Kung Fu Movies, And Why Precision Makes Us Squeamish

by Jason Wisom

So my wife and I were watching a movie the other night, “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons.” You may or may not have known this about me, but I really like Stephen Chow films (though I have to confess I have only seen a few of them). “Kung Fu Hustle” is one of my all-time favorite movies. Chow has a very charming style that blends thrilling action sequences with quirky, almost Looney Tunes-esque, comedy. Anyway, so we watched “Journey to the West.”

It was everything I expected it to be: fun, exciting, and ridiculous in all of the right ways. I was loving every minute of it. That is, until the last twenty minutes of the movie. I didn’t realize what it was until I reflected back on it afterwards. Let me explain what happened. While the entire movie had Buddhist themes woven throughout (after all, the movie is based on a traditional Chinese/Buddhist story), it was generally pretty vague. There was talk of inner peace, finding yourself, doing good to others, overcoming evil, and going on a meaningful spiritual journey. Basic therapeutic spiritualism stuff. But over the last 20 minutes, it got painfully specific.

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The name of Buddha was invoked dozens of times–as one character cursed him and another prayed to him. The character who prayed to him suffered painfully at the hands of the other for refusing to abandon his faith in Buddha. And ultimately (spoiler alert), Buddha physically appeared, beat the bad guy, saved the day, and everyone skipped away happy. Like I said before, I didn’t immediately realize what it was that made me squeamish. My initial thought was simply, “what a lame ending.” But as I reflected on it, something profound occurred to me. I realized that it wasn’t the fact that it was about Buddha that made me uncomfortable. I would have felt the same way if it had been an otherwise spiritually ambiguous action movie and then, in the closing minutes, the name of Jesus was invoked a dozen times, and then Jesus swooped down out of the sky on a white horse and kick the bad guy’s butts, and everyone lived happily ever after (spoiler alert, that is how the Bible ends). Why is that? Here is the conclusion that I have drawn from this experience: precision makes us squeamish.

Precision makes us squeamish. But not just any sort of precision. We don’t get uncomfortable when someone says that 2 + 2 = 4. That is very precise, but we don’t have a problem with it. We wouldn’t call a math teacher “narrow-minded” for teaching it to our children. Why? Because we are convinced that there is no question about its truth value. What is more, there are no profound spiritual or moral implications surrounding the solution. No one is going to stand up and shout, “That’s just your opinion,” or, “I am offended!” But if the claim is something like, “Jesus is the only way to heaven,” then people (even Christians, provided they are in the company of non-Christians) start getting very antsy. All of a sudden, precision becomes a very “dirty” thing. Why is that? I think the answer is quite simple really…

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Kung Fu Movies, And Why Precision Makes Us Squeamish – Because It’s True