Choreography 101: Why Did Jackie Chan Speed up His Fights?

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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For forty years, Jackie Chan has been appearing in iconic action films, from being a random stuntman in Enter the Dragon to being a leading man in Hollywood films such as Rush Hour.  Yet, the biggest question remains for this great action star: Why speed up the fights?

Sped-up.

Once you notice it, you can never go back.  All of a sudden, I realized how many of Chan’s fights are sped up.  How?  Let’s take regular motion of a car or a man walking in one of his films.  They walk at a brisk pace, but you can see them move step by step.  In some of Chan’s films, such as Police Story 2, Chan’s fight scenes kind of blur together and look more like a Charlie Chaplin stunt comedy short.

In other films, Jackie Chan has demonstrated how quick he can be or how precise his movements are.  Police Story and Legend of the Drunken Master are perfect examples of that.  Police Story has not only some of the best action pieces, but also my personal favorite.

Non-sped-up.

The action pieces have quick movements with tight editing.  That way, the action moves smoothly.  Whereas in Police Story 2, we see only brief moments of smooth action, which are marred by jarring, sped-up action, making it very difficult to watch.

During the 80s, Chan filmed 21 movies.  Considering that Police Story 2 came out in the late 80s, it’s understandable that he was burning out, since he usually gives it his all with the fight scenes.  Even though most of his action pieces stepped up his game, he had some missteps during these years, Police Story 2 and Armour of God being the most prominent ones.  He almost killed himself in Armour of God, and brutally injured himself and his stunt performers in Police Story 2.  That said, there is no way the fight scenes of those films didn’t suffer in quality.

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Could he have put too much effort into them?  I think so.  And as a result, Chan had to take it easier, by fighting at a slower pace during filming.  Not wanting to disappoint fans with a slower speed, he sped up the fights in post-production.

Jackie Chan is one of the greatest martial art stars, no doubt.  His crazy action scenes and stunts, and his personality, make him such a memorable performer.  Although, I wish Chan took a step back and relaxed a bit during those years for his sake and for his art.  His fans know how much he worked to perfect the action.  Even sped up, however, those scenes are still better than most fight scenes that America has produced in the last forty years.  (By the way, American fight scenes are usually sped-up; look out for my blog coming soon on this topic).

Top Ten Moments That Make Me Believe in the X-Men Franchise

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

10.) The Cast of Characters

It’s usually hard to cast a superhero character.  X-Men succeeded at this with most of the original cast and its reboot cast.  Have you ever heard anyone say that Hugh Jackman or James McAvoy were miscast?

09.) The reason they are fighting

X-Men is one of the few superhero series that has a strong reason for the action.  Unlike most Marvel films, X-Men is straight forward.  Magneto wants to protect the mutants through violence and Professor X wants to protect mutants by protecting humans.  Each film built on this idea.

08.) It’s more than action

The best X-Men films are dramas first and action movies second.  Look at the first two films and First Class.  The climactic moment in First Class is not dozens of superheroes and super villains attacking each other, but simply three people standing, and one of them screaming.  By the way, I love this!

07.) The Villains are Bad!

Stryker, Kevin Bacon, and Stryker!  All of these characters are just bad people.  None of them have any redeemable characteristics.  Both experimented on mutants.  In their movies, you want them to get their comeuppance.

06.) Nightcrawler was epic!

X2 is probably the greatest X-Men movie.  One reason is the opening scene that introduces a new character…Nightcrawler.  Nightcrawler was one of the best parts of that movie.  And you know what…it left me wanting more.

05.) When Toad Actually Mattered

Toad is a small character in the first film, but boy did he shine in the final action scene!  He faced the entire X-Men (besides Wolverine) and held his own.  Toad was made special for that reason.  Also, he was given great energy by Ray Park who at that point was a fanboy favorite thanks to his turn as Darth Maul.  It’s awesome to see how such a minor character brought so much fan service.

04.) Magneto!

Magneto might be one of the best villains created by Marvel, so it’s almost impossible for them to get him wrong.  Not only did the great Ian McKellen play him, but he was also played by the brilliant Michael Fassbender.  Both actors brought new ideas to Magneto, which has made the character endure through all of these years.

03.) The tone is perfect

For the most part, the franchise is dead serious, but every once in a while they slip in a joke.  The best of the X-Men series has been a breath of fresh air because most superhero films now are more about making jokes than telling a thought-out story.

02.) It has a purpose

When “X-Men” first started in the comics, the idea was based on the African American movement with Malcom X (Magneto) and Martin Luther King Jr. (Professor X).  In 2000, Bryan Singer used these characters to talk about a new topic—homosexuality.  The franchise started with a fresh take.  As a result, this is one of the few superhero franchises that has brought relatable topics to the mainstream audience.

01.) The reboot was a success

First Class was amazing!  This scene explains it all.

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!

 

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!

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?”

john candy

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.

A Look at Avengers’ Past, Present, and Future

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Not many film series begin with a FIVE picture plan, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Avengers, like it or not, was a big success, but it could have been a big failure.  Back in 2008, audiences sat through Iron Man, a decades-old character that no one cared about (kind of like the Fantastic Four now).  But, swooping in was none other than Robert Downey Jr. to save the character.  After that film’s success, Marvel chose to capitalize on its Avengers-teasing post-credits sequence by advertising the proposed film with four more films.  Now, four years after the first Avengers film was released, I am looking back at the success of The Avengers, what its popularity means now, and the future it has paved.

Recently, I watched the film for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and I have to say that the film doesn’t hold up.  The reason being that, as a superhero fan, I am burnt out on origin stories.  For several years, Marvel, DC, and many other comic book companies have been restarting various series over and over, retelling the origins of its characters.  With the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we were given three origin stories (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) and two other set-up movies (The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2) just to see another origin story in The Avengers.  The whole movie is about them getting together to fight a common enemy.  It felt like a waste of time, having seen the five “set-up” movies.  Hell, the first six films felt like the start of the Marvel animated show, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (which ran from 2010 to 2012).  The first five episodes set up who our characters are.  Then, the sixth episode is about the “alien” attack that forces them to team up.  Sound familiar?  I wish the movie would have started with something like the Avengers (unwillingly) already assembled by Nick Fury.  They’re all in a room in the opening scene.  Fury walks in and gives them their objective.  From there, the personality conflicts would ensue.  With five set-up films, this movie was supposed to just give us The Avengers from the get go, like how 90s comic book cartoon shows (Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men) did with their titular characters.  But, Marvel did not see the reintroductions as needless, because they wanted to pull in a more general audience who did not see the previous films.  And, it worked.

Marvel’s first Avengers film grossed triple the amounts of Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk.  Normally, sequels either do slightly better or worse.  (Look at The Empire Strikes Back, The Harry Potter films, and The Two Towers).  In terms of both storytelling and box office success, the first five MCU films meant nothing when viewing The Avengers, because in Marvel’s mind, that movie was the actual franchise starter.  In terms of both box office and critical and fan reception, The Avengers defeated the other 2012 superhero tentpole—The Dark Knight Rises, which is part of a series that was considered the king of superhero franchises for four years.  The new king, The Avengers franchise, had its eye on a new goal: keeping its fan base while increasing its range.  Both Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 did insane numbers compared to its predecessors.  How?  It attracted fans who watched The Avengers.  It was evident that every MCU film after The Avengers would be instant gold.  Sure, there were misfires, such as Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Iron Man 3 not being that great, but Marvel was still on its way for a repeat.

With Age of Ultron, many people, including myself, were excited to see what Marvel would do with the series.  Unfortunately, it was more or less a repeat of The Avengers (this time they take on a NEW villain who also has an army and wants to take over the world!).  What the sequel didn’t have going for it that Avengers did was freshness—by 2015, we had already seen the Avengers team up once.  As a result, the movie did not do as well.  (Look at the numbers: Age of Ultron made over $160 million less than Avengers’ $623 million gross).

Now, does this mean that superhero films are not as popular now?  Not necessarily.  Look back at the 90s.  The 1989 film, Batman, was a phenomenon that made Batman the king of superheroes again.  But when Batman Returns came out, the movie flopped compared to the first one because of how unusual it is.  That same year, though, Batman: The Animated Series came out and was crushing the animated series market.  Batman was still popular.  Age of Ultron did not do as well as its predecessor because of quality, not because of audience’s fickleness.  What Marvel needs to do to keep its audience is to morph with its consumers’ changing tastes.  The Revenge of the Sith is a good example of this.  After backlash at the lighthearted and/or dull films, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Lucas created a more serious Star Wars film for the fans.  The Empire Strikes Back is another example of this.  It was a drastically different film from A New Hope, and it slowly transformed into what is considered one of the greatest films of all time.  The two Avengers films, by comparison, are more of a flat line.

As for the future, the third and fourth Avengers films are coming in 2018 and 2019, respectively.  I am already not impressed.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for its lifespan, has been retreading ground that we have seen for the last fifty years, by telling the same stories straight from the comics (aside from Infinity Wars, just look at Winter Soldier and Civil War for other examples).  After a while, the comic book fans viewing these movies might not care anymore what happens, because they’ll grow tired of the lack of originality.  And, casual moviegoers will grow tired of every story not actually ending, but instead setting up for another film or twelve.  Perhaps future movies will become more and more identical in terms of rehashing origin stories, following famous comic book story lines nearly beat for beat, and being one giant advertisement for an even bigger movie?  Only time will tell.