Every action star worth his (ahem) assault should have at least three great fight scenes under his belt, am I right? I thought it’d be fun to list the top three of action cinema’s hard working men women, and even children. But a great film fight is not just about some athletic performers doing interesting techniques. Editing, build-up based on story line, camera angles and setting play a part.
With that in mind, you won’t see clips of these great fights posted here. Of course you can easily locate them yourself, but a great fight depends on context — and a youtube clip cannot provide that. If you’re a fan of screen/stage combat you owe it to yourself to seek out the full film — unless otherwise noted, of course; for a good fight scene can also save a mediocre film.
This will be an ongoing series, written and posted as the mood strikes. Recommendations are always welcome.
The latest Hong Kong superstar to cross over into Hollywood, Yen was acting in action films for nearly four decades before landing his best known Hollywood role in Star Wars: Rogue One. Always heavily involved in his won choreography, Yen’s films are among the best of the genre. His fight style has come to include a good deal of MMA, including submissions and wrestling takedowns.
Yen played legendary Wing Chun instructor IP MAN in the film of that name, turning in some of his best work across the trilogy.
3. Master Ip Man versus ten black belts, IP MAN: Set during the Japanese occupation, IP MAN plays on a popular theme in kung fu films; that of a good man, put upon by cruel oppressors, pushed to the breaking point. The scene comes about mid way. The Japanese general in charge pays locals to come and fight his soldiers, to keep their skills sharp. When he takes it too far and someone is crippled, Ip Man takes the challenge. The scene is a master work of camera work, sound effects, and Yen’s unbelievable speed, which Michelle Yeoh one commented is the fastest of anyone she ever worked with.
2. Inspector Ma versus Tony, FLASH POINT. Paired with innovative director Wilson Yip once more, Yen is a hot headed police inspector in a labyrinthine crime story that ends at an abandoned shack out in the country. Collin Chou of The Matrix series is his opponent. They use the environment to brilliant effect, giving the audience a couple of breathers in just the right spots to create a feeling of exhaustion -and satisfaction- when we reach the conclusion. Yen breaks out a lot of great leg locks, as well as his famous wind-up punch.
1. SPL Killzone: Ma Kwan versus Mob Boss Wong Po: I truly doubt Sammo Hung Kambao is capable of performing in or choreographing a bad fight, and this great battle has him doing both. Wilson Yip directing yet again in another gritty police drama. It’s just after Ma has battled Po’s best fighter, played by Wu Jing, in a fight nearly as bad ass as this one. The setting is a multi-level bar with lots of glass to break. Boss Po’s cellphone plays into the fight as well, giving this fight the emotional resonance Hollywood has either never mastered or never bothered with.
Runners up: Vs Mike Tyson in IP MAN 3, Vs Jason Scott Lee in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON 2, VS Jet Li in HERO.
The latest from Patrick C. Greene and Hobbes End Publishing – THE CRIMSON CALLING – Centuries after their eradication and the death of their Queen in the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Vampire population now numbers in only the hundreds. A few of the remaining survivors regrouped and a High Council was born. Now a new threat has arrived: modern day military is not only tracking members of the council, they are attempting to create their own vampire soldiers.
Enter Olivia Irons. Ex Black Ops. Doing her best to live a normal civilian life, but it never feels right. No family, no friends, and trouble always seems to follow. When the Sanguinarian Council offers her the chance of a lifetime, the biggest risk of all seems like the only path left to choose. How will she answer The Crimson Calling?
A few days ago my latest short story CINDERBLOCK released as an ebook. It’s unusual in a number of ways, most obvious being that it’s a horror story set in a sporting environment. As far as I know and with few exceptions, the closest horror has gotten to athletics is Jason donning a Detroit Red Wings goalie mask in Friday the 13th Part 3.
By now, it’s clear to most of my social media associates, readers and imaginary friends that I have a more than passing interest in martial arts and all forms of unarmed combat. Most horror writers are deeply peaceful folk who actually abhor violence, and while I share that perspective, there are few things I enjoy more than watching a good match between trained combat athletes, and on a good day, stepping onto the mat myself.
One of CINDERBLOCK’s principals is an old Polish fight trainer named Doc Lubinski, who is not unlike Burgess Meredith’s Mickey in the Rocky films. This is what people who spend too much time thinking about storytelling refer to as an archetype, which is a way of saying “stereotype” without sounding demeaning. But as a martial artist I’ve certainly had a few Doc Lubinski types expressing encouragement and enraged disappointment at my own humble efforts. By far, the most influential and colorful is Billy “Pops” Wicks, to whom the story is dedicated.
Pops, the son of Norwegian immigrants, took up wrestling in his teens and soon found himself working in traveling carnivals as the guy who takes on “all comers” while a top hatted barker riled up “marks” -local boys who wanted to impress their gal. Of course, the mark would never reach the Promised Land that lay under the skirts of their preferred farmer’s daughter. or if they did, it was out of sympathy. Pops’ job was to toy with them long enough to make it interesting, then to force a submission.
This style of wrestling is called Catch As Catch Can, more recently shortened to catch wrestling. I discovered it and Pops through another of his students, Pancrase* veteran Johnny Huskey.
As one might expect of any man from that rough post-depression era, Pops is salty, outspoken, and generally annoyed with how goddamn candy-assed contemporary fighters are. Unlike Brazilian jiu jitsu fighters, catch wrestlers are expected to stay off their backs when competing or fighting. So emphatic is Pops about this that he has been known to jab young pupils with straight pins if they don’t work out of the bottom position. Believe me, no matter how big or skilled your opponent is, you’ll find a way to escape if you see an angry-faced Norwegian man coming toward you with a straight pin. The pin you see, is to remind you that you’re being “pinned.”
Eventually wrestling changed, and Pops joined the movement toward choreographed action. If a wrestling star got a bit unmanageable among his peers and promoters, he might just find himself booked against Pops, which was a fast track to either humility or hospitalization
But my main point is that Pops loves wrestling, and he loves his wrestlers. To me, his very direct approach and reliance on simple yet brutal techniques is reminiscent of the legendary Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do fighting philosophy. In fact, Lee trained for some time with Gene LeBell, himself a catch wrestler, and a good many catch techniques are found in Lee’s Tao Of Jeet Kune Do.
When my first novel PROGENY was released, Pops excitedly bought and read it. If I may be a bit personal here, that was extremely gratifying for me, considering my own father died before its release. Pops exemplifies what a great teacher of any skill should be -a man who teaches boys how to be men, how to be honest, how to do everything as well as you can. There wasn’t time for the story’s Doc Lubinski to get a very wide arc in CINDERBLOCK, so it was important to me that his love for his pupils was apparent, that the reader would understand how much his boys, both the dead and the living, meant to him.
The boxing gym in CINDERBLOCK might itself seem sort of a cliche. But any inner city kid will tell you, that’s where you find them. The athletes of whatever culture that is most persecuted in any given historical era will gravitate to boxing, and because they have little other choice, they will excel. During Lubinski’s time it would have been the Polish, now it’s black and latino kids. The story’s protagonist O.C. is that kid who could easily have gone the wrong way, if not for “The Old Pole,” as I like to call him.
Doc is not based directly on Pops so much, but is my attempt to compress my understanding of the coach/pupil relationship into capsule form and make it believable enough to fuel the story proper. What I know of Mike Tyson’s relationship with Cus D’amato is also in there, maybe some Mister Miyagi, and of course — Mickey. 🙂
*Pancrase: A Japanese MMA promotion pre-dating the UFC that emphasized submission grappling over striking.
Wiki Billy Wicks
It’s no secret I’m a fan of the legendary Bruce Lee, the famous martial arts star who died at the age of 32, just as his film career was taking off. Lee completed just four films as lead actor before his death. My favorite is Return of The Dragon.
I discovered Bruce Lee as a boy. At that time, grindhouse theatres were still a thing, and it wasn’t uncommon for older films to accompany a new release as a second feature. Such was the case with Return of The Dragon. I’m not sure what the main feature was, but I will never forget the experience of seeing Return for the first time.
My father was on a deadline so he recruited one of his college students to take my brother Egan and me to the enormous, aging Plaza theatre in downtown Asheville. The lively crowd was comprised primarily of young black men who had no issue with voicing their enthusiasm for our hero’s triumphs.
Years later, I acquired a VHS copy of Return from a video store closeout sale. It was an excellent SP copy that came with a hard clamshell case, the cover of which was the original release poster, bearing the great tagline “Man, can we use him now!”
Return of The Dragon bears that title only in U.S. territories, where it debuted a year after Lee’s breakout Hollywood hit Enter The Dragon. The “Return” in the title was probably meant to give the impression that it is a direct sequel to Warner Brothers’ Enter, though it was in fact produced by Golden Harvest and Lee’s own Concord Films a year before Enter, and is a wildly different film in almost every respect. The more apt British title Way of The Dragon hints at the subtext that Lee, serving for the only time as writer and director, attempted to weave into the film.
From a critic’s standpoint, it’s not exactly a mindblowing artistic achievement. The story: Lee’s character Tang Lung travels to Rome to help his cousins fend off a small time mob boss with designs on their restaurant property.
That’s about it; a far cry from the international scope and James Bond feel of Enter. The camera work is something less than subtle, even a little clumsy at times. Plot points tend to repeat. The English dubbing is ridiculous. But I’m not a critic. I’m a geek. And what I want from my kung fu films is good characters fighting good fights, both morally and technically.
Return has been on Netflix streaming for a while and I finally got around to revisiting it, seeing as how the VCR half of my DVD/VCR combo has taken to angrily chewing to bits anything that disturbs its years-long hibernation. I can’t stand the thought of my treasured heavy-ass VHS copy being digested and pushed through the bowels of that hungry, obsolete beast. Plus, the streaming version is in glorious widescreen!
That’s not all, as I learned. As I saw it in theatres and on VHS, Return of The Dragon runs a few minutes shorter than the version Netflix has acquired. Somewhere along the distribution route, someone decided some cuts were needed–but this version is fully intact. Thus, I was delighted to see footage in this lifelong favorite that I had never seen before! Perhaps this is the British “Way” cut, but the title card says otherwise.
Do the cuts change the story? Well, let’s say that seeing them added back in adds to the story, but will probably not mean anything to the average, non-obsessed viewer.
It opens with Tang Lung standing in a Rome airport, an Italian woman staring at him like he’s an odd creature. His stomach is growling, you see, and he doesn’t speak Italian, so he can’t ask about restaurants. Eventually, though, he finds one, and this is where the first cut fits. He sits down to order, only to find the menu incomprehensible. So he points at several random words, expecting the smaller portions common to Asia. Instead, he receives a massive tray loaded with dishes, which he now feels obligated to finish.
Not exactly a riveting flashback loaded with fascinating back story, but it illustrates that Tang Lung is not the usual kung fu bad ass, but rather a simple fish out of water. This adds a great deal of contrast that makes his later fistic exploits seems all the more violent and explosive–and tells us not to judge this book by its cover.
Even more telling is a later scene where Tang’s female cousin, played by Nora Miao, encourages him to be more receptive to the friendly overtures of Italian locals. Shortly, Tang is approached by a prostitute, and innocently accompanies her to her flat. Left in the bedroom alone, Tang finds a full length mirror and checks his techniques; first a blistering backfist, then a series of kicks so fast, it is impossible to tell whether he is throwing a sidekick or a lead leg snap roundhouse.
His new friend reappears–topless. Tang is so shocked he beats a hasty retreat. Contextually, with this scene missing, it’s easy to assume they’d had sex, undermining the notion of Tang Lung as an innocent naif.
Not surprisingly, it’s the fight scenes for which Return/Way is most remembered, but not just because Lee is a spectacular martial artist. Lee’s training and fighting method, dubbed Jeet Kune Do, was based around the philosophy he espoused in his books and lessons, which is freedom of individual expression over adherence to a set system. This applies to physical training obviously, but also to just about everything else.
The third act finds the mobsters sending out for a trio of fighters to dispense with Tang Lung and his cousins through sheer physical intimidation. These fighters include Korean Tae Kwon Do master Whang In Sik, 70s karate tournament stalwart Robert Wall and of course Chuck Norris, who at that time was a semi contact world champion and frequent training partner to Lee.
Lee puts Whang In Sik and Wall on the road to defeat, allowing his cousins to finish the job while he is lured to no less than the Roman Coliseum for the showdown with Norris’ Colt character. What we get next is pure martial genius.
Lee, who choreographed the fights in addition to his many other duties, eschewed traditional chopsocky multiple combination exchanges for a more intimate, stop-and-start style of fight that allows the characters and the audience to occasionally catch their breath and register what they had just experienced. But cooler still, and consider this a spoiler alert, Lee’s character, finding himself losing to his stronger, pastier opponent, does something truly inspired.
Rising from his strong low stances, he begins to move about like Muhammad Ali, light on his feet, constantly moving in circles and side to side, frustrating Colt by hopping in to strike then fading away. By the time the American karate champ realizes that the smaller man’s new tactic has overcome his power, he is seriously injured, his shattered arm trembling, his supporting leg useless.
And this is when Lee makes perfect use of an opportunity to create layers of psychology and subtlety rarely seen in action films. An unspoken communication takes place, as Colt struggles to rise, the determination on his face painted with pain. Lung stops his rhythmic footwork, something like shock on his face.
In what is the single most sublime moment of Chuck Norris’ acting career, his Colt character gives Tang Lung a slight smile. Lee/Lung shakes his head -not theatrically, just a tiny movement with a clear understanding of what he is being asked to do.
Colt attacks, essentially just falling into Tang Lung’s neck crank and firing a couple of weak punches to the body, knowing he will now die at the hands of a great warrior. Tang Lung snaps his neck and eases him to the ground, his bloody face now very sad.
Tang Lung fetches Colt’s gi jacket and black belt and drapes them across the American’s body, kneeling with him for a moment of reverence.
In that fight scene was drama, suspense, supreme action, and the ultimate wordless expression of Lee’s philosophy; absorb what is useful. The individual is more important than the style. All men are brothers.
My pet project web series THE OUTSIDE MAN isn’t really “my” project in any true sense. It’s really very much a collaboration between several dozen artists of varying mediums. Today I’d like to talk about some of the physical preparation, and how a revolutionary flexibility program I lucked upon has put me on the path to exceeding even my lofty expectations.
For the early stages of my training, I realized I had to change things up. Having worked as a trainer and coach for mixed martial arts competitors for a few years, I had gotten into the habit of training myself as well as the fighters in terms of efficiency of movement -the most power or damage done while expending the least amount of energy, and simultaneously taking the least amount of damage upon oneself, within the confines of MMA rules.
With the concept of THE OUTSIDE MAN percolating in my solid-metal brainpan, I thought of my previous experience with the world of fight choreography on various sets, attending stunt fighting schools with luminaries like Cynthia Rothrock, Joe Hess, Eric Lee and Michael DePasquale Jr., and the countless hours of fight films I had watched. I have worked on numerous films where shortcuts were taken, both in terms of safety and aesthetics in the fight scenes and I dearly wanted to avoid having that happen in OM. And it had to start with me.
Flexibility training has changed a lot over the years, and having a few injuries from fighting and training, I had developed a few weak spots. I really needed an edge in my stretch routines that would bring me back up to speed so I did searches for splits, kicking higher, etc. Amid the many tried (and mostly true) programs available, the work of Paul Zaichik and his Elastic Steel system caught my attention for its emphasis on safe and thoroughly scientifically researched flexibility enhancement.
When one thinks about making goals for gaining flexibility, in terms of martial arts at least, there’s an unfortunate tendency to become myopic. Many martial artists try to achieve the splits position for instance, as a goal itself rather than a means to an end. And while it’s very helpful to be able to do splits, it doesn’t, as I learned the hard way, instantly grant you flawless technique, balance, or muscle control.
Turns out it’s actually easier to improve in all those areas by simply understanding how and why the muscles work for and against each other, and what you can do to train them efficiently. Zaichik has studied -and continues to study- these elements extensively, and has made his knowledge accessible and easy to understand. I only wish I’d had some of this information when I started training, but I’m stoked that I was able to implement it now. At any rate, he’s easy enough to find via ElasticSteel.com and on youtube, where one can find scores of helpful tutorials. It’s just fun to watch him demonstrate kicks as well, as he can perform just about any technique with power and speed.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Paul’s research and teaching isn’t limited to martial arts. He has devised sport specific routines for baseball, yoga, dance, running, rock climbing and probably just about everything else. I’m currently using an intermediate hamstrings program, which I’ve been on for a couple of weeks. The striking thing about this method is that it’s almost the opposite of what I had come to expect as a martial artist, in terms of rigor and time spent. The routines don’t take long and aren’t overly taxing or painful; just very very efficient.
For the series, that translates to maximal fight scene badassery and minimal danger to the participants, like it oughta be.
Next time you’ll meet the psychos behind the camera.
It was about eight months ago while toiling away in the gym that the thought came to me: MAKE A WEB SERIES MEATHEAD! THEN YOU CAN HAVE A REASON FOR DOING ALL THIS!!!!
“All this” constitutes weight lifting, strict dieting, stretching, bag work, wrestling, sparring and countless hours practicing kicks. At a young age I decided I would be an action star; more specifically a martial arts movie hero. Along the way, that interest in martial arts morphed into the pursuit of actual competitive fighting; which you might imagine is a whole different animal.
Fast forward a decade or two and I find myself enjoying some success as a writer. Now rewind again, and I am writing a script to sell with myself attached as star–just like Stallone.
So, life happened. And I never quite pulled the trigger on that extended stay in LA and the casting calls and schmoozing that are requisite to becoming the next Van Damme.
I did spend a very strange summer there, landed a few roles in martial arts films that somehow never saw general release, choreographed fights for some indie flicks, but I never leveled my focus purely on that pursuit. And in retrospect, I realize that the idea of actually getting there kind of scared the hell out of me. It has its downsides believe it or not. One need only research the biographies of even the most well-regarded and enduring principals of the action genre.
But now we find ourselves in an era when web series are a thing, and it doesn’t take millions of dollars to commit your story to film or video. It does take some substantial planning though, and a concerted effort from a good many people to bring to life even the simplest tale. And that’s what THE OUTSIDE MAN is–a simple tale that will place the martial arts and its practitioners in its truest light; redemption, self sacrifice, doing right because it’s right–and not just for the sake of winning the girl or avenging the humiliating defeat. These are the themes to which the creators of THE OUTSIDE MAN and I aspire.
In coming weeks I’ll write more about my preparations, my bumblings, my highs and lows and most importantly about the amazing people on my team. By the end of this project I hope to have created something that moves you.