The Story of Film Column #11: The Arrival of Multiplexes and Asian Mainstream

As we close out The Story of Film’s look at the Seventies, we focus on three major developments that would influence world cinema dramatically. First was the rise of Asian films in the world market, specifically the action and fantasy spectacles coming from Hong Kong. Second were the changes in Indian cinema, leading to the thriving industry known as “Bollywood.” Last was the arrival of the Hollywood “blockbuster,” which would permanently change American cinema.
Following Communist victory in 1949, Hong Kong emerged as the new base for Chinese cinema. By the 1960’s, the biggest film producers there were the Shaw Brothers who were responsible for a revival of the wuxia film genre, which took its inspiration from popular Chinese fiction chronicling the adventures of martial artists in ancient China.

The most beautiful and innovative wuxia of this period were directed by King Hu, who combined Japanese samurai films, Chinese philosophy, and Western film techniques, creating elegant masterpieces like A Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn. Hu’s films featured gravity-defying fight scenes and strong female protagonists, and his unique style in films like Legend of the Mountain and The Fate of Lee Khan, would be a major influence on later directors.

At the same time, a wuxia variant, the “kung fu” film, emerged, with stories in the present day. The most popular starred martial artist Bruce Lee, whose films The Big BossFist of Fury, and Enter The Dragon, were successful world-wide. Later kung fu films incorporated comedy, with actors like Jackie Chan bringing a touch of slapstick to films like Fearless HyenaFantasy Mission Force, and Project A.

In India, commercial cinema’s popularity was dwindling, and it would take two screenwriters, Salim Khan & Javed Akhtar, to help resurrect “Bollywood.” Salim-Javed incorporated various genres (action, comedy, romance, & melodrama), into a new genre dubbed the “masala” film. Engaging with India’s political & economic realities and featuring morally conflicted characters, these films helped create new stars in Indian cinema, the most prominent being Amitabh Bachchan. Known for his “angry young man” roles, Bachchan would become a major player in Bollywood, starring in such films as Amar, Akbar, AnthonyKasme VaadeKaala Patthar, and Pukar.America would also see a rise in its commercial film industry thanks to three new films that would begin the era of the “blockbuster.” First, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, despite studio belief it would flop, was a box office success, becoming the first horror film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Next, Steven Spielberg’s film Jaws became the highest grossing film of the time,

thanks in part to wide distribution, and despite the film’s summer release, which studios considered a dumping ground for flops. Finally, George Lucas’ movie Star Wars would be an even bigger success, cementing wide release, summer movies as the primary money makers in Hollywood. The Hollywood “bauble” had returned with a vengeance and American directors hoping to create challenging, adult films would have to look beyond the studios to get them made.
     ~ Posted by Deanna H.

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