As I said in my earlier post, all the kung-fu in the world won’t help your fight scene if your characters are flat. That’s why this scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is so awesome. Not just because of the dizzying sword moves (there are a lot of martial arts movies with equally well-choreographed duels) but because it is a fight between former friends turned enemies. There is so much more going on than just two women trying to kill each other with pointy objects.
That being said, choreography, music and cinematography are important. After all, you are filming an action scene, and a good action scene should be, well, action-ey. Fight choreographers walk a fine line. Generally, viewers prefer to see battles that are more stylized and more fast-paced than real combat is like. But too much stylization, and the choreographer risks boring the viewer by breaking the fourth wall and reminding them that they are only watching a movie. For the fight to work, the audience needs a sense that their hero is in danger. That’s why the epic 10 minute long duel at the end of Star Wars Episode III (again with the fire and the Latin chanting—I’m seeing a pattern here) is less exciting than the briefer, simpler duel between Achilles and Hector from Troy. Although the Star Wars duel does achieve a certain grandeur at times and is undeniably impressive visually, it is hard to feel any sense of peril, as Obi-Wan Kenobi seems immune to heat and fatigue (are these Jedi powers no one told me about?) Not only that, it doesn’t seem like he’s even noticing the lava all around him (no doubt because this fight was shot on green screen in a studio). Ten minutes fighting above a whole planet made of lava, and he doesn’t even break a sweat. In the Troy duel, Achilles and Hector get tired, they sweat and stumble, and their blows come slower and slower as the sun beats down on them. You know, like in real life.
Not to say that stylization doesn’t have its place. In fantasy and sci-fi films, where the laws of reality may not apply, faster can be better. Take, for instance, the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon duel I mentioned above. Or Neo’s duel with Agent Smith in the Matrix. Unrealistic, to be sure. But even here, the filmmakers create a sense that Neo is in danger, even as he smashes through concrete with his fists. And that, in the end, what a good fight is all about. Suspense. Rooting for our hero against opposition. Emotional investment.
A Few Awesome Fight Scenes:
Emotional investment is a little hard to get without context. But fight scenes can be appreciated just for their choreography. Here’s a few more awesome action scenes, for your personal viewing pleasure. Not for the squeamish. Well, they are FIGHT scenes, after all.