THE STORY SO FAR…
I’ve been searching far and wide (well…Netflix and back) for more martial arts in movies. And now, four more to add to the gallery. We’ve got a good spread this time, with arts coming from Asia, Europe and South America, as well as moving from self defence to competition sports. Round Two!
The Legend of the Drunken Master – Drunken Kung Fu
Let’s start with another one that most people would know, Jackie Chan. Whether you loved his original stuff starting in the late 70s all the way to the 90s, or were a humble noughties kid who watched the cartoon, nearly everyone knows who Jackie Chan is or has seen at least one of his films.
His best film is arguably Wheels on Meals (and guys, if you haven’t seen Wheels On Meals, you NEED to watch it), but here, we want to talk about the different martial arts. And so The Legend Of The Drunken Master is our film of discussion.
Hands up, how many of you thought Drunken Kung Fu was fake? I know, it seems kind of ridiculous. But that’s part of how Drunken Kung Fu works. The story goes that the Eight Immortals, major figures in Chinese mythology were attacked by demons while having a feast. All Immortals were drunk, but fought off the attack and thus creating a new form of Kung Fu, where imitation of drunkard was the key to fighting.
A lot of the moves of Drunken Kung Fu come from hitting your opponent at odd angles or using feinting or acrobatic moves to confuse your opponent. We see several moment of this in The Legend Of The Drunken Master, with Chan constantly falling over, rolling around on the floor or hopping about on one leg. Chan also calls out the name of the moves, such as “Down The Hatch” and “Waterfall”, showing the influence of alcohol on the martial art.
Picture: Jackie Chan in Legend Of The Drunken Master (1994).
Ong Bak – Muay Thai
Many people have learnt about this martial art due to its influence in mixed martial arts fighting. Muay Thai is also known as the “Science Of Eight Limbs”, due to its use of elbows and knees to attack opponents as well as punching, kicking and clinching (neck wrestling).
Descended from the fighting style Muay Boran (an umbrella term for several styles from the surrounding area), the history can be traced back to the 16th century, during the battles between Burma and Siam (now Thailand). The Burmese caught a famed fighter, Nai Khanom Tom, and said he could win his freedom through fighting. Nai Khanom Tom did a dance ritual (to pay respect to his mentors and ancestors) before fighting, then beat his opponent. The referee said the dance distracted the opponent, so Nai Khanom Tom had to fight another nine opponents without a rest in between. Eventually he was allowed to go home and he became a national hero, with his style of fighting becoming what would be known to be Muay Thai. Now to the films.
When most people think of Muay Thai in films, it’s usually Jean Claude Van Damme in either Bloodsport or Kickboxer. And while they have a campy fun about them, I wanted to pick something a bit more contemporary. So, 2003’s Ong Bak, with its blend of wireless and CGI-less stunts with bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat, which then catapulted main actor Tony Jaa into mainstream Hollywood with films like Furious 7.
Jaa’s fight scenes mainly incorporate the two weapons that set Muay Thai apart from other Kickboxing; elbows and knees against his opponents. I can’t actually think of a time when Jaa uses his fists, it’s just elbows, knees, feet and shins. At the start of the film we see him performing routines of the different elbow, knee and kick combinations that Muay Thai has, each one named after animals native to Thailand (e.g. Crocodile Tail) or natural events (e.g. The Cliff Crumbles). The forearms and knee to shin are used as armour from strikes, which comes in handy during the final “Fight Club” scene when tables and chairs are being thrown at Jaa.
Picture: Tony Jaa as Ting during the “Fight Club” scene in Ong Bak (2003).
The Dark Knight Series – Keysi Fighting Method
Yeah, Batman, we’re going there. I bet many a promising martial artist took inspiration from their favourite comic book character and has dabbled in Keysi.
When Christopher Nolan started his Dark Knight series, he searched for a fighting style that his new, gritty, realistic version of the Caped Crusader would use. He felt martial arts in films had become too balletic and in his words wanted something “grubby”. One of the stuntmen on Batman Begins mentioned a new martial art from that had been created, named Keysi Fighting Method and after looking at demonstration videos, the crew agreed it was the best form to use.
Created by the duo of Justo Deiguez and Andy Norman, Keysi took inspiration from several forms. The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, the continual use of elbows from Silat (as well as small amounts of ground work), the economy efficiency of Krav Maga and Kali, merged with real life experience (the duo apparently worked both as bouncers and in the street fighting scene in Spain) from a style that is not interested in flashiness. As stunt co-ordinator Paul Jennings said, “Why do a triple spin kick double loop when you could just knock him out?”
The tenants of Keysi that are shown in The Dark Knight series, most notably keeping the palms on the top of their head, keeping the elbows out in front, as well as the to-the-point attacks show what Keysi is all about. Protection at all times, covering the most precious area (the temples and face) and bringing your opponent down with simple attacks. Keysi has also become the fight style of Tom Cruise in his films. For more fight scenes featuring the principles of Keysi, I would direct you to Mission Impossible 3 and Jack Reacher.
Christian Bale as Batman and Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
Warrior – MMA
Kind of a cheat one to finish, as MMA (or Mixed Martial Arts) is blend of arts. Boxing, Judo, Muay Thai, Karate and Taekwondo are all used in some degree, with the main art being Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I’ll try and focus on the blend of arts for this section.
MMA started mainly after the first UFC, where eight fighters from eight different disciplines fought to see who’s art was the best. The ones featured were Savate (French Kickboxing), Sumo Wrestling, Kickboxing, Kenpo (a hybrid form of Karate), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Shootfighting (another hybrid, mixing grappling and stand-up styles) and Taekwondo. Due to Royce Gracie’s abilities in grappling and submissions, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was the winner and became the go-to art for fighters in MMA. Even now, over 20 years since Royce Gracie won the first UFC, BJJ is still the primary art in MMA.
There have been a few films focussing on MMA, not many of them good. Here Comes The Boom with Kevin James (which features fighters like Bas Rutten, Mark DellaGrotte and Wanderlei Silva, but has many bad reviews) or Never Back Down, which tries to mix MMA with The O.C. (and is also quite stupid). Warrior on the other hand, is a great film. When the film’s SPARTA competition gets going, you see the elbows and knees of Muay Thai, the fuoette kicks of Savate and they finish off with the good old grappling from Brazilian Jui-Jitsu. I never thought grappling would look good on camera, but Warrior does the sport proud. And if you did just watch it for the fights, now that you also saw one of the best films of 2011.
Tom Hardy (Left) vs. Joel Edgerton (Right) in Warrior (2011).
That’s it! Once again, if I’ve mis-spoke or you have an idea for what other martial arts I could talk about, leave a comment. If I can find another four then I might do one more round. Thanks for reading!
You can read the first round of Martial Arts In Movies here.