Choreography 101: Who Started It?

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

The beginning to a fight can be the most challenging to make, just like the beginning of a movie.  The challenge for most is who should start the fight.  That might sound crazy, but it is important.  If someone has more at stake than the other, then they should be the starter.  The beginning is my favorite part of a fight.  The reason being that I love the buildup and the tension but I also enjoy how it’s all going to start.

Many fight scenes simply start with none of what I just mentioned.  In The Protector, both the main character and the bodybuilder just kind of charge at one another; nothing to grasp there.  Even though a lot of the fights in the movie are exciting, there was no payoff at the end.  Not only did you not know Tony Jaa’s character, but also the filmmakers didn’t even try to make you want the fight, they just gave it to you.  When a director just hands over a fight, you know they didn’t give it their all.

Empire Strikes Back is a great example of a film that makes you want the climactic fight to happen.  Created with the style of Kurosawa, Lucas and his team created the stall, or slow walk for the duel.  The story of the fight is that Luke confronts Vader in order to save the ones he cares about.  Through the fight scene, though, the characters have to explain this.

The entire movie is built around facing your fears by confronting the dark side.  Luke Skywalker, sworn to walk the path of peace (Jedi), believes he is not afraid of the threat that is Darth Vader.  When the two finally collide, Luke Skywalker is the one who starts the battle.  This is significant for one reason: never do Jedi start a conflict.  Later in the battle, Luke shows once again that he is not ready.  Not only does he start to fear Vader, but also he simply cannot overcome him.  Also, in the middle of the fight, Luke begins to realize what he is becoming.  For two movies, Luke was slowly turning to the dark side with displays of recklessness (as shown in A New Hope, and pointed out by Yoda earlier in Empire), selfishness (facing Vader alone), and fear (of Vader).  What happens internally with Luke adds a new layer to this unforgettable fight scene, and makes “I am your father” a truly potent climax.

Fight scene openings are hard to accomplish.  If the audience doesn’t feel the excitement at the opening, then the fight scene is doomed to mediocrity (or worse).  Check out below for fight scenes with the best openings.  Enjoy!

 

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Daredevil went MIA!!!

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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It seems like anytime Marvel generates buzz for their projects, that buzz quickly goes ice cold, simply because they don’t live up to the hype.  (Look at Iron Man 3, Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, and Civil War as recent examples).  This time, it was none other than their Netflix show Daredevil.

Last year, Daredevil was the talk of the town.  Any person who knew me wanted my opinion on the action scenes of the show.  Although I wasn’t a huge fan, I understood why people loved the show.  To be honest, its fight scenes are the best out of all superhero films.  But that wasn’t what interested me about the show.  Not only did the show make you believe that superheroes could be in our world, but also the story dared to surprise its audience.  And the main characters were actually effective.  Wilson Fisk was my favorite part of the show.  Actor Vincent D’Onofrio offered a unique take on the character.  Needless to say, once the season was over, everyone was ready for season 2.

Fast forward to a year later.  I was ready to receive a lot of messages about the fight scenes from the new season.  Then…nothing.  Nobody was talking about it!  Even mainstream internet sites, such as IGN and Rotten Tomatoes, were barely mentioning it.  Why was Daredevil being treated like the new kid at school who’s popular for the first week, and is then ignored afterwards?

Well, it was because season 2 wasn’t really about Daredevil.  You see, Marvel thought it’d be a grand idea to devote the whole season to origin stories of other characters, such as Elektra, and (most prominently) The Punisher.  Granted, Punisher IS cool in this show, but there’s no reason that he should cut into Daredevil’s screen time.  Because Daredevil became the secondary character in his own show, season 2 felt unnecessary to watch.  All season 2 showed the audience was that Daredevil wants to be like Batman and Punisher is there to kick butt.  WOW!  But the biggest let down for most fans was that the action took a major leap backwards.

Not only was the lighting poor (as in, too dark to see anything), but also none of the fights looked like they were thought out.  Who in their right mind starts the season with Daredevil versus Punisher (you know, the face-off that you think would be saved for the end of the season, because it’s a main draw)?  After you have seen what is supposed to be the climax, what’s the point of continuing?  Even worse, the fight itself was a complete letdown.

The worst part, though, was the main villain.  For two seasons, they built up this gang to be the worst of the worst, yet we find out that the main villain is…the guy who played Cyrax in Mortal Kombat: Legacy?  (You know, the other show that had a great first season, and a disappointing second season).  Sure, if I had read the comics I would have known more about the character, but this show did not even try to build him up.  But don’t let that fool you, because it’s supposed to be a major twist when you see him!  There’s nothing more exciting than a big reveal of a character no one cares about.  Once again, Marvel proves how great they are at pissing me off for not giving me a reason to care.

Overall, this season seemed like one giant setup for a Punisher spinoff.  Whatever momentum this show produced has now been shifted to Punisher.  I hope Daredevil stays MIA.  Bring on The Punisher show, because I can’t wait to see him become a secondary character in his own show!

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MCU–Why It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

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By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

Two weeks ago, Marvel released Civil War to theatres, and I still haven’t seen it.  In fact, I have not seen any Marvel movies since Winter Soldier.  You may say, “The nerve!  The audacity!”.  But hear me out: I have not seen any good reason to watch these films, because there is no real threat presented in any of them.  And for that reason, I believe the Marvel movies finished its course a long time ago.  Now, since you’re demanding examples right now for such a blasphemous statement, here you go:

We know in comic books that when somebody dies they come back to life.  Resurrection is inevitable in comic books because there is a lot of money at stake, but what usually happens is the characters are brought back in a new story that is set in a new universe.  In the “Civil War” arc, Captain America dies at the hands of Shannon Carter, but returns in the unconnected, official Captain America issue line .  With the “Civil War” arc, writer Ed Brubaker separated the issue lines.  When a reader knows that what they are reading is separate from a main storyline, he or she can actually believe that, for example, Steve Rogers died at the end of “Civil War” and stayed that way.  The same goes for Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns”.  That story does not take place in the main Batman storyline, and Batman dies at the end.  Now, I did not just explain all of that to impress you, I did it to give context to my next point: the MCU doesn’t want you to be “invested.”

Usually, the word “invested” is associated with the words “money” and “time”.  How much time and money are you, the viewer, going to invest into this?  For me, it used to be that with every Marvel movie I was devoted—both in theatres and on DVD.  This changed after I saw the pilot for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The year before, Agent Coulson is clearly dead in The Avengers.  Yet, in Agents, he is brought back to life nonchalantly.  Although Marvel says he is not alive in the MCU, his resurrection still feels like a copout, and was the first major example of how most of these movies have no real consequences to them.

At 0:45 is where this show jumped the shark.

That same year, I was excited when I heard that Thor was going to lose his hand in Thor 2.  Instead, I was disappointed because it was an “illusion.”  Marvel tried to rev people up Empire Strikes Back-style, only to tell them, “just kidding, we’re not THAT intense!”.  After a while, nobody will actually be invested in these films, because if there is no sacrifice, then what is the point of these movies, or any movie for that matter?  Every character should have consequences for their actions.  The only character in the MCU who comes closest to such a thing is Captain America, but his emotions aren’t shown enough to convince you that being frozen took a toll on him.  Instead, his being frozen for 70 years is treated like something that happened merely to advance the story of the franchise.

A couple of days ago, I watched the animated Ultimate Avengers movie once again.  Sure, it is short (a scant 70 minutes), but it still managed to do justice to all of the essential Avengers, including Captain America (by showing his suffering as a man out of time).  Unlike the live-action movie, all of the Avengers show that they have individual problems that they will need to resolve at the end (what a concept!).

So how can a 70-minute film have more in-depth characters than a 140-minute film, or even seven 2-hour-plus films?  Well, when your movie’s sole purpose is to advertise other films, the characters take a backseat, and just become objects for action scenes and advancing the plot in non-action scenes.  Granted, The Avengers wasn’t so much an ad for more films, but it very much treated its characters as objects for action and exposition rather than unique people.  Therefore, you don’t care about them.  Even if they are in peril, you don’t have any reaction, and it doesn’t matter if they get hurt or not.  As for the films that ARE more focused on advertising…

When you hype certain characters being in the next film, who gives a crap about watching it?  You remember Thor and Captain America?  Both of those films were trashed because they were just long advertisements for The Avengers.  Likewise, such films as Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Cvil War are advertisements for “the next one”.  Can you recall anything earth-shattering that happened in any of those movies?  What about Winter Soldier, Thor 2, or Iron Man 3?  Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D fell apart in Winter Soldier, but the end to a faceless entity (that no one cared about) does not count.  Sure, Tony Stark gave up being Iron Man at the end of 3, but we all know how long that lasted.

After watching all of these movies, it’s pretty clear that Tony Stark’s greatest power is building machines that turn on him.

So why shouldn’t we care about Civil War?  When your film is based on a violent comic about heroes killing other heroes, you have to deliver.  After eight years and seeing nothing that even came close to reaching such high stakes (unless you count Quicksilver, for some reason), I didn’t expect it to happen with the newest movie.  In the end, everyone comes out fine (oh happy day).  No!  Sure, Cap leaves the Avengers at the end of the movie, but whoopty-doo!  We all know he’s gonna be back for Infinity War.

13234800_1004862042954424_210339950_o.pngFrom the studio that brought you Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, comes the epic blockbuster of the summer.  This time, the consequences are even more minute.

You know, it didn’t seem that long ago when characters had to battle through the trenches.  Take the original Spider-Man.  Peter Parker is in love with Mary Jane, but after choosing to become Spider-Man, he received more responsibilities.  He realized this and chose not to tell her, and to walk down the superhero path alone.  To top that off, his best friend wants to murder him for what he did to his father (who is dead).  Some pretty intense stuff happens in the final five minutes, which made me want to see the sequel.

It’s hard to say how long the MCU will go, but moviegoer interest here in the United States seems to be dwindling.  Just look at the box office numbers for Civil War.  Within two weeks it still hasn’t made anything close to the last two Avengers movies.  Could people be experiencing superhero fatigue because they’re tired of nothing consequential happening?

What’s crazy is that Marvel’s problem is not that hard to change; just create conflict with the characters’ psyche at the end, or have them kill someone.  In Empire Strikes Back, Luke realizes the true power of the villain, after going against his masters’ wishes to battle Darth Vader on his own.  BOOM!  There’s a perfect example of our protagonist facing the repercussions of his actions.  Marvel should focus more on each movie, instead of slowly telling one story through umpteen movies.  This is film; not TV.  Let’s face it, Civil War and all other Marvel movies are pure entertainment, but that does not mean any of them are good.  If it can’t make you feel for these characters, then what entertainment is there to watching a flashing screen of stuff and things happening?

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Look, Marvel!  It’s a screenshot from a family movie in which Nazis are the bad guys, but it actually takes itself seriously!  It doesn’t have Captain America in it, but it does have Swastikas!

Don’t Believe the Hype – Issue Six Assassin’s Creed Trailer

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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Over the last twenty years, Hollywood has tried to crack the code for successfully adapting video games to film.  Their latest attempt is called Assassin’s Creed, starring Michael Fassbender.  Once again, this is a disaster waiting to happen onscreen.

When the popularity of video games exploded in the 90s, movies were coming out left and right.  Now, are any of these movies good?  In this era, favorites such as Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation killed any Hollywood desire to make movies based off of video games, for a few years anyway.  But there is one film from that era that came close to cracking the code.  In fact, it is the closest we have ever seen—Mortal Kombat.

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Not even close.

No, Mortal Kombat is not good in terms of quality, but it IS fun.  Not only were the action scenes enjoyable, but also the music added a new (and memorable) layer to the characters.  Aside from “Get over here!”, the Mortal Kombat theme song has become the most popular part of the movie.  Mortal Kombat gave hope to us all that video game adaptations could be at least entertaining, and, of course, make a lot of money to guarantee more of such movies.  Granted, a lot of its financial success was due to timing.

In the mid 90s, the “Mortal Kombat” franchise was at its peak.  Many other video game films, such as Street Fighter and Prince of Persia, failed mainly because they came out long after their respective franchises left the spotlight (and because they were not good films).  Sadly, even though Mortal Kombat succeeded at the box office, Hollywood could not build on the momentum.  Now, let’s jump back to present day, with “Assassin’s Creed”.

Pictured: franchises NOT at their peaks

It is one of the biggest games of the last ten years.  Ever since “Assassin’s Creed II”, the games have received mainstream success.  But, after that game, the momentum went downhill.  The Assassin’s Creed movie could still be a huge success, but I think Hollywood waited too long after the franchise’s peak to make it.  By comparison, the second “Mortal Kombat” game came out at the same time as the first Mortal Kombat movie.

Most people have complained about everything with the present era of “Assassin’s Creed”.  In this game, you are a character who is related to past assassins.  You have to be “plugged in” to become whichever past character is necessary for a certain mission.  These scenes were atrocious, and I continued to despise these scenes after every ensuing game.  Once again, we will have to watch scenes just like that in the upcoming movie.

So can Assassin’s Creed be an excellent film?  In light of recent history of the franchise and video game adaptations, I say no.  Example: the new Ratchet and Clank film, I bet nobody even knew this happened.  It came out less than a month ago and did nothing at the box office.  It was intended for families—but THEY didn’t go see it!  This summer, Angry Birds and Warcraft will hit theaters.  If they flop, don’t ignore that as signs that Assassin’s Creed will too.

14045_poster2.jpgFinally!  The future of video game movies is here!

The Movie Buff Dilemma #1–“You Like That?”

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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The theatre is the essential place to enjoy a film.  Not only do you get to see a film on the big screen, but you are also witnessing magic.  Sure, that might be too high of praise (considering the large amount of bad movies that come out); still, it’s true for the good ones.  About twice a month, I try to experience this enjoyment.  But if I’m seeing the movie with someone who’s not a movie buff, I dread these three words after it ends: “You like that?”

Calling yourself a movie buff can be a curse.  And it’s a double-whammy if you’re a filmmaker.  Seeing a movie with non-movie buffs/filmmakers can be a nightmare.  Every time, the stage is set for my failure.  Typically, there is about five of them, and they’re all ready to fire that 3-word round.

The question feels harder to answer each time.  It’s like telling someone at the gym who uses their back to bench press: sometimes you shouldn’t say anything.  And that is what I’ve tried to do, but boy are they clever.  Instead of giving me time to think before I give my essay on the movie, I am put on the spot when I hear, “You like that?!”.  It’s sad that all I can think about is Kirk Cousins yelling that in my ear.

Now I know what you are thinking, “Gosh Matt, you love films and are outspoken; you should love to give your opinion!”  True, I do love to attack films I don’t like (The Dark Knight), but it’s different when everyone around you is going to see a movie for fun.  That is the biggest problem, how do I turn off my critical side, so that I don’t spoil everyone else’s good time?  It’s especially difficult when the movie is terrible; you have to fight every urge to turn to your relative/friend and say something like, “Boy, looks like the lighting director called in sick for this scene.”  And soon after that, you’re thinking about starting a podcast devoted solely to bashing the movie, in the hopes that someone out there will actually ENJOY listening to you.  So what do you do when normal people want your opinion on a film?

Well, the simple “I enjoyed it” always works.  Now, if you don’t like lying to the ones you care about, then you need to switch to plan B—the bathroom.  Hopefully, going to the bathroom for ten to fifteen minutes will make everyone forget that you even saw this movie.  Give it a few more minutes, and they may even forget that THEY saw the movie.  The biggest score would be if your friends start talking about something completely different, allowing you to walk away, scot-free.  It’s bullet proof!

So why does everyone want to know your opinion?  Better yet, why do they need to know right after the film ends?  Isn’t that why you bring your lady friend—so you don’t have to talk to her?  Also, what happens if she doesn’t care about movies as much as what you do?  Well, then you might be saying to yourself, “I wouldn’t date her anyway!”  Don’t lie to yourself, especially if she enjoys the essential things in your life, like Bruce Lee.

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Pictured: my date, asking, “You like that?”

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Pictured: me.

Throughout the movie, not only will you be thinking about the bathroom because you are terrible around women (that’s just me….I think), but you are also thinking, “please don’t ask the question”.  She could ask to marry you, and THAT would be better than asking you about the movie.  Who on their first date wants to hear you talk about how the main characters weren’t developed enough for you to care about them, especially when it’s an action movie?  Or better yet, who wants to hear someone talk about the breakdown of the fight scene and why cutting so much destroys the chemistry of the two fighters?  If you were bored watching it, then how do you think she will feel listening to you?

“You like that?”  How do you get rid of such a common question?  Never allow anyone to know that you enjoy movies “a lot”.  The reason?  They will want to debate with you, and prove that you are wrong in that YOU DO, in fact, like that.

Don’t Believe the Hype! Issue 5–Affleck Solo Batman Movie

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Amid the rumors of “creative differences” between certain directors and DC, regarding their shared universe, the one ray of hope that continues to shine is a Ben Affleck-directed solo Batman movie.  But, how do we know this ray of light is nothing more than a mirage?

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Going to hammer more tires, are we?

Batman v Superman had many problems.  Although a lot of that can be placed on Zack Snyder, it’s not all his fault.  Remember, the movie had a massive agenda–setting up umpteen different movies within two-and-a-half hours.  Plus, it was trying to tell two classic stories at the same time (Dark Knight Returns and Death of Superman).  Typically, studios are responsible for shoehorning in set-ups for future films (Marvel with Age of Ultron), and more characters than necessary (Sony with Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Warner Bros. with Batman & Robin).  Since DC is clearly dead set on making a shared universe work, what’s to say they aren’t going to try the same tactics with their go-to cash cow’s solo film?  That said, I ask this: how much can Affleck do to make the solo Batman movie a good one?  Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo are all solid, well-regarded movies that he has directed.  So, it seems like a no-brainer that Affleck’s Batflick will be good, right?  Not necessarily; the DC movies are made by companies, not directors.

Written and Directed by $$$

Do you really think any director would insert into his or her own movies references to ones that won’t come out for 2+ years?  I don’t think even Snyder would do that to himself.  He proved that he can tell a focused, self-contained story with Man of Steel (albeit not a good one).  As I mentioned, setups for franchises and needless inclusions of characters (Wonder Woman in BvS) have typically been attributed to studio tampering.  What’s to say the solo Batman movie won’t be mucked up with a forced setup for a Batman and Wonder Woman team-up movie, or a team-up movie with Batgirl and a new Robin?

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They’ll never learn.

The DC movies are investments more so than actual films.  When any movie studio, not just DC, pumps five to ten years and billions of dollars into something, of course they want to play it by the numbers.  Hell, look at how safe Marvel has been playing it with every film since Iron Man.  What I’m saying is that, for how great of a director Affleck is, he will ultimately be a director-for-hire.  He will not have free reign to make a legitimately good film.  Even the veteran himself, Steven Spielberg, said over fifteen years ago that even he has to fight for creative freedom, not with other creatives, but with bankers (p. 52 of the book Steven Spielberg: Interviews).  Film is a business now more than ever, because there’s money to be made in not just the U.S., but also action-movie-loving countries like China.  In other words, companies feel the need to appeal to a much wider audience (translation: make movies less about people and real problems and more about the action).

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Look, kids!  It’s Ben Affleck fighting DC for his creative freedom!

When you look at the failure of a big-studio blockbuster like Batman v Superman, don’t be like everyone else by blaming the directors, actors, etc.  Blame the studio.  After viewing Batman v Superman, I blame DC for making the film feel like one long commercial.  DC is failing by trying to do a condensed version of Marvel’s business plan, and I believe it’s naive to think they won’t continue this plan with the Batman solo film.

Between BvS, the ill-advised Suicide Squad (it’s like Avengers if they were bad guys–creativity strikes again!), and the undoubtedly rushed Justice League, I feel sorry for Affleck, because he has spent the last five years letting people know he is the real deal.  Now, it seems that his legitimacy as an actor and director are being exploited by DC to lend credibility to their half-baked attempts at a cinematic universe.  When it comes to doing the inevitable Batman solo film, what can’t be ignored is that Affleck faces the possibility of reliving Daredevil, even if he is also the director and writer this time around.  This time, though, it will be different.  No matter how bad the film is, it will inevitably turn a profit, and more films will follow, leading to a decade of suffering.

Choreography 101:  Why Tony Jaa Never Broke Through

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By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Ten years ago, Tony Jaa was one of the biggest names in martial arts.  For a while, Jaa was on top of the world.  Not only was he getting compared to Bruce Lee, but also he was the first martial arts star outside of China.  Although he had everything in place, the fame wore off shortly afterwards.  If you are trying to break into this genre, look at his career as an example of what not to do.

If we are talking talent, Jaa has it as a martial artist.  My first experience with him was in The Protector.  One of the most influential fight scenes was the one-shot fight in the restaurant.  Impressive as it is, the movie had many other fights that showed off Jaa’s skills.  As a martial artist myself, I don’t know how he did some of those moves.  In fact, I can’t believe the man didn’t get injured.  Apparently, Jaa could do no wrong.

Before Jaa did The Protector (a worldwide release), he did his biggest movie, titled Ong Bak: Muy Thai Warrior.  I personally liked The Protector more, but the scene where he bursts through fire with a running knee was classic.  With this film, Jaa primed himself to be the next biggest action star.  That is until he himself ruined that.

My biggest complaint with him in his films is that he’s not a character.  What do I mean by “character”?  If you look at the big five (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Sammo Hung), they all have distinct personalities onscreen.  In all of Jaa’s films, he is just the guy that can flip around and swing a crazy knee.  Even though martial arts movies are about the action, we also want to see someone who’s relatable to us.

He also never developed characters in his movies.  In The Protector, the entire movie is of him never speaking and running around beating people up.  Sure, you could say, “All I want is action!”.  But wouldn’t you miss the great wisdom Lee brings to the table in Enter the Dragon?  Or Jackie Chan’s humor in Police Story?  Tony Jaa was more emotionless than Arnold in Terminator.  Even though Jaa’s flaws were shown in these movies, I was willing to give him a break.  After all, they were only his first couple of films.

Tony Jaa knew how to destroy opponents, but never knew how to tell a story through a fight scene.  Where there’s a story there is also tension and anticipation, which (ideally) make the finale much more exciting.  Look at The Protector’s final battle.  It’s ten minutes long (after six other fights), and it stays well past its welcome.  Jaa beats up the big dude, then he has to fight him with Elephant bones, and finally cuts off his tendons.  But, like I said, the movie had so much action-packed excitement that such blemishes were excused.

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After 2006, Jaa disappeared from the scene until he returned to do Ong Bak 2 in 2009.  In another article I talked about martial art sequels being the death of a career; this movie is the best example.  Ong Bak 2 and 3 were disasters.  They brought nothing fresh to the series.  Jaa directed these movies too, which did not help matters.  The difference between him and Bruce Lee is Jaa is a martial artist, while Lee is an artist.  Sadly, the failures of these two films were only the beginning.

Jaa later did many other sequels, such as The Protector 2, Killzone 2, Furious 7, and now XXX 3.  Protector 2 was a joke, and all of the others either show him as a background character or were a flop.  A certain fight in Protector 2 blew my mind on how stupid it was.  Tony Jaa sets his shoes on fire and has a slow-motion fight with fire (which is obviously CG, by the way).  The fight is so poorly choreographed that it’s laughable.   And once again, Jaa hardly acts in the film.

I hope people will remember Tony Jaa for what he did in the early to mid-2000s.  Was it as impactful as the big five?  No, but he made two excellent films.  If he could have had an Ang Lee or John Woo direct him, I think Jaa’s path as an actor would have been far more impactful than two cult classics.  When looking back, Jaa was a perfect example of someone with amazing skill, but not an amazing personality.  We as an audience remember the action of an action star, but we also remember the character.  That is why the greats have survived for decades.  On the bright side, Jaa is only 40, so he has plenty of time to break through.  By comparison, Donnie Yen was 45 when he broke through with Ip Man.