My Recipe for a Good Live-Action Adaptation

For the past few years, there were several releases of live-action movies based on Manga, Anime, and Video Games. It has been a hit-or-miss opportunity for every production wherein big budget doesn’t always equate to a great movie. Here, I’ll try to give my two cents on what it takes to translate these media properly. Just a disclaimer, I didn’t graduate from a film or literature related course. These are just purely my opinion, and I based them on the live action movies that I’ve seen so far.

Resembling Cast

It’s one thing to give an actor or actress a make-up and hairstyle to match the character that he or she is portraying, and it’s another thing to pick a cast member who looks just like the character, effortlessly. The latter is quite difficult to fulfill, but when the production pulls it off, it will leave a lasting impression to the audience. One best example I can think of would be Christian Howard who plays Ken Masters in Street Fighter Assassin’s Fist. One look at the guy, and you instantly imagine him executing a Shoryuuken. Beyond the looks, the guy can perform martial arts moves that are convincing enough to emulate the reference character.

Speaking of martial arts moves, picking Takeru Satoh was a perfect choice to play as Kenshin Himura for the Rurouni Kenshin movies.  He’s a trained athlete, and he can do some insane acrobatics combined with elegant swordsmanship. You can see on his execution that he’s the guy for the job. Don’t believe me? Watch this video…

As for an example of a bad casting, you can look no further than Dragonball Evolution. Among other things that this movie had done, the casting alone was a complete mess for me. Watching on mute will leave you confused who’s who. Even Piccolo who can be worked around through proper prosthetic failed to deliver.

Loyalty To Story

One big reason that the fans got hooked with the source material was probably the story. There were events that made the series memorable, and they are looking forward relive these moments. Of course, there are parts that need to be changed or omitted due to the constraint that movies can only run up to three hours, but it should be done in a seamless manner. Kind of like what was done in Death Note. The events were modified, but it still made sense to the overall story. I actually think that the L in the live-action was quite smarter than his anime/manga counterpart.

Now, if only the Tekken movie did not happen. Seriously, the good plot of the video game franchise was murdered by this B-Movie.  The monumental moment where Heihachi threw Kazuya on the cliff was not presented, heck even the story behind the devil gene was not there. Christie’s not using Capoeira, Marshall Law not using Jeet-Kune-Do (Blasphemy!), and the list goes on. The only thing that the movie did right was picking Lateef Crowder as Eddy, but hey, that’s for the Resembling Cast criteria.

Familiar Cinematography

It’s an awesome feat if you’ll be able to remember that shot that exactly captures the same image that you’ve seen in a manga or an anime. Such moments will give you nostalgic fun. Also, if the director can get a clearer view of highlighting the character’s resembling features and skills, it gives the viewers the feel that this medium had been loyal to the source material. Take a look at Rurouni Kenshin (yes, I really love the film, and I’m going to cite it more than once). You can see from the camera angles how Kenshin’s speed and agility were emphasized with beautiful rope works that enabled the actor to lean, bend, and high-jump like the original character.

I understand that the filmmakers have a certain liberty to play with a franchise in the way that they know best. However, I believe that it’s just proper not to ruin that franchise with such style. After all, it was the stuff that the source material was made of that gave it its popularity. Disregarding these factors may prove to be disrespectful to the fans. I hope they will learn from the indie and Asian movie scene on how to do things right. ‘Til then, I recommend the following movies for good samples of live-action adaptations. Enjoy! (~^_^)~

Good Live-Action Movies:

  • Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy
  • Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist
  • Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe)
  • Gatchaman
  • Shinobi (Live-Action for Basilisk)
  • Kamen Rider The First and Kamen Rider The Next
  • Garo: Red Requiem

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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