Friday, February 26, 2010

The Finest Martial Arts Fight Ever Filmed

Drunken Master 2 (1994) contains the finest martial arts fight ever filmed. The beauty is in the athleticism of the participants, the beauty of the choreography, and the care and attention on lavished on the editing, lighting and environment.

I'd like emphasize the editing and framing - action flows smoothly from one shot to another, mostly in full view.  In many martial arts films, editing and framing is used imply action (as opposed to showing it in full frame), in attempt to disguise the fact that the participants are not actually fighting, or that body doubles are taking the place of the protagonists.

My favorite sequence in the fight is when Jackie leads with his right shoulder, swinging his left leg back and into the air... his centre of balance towards his opponent...

...reaches out to strike with his right hand, but is blocked by his opponent's outstretched arms...

...his opponent retracts, leaving Jackie on one leg and tipping over ...

...his opponent swings his right leg out to kick Jackie...

...and forces Jackie back.

The fluidity of this sequence is startling, leaving you wondering how they choreographed the intricate interplay between both protagonists.  Bear in mind that the above sequence is barely half a second in length and is surrounded by equally as exquisite choreography.

Jackie, after drinking industrial alcohol halfway through the fight, also demonstrated a stylized, cinematic version of Drunken Boxing.This was actually a satire of actual drunken boxing (which funnily enough, does not demand that you are drunk, but requires that you sway and totter, followed by suddenly releasing the moment and attacking the enemy) .

This stylized, alcohol-fueled form of fighting, featured aspects from the Eight Immortals school of Drunken Boxing. Myth has it that after being invited to a banquet and getting drunk, the Eight Immortals were attacked and in their inebriated state invented a new form of kung fu.

Here are screengrabs of each of the eight forms (you have to see the filmed fight to truly appreciate them).

1. Lǚ Dòngbīn (呂洞賓), the drunkard with internal strength. Jackie later played him again in The Forbidden Kingdom.

2. Elder Zhang Guo (張果老), the drunkard with the swift double-kicks and deceptive kicking backflips.

3. Lan Caihe (藍采和), the drunkard with the sudden deadly waist attacks.  Note the wide angle "fish eye" effect, effectively framing the movement of Jackie and his opponent.

4. Hé Qióng (何瓊), the drunken woman flaunting her body, distracting her opponent, and then launching into vicious attacks

5. Iron-Crutch Li (李铁拐/李鐵拐), the cripple with the powerful right leg

6. Han Xiang (韓湘子), the drunken flute player with the powerful wrists.  In this section Jackie uses straight-line attacks.

7. Royal Uncle Cao, the drunkard with the a powerful throat lock. In this part of the fight Jackie also slaps the side of his assailant's head, and punches him in the chest, Dim Mak style

8. Zhongli Quan (鐘離權), the drunkard holding a wine cauldron in his arms. The circular motion knocks your opponent to the ground.

This is a picture of Zhongli Quan from Chinese literature (note the cauldron and its congruence to Jackie's hold on his assailant above)

I can't think of many other movies that have a fight sequence as intricate as that in Drunken Master 2.  What's more remarkable is that Jackie was over 40 years old when he filmed this movie. That's testament enough to his dedication to martial arts cinema.