Foreigners, Wolves and Superheroes
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!
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.