Martial Art Sequels: Can They Be Good?

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by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Last Friday, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 was released on Netflix.  Ang Lee’s masterpiece is finally getting a sequel. What could have been big news ten years ago, now seems a bit underwhelming.  However, that remains true for most martial arts sequels.  This is not a review of CT2 (but you can find my review at this link).  Today, we’re going look at the highs and lows of martial arts sequels.

The Positive

The first one that comes to mind is Ip Man 2.  Sure, it isn’t  Ip Man, but how many martial art films are?  Donnie Yen’s return as the iconic martial art master was exciting for a lot of fans.  What fans didn’t realize that it was going to be the same movie beat for beat.  Wilson Ip’s direction in the first one allowed the fight scenes to be something magical, the 10-on-1 fight being the best example.  In Ip Man 2, not only do we receive another one of those fights, but also the filmmakers try to enhance the fights instead of the story.  The only fight that I believe makes this film awesome is the final fight.  If the story was about that fight, then this movie would have been amazing.  A story about how a withering martial artist, whose fights for his culture, during a time where his culture is disrespected.  Nonetheless, Ip Man 2 is an exciting movie with amazing fight choreography.

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Speaking of choreography, Police Story is considered to be Jackie Chan’s best film.  The first Police Story is an amazing film, but I also enjoy it’s sequels.  Police Story 2 demonstrates intense choreography, while Supercop (AKA Police Story 3) shows Jackie’s comedic side.  Supercop is one of Chan’s transition films from Hong Kong to the States.  It is much more an action film than martial arts piece, because of the scenes where Chan uses assault rifles.  The best part about Supercop is the final showdown.  Just like Police Story 2, Supercop brings back the creativity of the final showdown with a fight scene on top of a train!

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Jackie Chan made several great sequels, the best one being Legend of the Drunken Master.  The first Drunken Master was great, but Chan cleverly evolved the character, and the comedy. This is something most artists cannot do.  The fight scenes are heightened, and this movie is the only Chan film non-martial arts fans would appreciate.  The comedy is amazing, Chan owns the character, and the fight scenes matter.

The Neutral

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Mainstream martial art films are hard to come by outside of the big three, (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li), but I think The Matrix is a film that makes martial arts mainstream.  Then came its less-than-spectacular sequel, The Matrix: Reloaded.  Now, most people find this movie to be atrocious.  But, there is a lot of good that came from it.  The car chase scene is the reason to watch this film.  You might think, “big whoop, one scene”, but this one scene is twenty-five minutes long.  Sure, you have to sit through programmers talking about “the reason,” or a girl asking Neo to kiss her like Trinity (What the hell?).  But, this scene gives some flavor to this mostly bland movie.

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Ip Man 3 was released earlier this year, and the film didn’t seem to spur much talk.  For five years, since being clearly set up by the end of Ip Man 2, everyone was waiting for it to finally happen—Ip Man versus Bruce Lee.  But after the film released, nobody really cared.  Personally, I was discouraged by the teaser clip of Ip Man training Lee.  According to critics, the movie wasn’t bad, it just didn’t go anywhere.  The main selling points were not the story, or even Ip Man himself, but Bruce Lee, Mike Tyson, and Yuen Woo Pien doing fight choreography.  Sometimes, trying to put too many eggs into one basket is a bad idea.

The Negative

Franchises with bad sequels did pretty poor things for the martial arts genre, such as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.  “Mortal Kombat”, in the mid 90s ,was the biggest game out there.  Just like with all white-hot properties, a movie followed, and it struck gold.  Then, the highly anticipated sequel came out and destroyed any hopes of another movie.  Almost twenty years later, fans are still waiting for Mortal Kombat to return to the big screen.  I wouldn’t get my hopes up anytime soon.  Any sign of a movie gets shot down, just ask Kevin Tancharoen.

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Bad sequels can hurt seemingly resilient stars as well.  Tony Jaa was once compared to the big three martial arts stars, but now he’s a sideline character in Furious 7Ong Bak 2 is to blame for that.  After you see through Jaa’s amazing athleticism you are left with….a mindless character/artist who doesn’t know how to tell a story.  I love the first Ong Bak and The Protector, but Jaa’s strengths are in martial arts alone.  After the initial appeal of his abilities wore off on audiences, all eyes were on his creative abilities.  After Ong Bak 2, Jaa’s career went downhill.

Sequels have a rough spot in the martial arts genre.  Either they make you a legend like Jackie Chan, or you fall far and hard like Tony Jaa, Mortal Kombat, and the Wachowski siblings.  I’m usually not a fan of sequels, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t give it a chance (if it looks good and/or if I hear positive responses).  When going into a sequel to a much beloved film, I’m most afraid that the movie won’t tap into what audiences loved about the original.  Hopefully, moving forward, martial arts sequels can improve on the failures of our past.

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