The third and final round of Martial Arts In Movies. We’ll keep this short, I’ll just say we have a mix of arts again, some from Asia and Europe as well as arts that don’t even exist, and maybe even a collection of several. Enjoy!
Creed – Boxing
Boxing, easy enough. Everyone knows what boxing is. Boxers use their fists to attack and defend, but boxing is a full body sport. Boxers feet are one of their greatest assets, not for attacking, but for moving around an opponent. It’s said that boxers should be able to jump rope 100 times a minute, making them probably one of the fastest fighters in the world. Through training, whether it be through sparring or bag work, a boxer will have one of the hardest and quickest punches, making it, maybe not the most well-rounded stand-up art, but one of the most dangerous. Now to films.
Some people would probably be angry that I chose a non-Rocky film (or that I chose a film in the Rocky universe. Basically not Raging Bull). And while they might be great films as a whole, I wanted to choose Creed for the boxing matches.
While there might be only two full on boxing matches in the film, the first match is the one to look out for. The entire scene is done all in one take and with the camera inside the ring, sometimes going into the point-of-view of one of the fighters. It’s probably the closest many of us will get to being in the ring in a semi-pro to pro match, and not get hurt in the process.
Picture: Michael B. Jordan in during the final fight in Creed (2016).
Man Of Tai Chi – Tai Chi
Tai Chi (the full name is “taiji quan”, which translates to “Supreme Ultimate Boxing”) falls under the Kung Fu umbrella and is said to be one of the oldest fighting style in the world. It’s characteristics are it’s slow movements, making a less demanding, more health-focussed approach to fighting. It’s main students are actually older people, who like tai chi for its benefits towards mobility and healing qualities, such as helping after accidents. Some people would not even regard it as a martial art, but tai chi, just like many martial arts, has several different styles. Some are slow and soft, much like yoga, but the faster and “hard” styles are more combat focussed. And the combat side is what we are looking at.
Man Of Tai Chi is my #1 favourite film. Not the best film of all time, just my personal favourite. And part of the appeal is the amazing choreography of the fight scenes. Choreographed by the excellent Yuen Woo-Ping (who did The Matrix, Crouching Tiger and both Kill Bill‘s just to name a few), Man of Tai Chi shows the flowing style sped up and used in combat. The film revolves around an underground tournament, so we see it against Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. the main character Tiger Chen also fights his master in the middle of the film, so it’s interesting to see Tai Chi vs. Tai Chi. And the film is low on chi blasts and psychic attacks, focussing more on real life moves rather than ancient superpowers.
Picture: Tiger Chen defeats another opponent in Man Of Tai Chi (2013).
The Matrix Series – Wire Fu
Wire Fu, a fake martial art that uses wires to make fighters fly and float through the sky while blending it with kung fu to create an art, that while doesn’t exist, looks incredible on screen.
Many films have taken and used Wire Fu for some of their best action scenes, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House Of Flying Daggers are the two main ones (both excellent films, if you ever have a chance to check them out do. While Crouching Tiger is widely considered the better one, I like the ending to House Of Flying Daggers more). The other film that uses Wire Fu is The Matrix.
In The Matrix, we see Neo (Keanu Reeves) learn several different martial arts. Savate Kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu, Kempo Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Drunken Boxing and obviously Kung Fu. But due to the simulated reality of the film, the people inside are not bound to the laws of physics, creating a hyper-form of martial arts, featuring incredible acrobatic moves and impossible attacks.
The Dojo fight from the first film is an incredible scene, blending all the martial arts that Neo has so far learnt, spliced in with the signature flying attacks and jumps that set Wire Fu apart. The first film also features the first hand-to-hand fight of Neo vs. Smith (Hugo Weaving) and features many of the same unattainable moves, such as wall running and bullet-time, helped by the use of a 360 degrees camera. While the slow-motion might be a cheap gimmick to some, and the slowed hand-to-hand combat look boring in comparison to its counterparts, it allows for full appreciation of the “art” part of martial art.
While The Matrix is undoubtedly the best film, the other films have some fights to watch out for. The Matrix Reloaded, the second film in the franchise, includes Neo fighting with Seraph, the best fighter within the system, as well as more acrobatic skills in a seven-on-one fight in a chateau, which features Tiger Chen before his lead role in Man of Tai Chi.
Picture: Neo (Reeves) vs. Morpheus (Fishburne) in the Dojo from The Matrix (1999).
Virtua Fighter – Various Styles
I’m cheating with this final example, as Virtua Fighter is an anime television show rather than a film like the mini-series title would lead you to believe…but damn it, this is my blog and Virtua Fighter needs more love. Based on the fighting game of the same name (which also doesn’t get much love, people like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter more), the show follows several martial artists who battle a crime syndicate who is trying to create a robot who is the perfect warrior (it’s Japanese and an anime, of course a robot is going to appear).
Several styles appear in the show, Bajiquan (Eight Extreme Fists), Mizongquan (Lost Track Skill), Northern Praying Mantis and Tiger Swallow Fist, which are four styles that come under the Wushu “Kung Fu” umbrella, Jeet Kune Do, Pro Wrestling, Drunken Boxing, Ninjutsu (yes ninjas) and Pancratium, the ancient form of Greek wrestling from the Olympics.
Despite being animated, the styles and moves are almost true-to-life, with some creative license taken in scenes where opponents fly through the air when hit. One addition though which makes Virtua Fighter stand out is the “Special Attack” sections. When a fighter uses a move that is unique to their art (such as the Flash Kick in Jeet Kune Do or Splash Mountain from Pancratium) the episode pauses and does a detailed breakdown of the move, repeating it over and over, in a simplified version of the physics breakdowns in the martial art show Human Weapon.
If you’re interested, the entire thing is on YouTube, subbed and dubbed.
Picture: Akira (right) fights off a Koen-Ken fighter in Virtua Fighter (1996).
That’s the end of this mini-series! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading all three posts as much as I’ve had creating them. Again, any corrections are greatly received.
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.
I’ve been wanting to write something like this for a while. I’m a fanatic of martial arts, training in one form or another for nearly four years at the time of writing. I also love movies, with three of my top five personal favourites having martial arts in them.
I didn’t want to just write what my favourite fight scenes are (because that would just be me saying The Raid 2 over and over again). But more of what types of martial arts are in films, because the term “kung fu movie”, while very apt for when a certain martial artist was the main star, isn’t applicable anymore. Think of this more as a gallery of martial arts in films. I’ll do four to start, but we both know this will take quite a few posts.
Game Of Death – Jeet Kune Do
Where else to start than the master himself, Bruce Lee. While many (including I) would rank Enter The Dragon as is best film, I chose Game Of Death for insight into Lee’s own martial art, Jeet Kune Do.
His first films (things like Fist of Fury and The Big Boss) were displays of the kung fu style Wing Chun, but Lee soon grew to dislike the confines of it, so decided to make his own martial art, blending whatever ones he liked the most. He created Jeet Kune Do (or Way Of The Intercepting Fist), a philosophy on fighting rather than a set of moves. And this is why I chose Game Of Death.
While Enter The Dragon also shows off Jeet Kune Do (or Jun Fan by its other name) the fights are more rigid, focussing mainly on trapping techniques rather than full fights. Game Of Death was created by Lee specifically for the purpose of showing Jeet Kune Do to the world.
Game Of Death‘s signature set-piece involves a pagoda filled with martial artists. Five floors were planned (only three were filmed) showing Lee and four allies fighting different styles; Hapkido, Praying Mantis Kung Fu, Kali/Escrima, whatever the hell Kareem Abdul Jafar was doing and then an unknown one at the top. The plan was for the four allies to fall away, showing the limitations of their styles and showing Jeet Kune Do to be the best around.
Since Lee died during filming, only half of the film got made, until frequent Lee collaborator Robert Clouse eventually cobbling together a half-baked scheme about the Mafia wanting to employ Bruce Lee’s character. But the surviving pagoda sequences are a great showcase of Jeet Kune Do by its creator.
Picture: Lee vs. Kareem Abdul Jafar in Game Of Death (1978).
Jason Bourne Series – Kali/Escrima/Arnis
Many people confuse Jason Bourne’s signature fighting style with Krav Maga. This is incorrect. True, to an untrained eye it may look like Krav Maga (and it doesn’t help that some Krav teachers went and stole a bunch of moves from Kali and pretended they were Krav’s, but that’s an argument for another day). It’s in fact a Filipino martial art, which goes by many names but for the sake of brevity we’ll go with Kali.
Kali has been showcased in many films, including Equilibrium, The Book Of Eli and even 300 (yes, Zack Snyder/Frank Miller’s homoerotic Spartan kill frenzy). But I chose to focus on Bourne mainly for the use of improvised weapons.
Kali is predominantly a weapons based form. Sticks and knives are what are used in training, but the movements learnt are easily applicable when picking up everyday objects. This is what the Bourne series in known for, Jason Bourne and company picking up whatever is around them and using it to both defend themselves and kill their opponent.
Scenes such as the “Pen fight” in Identity (the pen swapped out for a knife) or the “Magazine fight” in Supremacy (the rolled up magazine replacing the stick) perfectly show this weapon-based and improvisational aspect to Kali. The third film, Ultimatum, shows off Panantukan, the empty-hand focus of Kali. This is seen in the Bourne vs. Desh fight, with the use of books, hand towels and ash-trays being picked up and used the exact same as fighting with sticks and knives.
Picture: Bourne vs. Jarda in The Bourne Supremacy (2004).
The Raid/The Raid 2 – Silat
I really couldn’t pick between them, so we’ll just go with both. The Raid reset the standards of both an action movie and a martial arts movie. Seeing as no-one saw director Gareth Edwards first Silat (pronounced See-Lat) based film Merantau, The Raid was many people’s first introduction to the form.
Found all throughout Southeast Asia but with Indonesia most commonly thought of as it’s home-place, Pencak (Pen-Chak) Silat (to give it it’s full name) has several different variations depending on regions and styles. Much like certain styles in Kung Fu, it can be based on the movements of animals. It’s main focus is split between ground-work as well as strikes, mostly using the elbows and knees. Interesting fact, Pencak Silat actually pre-dates Islam. When Islam became the predominant faith in Indonesia, it merged with Silat, creating forms that are based on ideas and activities in Islam, for example, washing hands before prayer. But anyway, let’s get on to the films.
The Raid while chiefly a display of Silat actually uses several different styles. This was mainly to give variety to the fight scenes. For example, Joe Taslim, who plays Sergeant Jaka was a professional Judo fighter. Also, there are several scenes involving police batons and knives where Kali principles are used. But for the main fights, Silat was used. And to speed up making the film by not teaching actors choreographed moves, they went and just got the choreographers to play the main roles of the film.
I’m in the minority that likes The Raid 2 more than the original, but it comes down to want you want out of a film. If you want non-stop action, then The Raid is better. It’s 90 minutes and nearly the entire film is action. The Raid 2 did a Goodfellas/The Departed undercover gangster story and stretched the run-time to two and a half hours, but upped the ante for fights. We get the protracted hand-to-hand sequences but also claw hammers (a nod to another martial arts action film, Oldboy) as well as aluminium baseball bats and a Karambit knife, highly identifiable by it’s curved blade. Karambit’s aren’t designated to a singular martial art (most reports claim it to be a Filipino weapon, so possibly Kali) but it is widely used in Silat.
Picture: Uco vs. The Assassin in The Raid 2 (2014).
Ip Man – Wing Chun
To finish, we’ll come full circle and talk about Bruce Lee’s first martial art, Wing Chun. But the story of Ip Man (Ip, not I.P.) is actually about Bruce Lee’s mentor.
Wing Chun belongs under the umbrella term Kung Fu, and is notable for being created by a woman mainly for women to protect their households when the men were away at battle. It is recognisable by the incredibly close-quarters fighting and the Wing Chun punch style, which allows a volley of punches to be fired off in quick succession.
While there is three Ip Man films, the first one is the best for a good representation of the art. The other ones, while alright, have some odd editing choices in fights or have elements of Wire Fu in them (Wire Fu, the technical term for films like Crouching Tiger or House Of Flying Daggers that use wires to allow for superhuman fighting).
While Ip Man uses Wing Chun, we get also a small variety of other styles. None are easily identifiable to me (sorry!) but through dialogue we learn that they are all Southern Chinese Styles. The sequel is easier identifiable, with Dragon and Praying Mantis being used in the Martial Arts Society sequence. Back to the first film though, as the story is set in the Sino-Japanese War, where one of the invading Japanese General’s takes a keen interest in Chinese Arts, and so pits them against his own men, all Karate fighters.
During the highlight of the first Ip Man, we see the brutality and speed of Wing Chun used on ten Karate practitioners at once. It’s probably the best scene of the film, showcasing the trapping techniques common in Wing Chun as well as the Wing Chun punch on a downed opponent.
Picture: Ip Man training in Ip Man 3 (2015).
I’ve only scratched the surface of different martial arts in movies. If you have any suggestions what martial arts should be in future posts, drop them in a comment. If I have missed out or said something wrong about an art, again, send a comment and I’ll change it. Thanks for reading!