Musical Talents of Famous Martial Arts Actors

I just realized that some of the famous martial arts actors have a musical talent under their sleeves. This post popped in my mind while I was listening to High Upon High by Jackie Chan during my weekly workout. I’ve seen some videos of an interview or an event where they perform something beyond their combat skills. I’m impressed with what these guys can do. Just take a look at what each actor has to offer.

Jackie Chan

You probably know this already, but I’ll include it here anyway. Aside from doing stunts, Jackie is also good in singing. He recorded tracks for his movies, including Drunken Master 2 and Armour of God. He also sang the Chinese version of I’ll Make a Man Out of You for the Disney movie Mulan. back when he was a child, he had vocal lessons at the Peking Opera School. He has released over 20 albums from which he sang in different languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, English, Japanese, and Taiwanese.

David Carradine

Known by the older audiences (nope, far older than me) as Kwai Chang Caine in the TV series Kung Fu and known by the younger audiences as Bill from Kill Bill, David Carradine can also play the guitar and flute. He can actually make flutes out of bamboo, and you can see him playing one of them in the mentioned movie. As a guitarist, he was a member of the band called Soul Dogs. They play in small venues and charity events.

Donnie Yen

Donnie Yen’s hand-speed is top-notch as you can see in his movies like Ip Man and Flashpoint, so it’s not surprising that he can utilize such skill for playing the piano. Donnie actually belongs to a family of musicians. Her mother was a soprano and a martial arts teacher while his father is a violinist, so he was taught to play different instruments at a very young age. You can actually see him playing the piano in his movie Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. He plays classical music like what you’ll see in this video…

Tony Jaa

This is the most surprising part for me. I had no clue that Tony Jaa can actually rap. This wasn’t explicitly mentioned in any of his online profiles. Probably he’s doing it for fun, but I still find it cool. I mean, how many actors can you name as a spit artist and martial artist rolled into one? Here’s a video interview where he showed this hidden talent. He’s rapping in Thai language.

It’s good to learn new skills. Like these martial arts actors, I hope you get inspired to learn something new too, even beyond the field of music. Find it, and show the world the talented person that you are. (~^_^)~

My Anatomy of a Good Fighting Scene

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a professional critique or a high rated director of action films. All stuff that I’ll mention here are purely my opinion and mostly not based on any studies in film and audio visual arts but on over a hundred action movies that I watched, which served as my reference materials.

I’ve watched a lot of action movies that I developed a strict taste when it comes to watching them. To some extent, I tend to bypass the story or lack thereof once I see the fighting scenes. Not that I’m saying it is unnecessary to have an engaging plot to create a good action movie, but if the production claims that its movie belongs to the action genre, then they have to deliver violence in its most entertaining form. I don’t think that you can label an action movie as an action movie without any fighting scenes in it. With this, here’s my take on what I think are the elements of a good fighting scene.

Awesome Choreography

In real street fights, you’ll rarely see those fancy backflips or flying roundhouse kicks for the simple reason that it’s impractical to use in such situations. However, your aim in making a movie is to entertain, and in the action genre, one of the most effective ways to execute this is to use awesome fight choreography. This is what I like in a lot of Asian action movies (spare my fanboy side XD). The heavy influence in martial arts has been effectively used, they can have a single template of a story in all movies but each will still stand out based on the unique presentation of the fight choreography.  Speed of movement, strength of strikes, and difficulty of execution. Combine these three characteristics and you can create total eye-candy violence. Take a look at this example:

The three factors I mentioned were totally captured in this fighting scene. Both Donnie Yen and Wu Jing displayed exceptional weapon handling skills that pulled of this fast-paced combat. One wrong mistake could lead the one knocking out the other. It may seem that the overall difficulty is not at par with other fighting scenes, but take a look the timing and placements of each strike and you’ll see how carefully choreographed this scene is. By the way, the choreographer was Donnie Yen himself (*_*).

To be fair, the western movies had its own share of good choreography. I commend Troy in capturing the Greek style of combat and present it in an entertaining way. Most of the fight scenes were set on army confrontations, but my favorite scene is none other than the Achilles and Hector face-off. The pace was just right, and the usage of different weapons was fantastic to watch.

Spectacular Camera Views

Sometimes, the good choreography doesn’t cut it. If the moves were not captured in the right angle, the opportunity to display an excellent execution is wasted. Come take a look at this example:

It’s such a shame that the camera angle was too unstable to follow. Eun-Kyung Shin and her double had a pretty decent performance in the fighting scenes, but the shifts and angles of the camera views did not complement with the actresses’ skill. This is one of things that can get me frustrated in watching an action movie. Actors/actresses are trained to perform at their best but then the end product did not properly capture the scene. Moreover, there are certain parts of a fighting scene that are best viewed in slow motion. Usually, when executing a high-risk maneuver (yeah I watch WWE). However, there’s a limit on how much you can use this element. When abused, the scene can get dragging, which damages the pace of the fight scene (*cough* *cough* Resident Evil Movies *cough* *cough*).

On the other hand, a good handling of camera views can make amateur action stars perform like they are trained for combat for a long time. A good example would be the movie So Close. Shu Qi, is not an action star at all, but although she was trained in martial arts before the production, it’s the good cinematography of the movie that really amplified her performance. Take a look at this one-on-one fight with Karen Mok.

Perfect Playground

I believe that choosing the right place to get it on is essential in determining the limitations for the other elements of a fighting scene. Based on the location, the team can define the set of choreography that can be included in a scene. Different places can present the same choreography on distinctive perspectives. An overhead kick on a wide park may seem mediocre, but do that same move inside an elevator, and you will see the difference. Such confined space will significantly increase its difficulty of execution. On the other hand, a small cubicle will give you limited camera angles to use and a limited number of people to put in. In large areas like parking lots and playground, you have more freedom in the types of choreography that you can use, and you can include more people for a classic one man vs. goons fight scene.

Nobody uses this element better than Jackie Chan. If you watched Jackie Chan: My Stunts, he showed the viewers that he collects different magazine pictures of unique and interesting places in his kitchen wall. That serves as his database of target locations when conceptualizing his next film. He also has his own stunt lab to experiment on various objects that he can improvise as weapons as well as practice on different stunts that he can use on different environments. All these references led him in creating the finest action-packed and stunt-oriented fighting scene that JC can pull off. Well, I can’t find a source for the Playground fighting scene in Police Story 2 (such a shame, it was the best example for this part), so I’ve chosen the couch fight scene in his recent movie Chinese Zodiac. The scene was filmed in what seems to be a typical sofa set. However, they added a nice touch to the actual fighting scene by implementing a Swagger rule that whoever loses his touch from the couch will be declared as the loser of that bout.

Swagger Image

If there’s one thing that makes an action star look awesome… it’s the swag, and a good fighting scene can utilize this element to create those in-between spotlight moments wherein the scene focuses on that main character when he or she is either striking a pose, delivering a hard punchline,  performing single strike knockout, etc. Basically, it’s about anything that can make the action star look fabulous ahem… in a bad-ass way.

I think Jet Li not only mastered the art of combat, but also the art of being a swagger. That fierce look in his eyes scream i-am-a-motha#$*(!%-bad-ass-who-will-kick-your-teeth-down-your-throat. That guy portrays so much swag, I can’t imagine how he can fair with a comic role (but he did in his latest movie, Badges of Fury). I don’t want to sound redundant here, so just watch this end fight in Kiss of the Dragon. All the examples of being a Swagger that I mentioned above had been used here.

Intense Music

I think this is more of a bonus since a good fight scene can live without this, but it adds a nice touch to the final product. Like in other genres, it sets the mood of the scene that something bad or cool is going to happen, and if it’s an action movie, it’s a no-brainer to figure out what will happen next. The music should not only harmonize with the combat’s pace, but it should have the right tune and instrument to be used in each part of the fight.

As much as I want to use a live-action movie, one of my favorite music for a fighting scene is the one used in Rurouni Kenshin. The one played in the first 30 seconds of this video. It’s also worth mentioning that this anime series was able to utilize the use of music to intensify any type of mood of the scenes that it portrays.

Whew. Is it just me, or I just made a long post XD? Maybe it’s because of watching too many fighting scenes that it made me tired after writing this post. Well, I hope you had fun, at least by watching the sample video clips. If you think, I missed anything, or you disagree with some of my points, then feel free to post a comment, but let’s leave the violence in the movies shall we? Peace out! (~^_^)~

My Top 5 Not-So-Mainstream Martial Arts Action Stars

Ever since I was a kid, I was really amused with all the classic Kung-fu movies. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Bruce Lee play a significant part of my childhood. With Jackie Chan now finished with his last major action movie (though he will still film more action movies without the stunts and starring roles), I felt a little sad knowing that I won’t see anymore of his death-defying-stunts and totally unique humor imbued in his well choreographed action sequences.  However, there are a lot of other Martial Arts action stars who have a great potential to follow the footsteps of this legend or even surpass him. With this, I give you my own top 5 not-so-mainstream martial arts action stars.

Some Rules First

First of all, no Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Van Damme, Chuck Norris, or Bruce Lee. These men have already reached a reputation of epic proportions. I prefer those who starred in more than one action movie, except if his or her performance is really that exceptional. It’s also a big plus for me if the star doubles as the director, stuntman,  and/or fight choreographer.

The Runner-Ups

Before proceeding with the top 5, I would like to include some other action stars who are worth mentioning.

Lateef Crowder – A capoeira practitioner, this guy’s unique and fascinating art had contributed a lot in the movies that he’s in. My personal favorite is his fight with Tony Jaa in The Protector. He also starred in Tekken as Eddy Gordo, the only appropriate cast that I’ve seen in this disappointing movie.

Mark Dacascos – A very agile martial artist in my opinion, hiss fight sequences are fairly fast and well choreographed. I’ve only seen a few of his movies, but most of them have been impressive. My favorite movie is Cradle 2 The Grave where he played as the villain and fought one-on-one with Jet Li.

Wu Jing – Based on my observation, this guy has very good footwork. His fight sequences may include some noticeable ropework, but it was not obtrusive if you look at the entire choreography of his fight scenes. My only rant is that some of his movies have a depressing story. I just didn’t like it. Anyway, my favorite fight scene is in SPL, where he had a one-on-one match with Donnie Yen. This fight is totally awesome.

Now for the Top 5…

5) Scott Adkins

I first saw this guy in the movie Undisputed 2. He’s actually the antagonist in this movie, but his moves were a lot more awesome than Michael Jai White. Good thing he became the main character in Undisputed 3 which showcased what this bad-ass is really capable of. He already worked with a lot of famous action stars, including Jean-Claude Van Damme (Assassination Game), Jackie Chan (The Medallion), and Jet Li (Unleashed). He’s also the stunt double for Deadpool in X-men Origins: Wolverine. Just take a look at this film montage to see how good he is (*_*)

4) Iko Uwais

First time I watched The Raid, I was astonished on how good the Indonesian production had pulled this off. The movie had breathtaking fight scenes and excellent cinematography. More than that, the main actor, Iko Uwais also displayed a superb performance during the action scenes. Now I know the potential of the martial art Pencak Silat  when it comes to action movies, thanks to him. Before watching the said movie, I suggest checking out Merantau first. The movie has good action sequences too, but I like the other movie better. Here’s the trailer for The Raid.

3) JeeJa Yanin

Her first movie, Chocolate, was a hit in Thailand and for a good reason. The interesting plot and Jeeja’s amazing combat skills really captured the attention of the action movie fans. She also does her own stunts, and I’m telling you, her stunts are no joke at all. Just see this trailer to see what I mean. You can also catch her in the Thai-Korean movie The Kick, a good mix of Taekwondo and Muay Thai action. Highly recommended.

2) Donnie Yen

To be honest, I’m not sure if this guy is still qualified in the not-so-mainstream category. In my opinion, he’s noticeably more popular compared to the other entries in this list. In any case, he’s well known for his portrayal of Ip Manthe mentor of the late Bruce Lee. He did justice to the powerful art of Wing Chun thanks to his incredible hand speed. However, I think his best performance as an action star is seen in Flash Point. He was trained in MMA style of fighting just for this movie, and he did very well.  I never thought that I would see a UFC-like fight scene in a fast-paced manner. I commend his flexibility to use different martial arts, from Shaolin Kung-Fu to Kickboxing. He even used Jeet-Kune-Do as seen in the trailer below. Other than that, he also collaborated with some of the famous action stars like Jackie Chan (Shanghai Knights), Jet Li (Once Upon a Time in China), and Sammo Hung (SPL). For this entry, I’ll leave you with a trailer for Legend of The Fist, a continuation of the Fist Of Fury series popularized by Bruce Lee.

1) Tony Jaa

Combat skills? A certified muay-thai pro. Stunts? How about sliding under a stopping car or jumping in the middle of a circular barbed wire? I think this guy is the action star who may come close (if not equal) to Jackie Chan’s capabilities. He can do totally complex fighting scenes, specially in dealing with huge number of goons. He can perform parkour sequences like jumping on walls, swiftly passing through tight spaces, and even backflip to break lampposts. He’s popular for his starring roles for the Ong-Bak series with part 2 as my favorite series since he combined different martial arts to create a magnificent montage of fight scenes. By the way, he is a Jackie Chan fanatic himself, that he even included a scene in his movie, encountering a Jackie Chan look-alike in an airport. This movie will have a sequel which will also star Jeeja Yanin.  Just thinking about what these two can do is giving me goose bumps. I’m having a hard time which movie trailer to show here since all of his movies are really top-notch, so instead, I’m giving you a video of his live demonstration for the promotion of Ong-Bak. You’ll be amazed specially on the last part.

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