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 PCG’s Quirky Queue
Donnie Yen, the most prolific Asian action star working, is doing what they all do, which is to transition from pure martial arts films to grittier action dramas. This one delivers the goods in almost every department (though it could use a bit of a trim IMO) and as a student of both realistic combat techniques and great action choreography, I was pleased to see how Yen’s always spectacular choreography has continued to not only improve, but work nicely with the story. For example, it’s not unusual to see MMA style techniques in action movies these days, but Yen really knows how to set these up within the framework of a given fight’s psychology.
This low budget sci-fi actioner holds up pretty well against its more expensive brethren thanks to good performances from a likable cast. Loved the score for this one, reminiscent of The Terminator though it was.
COME BACK TO ME
A good concept, dark enough to be shocking at times, but more often rather pedestrian thanks to what seems like rushed directing. Like I know anything. But anyway, the cast, looking like soap opera stalwarts, rises to the occasion throughout, making it a decent watch.
The end times prophesied by St. John in the book of Revelation are here! And while the tribulation of those left behind, or whatever, is indeed horrendous, it’s also a rich mine of comedy gold. Those little scorpion/locust things are a major annoyance (as well as a hilarious homage to The Outer Limits’ Zanti Misfits) but they pale in comparison to cursing crows, fiery comets and The Beast himself, as portrayed by Craig Robinson.
‘Member this one, from 1985? Based on the popular board game (when was the last time that happened?) this one drops some 80s B-listers into an old dark mansion with a scoundrel who is blackmailing them, and of course the bodies hit the floor. The multiple endings have all been clumsily edited into the digital version for Clue completists (?)
SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE’S SHERLOCK HOLMES
The Asylum, progenitors of “mockbusters” like SNAKES ON A TRAIN and TRANSMORPHERS, offers up its take on Sir Doyle’s famous detective, hoping you’ll accidentally rent it instead of the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. smash. You could do worse though, as there is plenty of eye candy and decent enough acting.
DEATH ON DEMAND
How do you take a cast of attractive, frequently nude actors and make their sex scenes utterly repugnant? How do you turn the tongue-in-cheek subtleties of a self-conscious slasher script into a humorless embarrassment? How do you make gory, harrowing death scenes boring beyond belief? Apparently, you hire a reality show director, and let him ply his cynical trade, unhindered. To be avoided.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a retired mercenary drawn back into the game when the American daughter of an MMA contender is kidnapped by sex traffickers. Not as much martial arts as that synopsis might imply, but still plenty of satisfying action, and JCVD’s grown kids are certainly coming into their own as performers.
Though it’s a little found footagey, this bizarre effort transcends that gimmick in short order, becoming a trippy meditation on the power of art versus the comfort of mundane existence. Not for everyone but those who “get it” will love it.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN
Drive-ins of the 60s and 70s seem to have been the targets of the films created by Charles B Pierce, who helmed this 1976 proto-slasher that is probably too deliberately paced for young whippersnappers. I know it was for me; though there are a handful of moments that stand with the best of the early slashers. A good sense of time and place (Texarkana, post-war 1940s) is the film’s greatest asset, making it well worth a watch.
Stay tuned for the next Quirky Queue! Coming soon!
TOURIST TRAP: Right before the slasher craze of the eighties, a double fistful of more surreal entries found their way to cinemas, including this gem. Chuck Connors of all people, shows up to make your skin crawl, in a story that does a good job of capturing that elusive “dream logic” feel that can make a film seem like a nightmare.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION: The action spectacle I’d read raves about found its way to my DVD player, and delivered as promised. Simple enough siege story with Iko Uwais from MERANTAU kicking asses from one and of a criminal-infested apartment building to the other. The intricate fight scenes will fill the bill for action junkies.
CREATURE OF DARKNESS: Few films have actually ever filled me with rage because of nothing more than the incompetence and utter lack of care that went into making them. This POS is on that short list. I will award kudos to the designers of the titular creature–but other than that, I hereby forbid anyone in my family or circle of friends from ever again mentioning this egregious mess.
DRAGON (WU-XIA): It’s a shame this recent Chinese release has such a generic title; it’s sure to get lost in the shuffle of martial arts films–and it deserves much better. The always excellent Donnie Yen in another dynamic role (also working as fight choreographer, though there are only a handful of fights) opposite Takeshi Kaneshiro in a what can only be described as a historical action mystery akin to a Chinese period version of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Excellent on all levels.
A FORCE OF ONE: One of Chuck Norris’ earlier vehicles. So hopelessly dated there’s no way to recommend it, especially if you’re a martial arts fan. The fight scenes here are Norris’ worst without exception (yes, that includes “Yellow Faced Tiger”) but that’s mostly owing to utterly clueless and careless camerawork. Interestingly, the “helicopter kick” that Jean Claude Van Damme claimed to have invented is performed here by Eric Laneuville, years before JCVD’s advent.
2 DAYS: Paul Rudd plays an actor who drafts a film crew to document the twenty four hours leading up to his planned suicide. Less depressing and edgy than it sounds, this low budget comedy, lensed on 16mm, is worth a look.
THE ABC’s OF DEATH: An anthology film with each entry based on a letter from the alphabet is a mediocre idea at best. After about C or D, the law of diminishing returns kicked in, with each entry becoming worse. Part of the problem is that most of the stories are more comedy than horror, and not very funny at that. A shame, because there are some true talents credited here. Full disclosure: I stopped watching after about H or I, when a torture scenario that involved child rape, among other things, suddenly drained away the last scrap of enjoyment. I get being edgy, but don’t go cheap, boys and girls.
UNDERTAKER: THE STREAK. I’ve long since given up on professional wrestling, but it’s nice to relive some of the highlights of my old favorites. Mark Callas, a.k.a. The Undertaker, is one of the most imposing and talented performers in the business, and his morbid gimmick strikes a chord with a horror fanatic like me. Really only of interest to like-minded folks.
SPLICED: After a long string of disappointing horror viewings, I somehow managed upon this enjoyable 2002 ode to teen slashers. Drew Lachey, who I believe was in a boy band or perhaps an MTV “program,” leads a cast of good-looking high schoolers in the tale of a horror movie icon seemingly come to life. It’s like a tribute to Wes Craven with elements of both SCREAM and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET coming into play, and handled fairly well at that. (Editor’s Note: Drew Lachey is brother to Nick Lachey, who was indeed in a boy band.)
11-11-11: Dripping with creepy atmosphere and a sense of dread, as well as some fine performances and nice direction by SAW vet Darren Lynn Bousman. So why did it seem to lie so flat to me? Maybe it’s the now-cliched twist ending.
Stay tuned for future installments from PCG’s Quirky Queue!