By Patrick Larose
Intertwined is a comic that sells itself as a mash-up between the crime noir and kung fu genres, however, I think I’d offer up a different description. Rather, I’d argue that Intertwined is a comic that uses the machinations of Hong Kong action cinema to tell a story ultimately driven by the pathos of superhero storytelling.
This in part because crime feels almost unextractable from martial arts movies—from Police Story to Sha Po Lang to the Raid—even when Bruce Lee joined the tournament in Enter the Dragon it wasn’t for glory but to end an international crime lord. These have almost always been the stories where the cops and robbers threw down their guns in favor of a fist fight.
The conflicts here are extracted not through the convoluted acquiescing of human conversation but through a choreography of jump kicks and punches, a type of human jazz done with muscle over concrete. Good and evil is made flesh, conflict made physical and all in a space where just maybe an underdog, the good guy or the “us” will succeed over the bullshit.
However, crime stories can never promise that from the Big Sleep to the Big Boss, people with contradictory desires clash and people get hurt in the crossfire. But, hey, at least we got to see some great scenes and meet some cool people along the way, right?
For all their bittersweet narratives, we are ultimately here to experience the cathartic physicality of the martial arts and bear witness to the spectacular limitations of the human body. So what happens when you strip the texture of a kung fu story—when you bring it into the medium of comics, a medium renowned for its unlimited and impossible action stakes?
Intertwined manages to weave through these punches with ease. There’s a clear familiarity with the movement of martial arts that makes every panel look like a snapshot of the best kung fu fight scenes. While the art sometimes veers into a loose, sketchiness there’s still a real weight to every punch thrown, every kick landed that ends up replicating in comics what kung fu did for action movies. Every character movement is readable, the kinetic motion is felt and it makes these moments feel tenser than the average superhero fair will provide.
While Intertwined succeeds in capturing the kinetic force of kung fu movies and the grindhouse feel of a seventies exploitation movie, it’s where it differs from its predecessor that things get interesting.
Juan Jin is a kid in Hong Kong way into Wing Chun but barely keeping it together. He wants to fight in a local martial arts tournament. He wants to get his mom out of the ghetto. He wants to take care of his recently deceased uncle’s business but Juan can’t even make it to the funeral in time.
Yeah, the narrative is almost Spider-man. A young kid overwhelmed and forced into a situation where he’ll have to decide the type of hero he’s willing to be. The comic injects this formula into a new shell and turns a seventies-style martial arts story into something that feels more personal. Simultaneously this allows for a sense of scale far beyond two dudes punching each other in front of a warehouse. There's a mythology here growing at the edges but like all good lore, it's here to bolster our character's narrative rather than detract.
The comic is a fine example of the balancing act the medium can accomplish. There’s an ancient prophecy but that’s offset by the local gangs. The story strives for an international, maybe even interdimensional weight, but is still centered on the character of a grounded kid with real problems. Intertwined wraps together its genre with its mediums—the grit and living texture of Hong Kong cinema within the expanding and impossible worlds of comics and creating something that feels entirely new.
Writer: Fabrice Sapolsky
Artist: Fred Pham Chuong
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment