To hear him tell it, TJ Wiedow is “so over” making kung-fu movies. But that’s probably just the fatigue talking. It’s been five—no, maybe six—years since he started the last one, and he’s still working on it. And no matter how much work he puts into it, it seems like the thing will never be completely finished.
“It’s like it never ends,” he says. “You can always put the sound of another bird in a tree, or another set of footsteps. And then there’s always things in the background that most people won’t notice, but that I see every time. We’re trying to digitally clean up the electric plugs on some of the walls. But, at some point, you’ve got to just put it out.”
And in just a few days, it will be out. Perfect or not, Golden Blade III: Return of the Monkey’s Uncle is hitting the big screen.
If you’ve ever seen one of the classic Shaw Brothers films, those low-budget Hong Kong masterpieces of super-heroic kung-fu choreography and bad dubbing, you’ve got a pretty good idea where Wiedow gets his inspiration. His previous entries in the series—the 11-minute short film Golden Blade and its all-around-clever 30-minute sequel—are more an homage to the genre than the outright parody one might expect. Judging by the trailer, the feature-length third installment will be at least as good of an American answer to the kung-fu classics as anything David Carradine ever did.
And what’s not to like? Golden Blade III wraps all the classic elements of “chop-socky” filmmaking with homegrown talent. Watching the story of Chen Zen (Spencer Bulletscheck) as he guards a powerful magic sword against the forces that seek to control them both, it’s easy to forget that the film is supposed to be a parody of another culture’s genre films. It’s at once as familiar and foreign as a Blue Ridge vista overgrown with kudzu.
In fact, Wiedow has described the series as set in an anachronistic land known as “Appalachian China.” Looking at the footage, it’s not too much to hope that Golden Blade will be one of the most original films ever made in the region. (Or anywhere, for that matter. Not many action films involve a kung-fu gorilla.)
So why is Wiedow so down on his film? Surprisingly, it’s not the $20,000 he’s sunk into the project, which includes some $10,000 in credit-card debt. It’s also not the two years of principal photography and rehearsing, or the three-plus years of editing it took to turn 1000 cuts into a 90-minute, action-packed extravaganza of punching and kicking. It’s not even the three years it took to create the genre hallmark of an off-kilter soundtrack (the crew didn’t record any sound on the locations). And it’s not even the crazy, last-minute rush to create promotional items for the film.
Instead, it’s the expectation that’s getting Wiedow down. Dozens of people—cast and crew, friends and hangers-on—have been waiting years to see this film. To put it lightly, that’s some heavy pressure.
“There are people who are really excited about the movie, and there are other people who are sick of hearing me talk about it,” he says. “I see them at the bar, and some of them won’t even talk to me anymore. And if they do, the only thing they want to know is why I’m not at home editing this thing.”
Now that it’s nearly done, does he have a plan for what he’ll do next? Of course: He’s getting out of town.
After the premiere—blockbuster or bomb, however it goes—Wiedow says he’s taking some time off to tackle something easier: his unfinished 700-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. There will be time to promote Golden Blade III when he gets back, he says.
Golden Blade III: Return of the Monkey’s Uncle premieres on Friday, July 20, at the Fine Arts Theatre (36 Biltmore Ave.). The film runs through Thursday, July 26. $8/general, $5.75 matinees and seniors (call 232-1536 for show times). More info: www.GoldenBlade3.com