Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why I love martial arts movies

This is Tony Jaa, who does all his own stunts - no CGI - in Ong-Bak The Thai Warrior, with a review here.  While the film is given 2 1/2 stars out of 4 here, Netflix gives it, I think more appropriately, almost 5 out of 5.
Over the past weekend, we watched three martial arts pictures, including the Indonesian Merantau, the first mention of which my son found at, home of Vern, the Outlaw Critic and also home of Badass Cinema.  Of his 2006 Badass 100 titles, I, not to mention my son, have seen, if not all, certainly a lot.   This is how we roll when I'm not stamping or pondering or describing The Reading Man's PTSD.
Our third recent viewing, another Thai production, was Raging Phoenix.
Here are some of the reasons why I love martial arts movies.  It began as a shared adventure with my son after his father left.

He bought a book about Hong Kong action cinema - John Woo and others -  started reading it to me in the car on the way home.  We began to track down as many of the mentioned titles as we could.  While not all specifically martial arts, it was a new world and a place to begin.  There were themes of ghosts, revenge, myth, might, honor, valor and a lot of bad-ass-ness.  We have a Bruce Lee poster in the living room.

I find the action involving as it is real, actual skill and training being practiced there on the screen, discipline to be admired and appreciated.

How we found our way back to this genre last week was the result of trying to watch a Gillian Anderson mini-series which sounded okay and turned out to be yet another sad depiction of a serial killer.  I will not watch another underwear fetishist/psychopath and think of it as entertainment.  Correction:  I will not watch another underwear fetishist or fetishist of any kind/psychopath and think of it as skilled storytelling.  It is a cheap and lazy device.  Happily, our Netflix queue, thanks to Vern's recommendations over time, held other choices.

We were both flattened by whatever drains on psychic and other energies had hold of us and wanted to be transported, to other ways of being, to other locales.  The three movies we saw, on three separate nights, each followed by a new episode of Arrested Development, depicted, variously, commitment to tradition, values of honor, family and community above self, anti-materialism - not necessarily the intention but certainly the result - courage, physical and mental strength, focus, spiritual practices - lives with a strong spiritual component - and dazzling feats of skill. And attractive, appealing lead characters.  Always a plus.

Whether it is Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa, Jet Li, Iko Uwais, Gordon Liu, whether it is kung-fu (Shaolin and other varieties), Muay-Thai, drunken boxing, karate, Akira Kurosawa directing Toshiro Mifune's ronin (who undertook the most dangerous stunts himself), JeeJa Yanin playing an autistic woman with powerful martial arts skills in Chocolate, or a Quentin Tarantino-sponsored festival of Shaw Brothers kung fu movies rarely, if ever, seen in America, it is all Junior Mints mixed with the hot, fresh popcorn.  These pictures - action and stories - transport me, take me out of myself and restore proportion.  The village scene at the end of Ong-Bak, in which Tony Jaa demonstrates that his love of elephants is as great as his passion for martial arts, so touched me.  While our tradition of watching movies together goes back to my son's second or third year, our fanboy/fangirl status for martial arts has been going on for nearly 20 years.  It's a gift.


susan t. landry said...

my favorite is Ip Man. have you seen it?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - YES! It was excellent and I/we really liked the lead, Donnie Yen. IP MAN 2? Lucas remembers it better than I and says he considers it quite good. My memory...Also, there is a John Woo directed historic, epic movie called RED CLIFF which was actual war and swordplay, not so much martial arts, starring Tony Leung, and the most expensive picture ever made in China and stunning in a different way. Oh, I am so glad to know you, too, don't mind showing up for ass kicking (don't mind? hardly.) xo

beth coyote said...

O yes, I'm with you, MK! Except for The Killing because I love the effed up heroine.

If you can find it, there is an early Jackie Chan doing the most amazing stunts, trainings, whatever you want to call it. I don't even know what it's called. And Jet Li practicing TaiChi is pure beauty.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Beth - We, too, love THE KILLING and hope this season (we've seen the first two episodes) isn't the usual serial killer/women as victims stuff. I expect better of them. Is it really that dismal in Seattle? I've visited three times, two of them had sun. The effed up heroine and Holder, "ooooh, snap, Linden." I think he's wonderful. I'll check with my son about the early Jackie Chan, I know he trained with the Peking Opera and we love the way he shows outtakes behind the credits on his movies. And Jet Li, well. Have to see the TaiChi. Yay, glad we're watching together. Such escape. xo

beth coyote said...

And Holder is a vegan!!!! Smoking and eating fries and donuts.

Yes, Seattle is that dismal, but we depressives love it. It matches our inner drear.


Marylinn Kelly said...

Beth - I don't think my inner drear would survive those skies. I know I'm in the right place, much as I loved my visits to Seattle. And Holder, yes! When we came to the first two seasons very late (earlier this year, I think) he became my favorite cop/detective in a long, long time for how human and unlikely and good at his job he was. xo

Anonymous said...

I have NO idea what you're talking about but this I can guarantee, ANYTHING that you and The Boy are into is on my list.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Lisa - If one likes some serious ass-kicking, and WHO doesn't? martial arts movies are wonderful, for the reasons I mentioned. I can't guarantee you will like them but it is worth a try. As mentioned in one of the comments, IP-MAN is really good, historical. If you like one, I think you will begin to like the genre. This really is how we roll. xo

Erna said...

Have you seen Iko Uwais' second movie "The Raid"? It was such a big hit among martial arts movies bloggers last year. So much so that The Arrow series choreography is based on The Raid's choreography. The upcoming Ninja Turtles is planned to use the same fighting style. One of the leads in the movie was offered the role as martial artist villain in Fast and Furious 6. But I must warn you The Raid is super violent and not much story in it.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erna - Hello and thank you for commenting. Excuse my being gone for a day or so and responding late. Yes, my son and I have seen THE RAID and it has become something of a standard against which to compare other action and martial arts movies and storytelling in general, which is so basic - escape. Yes, violent yet in, to me, acceptable, expected forms, everyone fighting for his life. Have you seen DRAGON? We just watched it (a Cannes 2011 entry) Here is the trailer Good to meet you. xo