certainly grew.

  • Thanks 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

One figure who shows up as a villain in kung fu movies is Bai Mei/ Bak Mei, "White Eyebrows," who is based on a semi-historical figure.

 

In the Shaw Bros classic Executioners from Shaolin he is an evil Daoist abbot with a retinue of (presumably unscrupulous) monks.

 

kung-fu_1.jpg

 

 

Image result for bai mei executioners from shaolin

He has some outlandish powers including a weak point that moves throughout his body according to the time of day. It's really frustrating.

Edited by SirPalomides
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I love the movies with Bak Mei!

Even though he’s often a ruthless villain the character is hard to fathom, complex and awe inspiring in his skill. Hard to kill, always a step ahead. I still like Gordon Lius portrayal from Kill Bill. But then again i’m partial to Gordons movies in general :)

 

White Lotus Clan is a pretty recurring antagonist in the shaolin movies, as is Wudang.

Wu Tang Clan the rap group got their name as a group from the movies in part because they were badass and often portrayed as villains even though most of them studied Shaolin school techniques and teachings under Shi Yan Ming.

I think daoists were fairly popular as villains back in the day of movies as they, iirc, were representatives of the suppressed reactionary culture of ye old days, and there was a strong popular support for Shaolin Temple and Chan Buddhism as they too were fairly out of favor. I think the party also had members who would endorse Shaolin as a positive, pro-people cultural icon that could also become popular worldwide.

 

Lets not forget about Jackies recent portrayal as Lü Dongbin together with Jet as a silent Shaolin Warrior monk, Forbidden Kingdm i think?

Not a very canon faithful Dongbin but still.

 

I like the full uncut two-part Red Cliff mastodont movie, Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu, Cao Cao. Being a mediterranean descendant in the lands of Thule i had to take part of the Homeric tradition, part of me thinks the Battle of Red Cliff is way more epic than the Siege of Troy. The Odyssey is imo better than the Iliad.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I feel that Uncle Iroh and King Bumi in Avatar The Last Airbender embody the idea of Daoist sages.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The original Kung Fu show from 1972 to 1975 was quite Daoist. 

 

Interestingly enough Bruce Lee was considered for the lead, but as I recall was told he looked too Chinese.  But, his Bruces's son Brandon played the lead character's son in the movie version and in the not as well done TV series sequel, produced decades later. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
24 minutes ago, thelerner said:

The original Kung Fu show from 1972 to 1975 was quite Daoist. 

 

Interestingly enough Bruce Lee was considered for the lead, but as I recall was told he looked too Chinese.  But, his Bruces's son Brandon played the lead character's son in the movie version and in the not as well done TV series sequel, produced decades later. 

 

Bald Brandon haha. I also enjoyed Rapid Fire and of course, The Crow. Nothing Daoist about them, but decent films nonetheless.

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On ‎3‎/‎9‎/‎2020 at 5:08 PM, Rocky Lionmouth said:

 

White Lotus Clan is a pretty recurring antagonist in the shaolin movies, as is Wudang.

 

Sometimes Wudang are the good guys, e.g. the character Li Mubai in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a Wudang disciple. Wudang Sect is an interesting part of the wuxia lore- it is a creation of novelists like Jin Yong and is not the same as the historic Wudang. For one thing, the Wudang sect in this world is not really monastic and the disciples seem to marry or wander at will. When Wudang disciples appear as villains the implication is that the sect has somehow been corrupted from its original noble purpose. In 1993's The Bride with White Hair (starring Leslie Cheung and Brigitte Lin) Wudang is depicted like this- a once noble order reduced to enforcers for the corrupt and collapsing Ming government.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On ‎3‎/‎9‎/‎2020 at 5:08 PM, Rocky Lionmouth said:

 

, part of me thinks the Battle of Red Cliff is way more epic than the Siege of Troy.

 

 

For one thing, I believe even at that time the Chinese states were fielding much bigger armies than Europeans could ever imagine. I heard that when Marco Polo talked about the army sizes that he observed in Yuan dynasty China his fellow Italians dismissed him as "Marco Millions" because they could not seriously believe anyone could have that many men.

 

On ‎3‎/‎9‎/‎2020 at 5:08 PM, Rocky Lionmouth said:

The Odyssey is imo better than the Iliad.

 

I think I do enjoy the Odyssey more too, albeit I have read them both only in translation. By the way, anyone wanting to read a really fun, funny translation of the Iliad: I highly recommend The War Nerd Iliad by John Dolan.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
45 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

I think I do enjoy the Odyssey more too, albeit I have read them both only in translation. By the way, anyone wanting to read a really fun, funny translation of the Iliad: I highly recommend The War Nerd Iliad by John Dolan.

That looks good.  Classics, modernized.. I like it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 21.2.2020 at 8:38 PM, idquest said:

Recently, there is an increasing interest in China with 'web novels' and large part of it is 'cultivation novels' that focus on daoist cultivation. My favourites are 'I Shall Seal the Heavens':

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/i-shall-seal-the-heavens

 

and 'A Will Eternal':

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/a-will-eternal

 

The first one is more dramatic and bitter one, the second is more lighthearted. They are huge, about 1500 chapters each. You can read first several dozens of chapters for free and then you'll have to pay.

 

Yeah they are quite good, sad that you now have to pay, at the beginning they were free.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites