Movie Sequels: Part 2 – Lessons from Robocop

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by Matthew J.R. Kohler

Robocop 2 might be one of the biggest attempts by a sequel to outdo its predecessor (besides Batman Returns).  Robocop, directed by Paul Verhooven, goes through the death and redemption of Alex Murphy in a 97 minute film explaining how corrupt corporations are, how messed up Detroit is, and it shows Murphy realizing that he is a human, even with his machine body parts.  The sequel, once again retread many of these elements, such as the final line in both movies states that Robocop is a human.

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-“Murphy”                                    –“Patient Lewis, we’re only human”

Why did Robocop 2 have to have the same problem again? (Shocker, it happens in the freaking third movie too.)  Although Robocop 2 was just the same movie over again but bigger, it did have some important moments that make sense for a sequel.  In the first film, we continually hear about how the police force going on strike, Delta City is going up in six months, and there is a complete takeover of Detroit.  In Robocop 2, not only has the police force gone on strike, but Detroit is in chaos.  I think OCP created the new crime lord, Cain.

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Before continuing, Clarence Boddicker is by far a better villain than Cain.  After Clarence is killed by Robocop, and the police are gone, OCP decides to give the police force a bigger enemy for the city of Detroit.  Before Cain, there was no face to evil because Clarence was only known in underground Detroit.  He didn’t go out and make stupid speeches like, “Hey, I’m Clarence if you want piece, I’ll shove a foot up your ass!”  Cain not only became the face of evil, but he created a new product known as Nuke, a drug that is more addicting than cocaine, heroin, meth, and crack combined.  The idea is interesting, but completely falls flat.  Unlike Clarence, Cain never feels threatening because he has to have an entire army to take down Robocop.  Clarence had FIVE people with him the whole time, and had little help until the end.  Cain not only had all of OCP trying to get rid of Robocop, but he also had most of the police officers under his belt. The one time Robocop does assault his base, Cain is destroyed.  For being the spawn child of OCP he did not impress.

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Clarence played a much bigger role in the story than Cain did.  He killed Murphy, Bob Morton, ruined Dick Jones, never missed a Tiger’s game, and almost killed both Robocop and Lewis.  What the hell did Cain do, even as Robocop 2?  He shot a couple of unknown people and did nothing to Robocop.  Hell, Lewis almost killed the dang thing, but she couldn’t even touch Clarence.  People may say, “But there are two Robocops in the sequel!”  Maybe someone should of told Frank Miller but just because there is more, it doesn’t mean that it is great. This is definitely remains true with this sequel.

Many other sequels have tried to go darker than the original, and Robocop 2 did just that.  Not only do you see the slums of Detroit more, but you see a lot of people doing drugs, kids robbing stores and cursing at cops, and kids doing drugs.  Did I also say kids shooting other cops?  Robocop 2 went over everyone’s head.  While Robocop was a dark grounded movie, and a story about how corporations are, it also didn’t crush any hope of humanity.  For instance, the people behind OCP were not the worst people on Earth, and audiences knew who the good guys and bad guys are.  Robocop 2 kicked it up to an eleven!  They made cops evil, OCP didn’t care about anyone, the mayor was evil, kids are terrible.  The next best person outside of Robocop and Lewis was the 12 year old gangster, who realizes his wrong doings at the end.

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 -“It was bigger than you.  Movies that try to be bigger, they suck don’t they.”

            If Robocop 2 was ever going to be remembered (or good), then it would of have to delve into the characters, and not just do the same dang thing over again with bigger action.  You don’t want the audience thinking throughout the entire film, “Man, the first one was good.”

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Why do Sequels have to be BIGGER?

Sequels Week: Part One

The Lord of the Rings

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By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Ever since the 1970s, franchises have only become bigger.  Hollywood is not interested in independent stories. The studios want a trilogy, or increasingly a tetralogy. Do franchises always need to go on forever?  When watching sequels, I have accepted that every new installment in a franchise that I see will try to be bigger than the film that proceeded it.  The stakes will be higher, the action sequences longer, the tone hints at an even greater threat, etc. Does making a bigger sequel always work?  Most of the time it fails.

A good place to start examining this phenomenon is, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.   Most people considered this the best movie in the series, but if you look at the film, it just tries to be a bigger than The Two Towers, and attempts to carry more weight and darkness than its two predecessors.

In The Two Towers, our heroes venture to Rohan to save a corrupt king from destroying his own country.  After saving him, they make one last effort to stop the armies of Isengard at Helm’s Deep, where they wait for a miracle (Rohan’s horsemen) to save the day.  The Return of the King follows a similar path.  Our heroes journey to Gondor, where they attempt to save Gondor from a corrupt “king” (the Steward of Gondor) and make one last stand against Mordor.  Here, they wait for a miracle in the form of a ghost army.

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Just to point out, I love all three Lord of the Rings movies, and The Return of the King does a great job of finishing the narrative.  But I always thought it was a weird storytelling device to make The Return of the King like The Two Towers, but bigger.  I never understood why they had Legolas do “bigger” moves in the third film when it doesn’t make sense for the character.

In an earlier article about Police Story, I talked about how action sequences need to advance the story, and the characters need to be consistent in what they do.  In The Two Towers, Legolas slides down stairs on a shield while shooting Uruk-Hai.  This was an amazing scene, and is cool because it only lasts for five seconds.  Then, in The Return of the King Legolas takes down an Oliphaunt.

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This made no sense for the story, and I suspect the filmmakers only did this for reactions.  If Legolas could do this in the third movie, then why couldn’t he kill all the Uruk-Hai, save Boromir, and I don’t know, kill the cave troll.  This happens in The Hobbit movies as well.  They make Legolas better than everyone else, and in the context of the story, it makes no sense.

The pacing of the action sequences changes between The Two Towers and The Return of the King.  In The Two Towers, the action sequences slowly build up, and slowly end compared to its sequel.  In The Return of the King, when you think the big battle could be over, another big thing happens.  This repeats five or six times.  It gets numbing after a while because the battle just continues to get bigger.  The Two Towers was the first time audiences witness a battle to this scale.

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The  giant battle in The Return of the King is awesome to watch, and the filmmakers did do something that The Two Towers did not do, as they showed civilians being murdered left and right.  This definitely added a new layer to the battle.  The battle also feels like it could be the end for our heroes.  As The Lord of the Rings moves from one act to the next, the story becomes increasingly personal to the characters.  This is why I think the only way to make a sequel better is to get into the minds of the characters, continue to develop them, and make the story more personal to them. I think The Return of the King did that in certain scenes. Frodo and Sam face a lot of new obstacles together in the film, Pippin and Gandalf find themselves in a precarious position in Minas Tirith, Aragorn has to choose to follow the path to kingship that he has been avoiding, etc. In these ways The Return of the King succeeds as a sequel, despite rehashing a lot of familiar ground.

Come back tomorrow for part two on Robocop and Robocop 2.

Stop the Slow Motion!

By Matthew J.R. Kohler

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Slow Motion, or bullet time, has become so popular that every action movie has to have at least one scene with slow motion.  Because everyone does do this, it makes the use of slow motion less special.  As a kid I watched Bruce Lee films every day, and yes, they had slow motion.  But there was something different about how those movies and The Matrix, used slow motion, right?  I believe that these films used this device to enhance the drama, or to enhance the fantasy.  In The Matrix, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a computer hacker who, in the virtual world, can break the system, and get it to do whatever he imagines.  It makes sense to have slow motion here because he is moving faster than a bullet. The Matrix uses slow motion to both enhance the drama, and the fantasy of the film.

Now this is where the problem starts.  After The Matrix, it seemed like every movie thought it needed a slow motion scene. Well, it’s cool, right?  Yes and no.  Most of the time when I watch a fight scene, I lose interest in it because they randomly throw in slow motion.  When a fight scene does this, it shows two things: 1) the actors are bad at fighting, and cannot perform the action at full speed, and 2) it’s fake.  I know that is not the case all the time because movies such as Ip Man use it. The difference is that in Ip Man the slow motion fulfills a purpose, enhancing the drama.  Most movies today use slow motion, and it has no meaning.  For example, in Michael Bay’s Transformers films he uses slow motion.  The scene that ticks me off the most is when Iron Hide jumps over this lady (a model) in the first film.  The slow motion scene is about twenty seconds long. There is no reason for including the slow motion, except for because it looks cool, and so you can get an up close look at a woman.

One show that bothered me for doing this is Daredevil, the show that everyone thought had excellent fight scenes.  The moment I would get into the fight scene, they would kill it by slowing it down.  Why go through all the trouble of choreographing a fight scene, and try to make it fast, just to slow it down?  I have never been to a movie theater where people were blown away because something was in slow motion.

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But this just is not just happening on the big screen.  Everyone is doing it. It’s like smoking.  It’s an epidemic. Four years ago, when I started watching fan films and web series, I notice a huge trend.  Because a lot of amateur filmmakers just do what everyone else does, they use a lot of slow motion in their fight scenes. How can you ever break into the industry as a new artist if all you do is copy? In Mortal Kombat Legacy, Scorpion and Sub Zero have an intense fight.  The gymnastic ability on both of them was impressive, but it would have been engaging if they had stuck to real time.

I really don’t mind slow motion for the most part, but it’s so commonplace that it gets annoying.  In media, whenever something gets over saturated people will lose interest, and then something new comes along to take its place.  Westerns are the perfect example of this.  One day we have thirty million western films coming out, and the next day we get science fiction films.  Now, only quality western films come out such as Unforgiven, Tombstone, and True Grit.

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So if you want slow motion to still be a thing, don’t overkill.  Try using it sparingly, but when you do use it, use it with style, and with purpose.  The movies that use slow motion wisely, or use any cinematic mechanic artistically will be remembered. The others… well, who really wants to remember this?

Food for Thought – Pilots

by Matthew J.R. Kohler

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As everyone knows, the Primetime Emmys were on Sunday night. A variety of different shows won awards, but there is one category that I think the show lacks.  I think the Emmys should give out an award for the best pilot of the year.  Just like a movie, a television show is supposed to capture the audience’s attention, and leave the audience in anticipation of the next episode.  A pilot needs to be able to do this extremely well, because the fate of the show can lie with the performance of the first episode. Certain shows, such as Lost, have amazing pilots.  In the first fifteen minutes there is an airplane crash, and for the rest of the first hour of the show, the audience is continually left guessing.  From the strange noises, the guy getting suck into the turbines, to the flashbacks of Jack (Matthew Fox) as a doctor, this sets the show up perfectly, and teases what is to come.

Pilots and endings are probably the hardest thing to write, because as a writer you don’t know how to deep you want the audience to go down the rabbit hole right away.  Would people watch Dragon Ball Z if the show started with Buu?  Maybe, but probably not the fans of Dragon Ball.  When writing a pilot, you want to give a taste of what is to come.  One of the best pilots I’ve seen is The Walking Dead pilot.  The entire episode sets up the show to be much more than a horror show.  In the first fifteen minutes, you know who the main character is, and what it was like before Armageddon. (So why make Fear the Walking Dead?) (I digress.)  Then, you’re in the hospital where Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has no idea what has happened, but to the audience, it looks like hell.  In this five minute scene you know zombies are responsible, but the audience never really sees what actually happened until he escapes the hospital.  This scene told an entire story. Unfortunately this is a rarity on that show.

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One storytelling technique which is increasingly popular is non-linear storytelling. This is seen in such shows as The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and Boardwalk Empire.  My favorite show that does this is Gargoyles.   When the show came out, Disney wanted something to compete with the other major adult cartoon, Batman.  So, Greg Weisman came up with a five part pilot called “Awakening.” The five episodes are a part of one large story, so the pilot feels like a movie within the show.  The episode starts off with Detective Elisa Maza (Salli Richardson) staring into the sky as a battle is going on a skyscraper.  We then travel 1000 years ago, when we first meet our hero, Goliath, the leader of the gargoyle clan.  The Clan is turned to stone by a magical spell and is “awakened” by Xanatos (Johnathan Frakes).  Now, the gargoyles must learn to survive in modern times.  Not only did these pilot episodes have suburb satire on modern culture, but it set up the show for how serious ,and dialogue driven it will be.

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As fall starts and new shows come out, new pilots will be all over TV. Remember that the biggest reason to watch a show and continue watching should be because the pilot is good, not the second or third episode.  If a filmmaker can grab your attention that quickly, they must be able to do it again.  Rules of thumb, if a story cannot grab you in one episode or Act 1 of a movie, don’t waste the time watching. With so much new content on TV this fall, take a little time and be critical of what you are watching. If the networks want your time, they should have to work for it.

Top Ten Underrated Movies That You Should Watch!

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Do you love a movie that is not loved by the masses?  Here is a list of films I think need to be watched by everyone, and that I think are underrated.

10.)      Prisoners (2013)

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Prisoners stars Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film explores themes of how much people are willing to sacrifice for those they love, and what they are willing to give up to protect them.  One of the most intriguing things about this film is its intensity.  I’ve never been a movie theater where the audience is breathing as one, until I saw this film.  Prisoners keep you guessing and keeps you asking, “Would I do this?”  I still can’t answer the question.  I consider it a must watch for anyone who or hasn’t seen it.

9.)      Rumble in the Bronx (1994)

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After Rush Hour came out, people didn’t pay attention to Jackie Chan’s early 90s films that got him into Hollywood. One of these films is Rumble in the Bronx. It is about an ex-martial arts champion who visits his uncle in Bronx.  Realizing how rough the underground gangs are, Chan’s character must stop an elite group of thugs with his fists!  The story is not really the point of the film. The action is what sets the film apart.  Not only does he jump from building to building, but there are several fight scenes in which Chan is surrounded by multiple people, and must fight his way out.  Chan’s fighting techniques are impeccable. Each move happens so quickly that it is no wonder why he is one of the best fight choreographers.

8.)      Robocop (1987)

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Robocop might be the greatest misunderstood movie ever (which is part of the reason why some people leave it alone).  Directed by Paul Verhooven, this satire science fiction film delves into corruption of corporations, and is set in the inner streets of Detroit.  One thing I really like about this film is how well it has aged.  It is just as relevant today as the year it was made.  If it wasn’t for the mediocre sequel and the god-awful third movie, I think Robocop would have more acclaim.

7.)      Batman Returns (1992)

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I don’t think anyone was prepared for this movie.  Batman Returns did many things that made us question Burton’s sanity. Batman is different than we’ve ever seen him before. The character kills relentlessly. There is virtually no color palette other than black. The villains, Danny “The humping Penguin” Devito, and Christopher Walken as Max Shreck are also quite a departure.  I did not mind most of these changes.  If you remember that in Batman, the caped crusader killed Joker, one of his main enemies. His next move logically seems to kill his enemies, instead of turning them in to the police.  I felt Burton wanted to make Batman more alone than ever and the only thing that keeps him “normal” is a psychotic Catwoman.  I think that for the best viewing experience, viewers should probably leave a lot of their preconceived notions of the character behind, as this film is not a typical presentation of the Batman mythos.

6.)      The Longest Day (1962)

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In 1962 this was a big deal, but since Saving Private Ryan came out, interest has seemed to decline.  The Longest Day starred everyone famous from the 1950s to the early 1960s (Even Sean Connery had a little role in this film). It even had three directors from three different countries so as not to skew the different points of view.  The film tells the story of the American landing on Normandy Beach on D-Day.  Not only does it have some awesome action set pieces, but it really drives home why people were fighting.  To me, this is the original Saving Private Ryan.

5.)      Back to the Future Part II (1989)

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I know Back to the Future is insanely popular, but a lot of people believe the second film is not as great.  Back to the Future Part II is not only a lot darker than the first film, but it is a lot more complex.  The thing I love most about this movie is the alternative 1985 era. One of the best scenes in the trilogy comes from Doc Brown and Marty in the Brown’s garage.  The film also has one of the most talked about sets, the future 2015, which I love because the directors blew most of it out of proportion.

4.)      Unleashed (2005)

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At this point in his career Jet Li had been a staple in American theaters, but none of his American films really packed the punch as his Eastern films until Unleashed.  Not only does it have some of the best fight scenes, but some of the most heartfelt moments Li has put on the big screen.  Alongside Li was none other than Morgan Freeman. Freeman plays a blind piano player who aids Li’s character in becoming his own person. The piano music helps Li’s character remember who he used to be.  If you haven’t seen this amazing film, I recommend to any moviegoer.

3.)      The Warriors (1979)

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It’s safe to say that The Warriors is more known for its video game than from its movie.  However, I consider the film to be a true classic.  The film is about a gang who is framed for killing the Gang Leader.  Throughout the film the Warriors are on the run to head back to their home turf before its they are killed.  Not only does The Warriors have really iconic lines: “Warriors, come out to play!” and “Can you dig it?”, but it also had a unique look to it.  Before the term gritty existed, movies in the 1970s had a lot of the same elements that we now associate with a gritty film: chaotic violence, realistic characters, drugs, and lighting schemes.  The only thing that makes The Warriors a stinker is the ending.

2.)      Clue (1985)

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This film is a true cult classic.  I have never met a person who’s seen this film and hated it. The only problem is that many people haven’t seen it!  Starring Tim Curry, Christopher Llyod, Michael McKeen, and that one guy from Jingle All the Way, Clue puts seven people in one mansion trying to solve “Who killed Mr. Body?”  This is a film that you can either take seriously, or laugh all the way through.  One of the best things about the film is when Tim Curry retells the entire movie in Act III.

1.)      Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

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Yes, this movie did go to theaters, and yes, this is the best Batman film ever.  In 80 minutes, the filmmakers are able to tell a better story than Christopher Nolan did over three movies.  Starring Kevin Conroy as Batman, Batman: Mask of Phantasm is a story about Bruce Wayne’s first love, and about him becoming the Batman.  It leads to the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker (played by the great Mark Hamill).  The film brings in the best elements from the 90s show, and contains (possibly) Mark Hamill’s best performance as The Joker.  If you love great cinematic experiences, then this is the perfect movie for you.

An Open Letter to Kevin Smith

Dear Kevin,

The art of film needs you right now. Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (hereinafter Jay and Silent Bob) are by far your best films.  They have the most well-expressed satire, which shows your greatest strength—satirical storytelling.  These two films are also your most influential and/or timeless.  Clerks, a satire about slackers who are happy being miserable and doing nothing but talking about girls and pop culture, inspired several movies such as Cant Hardly Wait and American Pie.  But it is Jay and Silent Bob that I believe is your most timeless film.  It makes fun of how cynical the Internet has made moviegoers, and how Hollywood is sequel crazy.  In short, it is more relevant now than what it was in 2001.  That said, I would like to see at least one more story from you that bashes Hollywood’s dopiness and smothering of art.  In order for you to do that, of course, you would need to return to two things: 1) satirical writing, and 2) not endorsing Hollywood’s lack of creativity.

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C’mon, what pisses you off?

I have the inkling that, even after all of these years, you still have a lot to say about what is wrong with various aspects of media.  I base my inkling off of all your real-life stories that you told at your concerts and convention appearances.  Your audiences were laughing all the way through stories such as your attempts to write a serious outline for a Superman movie, and your frustrations with directing a major studio movie.  Personally, I found it intriguing that you were the small-town guy who reported to all of his fans the ridiculousness of Hollywood.  Your verbal storytelling ability has been integral to your current status as the voice of our now nerd-centric culture.

It is you who can convince the “nerds” that they must demand higher quality American mainstream cinema.  Hollywood is only crappy because we let it be that way. By paying to see the umpteenth derivative work, and largely ignoring the non-derivative ones, we enable Hollywood to continue making the same thing over and over.  Case in point: thought-provoking, AI-centered, suspense/sci-fi film Ex Machina made $25 million here in the U.S., while generic, light-on-story/heavy-on-CG-action Avengers 2 made $458 million in the US.  I long for the day when, once again, movies like The Matrix and Cast Away are the films that people pay to see, because they want to see a good movie, not a dumb one that they “can just shut their brains off for two hours and not think while watching.”

As it is, I have not seen any hilarious, biting satire from you in about ten years.  Instead, there have been films such as Red State, an action thriller that glumly, not comedically, satirizes radical Christians; and Tusk, a horror film, in which the hook is gross-out shock value.  Further, I see that your next two movies will be of the same ilk as Tusk— “fun” horror movies.  These films do not represent your best work.  The same goes for the upcoming Mallrats 2 and Clerks 3.

Jay and Silent Bob bashes Hollywood for, among several things, constantly producing unoriginal films (“Scream 4”, “Good Will Hunting 2”).  Yet, here you are now, not only making more sequels, but also embracing the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII.  Now, I know that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite movie, and that you are a die-hard fan of the franchise.  But aren’t you concerned that VII reeks of nostalgia?  Doesn’t it bother you that most of the original cast is back, Luke looks like Obi-Wan, or that the main villain models himself after Darth Vader?  These are questions that I wish you would be asking your audience, because you are the voice of a generation who is apparently okay with seeing zero new, original movies.

What is ironic is that lately you have been endorsing such products whilst being more independent as a filmmaker than ever.  Films like Star Wars: The Forced Awakening and Batman v Superman: Dawn of More Pointless Superhero Films are the very films that represent the fact that Hollywood is more money-hungry than ever, hence the constant production of movies with built-in fan bases.  These films also represent how overly nostalgic our generation is, and how they (the films and consumers) say to hell with the potential tainting of future generations’ views of the originals.  We need a voice like yours to call attention to such questions.  Hollywood suffocates art by influencing the general public to believe that soulless drivel is good.

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“It had the best opening weekend of all time.  Obviously the best movie of all time.”

As a filmmaker who is trying to create his own art, and who struggles to find non-Hollywood money to do each project, it would be logical for you to express concern about Hollywood’s problem to your fans.  Combined, VII and BVS cost about $400 million to make; that money could theoretically fund at least 40 Kevin Smith movies.  In other words, why support the system that wouldn’t even give you a million dollars to make Red State?  Now, I understand that Hollywood’s stinginess towards you was actually a blessing in disguise, because it allows you to embrace your true independent filmmaking spirit.  But take the blessing and run, man!

It crushes me whenever there is a news story such as “Kevin Smith Endorses New, Unoriginal Film”, or when you release an endorsing podcast of such films.  And when you talk about films like Jurassic World, you don’t praise it for its script, you praise it for being dumb fun.  The popular movies should be more than that.  Alas, “dumb fun” is increasingly becoming an acceptable trait of what are supposed to be serious films.  After being given amazingly well-made summer films such as Forrest Gump, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park, I am frustrated that our current generation settles for inherently inferior films.  For this reason, I suggest that you at least discuss more original films that not only take themselves seriously, but also are currently underrated, like Nightcrawler, Ex Machina, and Maggie.  It only seems logical that an independent filmmaker would at least give attention to such non-mainstream films as those.

Lastly, I am wondering why you are following the trend of making sequels.  You broke into the industry by trendsetting.  You made it cool for characters to sit around and discuss pop culture in ridiculous contexts, and have explicitly sexual conversations.  Were it not for you, there would have been no Judd Apatow (albeit for like 5 minutes) or Seth Rogen.  Even in the last few years, you set the trend of promoting your own films via screening tours, complete with your appearances and Q&As.  Trendsetting is what you do.  And what most filmmakers are not doing is calling out Hollywood.  I believe that such largely unmined territory is yours.

On the surface, it may seem that you have returned to your roots with the satirical thriller Red State, because it was low-budget and independent.  But the roots run deeper than budgets and independence; they lie within all those days that you wrote for hours on end every day after school, what made Clerks your career starter, and what made you the voice of our generation.

Sincerely,

Richie Watkins

Food For Thought: Police Story (1985) – True Action!

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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It’s sad when people think of Jackie Chan they think of the racist films known as Rush Hour.  Before Jackie Chan’s onslaught bad American films, Chan made his name by creating amazing fight scenes.  Overseas, action films rely much more on the strengths of the fight choreographer. In these films, there is an emphasis made on the skill and realness of each fight.

Chan became famous for not only being a consistently inventive and successful fight choreographer, but also an engaging performer of his own fight scenes.  His unique use of various props in a given location is what made him a star.  However, the United States, true to its history of borrowing from other cultures, watered down the true extent of Chan’s talent by focusing more on dialogue scenes than action scenes (in action films, mind you).  Today in the U.S. it seems that we are content with CG fight scenes, or completely fake ones.  Now, I know what you could say, “If they are so good then why don’t we know about it?”  That’s simple. Hong Kong films aren’t released in the US, because apparently there is not a market for fight scenes that are meticulously choreographed, shot, and edited. The truth of the matter is that foreign films don’t perform as well in the United States, so Hollywood studios are less likely to import them.  Only a select few have played in American theaters: Enter the Dragon, Ip Man, The Raid, and Rumble in the Bronx being among them.

One film that is not part of this select few, but should have been because it defined how fight scenes should be done, is Jackie Chan’s Police Story.  It was one of the first and only films to go all out, by using thick glass instead of breakaway glass, and, more generally, showing the brutality of an actual fight.  In most action films, the actor or stunt person doesn’t usually get hit. Usually the film will cut to a different angle for their reaction.  Chan did the exact opposite. Everything you see is real!

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Yes, this really happens.

The mall fight scene really highlights Chan’s skill, as well as the shortcomings of modern action scenes.  Let’s take a look at a newer film that has received praise for its action.

For most of the fight scene you only see a small portion of the action, and Chris Evans does very little actual fighting.  He also can’t even roll properly, or throw a believable kick.  In that scene the actors are actively try not hitting each other instead of trying to hit.  I’ve noticed the difference in intensity with my stunt team from not trying to hit and trying.  Going for the hit captivates the audience much better.  The other problem with the clip from Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that the placement (as well as the rapid movement) of the camera, combined with the constant quick-cutting, gives the illusion that the actors are moving faster than they really are.  But not even the greatest cinematographer, editor, or VFX artist can cover up the evidence that Evans can’t even roll properly, or throw a believable kick. Compare that scene to what Jackie Chan was doing thirty years ago:

If you want to watch the whole fight scene, scroll to the bottom.

In the second scene, the action stays on Chan, and the entire fight scene is tight and smooth.  Jackie also utilizes his background with the many different blocks he executes in that twelve seconds.  Chan combines basic movements (front kick, elbow, dodging, etc.) and makes them seem complex.  One thing I always found funny is that people counteract my point by saying that Chan’s fight scenes are unbelievable.  What is unbelievable about his scenes is that nobody is enhancing their movements, or tricking you mind.  Chris Evans portrays a super soldier who is not only physically strong, he’s also extremely fast.  Yet you can tell how little of experience Evans has as a fighter because we never see him do advanced moves with precision.  You can tell this when they show shots of Winter Soldier’s shoulder for three seconds.  Why do we need to see this?  It’s either: a) lazy filmmaking, b) terrible choreographing, or c) probably both.  People often say, “But Chris Evans can do flips, and that other cool stuff!”  No, that means he is a gymnast, not a martial artist.   American filmmakers don’t seem to understand the importance of analyzing what a character can, and cannot do in a fight scene. Instead of focusing on how the characters could add to the fight, they focus less on individual characters, and view the whole scene as just a set piece.  In reality, a fight scene should be a driving force for the story.

Jackie Chan, as well as many other eastern choreographers, understand how to make a fight scene.  They also understand that having too many fight scenes in one film destroys the movie.  Police Story only has two real fight scenes in the film (at the beginning and end).  Both have their unique moments.  In the opening scene, Jackie drives a car through a downhill town, and chases down a racing double decker bus, before clinging onto the back of it.

03

Police Story is one of the best martial art movies ever done. It has realistic fight scenes, injuries (Chan got cut from several pieces of glass in a fight scene), and Chan adds complexity to simple maneuvers to make them fresh. It’s no wonder he made five more Police Story movies after this, and became a living legend.  People might think I’m too harsh on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but audiences need to know that there is much better content out there from across the world.  I’m not saying American cinema stinks, but moviegoers should be open to what filmmakers across the world have been creating. There are lots of great movies out there, and Police Story is one of those gems.

Here is the whole fight scene.