Most people know Xu Haofeng as the screenwriter of Wong Kar-wai’s Grandmaster, but Xu has other identities.
Xu is a professor at the Department of Film Directing in Beijing’s Film Academy, a Taoism and martial arts enthusiast and a published author. His short story “Master” was named Best Short Fiction in a recent competition by People’s Literature.
As a writer of wuxia fiction, Xu is beloved by many fans for his ability to capture “image of real Chinese.”
In Xu’s eyes, the real Chinese spirit lies in stories of martial arts and chivalry. Xu says martial arts are a crucial aspect of Chinese culture heritage and that ancient scholars were expected to be adept with both pen and sword.
Physical training was considered as one of the best ways to nurture one’s temperament. The training aspect of martial arts is considered essential in character building, as well as a source of stamina, courage and perseverance.
Blade Behind Back is a collection of Xu’s six short stories. Each reflects Xu’s idea of the Chinese spirit.
The first story “Master” depicts a southern martial artist traveling north to Tianjin to make a name for himself in the kung fu world. The three main characters are all people with higher ideas, and while their conversation is minimal their emotion is strong.
Geng Liangcheng, one of the three, is sabotaged and injured by his opponent. At the end of the story, an injured Geng is sent to a local church where he ignores medical advice to and pursues his enemy to his own death.
“In other people’s eyes, Geng’s decision was beyond stupid. But Geng knows that if he did not take that last chance he would live the rest of his life in despair,” Xu writes.
Most characters in Xu’s fiction are idealists like Geng. Their personalities represent a side of China that is being lost in a tide of money and power that began to swell in the 1980s.
Xu’s language is simple, sharp and easy to understand, but at the same time it captures the spirit of Jianghu with intertwined suspense and poetry.
Xu’s descriptions of each fight also show off his profound knowledge of different schools of Chinese martial arts. It might be hard for first-time readers to understand what kung fu style Xu is talking about, but Xu makes fast-paced martial arts strategy both poetic and literary.
“The human body is a natural defense system. No matter how powerful the punch, it will still bounce back once it hits your body. The worst you can normally do is injure the flesh and see some blood. But after being trained in horse stance, a punch can contain enough force to smash bones and reach the organs,” Xu writes in “Master.”
To Xu, kung fu is more than self defense: it represents a dignified way of living.
Ordinary folks in Xu’s book – even those small, mediocre – start to live real lives once they discover kung fu. “Wuxia fiction is a blade, and it’s a place where I can hide,” Xu writes on the first page of Blade Behind Back.