For­eign­ers, Wolves and Su­per­heroes

Black Belt - - SCREEN SHOTS - BY DR. CRAIG D. REID

T

HE FOR­EIGNER This is the most sat­is­fy­ing Jackie Chan per­for­mance in years. It’s a grip­ping melo­drama about an ag­ing, gen­tle, Lon­don-based restau­rant owner named Quan (Jackie Chan) who wit­nesses his sole teenage daugh­ter be­ing blown up in an IRA at­tack. That’s when his long-buried demons erupt into a vin­dic­tive vendetta that tar­gets the cul­prits. The man who may be re­spon­si­ble, Quan learns, is for­mer IRA leader Liam Hen­nessy (Pierce Bros­nan).

Af­ter the open­ing scene in which the bomb ex­plodes and kills Quan’s daugh­ter, Chan — glass in face, smoke and blood ev­ery­where — is cradling his daugh­ter. As an ac­tor, he’s rife with pain and loss, mak­ing this the most pow­er­ful emo­tional shot I’ve ever seen him do.

Peeved by Quan’s pur­suit, Hen­nessy sets four goons on him in a wee Belfast B&B. He quickly learns that this in­signif­i­cant gen­tle man in his 60s is more than meets the eye as Quan puts the bad guys to bed with Jackie Chan in ac­tion. his un­ex­pected agility, vi­cious close­quar­ters com­bat and in­ge­nious abil­ity to es­cape in the nick of time.

For­eigner’s fights are sim­i­lar to Chan’s other on-screen bat­tles in that each one taps into his mar­tial arts rhythm. Yet there are no trade­mark Chan com­edy beats or ex­ag­ger­ated fa­cial ex­pres­sions, just a strong sense that he might lose. Although the chore­og­ra­phy is in­ten­tion­ally ragged and filmed like most Amer­i­can movies with plenty of close and medium shots, there’s no “shaky cam.” In­stead, the cam­era fol­lows each tech­nique. It’s re­fresh­ing to see no fight cheats be­ing used. That works be­cause of Chan’s cre­ativ­ity, which en­ables him to know when to go wide-an­gle so the au­di­ence clearly sees what’s tran­spir­ing.

The com­bat ac­com­plishes ev­ery­thing old school with no wires and no CGI, just gutsy stunt­men. Chan sum­ma­rized For­eigner’s fight style with four words, “Quan is not Su­per­man.”

My anal­y­sis is, For­eigner is not a Jackie Chan film. It’s a film that stars Jackie Chan.

W OLF WAR­RIOR II This movie — which is writ­ten by, di­rected by and stars Wu Jing — is a howl­ing piece. Since it be­came the high­est­gross­ing, mod­ern-day war film in his­tory ($870 mil­lion in 49 days), Wolf II has be­come the leader of the pack.

For the first Wolf War­rior, which pit­ted the star against Scott Ad­kins, Wu drilled for 18 months with a Chi­nese army unit in Nan­jing. Ba­sic train­ing paid off even more in Wolf II, which fea­tures gun­fights that ri­val John Woo’s coolest bal­lis­tic bal­lets.

In the se­quel, which is set some­where in Africa amid a vi­o­lent rev­o­lu­tion, a Euro­pean mer­ce­nary called Big Daddy ( played by Frank Grillo, who was Cross­bones in Cap­tain

Amer­ica: The Win­ter Sol­dier) is hired by a blood­thirsty rebel leader. Daddy de­cides to tackle a for­mer Wolf War­rior Chi­nese spe­cial-forces op­er­a­tive named Leng Feng (Wu), who’s try­ing to pro­tect a group of Chi­nese cit­i­zens and their African friends and lead them to safety. That’s when Leng goes Rambo III on the bad guys.

Sim­i­lar to Sylvester Stal­lone’s Rambo, who armed him­self with a ma­chine gun and fought the Rus­sian army, Wu takes Leng’s ef­forts to a higher level. How so? With bizarre tank-fight chore­og­ra­phy, as well as the kind of styl­ized mar­tial arts ac­tion you might wit­ness in a street fight. Pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the film’s open­ing kung fu fight: Wu takes on gun-shoot­ing, knife-wield­ing pi­rates un­der­wa­ter, seem­ingly while hold­ing a sin­gle breath.

It’s im­por­tant to note that Wu is not the next Jackie Chan, nor is he heir to his throne. Mak­ing that com­par­i­son is like say­ing Stal­lone was the next John Wayne. Wu’s chore­og­ra­phy is in­flu­enced by Don­nie Yen, Jet Li, Yuen Woo-ping and, in a way, his own work. A man of Manchurian

de­scent, Wu be­gan prac­tic­ing wushu at age 6 and then, like Li, be­came a mem­ber of the Bei­jing wushu team. Like Yen, Wu was dis­cov­ered by Yuen Woo-ping. He’s per­haps best-known in the West for mix­ing it up with Yen in SPL: Kill Zone (2005) and Tony Jaa in Kill Zone 2 (2015).

Since Grillo isn’t a fighter and his stunt dou­ble does most of the ac­tion, it some­what short­changes Wu’s abil­ity be­cause the chore­og­ra­phy be­comes di­luted. To com­pen­sate and bring out the emo­tion of a hero duel­ing with a pow­er­ful vil­lain, in ad­di­tion to cool el­e­ments of sol­dier su­pe­ri­or­ity, the film was shot with a slower cam­era speed. That trans­lates to rapid-fire stunts such as when Wu is hit so hard he flies back­ward and when he un­leashes his own deadly bar­rages. In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, the bat­tle cry of

Wolf II isn’t quite the oorah of the U.S. Marines, but it still war­rants a wow!

T

HOR: RAG­NAROK Di­rected by Taika Waititi, this su­per­hero epic gets its ti­tle from Norse mythol­ogy’s end of days. The movie is filled with silly sight gags, comedic rhetoric rid­dled with snide re­marks and offthe-wall ban­ter — all of which makes the char­ac­ters more lov­able. It’s the year’s best com­edy.

Rag­narok tells the tale of the ham­mer­less God of Thun­der (Chris Hemsworth) and his rag­tag team of Hulk, Loki and an Ama­zon war­rior named Valkyrie (Tessa Thomp­son). To­gether, they bat­tle Thor’s older sis­ter Death God­dess, who’s bent on de­stroy­ing As­gard.

Based on the pop­u­lar­ity of DC Comics’ Won­der Woman, which puts the stu­dio one-up over Marvel, and be­cause of Rag­narok’s U.S. open­ing week­end that sur­passed

Won­der Woman’s, Thomp­son is at the fore­front of push­ing Marvel to­ward a fe­male fo­cus. Rag­narok pro­ducer Kevin Feige con­firmed the no­tion.

“My cos­tume is leather, [and] I’ve got dag­gers and a cool kind of ninja hair­style,” Thomp­son said about Valkyrie. “In her clas­sic look, it’s a head-to-toe, space-age-war­rior­god­dess, steel-strong look. She’s an elite fighter, wields a sword and is as strong as Thor.”

To pull off the duel between Hulk and Thor, which, be­cause of the size dis­crep­ancy, made it im­pos­si­ble to stage as a real fight, the film­mak­ers cast a 4-foot-2-inch stunt dou­ble to mo­cap, or mo­tion-cap­ture, Thor and then su­per­im­posed a 6-foot-6-inch Hulk stunt dou­ble be­fore shoot­ing the bat­tle from a mo­cap point of view.

Hemsworth learned Thor’s moves and did them on a blue-screen set while pre­tend­ing Hulk was present. (I call this “shadow chore­og­ra­phy.”) Then the mo­cap data was used to put Hulk in the scene. It all added up to a mon­u­men­tal melee by any­one’s stan­dards.

Many of the fights in Rag­narok were done by the he­roes us­ing well­re­hearsed tech­niques, af­ter which an­i­mated com­bat­ants were in­serted — Idris Elba’s sword­fights be­ing the most ob­vi­ous. Some com­pelling bat­tles with Thor and Valkyrie tak­ing on cos­tumed stunt­men were en­hanced by vir­tual cam­era chore­og­ra­phy and Hong Kong fant-Asia wire stunts, ac­ro­bat­ics and spin-and­pose- to- the-cam­era shots that were mas­tered way back in the 1980s. How­ever, they still can’t do real phys­i­cal com­bat with­out cheats. J US­TICE LEAGUE What do you get The Avengers, when you take

mix in vis­ual ef­fects to change the char­ac­ters, add three cubes of hy­per en­ergy and stir in a ram-horned beastie? The born- to-be-wild, mag­ic­car­pet-ride su­per­hero film known as Jus­tice League.

In the movie, the Earth mourns Su­per­man’s death, and Step­pen­wolf, an an­cient malev­o­lent devil-god who’s look­ing for ad­ven­ture, gets res­ur­rected. He sets out to trans­form the planet into his own do­main via the heavy-metal thun­der of his gi­ant burn­ing ax. Mean­while, he searches for three Mother Boxes to ce­ment his dom­i­na­tion. The only thing in his way: the spir­ited Won­der Woman (Gal Gadot), the mourn­ing Bat­man (Ben Af­fleck), the quick-wit­ted Flash, the brood­ing Cy­borg and the abra­sive Aqua­man.

The ad- hoc leader is Won­der Woman, who is be­witch­ingly in­tro­duced by a Da­mon Caro (stunt co­or­di­na­tor) fight se­quence in which she faces a sui­cide bomber in Lon­don. She floats down into a lobby and, with sleek cam­er­a­work and speed ramp­ing, takes out a ter­ror­ist gang with her mar­tial prow­ess. Then, as the head goon sprays ma­chine-gun fire into a crowd of vic­tims, she slows her­self down to bul­let time to block each slug. With a face of molten fury burn­ing brighter than ever, she winds up hero­ically pos­ing atop Lady Jus­tice’s statue.

The sec­ond-best se­quence also fea­tures phys­i­cal­ity. Step­pen­wolf and his para-in­sects at­tack Hip­polyta’s realm as Ama­zon hordes give their lives to pro­tect another Mother Box. With the wire en­hance­ment, there’s more phys­i­cal weapons chore­og­ra­phy against mo­cap ene­mies than CGI crea­tures.

Although Bat­man throws three kicks and ex­e­cutes a se­ries of punches and blocks, which are then edited to­gether to look more dy­namic, most of the other ac­tion se­quences are as­sem­bled via shadow chore­og­ra­phy. Us­ing video ef­fects suits th­ese vir­tual worlds in a way, but it re­sults in com­bat that lacks spirit and soul — which is why I pre­fer the phys­i­cal na­ture of the fights in Won­der Woman and most of the Star Wars films. Maybe other DC and Marvel movies will fol­low suit and keep it … as real as pos­si­ble. Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ul­ti­mate Guide to Mar­tial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Ac­tion, Weapons and War­riors is avail­able from Ama­zon.com.

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