Reviews/Film/Perth Festival

More than nunchuks and kicks

2 March 2021

Barbara Hostalek describes the momentous occasion of witnessing the world premiere of Fist of Fury, entirely dubbed into Noongar language.

Fist of Fury Noongar Daa, Perth Festival ·
United Cinemas Rockingham, 27 February 2021 ·

Fist of Fury – Noongar Daa (Noongar Tongue), which premiered at this year’s Perth Festival, is the first feature film to be dubbed into an Aboriginal Australian language. It was a momentous occasion to share the experience of a classic Bruce Lee film re-voiced in Noongar language with Noongar people on Noongar boodja (country).

The original 1972 Hong Kong martial arts movie, Fist of Fury, launched Lee to international fame. I was ready for nunchucks and roundhouse kick action but experienced a whole lot more.

Before the film was screened, Elder Auntie Therese Walley welcomed us to country and had us all doing our best to sing “We Are One” in Noongar, a reminder of our responsibilities in reconciliation. Perth Festival’s Film Program Manager Tom Vincent then told us how he’d got the idea after watching Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV) dubbed into the Indigenous American language of the Navajo. Perth Festival Artistic Associate Kylie Bracknell (Kaarljilba kaardn) explained her creative process as the translator, director and also a performer in the film, outlining her respect for the original Cantonese script and the film’s intentions.

Kylie Bracknell shares the stage with the cast from ‘Fist of Fury Noongar Daa’ for the world premiere at the Somerville Auditorium. Photo J. Wyld

Spoken entirely in Noongar and with English subtitles, Fist of Fury Noongar Daa is part of the movement to preserve the Noongar language, which has suffered intentional dismantling since colonisation. It follows the Noongar Shakespeare Sonnet project, Noongar Junior Sonneteers, and the world premiere of Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s Hecate (Shakespeare’s Macbeth performed entirely in Noongar) at last year’s Perth Festival. And there is much more to come.

I grew up watching Bruce Lee films, with Lee the action-hero, fighting for justice and to avenge injustice. Choosing a movie like this for the project throws the net wide and far to share Noongar language with all Australians, and the rest of the world.

The Fist of Fury plot resonates strongly with Aboriginal peoples’ experiences during and since colonisation, their disempowerment, and their struggle for justice in their own land. Lee’s character, Chen Zen (voiced by Kyle J. Morrison), returns to his martial arts school for the funeral of his master (birdiyar) who died in suspicious circumstances. The school’s leaders find themselves powerless and silenced by the colonising Japanese who overtly insult, bully and control the Chinese. The movie follows the conflicting choices people make when oppressed, voiceless and choiceless: the need to fight and sacrifice too much, or to maintain external peace but live with internal turmoil, disconnected and broken.

I was shocked and confronted by the scene in which a foreign guard refuses to let Chen Zen enter a public garden, where a sign reads: “No Chinese and no dogs”. It parallels the exclusions Aboriginal people faced in Perth up until the mid-1950s – they were prevented from entering certain zones after certain times, their movements were restricted, and so were their opportunities. Facing discrimination is one layer of oppression, but facing this in your own land is another layer entirely.

A highlight of the screening was hearing the voices of well-known Noongar performers and cultural leaders speaking in language and in a medium that can now be enjoyed for many generations to come.

Fist of Fury – Noongar Daa stars the voices of Clint Bracknell (Fan Chun-hsia), Kylie Bracknell (Wu En), Shontane Farmer (a jing wu student), Michael Fuller (Tien), Peter Humphries (Petrov), Denzel Humphries (Tung), Barry McGuire (eulogist at the wake), Ebony McGuire (Yuan Le-erh), Tjiirdm McGuire (Japanese fighter), Della Rae Morrison (Yen), Kyle J. Morrison (Chen Zen), Mark Nannup (Inspector Lo), Trevor Ryan (Yoshida), Maitland Schnaars (Suzuki Hiroshi), Isaiah Walley-Stack (a Japanese fighter), Phil Walley-Stack (Japanese consul), Richard Walley (Bushido School administrator), Ian Wilkes (Hsu), Roma Winmar (narrator), Rubeun Yorkshire (Fan Chia-Chi) and Willis Yu (Feng Kwai-Sher).

Fist of Fury – Noongar Daa screens again on 6 March at Celebration Park in Balga, and on 4 April at Lotterywest Films, Somerville Auditorium, University of WA.

Pictured top: “Prepare to say goodnight, suckers!”, reads the new English subtitle in Perth Festival’s ‘Fist of Fury Noongar Daa’. Film still supplied.

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Author —
Barbara Hostalek

Barbara Hostalek is an independent First Nations playwright proud to be living with Noongar Boodjar. She began writing plays at Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s Writers group in 2015. Her work has been produced by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company (Cracked), Black Swan Theatre Company (Unsung Heroes monologue series: Own Way) and Mudskipper Productions (Banned). Park fun play? Hands down, the sandpit.

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