A few days ago, I was discussing with Noah an increasing trend of incoherent fight scenes as a result of too many quick cuts and shaky-cam. Done well, this disorientation can heighten a sense of excitement and chaos — “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” are prime examples. More often than not, it just heightens confusion, displacing any spatial orientation and leaving the audience wondering — What the hell just happened? This confusion can lead to disengagement — how are you supposed to care what is happening when you can’t tell fighters apart, much less see the stage around them? Pull back! What ever happened to action geography? Noah commented that “Those fight scenes (The Dark Knight, etc.) aren’t really showing you a good fight, they’re simply telling you that a fight is going on. It’s like saying ‘They fight’ in a play.”
Others are also taking note — Slate’s Dennis Lim has compiled an informative video slide show: Let’s Step Outside: The Evolution of the Fight Scene from the Duke to the Dark Knight. His exaltation of the fight scene from “Eastern Promises” is well-deserved — it’s brutal and intense because it looks like people are actually getting hurt. It moves you viscerally in a way that few contemporary fight scenes do — blood, sweat, and real stakes make for a tour de force.
On the verite end of the spectrum, Tony Jaa and Marko Zaror are carrying on the Jackie Chan tradition of real stunts and taking it a step further — real fights. Mirageman was a blockbuster in Zaror’s native Chile largely because the fights captured on film were done for real — no pulled punches, no sped-up film, real blood and bruises.
Of course, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris did something similar in their infamous Colloseum battle in “Way of the Dragon” — though staged, many of those visceral punches and kicks were real. As if to emphasize this, at one point their fight goes into slow-motion to show you exactly what they’re doing and show you, clearly, who is doing what.
Here are some of my favorites:
-Indy vs. the big bald Nazi in Raiders
-Jet Li vs. Supreme Killer General Fujita in Fist of Legend
-Jackie Chan’s Fei Hong vs John in Drunken Master 2
-Rocky vs Apollo Creed in Rocky
-Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris in Return of the Dragon
-Luke vs Vader in Empire and ROTJ
-Samurai vs Bandits in Seven Samurai
-Conan the Barbarian vs Warrior Generals
-Rob Roy’s Neeson vs Roth
-Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate — dagger vs rapier!
-Inigo vs Wesley in Princess Bride
-Robin Hood vs the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves
What are yours?