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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Do fans of martial arts movies really want to see the performers get hurt?

The new martial-arts movie Chocolate is being promoted, in part, by gleeful announcements that “no wires” and “no stunt doubles” were used. (You can see that in the trailer.) And the end credits of the film run over a montage of some of the many injuries the fighters incurred in the course of making the movie.

This prompted a commenter on the IMDB to say:

Knowing the actors and performers were actually harmed makes the action WAY more enjoyable for me.

Now, I know that the percentage of idiots among IMDB commenters is way higher than in the general public. But still, this comment gave me pause. Do fans of martial arts movies really want to see the performers get hurt?

If so, how is this any different from watching a snuff film, except by a matter of degree?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • bitchen frizzy

    Well, it’s very much like the sport of boxing, the point of which is to pound on one’s opponent until the ref rescues him or until he stops moving. I’m not a real fan of boxing, myself, but lots of nominally normal people are.

    If the willing participants understand the game, know that getting hurt is part of the game, and accept the risks; then it’s quite different than a snuff film.

    It might be uncomfortably close to gladiatorial combat, but if nobody got seriously or fatally injured, then it’s not quite that bad.

  • Katie Dvorak

    As an athlete and someone who is not a fan of stunts that require wires or special effects I appreciate when the stunts are done for real. And I do appreciate when the actors themselves care enough to train and push themselves by doing their own stunts. Of course anyone doing stunts takes the risk of injury that said, I certainly hope no one gets harmed and it absolutely would not enhance the experience for me.

  • markyd

    Makes no difference to me. It’s already a fictional story, so whether the stunts are done with wires or with people hurting themselves doesn’t matter. Whatever makes for the best presentation is fine by me.

  • amanohyo

    I agree with Katie; I think there’s a place for comic book physics and wire-fu, but at the end of the day, I’d much rather see a real trained performer doing actual unassisted stunts. Knowing someone was injured is just trivia, it doesn’t affect my enjoyment at all. In fact, if Jackie Chan (or whoever his successors turn out to be) decided to start using more safety equipment which was then digitally edited out of the shots, I would enjoy the stunts just as much.

    The important thing is that as human beings, we notice when there’s something a little “off” in the physical motion of another human. Some people can overlook this and love CG doll eyecandy, but I’ll take one flesh and blood Buster Keaton over a hundred CG Agent Smiths any day. A good stunt is like (or is) a dance – the actor uses their entire body and facial expression in a unique way that just can’t be duplicated even with motion captured CG.

  • Ryan Mcneill

    Nahh, I think we’re safe… I’d say the comment is simple IMDB idiocy.

    I’m guessing their exclamations of ‘No wires!’ is a bit of a misnomer. I take that to mean they aren’t using wires to perform the stunts, as opposed to not using safety harnesses of any kind. I would think any stunt director who avoided using basic safety equipment wouldn’t get much work in martial arts movies.

    I’ve trained martial arts for over 9 years, and seeing nothing but wire-fu performed by people who’ve barely ever even trained martial arts leaves me feeling a bit frustrated. In that sense, I know what to look for and recognize when someone has had serious and intensive training.

    And with respect to the director of this film, is why for me, Ong Bak was such a revelation. My first thoughts in watching Tony Jaa, were “My god, this guy actually knows what he’s doing!”. With respect to his stuntwork, I consider him to be the most talented martial arts actor working today – simply on the implication that he doesn’t need a wire team to pull off his stunts, because it’s all coming from his athleticism and training.

    And as for the outtakes, well some idiots may get their kicks from it, but I’ve always seen it as a way to say ‘Now that you’ve finished the movie, we’d like to point out that making this stuff isn’t exactly easy…’

    It is stuntwork after all, which is inherently risky and dangerous.

  • JasonJ

    I don’t want to see the performers get hurt, but I understand it happens, and I do find myself appreciating the performance more. Guess I am saying I like to see actors “man up” once in awhile.

    Like in Matrix Reloaded, I knew Moss wasn’t riding the motorcycle, but I still thought it was bad-ass that a stunt woman was riding the bike and it wasn’t all CGI (though there was some CGI vehicles in there).

    I won’t let wire-fu get in the way of enjoying an action flick, but it does take it to the next level if an actor, who is paid a bunch o’ cash, bleeds a little for his/her craft.

  • JoshB

    I don’t care how they did the stunts as long as the final product looks good. I certainly don’t want people hurting themselves to film more “real” action scenes.

    The problem with wire-fu and especially CGI is that filmmakers use them as an opportunity to aggressively ignore the laws of physics, and the result inevitably looks stupid.

  • Paul

    I think live-action dolls should just be replaced by CGI completely and save actors for roles that require acting. Of course, these days I like cartoon movies more than action movies, so it’s not much of a switch for me. But at least we could weaken the hypocrisy of pretending actors are cooler than real people.

    I do have a distinct memory of watching the Matrix laughing until my cheeks hurt at Neo dramatically leaping over Morpheus and then Morpheus taking him out with a regular old side kick. Of the entire series, that fight scene had the least CGI and most technique. So if I may contradict myself, stuntwork and CGI stress big dramatic moves while true mastery of techinque is much smaller and seems reserved for the scene when the Old Master is teaching the Young Student manners or the Importance of his Lesson. Fortunately, by the time an actor or stuntperson has practiced enough martial arts to perform a really slick move, they can probably do a fight scene safely.

    For an example of the Master vs. Students techniques, you can watch the end of the first Ninja Turtle movie. The four turtles are fighting the Big Bad, and all five of them are using Hard Style punches, kicks, and so on (which must have been hard in those outfits). The Big Bad beats them up. Then the Big Bad attacks the Master (a little old rat), and little old Master wins by redirecting the Big Bad’s force and tossing him off the building (soft style). I see this again and again in movies; it was just very obvious here.

  • HDJ

    I miss the Jackie Chan days when every movie he had to do something death defining, and sometimes the best part of the movie is the end blooper real of him getting beat up. So when I hear no ropes, real stunts, well I look forward to that I meen, did Bruce Lee do ropes? Nope
    Its a Ninja thing , they step on glass and get blocks broken over there junk, we’re suppose to feel like they can take the pain.

  • Stefanie

    Sounds like I’m in the minority here, but I enjoy martial arts movies BECAUSE I know (or I thought I knew) that no one was being harmed. The unbelievability, in that regard, is a plus for me. Even movies with boxing or fistfights that seem to realistic turn me off, because it really looks like someone’s suffering. Martial arts movies are often so choreographed that there’s no such mistake to be made. I can see, though, why this property that appeals to me, generally a violence-disliking movie viewer, might not be a selling point for people who are trained in the martial arts or prefer to watch real fighting.

  • I’m somewhere in the middle. While I don’t want anyone to get hurt, I do enjoy the more reality-based stunts. There’s definitely a middle ground between the sort of balls-to-the-wall stuff that gets people injured for real and the bullshit wire-fu we see all over the place today.

  • I have no interest in seeing performers hurting themselves. If performers think they can give a better performance without wires though, and they’re willing to take risks to do that, I don’t have a real problem with it. But injuries don’t make the the film more interesting.

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