Radical French Philosophy Meets Kung-Fu Cinema in Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973)

Can Dialectics Break Bricks?

And here I’d always con­sid­ered La Chi­noise the only French-lan­guage film that used both bor­rowed Chi­nese imagery and lofty the­o­ry to mount a cri­tique of cap­i­tal­ism. It turns out that six years after Jean-Luc Godard made that movie, Sinol­o­gist, Sit­u­a­tion­ist, and film­mak­er René Viénet came out with the next impor­tant vol­ume in that fas­ci­nat­ing minor tra­di­tion, La Dialec­tique Peut-Elle Cass­er Des Briques? (Can Dialec­tics Break Bricks?), an entire Hong Kong mar­tial-arts pic­ture entire­ly repur­posed into, as Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Richard Met­zger puts it, “a cri­tique of class con­flicts, bureau­crat­ic social­ism, the fail­ures of the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty, Mao­ism, cul­tur­al hege­mo­ny, sex­u­al equal­i­ty and the way movies prop up Cap­i­tal­ist ide­ol­o­gy.”

Using as its visu­al mate­r­i­al 1972’s Crush, Tu Guangqi’s hand-to-hand-com­bat-inten­sive tale of Kore­an rebel­lion against Japan­ese impe­ri­al­ism, the film fol­lowed the mod­el of Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? “which re-dubbed humor­ous dia­logue over a Japan­ese spy movie to make the plot about a recipe for egg sal­ad […] but here the cin­e­mat­ic Sit­u­a­tion­ist provo­ca­teur is less out for laughs (although there are plen­ty of them) and more about the polit­i­cal sub­ver­sion.” This inter­sec­tion of lo-fi chop-socky action with high-flown rev­o­lu­tion­ary jar­gon and aca­d­e­m­ic name-drop­ping (“My Fou­caults! My Lacans! And if that’s not enough, I’ll even send my struc­tural­ists”) has for decades struck its view­ers as sub­lime­ly ridicu­lous. But do the images and the dia­logues real­ly clash as total­ly as they would seem to?

“Like many Hong Kong pro­duc­tions of the ear­ly sev­en­ties,” writes Luke White at Kung Fu with Braudel, “the sce­nario of the orig­i­nal film is clear­ly one in which colo­nial exploita­tion and resis­tance are at issue. Set in Korea under the Japan­ese occu­pa­tion that last­ed much of the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the heroes (those turned by Viénet into ‘the Pro­le­tar­i­ans’) are the mem­bers of a mar­tial arts school who start to resist the colo­nial vio­lence of the mil­i­taris­tic Japan­ese forces. How­ev­er poten­tial­ly con­ser­v­a­tive the nation­al­is­tic dimen­sion of its nar­ra­tive, this is also a work about strug­gle and lib­er­a­tion from tyran­ny in some of its most typ­i­cal­ly mod­ern forms.” In its mul­ti­plic­i­ty of pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tions, La Dialec­tique Peut-Elle Cass­er Des Briques? joins the ranks of all the most inter­est­ing works of art — and it cer­tain­ly makes for a refresh­ing break from actu­al­ly read­ing your Fou­caults, your Lacans, and your struc­tural­ists.

via UBU

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Sear­le on Fou­cault and the Obscu­ran­tism in French Phi­los­o­phy

The Five Best North Kore­an Movies: Watch Them Free Online

Bruce Lee Audi­tions for The Green Hor­net (1964)

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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