Friday, August 05, 2011

"It's the Wood that Should Fear Your Hand..."

Martial Arts film legend Gordon Liu (star of the great 36th Chamber of Shaolin) made Pai Mei something of a home name following QT's Kill Bill. I think many of us who grew up on afternoon Kung Fu Cinemas on some UHF channel (ask your parents, kids) just thought of him as the bad buy with the long, wispy eyebrows and mustache. However, Pai Mei was based on historical figure 白眉 or Bái Méi (which literally means "white eyebrows"), one of the legendary Five Elders who survived the destruction of the Shaolin temple by the Qing Dynasty. Folklore as well as film history has often treated him as the traitor who helped Imperial forces to destroy the temple, which is often why he is depicted as a villian. But conflicting historical accounts depict him as anywhere from having betrayed the monks to try and save them to having become defeatist against overwhelming odds. (Also, according to some foklore, Bái Méi was the killer of martial arts legend Fong Sai Yuk.)

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