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Rodrigo Medeiros

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How to create the perfect martial arts movie.

     
 

Copyright 2003 by Gus Fant, webmaster of www.fightingmaster.com.

 
     
 

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Fighting Choreography: Jackie Chan vs. Samo Hung. 

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Yuen Woo Ping

 
Over the years I have watched hundreds of martial arts movies. I must admit that I have spent a lot of money on renting and buying movies that were nothing but disappointing. Millions of dollars are being invested in martial arts movies that are simply not worth it. I have created a small list of pros and cons that may help martial arts films producers, directors and screenwriters create better martial arts movies. Here it is:

Michael Jai White

1. Hire martial artists that can act and not actors that cannot do martial arts. I know that with the use of technology, visual effects and wires you can make a fighter out of Cameron Diaz these days. Anyway it is not the same. Why spend millions of dollars hiring an actor who can fight and still have to spend money on wirework, visual effects and stuntmen? Actors like Donnie Yen, Michael Jai White, Adrian Paul or Billy Blanks come a lot cheaper and they are worth their money.
2. If you hire martial artists, for God’s sake, use them. Some directors are afraid that their martial arts actors that have supporting roles may look better than the leading actors so they do not let them do the stuff that got them hired in the first place. See “Blade 2” (Donnie Yen) or “Universal Soldier 2” (Michael Jai White). I was so excited when I went to see these two movies that had such skilled actors in their cast and I was so disappointed. It takes a lot of Hollywood’s arrogant actors and ignorant producers - directors to have such a talented cast and yet produce so poor results.

Billy Blanks

Samo Hung

3. Talented and skilled actors can be buried by poor action choreography and vice versa. Yuen Woo Ping did an amazing job in “The Matrix”. I just could not believe my eyes. There was Keanu Reeves fighting like Jackie Chan. Yuen trained the actors for more than 3 months in order to produce such magnificent results. On the other hand Jean Claude Van Damme embodies the most boring fighting choreography in his movies. No wonder the audience got bored with him. It is a pity to see such a talent being wasted. The same goes for Cynthia Rothrock. Compare the fascinating movies she worked on in Hong Kong with all those boring US films. Action choreographers are very important and at this point the best are Samo Hung, Corey Yuen, Yuen Woo Ping and Donnie Yen. Wesley Snipes’ crew is also very good.
4. If you are a producer, use directors like Tsui Hark that are experienced in this film genre. If you are a director, use professional action choreographers and please, ask their opinion. They usually know more about the right angles, the right pace and rhythm of the fights. And please, do not repeat moves from different angles again and again. It destroys the rhythm and it is so boring. At this point the best directors capable of filming martial arts films are Tsui Hark, Corey Yuen, Samo Hung and Donnie Yen. If you use a Hong Kong director make sure you have a solid script and make them stick to it because they have a tendency to exaggerate a bit. I also like Luc Besson’s work a lot.

Corey Yuen

Tsui Hark

5. Martial arts are a lot about rhythm and speed. A director who has no experience in martial arts filmmaking should study Hong Kong films. They can teach him a lot about the rhythm and the duration of the fights. Most Hong Kong films use more than 70 moves in every major fight sequence. Most Hollywood films do not use more than 10 or 20. A good film to start studying is “Meals on Wheels” with Jackie Chan. It is a masterpiece as far as action sequences are concerned.
6. If you can avoid it, do not use wires. Most people in the audience hate them. I know that they are a fashion in Hollywood now but any serious martial arts filmmaker should avoid them. I personally hate it when the fighters fly. If you hire a Hong Kong choreographer like Woo Ping, do not let him use wires. It is the main flaw of Hong Kong action directors. That is mainly because they come from different cultures. In China, the audience can accept that a hero can fly and fight in the air, while western audiences will not.
7. If you can, do not let martial artists fight non-martial artists. The audience will know the difference and the outcome will not be believable. Who would believe that Keanu Reeves could actually win against Jet Li? The Mel Gibson/Danny Glover fight against Jet Li in “Lethal Weapon 4” is believable only because they face him together and still have a hard time winning.
8. No matter how good the action, if the story is not good, without suspense, romance and all the right ingredients the movie will be a failure. Try to make the script interesting even if it did not have any martial arts action in it. We are tired of dull martial arts movies that are produced by martial artists who know nothing about filmmaking.
9. Do not exaggerate your main character’s abilities. A single guy cannot fight alone against the gangs of Harlem and win. One also cannot dodge bullets and fight unarmed against enemies that use machine guns. Keep the story believable. The character should use tactics and his brain in order to survive; he is not a superhero.
10. Do not let your main character get beaten too much. It is very unrealistic when Jean Claude Van Damme gets hit in the head 10 times by a giant and suddenly gets angry, wakes up and starts winning. Nobody can take that kind of beating. Create characters that exist in the real world.
11. Martial arts training videos and true martial artists can help action choreographers a lot. The Gracie family helped a lot in the filming of “Lethal Weapon” as Mel Gibson used their now famous “triangle choke”. I really like the way Wesley Snipes embodies such interesting and effective techniques in his movies. He is clever enough to consult other martial artists. However one should only hire martial artists as extra help and not as action choreographers if they are not experienced. Choreography is a lot different than fighting.
12. Study fighting events like the “Pride FC.” They can be very entertaining and thrilling, full of real life stories, drama, blood and guts. After all Sylvester Stallone was inspired in writing “Rocky” by a true boxing event. Sometimes life writes better scripts than we do.
 
Ok, that is it. And if you are a famous producer with a lot of money, here is a winning combination: Use Samo Hung as choreographer, Donnie Yen as main actor, Michael Jai White as the villain and Tsui Hark as the director. Do not let them use wires. Add an interesting script full of suspense, shoot in beautiful locations and you simply cannot lose. No need for crazy stunts and expensive special effects. If you need advice do not hesitate to contact us. We will be glad to help.
   
 

More topics:

Fighting Choreography: Jackie Chan vs. Samo Hung. 

 The second greatest movie fight of all time

 

The best  movie fight of all time

Bruce Lee vs. Jackie Chan: who was better?

     

© 2009 WWW.FIGHTINGMASTER.COM All rights reserved.