Chop-Socky vs. Choppy editing: Why you should like Kung Fu
If you feel movies are wonderful forms of expression like I do, you should value every aspect of the production from the cinematography, acting, editing and, if it’s a necessary part of the whole, the action. For me personally there is nothing more satisfying than a well-executed and exciting action scene. Now with that in mind, do you want to know why I dislike THE BOURNE SURPREMACY? It started an unnecessary phenomenon in action filmmaking to shake the camera incessantly during the action. Every film does this now, even when it doesn’t fit the style of the rest of the film. Of course before this there has always been the tried and true moviemaking trick of hyper-editing, which is just as bad. There’s really no value in having actors who are great screen fighters when anyone can look good with the right editor. This is my problem with western-style action filmmaking: it’s lazy. It’s easy to hide stunt doubles in the incomprehension of shaky cam. But hey, it’s all under the veil of ‘feeling the chaos’ so that makes it okay. THE HUNGER GAMES is the latest victim of nausea-inducing Bourne-style chaos. What can rescue us from this wasteland of muddled action films? What people don’t know is the best action filmmaking is and always has been from the East.
My first experience with Eastern-style action was RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, thanks to a recommendation by Roger Ebert. Sure it was a little weird watching a half-dubbed movie, but the action scenes were eye-popping and you could actually see the action and Jackie Chan doing all (okay, most of) the fights and stunts. However this was just the tip of the iceberg. What I later learned is that a lot of action stars in Hong Kong would spend months filming action scenes, taking real hits and hard falls, all for the sake of entertainment. In its glory days of the 70s and 80s, Hong Kong cranked out a ridiculous amount of high quality Kung Fu films. It’s from these original high standards and massive stunt teams that made Asian action cinema king. These old days, known as the old-school era, are basically like Wilt Chamberlin’s 100 point game or Ted Williams hitting .400, it will never be matched again. Even today China is making tons of big action films that can match Hollywood not in budget, but in pure adrenaline. Watching Hollywood action, I can easily spot the doubles, the slow action, and the terrible editing. There’s no going back, I am hooked. You should be too.
What makes Eastern-filmmaking so great? In short, it’s the fight choreography. A friend of mine told me she couldn’t stand Kung Fu films. When I asked why she said it wasn’t realistic for people to randomly break out into long Kung Fu battles. I asked her, “Well do you like musicals? Because Kung Fu movies are basically like that.” Do people make fun of the skillfully choreographed routines from Gene Kelly films? Like musicals, these films aren’t supposed to be realistic, though more recent films have included grappling and MMA. The old films are in a fantasy world, kind of like Middle Earth, and that’s how they should be looked at first and foremost. Many of them are basically superhero movies. With this understanding you can now begin to dazzle at the wonderful fight scenes which serve not just as a display, but also to advance the story. The acrobatics, speed, timing, and flow of a fight scene can be absolutely mesmerizing. Let me put it this way: on TV’s FRINGE, Dr. Walter Bishop explains that listening to harmonic music like Mozart's Marriage of Figaro calms brain waves, while other kinds of music (like rock music) make the brain waves go crazy. This is what I feel happens when I watch the expertly choreographed symphony of movement that is Kung Fu. It’s pure bliss on a cerebral level. Western action is the ‘rock music’ in this case because there is no harmony and no flow. Of course not all Western filmmakers are bad, but I’ll get into that in my reviews.
Despite the awesomeness of this genre, the time it takes to make a great fight scene, and the years it takes off of stuntmen’s lives, these movies get no respect. Why? Because distributors, and many consumers, don’t take them seriously. Whenever a label, like Dragon Dynasty or Tokyo Shock, try to release these films on DVD/Blu-Ray (past or present) they usually don’t stay in business very long. This in turn leads people to download them, which affects the stability of future distributors. Well it’s time I take a stand. Travis’ Kung Fu Korner is going to give you all the information you don’t want, but you’re going to get anyway. Because this genre needs another voice. If I can get just one person to check out these films from reading this, then mission accomplished. I hope you all enjoy what’s to come.
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