Review: Into The Badlands 1×1 (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

What happens when Hong Kong martial arts meet the slowest network in the world?

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, AMC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

There is a famous paradox. Although Knight Rider claimed it was Zeno’s Paradox, it’s not. But it is at least a paradox. Here it is:

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

What’s the answer? Into the Badlands. How so? Because it’s an actual, real-world test of that paradox. It takes the unstoppable force that is the Hong Kong martial arts movie and confronts it with the immobable object of an AMC TV series.

Despite the likes of Indonesia’s The Raid coming along to challenge them, Hong Kong martial arts movies are, of course, the fastest genre in the world. If you have any interest in martial movies, you watch Hong Kong martial arts to see the best – and fastest – martial artists the silver screen has to offer. I’m most partial to classic Jet Li myself, but Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan et al have all formed part of my viewing habits since Jonathan Ross’s Son of The Incredibly Strange Film Show revealed their delights to me back in the 80s.

And the slowest genre in the world? AMC TV series. The network practically fetishises slowness:

Even its fastest shows – Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul – have a glacial chill to them, and that’s before we consider the almost geological time scales over which the likes of Mad Men, Hell on Wheels and Halt and Catch Fire operate.

And Into The Badlands is a deliberate attempt to bring these two genres together. Rather bizarrely the brainchild of Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, it stars Daniel Wu, an American actor but the star of dozens of Hong Kong martial arts movies.

The show is set in a post-apocalyptic America. This isn’t that surprising: martial arts date from before guns and are made largely redundant by the presence of guns, so a martial arts movie usually needs to have a reason for there to not be any guns – something somewhat problematic in modern-day and even historic America, but not so hard in a post-apocalyptic, post-technological society. Unles you turn the guns into a virtue, of course.

As with most other post-apocalyptic societies, everything’s become weirdly patriarchal and feudal in Into The Badlands, with seven ‘barons’ now running America, following a series of wars. Each has made their territory safe and stopped the wars by getting rid of guns. In return, everyone either learns how to be a ‘Clipper’ – martial arts soldier cops – assuming they’re male or goes to work in the fields picking poppies or getting married to the Baron.

Wu plays one such Clipper, who patrols the territories, enforcing the justice of his increasingly unstable, increasingly bewived Baron (Marton Csokas from Falcón, Rogue, The Equalizer, The Bourne Supremacy). One day, he comes across a peaceful boy sought after by another Baron, ‘The Widow’, only to discover that he gets superhero killing powers at odd moments. 

What will he do? WIll he take the boy into the lawless ‘Badlands’ between Barons’ terrorities, looking for the boy’s mother and answers to his own past? And will he do it before the Sun expands into a Red Giant and dies (aka the next AMC Upfronts)?

Centuries from now, a feudal society has emerged in the wake of civilization’s destruction. This area is now called the Badlands and is uneasily divided among seven rival Barons. Each Baron enforces their iron rule with the aid of loyal armies of trained assassins known as Clippers.

The most lethal of the Badlands’ Clippers is Sunny (Daniel Wu) — the Regent (Head Clipper) and most trusted advisor of Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas). For decades, Quinn has been unchallenged as the Badlands’ most powerful Baron; however, the territory’s newest Baron, The Widow (Emily Beecham), has begun testing his appetite for a fight.

One day, Sunny rescues M.K. (Aramis Knight), a teenage boy who has survived a deadly ambush. Sunny soon comes to understand that the teen harbors a dark secret and has a hefty bounty on his head. Together, they will embark on an odyssey that could mean the difference between chaos and enlightenment for everyone in the Badlands.

Is it any good?
It was always going to be difficult combining AMC and Hong Kong aesthetics and Into The Badlands falters quite considerably in achieving its aim. But it’s not terrible. Just pretty forgettable.

The show’s biggest trouble is that it’s too much AMC, not enough Hong Kong, yet would rather be Hong Kong than AMC. AMC shows’ biggest assets have always been their characters and writing, as well as their looks. But while Into The Badlands looks as fabulous as other AMC shows, it has some quite perfunctory scripting. Most scenes involve people monologuing badly at each other, rather than having conversations. Characters are poorly defined with little depth. The show’s feudal society is a lazy, misogynistic, impractical bit of world-building at best, with female roles virtually non-existent or reduced to ‘wife’ and ‘girlfriend’ status bar one. And if everyone’s either a poppy-worker or Clipper, where does all the oil and food come from?

All this might be excusable in a show that was merely using this set-up to piggy back some proper Hong Kong fights onto the small screen. Into The Badlands, however, is too AMC to have more than a couple of proper set-piece fights per episode, leaving vast, gaping expanses of boredom to fill between fights.

Which again wouldn’t be too bad if the fights were great. You might forward wind through the tiresome plots and watch the fight scenes (I’ve watched DVDs that have literally given you the option to ‘view fight scenes only’), but at least you’d watch them. And Into The Badlands would certainly want to think that its fight scenes are great. 

The trouble is that while Daniel Wu certainly has the fighting chops, the direction isn’t quite there yet. Everything looks beautiful, but the wirework is obvious, camera work is slow, cuts are slow and worst of all, there’s nothing new here for the discerning martial arts fan. You’ll have seen it all before. Even Tarantino did better in Kill Bill

Ever since Kung Fu and The Green Hornet, US TV has tried to lure in martial arts fans with ‘martial arts’ shows. Even CHIPS tried to give us karate every so often. The trouble is, as I said earlier, if you’re into martial arts movies, you’ll watch Hong Kong martial arts movies, so any show that claims to be a martial arts show had better be up to those standards or the viewers will leave quickly. Maybe not if the drama’s there, too, but without it, it’ll lose its lustre quickly. 

So Into The Badlands has a decision to make: either get better at the drama or get better at the martial arts, because as it stands, it looks set to disappear in a faint puff of paradoxical, low-rated logic.

  • benjitek

    The martial arts genre holds zero appeal to me, and from the trailer for Badlands I didn't expect it to hold my attention… but… it being on AMC, I gave the first episode a try.

    It gradually became interesting, and then totally hooked me towards the middle when that guys eyes glowed and his instantaneous temporary fighting skills took hold. The other fight scenes I could tell were well choreographed, but I fast-forwarded through most of them.

    Take away the fight scenes, and there's a decent story left over — looking forward to future episodes 🙂

  • I don't think you're the audience they're going for then – you're a bonus!

    Glowing eye scene was the bit that was good and where I thought there might be some life in the show. If they can embrace that more in later episodes, it might be a goer. Otherwise, it's little better than Revolution, just with better fight scenes

  • GYAD

    It's usually the production elements – camera and editing – which let down non-HK martial arts dramas (personally I'm partial to modern Donnie Yen, especially since he started watching MMA). Tbh, I love the genre but the show looks terrible: super fake world, boring characters and none of the skill or aesthetic of HK.

  • benjitek

    I like watching a story unfold — when I don't know or can't predict what's going to happen. Fight scenes tend to fall at the other end of that spectrum. After a while, they become filler… if a story can stand without them, I'm in 🙂

  • JustStark

    My problem with fight scenes is that I watch drama to see characters making decisions. You know, will they betray their friends for their ideals, will they choose happiness over the right thing to do, etc etc.

    Fight scenes tend not to involve that sort of thing: they either happen after the decision has been taken, or they happen on the way to the decision, just as an obstacle for the character which has to be got past but which doesn't present any actual character-displaying decision.

    And also, they tend to not to provide much of either the background to the decision (showing us how much her friends mean to her versus how much she wants to live up to her ideals, for example) or much of the consequences of them (a decision might lead to a fight scene, but a fight scene itself isn't a consequence: if there's a fight scene and they end up dead, it's the death that is the consequence, not the fight).

    So fight scenes tend to be devoid of what (I think) drama is for, ie, characters showing their inner selves by making difficult decisions; they're basically the equivalent of pretty landscape shots or expensive special effects, maybe pretty to look at but basically filler.

    (I say 'tend to' because there are fight scenes that do manage to incorporate decisions, or to show the consequences of decisions; it's just that they tend to be the minority).

  • benjitek

    Couldn't have set it better myself 😉 Gun shootouts are another fastforwardable for me… non-plot filler scenes that can be shortened or lengthened to make the media occupy a promised length of time.

  • That may or may not be true. But is that why you watch comedy? How about sport? Musicals? Dance numbers? Is that why you go on roller coasters or go fish?

    Fight scenes – done well at least – may be as integral to a plot as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers mysteriously deciding to just starting dancing in the middle of nowhere for no reason, but that's not always why they're there.

    In fact, in a martial arts film, it tends to be the other way round – you want to watch the fight scenes and the drama is the key to getting there but it's not really why you're there – just as you have to queue to get on the roller coaster, but you didn't turn up hoping to stand on the spot for 10 minutes.

    A good fight scene is about choreography, innovation, athleticism, and much more. And it can be dramatic, but by no means needs to be. Ditto a good gun fight.

    And maybe that's not why you're there or what you want to watch, but to watch an action movie or martial arts movie and argue they're bad drama is a bit like watching an opera and arguing the singing isn't representative of how people act in real life.

  • benjitek

    For me, regardless of genre, it's pretty basic — if the story engages me, separate from whatever the genre throws in, then to me it's enjoyable. If genre-specific elements are used to prop up the story, then no.

  • JustStark

    No need to be defensive. That was a purely personal reflection on why I, personally, am generally bored by fight scenes: because I generally watch television (or films, or theatre) for drama, and fight scenes are not drama.

    But clearly also there are worthwhile things to be got from watching people do anything exceptionally well, be it displays of acrobatics at a circus, high-level sport, ballet, or, indeed, fight choreography (having done a little bit of stage fighting training, it's definitely something I am impressed by seeing done well).

    So to be clear, I didn't mean that fight scenes are worthless, or pointless, or that I am not impressed by the physical skills and athleticism needed to do them well, or that I think they aren't worth watching. Just to explain why, like other things that have those qualities but aren't drama (ballet, say, or opera) I just happen to find them boring.

    (I find watching sport boring too, generally, for what it's worth.)

    It's entirely possible that's a failing in me, but it is what it is.

  • Well, that's fine, but that's effectively redefining every genre as “drama + something”. Whereas in a lot of cases it's intended to be “something + drama”. I mean if you don't enjoy the something, fair enough, but that's usually the clue to watch something else because you're watching the wrong genre 😉

  • benjitek

    Not for me, it's “story + something” — I'm pretty genre neutral myself, can tell pretty early on if something gets my attention…

  • Agreed.

    I haven't watched much recent Donnie Yen – I think the last one of his I watched was Ip Man, which probably dates me – so if he's trying MMA, I might give some of his newer stuff I try. He kind of irked me a while back when he was having a go at Jet Li and saying “I'm better”, but I warmed to him a little when I saw him directing German TV series for a laugh

  • I think if you're planning to sit through the whole thing and there's not as much 'something' as there should be for the genre, then it starts to become drama, at which point story naturally helps (as does comedy, romance, sex – delete as appropriate).

    But, depending on the genre, that can show a deficit on the side of the creators. It may be they're aiming for a non-genre audience. Or it may be that haven't understood what the audience is wanting.

    If your roller coaster queue is 5 minutes, no one cares what else there is; you get stuck in line for 30 minutes, there had been be some good entertainment on the TV screens nearby.

    No one sat there wanting more story in The Raid. The director made the assumption that they did and The Raid 2 showed he was wrong…

  • benjitek

    Everyone's take away is different — for me it's primarily the story. What misses the mark for me might be the best-ever for someone else.

    So far, I'm enjoying the story as it unfolds with The Man in High Castle. Not much of a reader, so I'm not familiar with the book, so it's all new to me…

  • The book's good. I think it's like Lord of the Rings, though – genre-creating, followed by dozens of other books of the same ilk that gradually work out the rules of the genre and what make it work, so are ultimately better in some ways but more derivative.

    So there are better parallel universe stories in print, but few as quirky or genre-busting. It's also Phil Dick, so there's copious amounts of reality/brain-messing. For example, there is the intimation in the book that the true version of reality has the Allies winning the Second World War. But the history after that is still different, implying that maybe our reality is incorrect, too.

    But I haven't read it in about 20 years, so I'm coming into the TV version relatively fresh.

  • JustStark

    No one sat there wanting more story in The Raid

    I'm pretty sure I would have… which is why I didn't go to see it.

  • Good choice – you wouldn't have liked it at all. I loved it, mind… once the tedious story bit at the beginning was over and done with.

  • JustStark

    I remember reading it after some other alternative-history books (like Fatherland) and being slightly unimpressed (because I do like his other books, so had high expectations)… only to realise that I had missed that it's not really an alternative-history book in the sense of being 'what if X happened instead of Y' (like Fatherland is), it's a book about the very idea of linear history that just happens to use a particular 'what if' setting to explore that.

    But that was fifteen or twenty years ago; I must read it again. Does the TV version capture that, or is it just a bog-standard 'what if America lost' alternative-history?

  • I've only seen the first episode. I'm going to try to get onto the rest of it once Jessica Jones is out the way.

    First ep was more 'what if the Nazis and Japanese had won', with slight hints for the characters in-story that they weren't supposed to and this was an usurper history. I think the first ep's (maybe even the second) free to view, even if you don't have an Amazon Prime account

  • JustStark

    I think the first ep's (maybe even the second) free to view, even if you don't have an Amazon Prime account

    I don't like watching the start of something and not the end, and I'm not going to pay for Amazon Prime, so I'll have to wait and see if it comes out on disk to decide whether to watch it.

  • benjitek

    …just finished it, liked it but don't quite get the ending. Transported or all-a-dream…?

  • Mark Carroll

    Interesting. I don't think of myself as someone who is into martial arts films but I suppose that I do watch shows with plenty of fights, like Banshee (when's that back?) or, currently, Terminator: TSCC. I suppose I like seeing a skillfull character displaying that skill and, especially in how a fight is resolved, sometimes there is an interesting bit of clever thinking that I appreciate. For instance, in now re-watching the Terminator series I liked how Cameron wrapped up things with Rosie in the elevator in TSCC 06×2. I find unrealistic or pedestrian stuff more tiresome, though, where they do physically impossible things (flying!) or things that look fancy but would actually leave them wide open to countering, or they just get thrown against concrete walls a lot or whatever and, worse, don't appear to be much injured afterward: there's no point having us go through all that dramatic stuff if it's repetitious or strangely ineffective. (Also, very brief things can be effective too, like in the car in Life 21×2: again with Garret Dillahunt! Seen him in plenty of things lately, all a bit inhuman.)

  • There were two things in particular that annoyed me about Terminator: TSCC:

    1) They had the only decent actor (Dillahunt) playing a Terminator, leaving everybody else with only robotic talents to play the human roles
    2) The fight scenes seemed to confuse “human flesh over a metallic endoskeleton” with “made entirely of metal”. I used to watch them, as Terminators were hurled through brick walls and the like, literally without getting a scratch, and wonder exactly what the producers thought human flesh was capable of taking. But then you watch Daredevil and he can meditate for a day and heal wounds that would incapacitate people for six month and you realise it's contagious (at least on Banshee, Hood still has the bandage from his hand wound)

    A good fight scene can be great and can show something about the character or just be technically interesting. It's when you get Supergirl trying to turn a fight scene into a character piece that it all goes wrong – if the fight scenes were any good, that might be laudable, but in place of competence, they give us fight-as-therapy-and-character-development for plucky Supergirl (“Look, she's finally taking herself seriously as a superhero! Look, she's accepted the moral quandary of the situation!”). Nice, but if you can do that without it looking like two kids slapping each other in a playground, that would be just peachy.

  • Wow! You watch TV fast!

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, Banshee does that well. Not perfectly, but we have to stretch reality a bit. (-: (Whereas, in the real world, I'm now left much less able to climb a rope years after an injury arising from tripping on a toddler's toy train! I am pretty sure I'd have permanently limited mobility after being in some many bad fights.)

    Garret Dillahunt does seem to often play inhuman roles, one way or the other; it makes me curious about wider range in his earlier work, perhaps you've seen him do more. Even back in The 4400 he played someone pretty ruthless. (Occasionally, I wonder what happened to some actor, only to find that they're doing well, just in shows I don't watch.) The acting in TSCC doesn't bother me, fortunately, though it's quite rare that I'm much impressed by an actor's work so perhaps I go in with low expectations. With some of these actors it's such a contrast to see them just as themselves in interviews so I guess they have at least two modes. I have occasionally been pleasantly surprised in some science fiction shows (maybe like Stargate spinoffs, I forget) how well they sometimes do in plots which involves their minds switching bodies and their having to act as each other.

  • GYAD

    Aha. I watch the films but I don't pay attention to HK showbiz. I didn't like the Ip Man films much. The character is too perfect to be interesting and the nationalist politics are so overblown they ruin a lot of the enjoyment from the fight scenes for me.

    I'd happily recommend FLASHPOINT, KUNG FU KILLER and SPECIAL ID though. None of them are perfect (the story in particular is often ridiculous) but the fights are superb.

  • JustStark

    I find unrealistic or pedestrian stuff more tiresome

    I do note that 'realism' is not a good word here as fight choreography is basically inherently unrealistic; as someone who both spends more time that the average non-gang-member trying to stab people with bits of metal, and has done a little bit of stage fighting, the two are pretty much entirely opposite: quite apart from the safety aspects, the aim of stage fighting is to make sure the audience can follow the ebb and flow of the fight, who is the aggressor, who is defending, when the tables turn, etc. Whereas if you're actually trying to stab someone it's much better if they can't see what's going on.

    Pretty much the only thing experience of actual stabbing helps with in stage combat is that you have an awareness of where your body is and where you need to put the blade to just block an attack; people on the course without that experience tended to parry massively wide, so the attack ended up half a foot from their body instead of an inch or two. Everything else, the experience is an active hindrance, as what would be the correct thing to do in a fight (eg, make the smallest possible movement to catch the opponent's blade) is exactly the wrong thing to do on stage (because then nobody would see your parry and the audience would be confused as to what had gone on) and vice versa.

    So stage fighting, while certainly an impressive skill requiring co-ordination, timing, and athletic ability, isn't 'realistic' — in fact is basically the opposite of realistic.

    (If you don't believe me, try watching a real Olympic-level fencing bout. The better the fencing, the worse it works for an audience; the ideal, indeed, would be to score the point without the audience (or, more to the point, the opponent) having seen a thing).

  • JustStark

    It's when you get Supergirl trying to turn a fight scene into a character piece that it all goes wrong

    The thing I wonder about superhero fight scenes is, if the two combatants can punch through steel, then every time they hit the other one they should be thrown half a mile away, because inertia. So every fight scene should go, punch, jog for a bit to get to there they landed, punch, jog for another bit, kick, jog, punch, jog…

    Which surely wouldn't be that interesting to watch?

  • benjitek

    The confinement of a health related issue gives me more time than most. Your site has is a godsend in helping weed through what's out there…

  • Depends on the superhero. Obviously, there are a few where they're just 'stronger' for some quasi-medical/scientific reason (eg Deathstroke), so inertia should be a factor. But plenty have the power of flight, magic powers, godliness, 'the Speed Force', etc, which effectively nullify inertia.

    In the case of Supergirl/Superman, they emit forcefields (per Miracleman) which cancel out inertia.

  • Stage-fighting, though, is a different beast from movies and TV, where you can get a camera in as close as you want. Which isn't to say that movies and TV fights, even good ones are realistic – as The Man himself said, most fights are over in 10 seconds in real-life – but some are more realistic and practical than others.

    I always liked the Seven Samurai fight scene with the first kensei, first with bokken then with katana, as a demonstration of what sword fights are usually like.

  • I try not to, but it was in interviews he was giving to accompany a movie, so hard to miss. If I wanted trash talk, I'd follow boxing.

    Ip Man is a bit too revered these days for any kind of balanced movie, I suspect. But that tonal thing is one of the other problems I had with Yen. But why I like Li, who seems to do more balanced, 'nicer' stuff. Fist of Legend I particularly love because it takes a very racist Bruce Lee movie and makes it a lot more balanced, with both Japanese and Chinese treated well, and Japanese culture far more respected – the Japanese sensei being as wise and honourable as the Chinese sifu, for example.

    I'll try to find those Yen movies. Hopefully, they're on Netflix, which makes have a really rubbish selection of Western movies, but which oddly does a storming trade in Eastern ones.

  • Glad to be of (therapeutic) service!

  • GYAD

    Fair enough.

    Have you seen IP MAN 2? The xenophobia gets even worse…

    I hope Netflix has the Donnie flicks and that you enjoy them.

  • JustStark

    Stage-fighting, though, is a different beast from movies and TV, where you can get a camera in as close as you want

    Same principle, though: it's all about telegraphing the action so the audience can follow what's going on, whereas a real fight is specifically all about concealing what you're about to do.

    Of course, the art is to do that while still looking like you're trying to fight. My personal irritation is when characters with stabbing weapons, like rapiers, swing and slash about like they're holding broadswords or cutlasses… that was pretty much all of the BBC's The Musketeers.

  • Yes and no. There are some very substantial differences. Stage-fighting has to take place in real-time, only has one wide camera angle and distance with which to work, and can only use real-world effects. A movie or TV show fight scene, on the other hand, can use any angle or distance (provided it doesn't reveal that they're not hitting each other), can use any effect available, can have a non-linear structure, can be filmed in chunks and more.

    A protagonist may want to hide what he or she is doing from an enemy, but unless the director deliberately chooses to show that by not showing it, then he or she can always find an angle or method to reveal to the audience what's going on.

    I've never see a stage fight that I could ever have described as realistic looking – 'not bad for some namby pamby actors. They did the best they could and I'll suspend my disbelief accordingly' is the best I've ever thought. On the other hand, I've seen dozens of TV and movie fights that looked realistic. I may have quibbled about choice of techniques, etc, but they have at least looked real enough.

    “My personal irritation is when characters with stabbing weapons, like rapiers, swing and slash about like they're holding broadswords or cutlasses…”

    Yes, there's nothing worse than “we did it because it looked cool”, when something's hideously technically wrong. It's one thing to have jumping flying kicks because they're a bit more interesting to look at than a kick to the kneecap; it's quite another to do something that's just plain wrong and would get you into serious trouble in real-life.

    Did you ever watch Rob Roy? I always liked the final fight between Tim Roth and Liam Neeson for its message of “Yes, broadswords and the like do look cool and manly, and rapiers do look poncy, but have you considered why people ended up using rapiers more?”

  • Didn't get as far as Ip Man 2 – I figured it might be

    a) more of the same without adding anything
    b) even more xenophobic.

    Seems like I was right!

    Cheers for the recommends. I'll try to hunt them out, probably next month thanks to the current TV overload

  • JustStark

    A protagonist may want to hide what he or she is doing from an enemy,
    but unless the director deliberately chooses to show that by not showing
    it, then he or she can always find an angle or method to reveal to the
    audience what's going on

    Yes, but the point is that will involve the combatant doing things that they wouldn't in an actual fight. So it won't be 'realistic'.

    What the ability to cut, shift camera angles, etc, does, is make it easier to hide that they're doing things 'unrealistically': because, for instance, you can cheat the angles with a cut to make it look like a punch ended up somewhere different from the direction it was thrown. You can use editing to imply motion which isn't in fact there. You can use sound effects to cover things.

    Which is why a good fight on stage is much more impressive and takes a lot more skill: because the performers have to do everything just right, in really time, in the presence of the audience, without having the benefit of editing, etc.

    But in neither case will the fight actually look like a real fight; a stage fight won't look like it would if the people were there in front of you fighting, and a filmed fight will not look like it would if you just pointed a camera at two people fighting. They are both unrealistic, and that is not a bad thing because actually two people really fighting just isn't that interesting to watch (just compare a boxing match to a choreographed fight).

    So what I meant was, 'unrealistic' is a bad word to use to criticise stage fights: they aren't meant to be realistic. If they were they would look either like boxing matches, or messy piles of limbs going everywhere, and nobody wants to see that.

  • I'm not quite sure if you're arguing that just stage fights have to be unrealistic (fair dos) or that all movie and TV fights have to be unrealistic. If the latter, then they don't – and there's a whole sub-genre of movies/TV fights dedicated to realistic looking fights. Bourne Supremacy tries in places, for example:

    But even Jessica Jones goes for a few quick and speedy 'atemi, o soto o goshi then take down' fights, for example, even Burn Notice managed a few quick and realistic fights. Although Strike Back was usually the best if you wanted a basic, military-grade fight.

    I don't doubt that stage fights take a lot of skill (considering how many bad ones I've seen…), but they're very clearly quite a small, almost trivial subset of the ones that TV and film can do, and have far less potential to be realistic, whereas at least TV and film can give it a go if they want.

    Re: boxing/mass of limbs. Ah. Someone who's never watched MMA. It's very popular these days, you know? Also, boxing isn't real fighting. Great in its own way, but as even Mike Tyson admitted, not great in a real fight.

    Not that that was a real fight, obvs. I think Banshee's very NSFW is the best I've seen, not necessarily for realism, so much as an illustration of the difference of a martial arts sport and martial arts as a way of fighting.

    Nastily sadistic, but pretty much nothing there I didn't learn to do in my first year of jiu jitsu.

  • JustStark

    Right, see, that clip from the Bourne Supremacy illustrates exactly what I mean: everything is done so as to make sure that audience knows exactly what is happening at all times: who has the momentum, who is attacking, who is defending, when the balance shifts, when there's a struggle for dominance, etc etc.

    It's not realistic; in a real fight, if they were actually trying to hurt one another, that bit where the guy has his arm around Matt Damon's neck, for example, wouldn't have involved them nice and cleanly turning around, nice big clean bumps up against the walls for either one or the other, etc. If it were real it would have been messy and chaotic and jabby and clawy, stumbling up against bits of furniture, knocking the wall at odd angles, and anyone watching would have had no idea who was getting the better of it until it was over.

    And then when they come out of it, Matt Damon draws his elbow back a ridiculous distance to jab the guy in the stomach: again, totally unrealistic, but it shows the audience what is going on. In a real fight all you'd have seen is some messing about and then the guy doubling over.

    That's what I mean: it's not meant to look realistic. It's meant to tell the audience the story of the fight.

    So if you want to complain about a fight, don't complain that it is 'unrealistic'; it's not meant to be realistic. And that fight isn't, at all.

  • Mark Carroll

    I just now watched TSCC's “Self Made Man” — an episode I much like, though I suspect that plotwise JustStark would find it lacking — and it occurs to me that John Connor's only fight in that episode was a very brief affair, the other guy was down and disadvantaged within seconds. Cameron's fight with Myron Stark in the episode exhibited the “interesting bit of clever thinking” I mention: she glanced at the elevator shaft at one point (speaking to the audience), so we knew that when she used it a few seconds later it was intentional rather than lucky; similarly the subsequent decisive move was smart on her part. (“Her”'s easier than “it” for resolving the anaphora.)

  • Well I did say it tried “in places”

    to be realistic not that it was ultra realistic. And way to ignore all the other clips, too. But sure, let's focus on the one I didn't say was completely realistic, and pretend I did:

    “everything is done so as to make sure that audience knows exactly what is happening at all times: who has the momentum, who is attacking, who is defending, when the balance shifts, when there's a struggle for dominance, etc etc.”

    Except it doesn't. All the same, what happens is still the director's choice. He wants people to see who's in the fight and what they're doing (most of the time. There are parts that are deliberately hard to follow).

    If he didn't, he'd have done this instead, which would have been his choice:

    “If it were real it would have been messy and chaotic and jabby and clawy, stumbling up against bits of furniture, knocking the wall at odd angles, and anyone watching would have had no idea who was getting the better of it until it was over.”

    It's clawy at the end. And if you think they weren't knocking into walls at odd angles, I do wonder if you were watching the same clip as me. The only reason you know at some points that Bourne's going to win is because he's the hero, otherwise it's not clear.

    “In a real fight all you'd have seen is some messing about and then the guy doubling over. “

    No you wouldn't. Unless they inept fighters and you were far away. Is that what you mean by real? Just not very good people trying to twat each other ineptly, rather than people with some degree of training?

    All the same, here's my last real fight: I was walking down the road, bag in hand, when a bloke came and asked me for money. Then he grabbed my coat so I rammed my thumb in his eye socket and put my bag down ready for a proper fight. He then ran away, picking up stones and throwing them at me, while I picked up my big bag of martial arts books and carried on walking to the dojo for my next jiu jitsu training session. I never saw him again.

    Anyone passing could have seen exactly what was going on. It was obvious what was happening. Which is why I didn't twat him something a bit more chronic. Cameraphones you know?

    Here's the last real fight I saw: guy outside Burger King took a big wide roundhouse swing at the bloke in front of him, who stood out of the way and then clocked him with a right hook. He fell over.

    I was probably 30m away and I could see exactly what was happening.

    * My Taekwondo friend Ben was in a similar fight himself. Except the bloke used a straight right. Seems there's a lot of these kind of fights out there
    Are they real fights? They certainly seemed unstaged. They weren't that dramatic, and it some ways they were comedic, but it was entirely obvious at every point who was winning and what was happening. Anyone could have filmed them. Easy peasy.

    So can movies do that? Sure. Here's Bruce Lee doing my fight. Kind of.

    But if your idea of a realistic fight is scrabbling ne-waza, then here you go:

    (NB they're not really that realistic, but it is scrabbling ne-waza. And I like it because I can do all the techniques. Well, not quite like that. Under Siege 2 is the first movie I went to where I went through it going “Yep, done that… done that… can do that…”

    And I can keep giving you more and more of these examples, because fights are multiple and varied and films and TV can at least get close to showing at least aspects of them, realistically if it so chooses. Stage can't. At least not without crippling the actors.

    Yes, there's some artifice in both, but stage fighting has a much, much greater degree of artifice. Some movie fights can be completely realistic (cf previous comment about how daft real fights are and not what most people expect them to be) and some are highly artificial. But the directors have the choice, whereas stage directors really don't.

    And with that I leave you with the not 100% realistic but “show me the stage actor who could do a single take fight, as good, this long” Tony Jaa restaurant fight scene from The Protector.

  • benjitek

    Gotta say — this show seems to be an exception to my usual skipping over of fight scenes. Episode 2 opened up with one that was very much a part of the story, and I enjoyed watching it. Fight scenes as artwork 🙂

    Sort of a tease with the eye glowing, they're making us wait for more of that…

  • That was pretty good and naturally enough, very Hong Kong. Nice to see they remembered women exist this episode, too!

  • benjitek

    Attention to detail and plot integration hooked me — who doesn't love a well-done vixen (or >is< she) 🙂

    Badlands, and Bron/Broen (looking forward to this week's finale) are the 2 shows of the season I look forward too, and wish were binge-able… Though I'm currently binging, and enjoying, The Protectors via Hulu.

  • JustStark

    Okay, you don't rate theatre, I get it. Fine.

    But: you're still wrong. First, about film fighting being somehow different and superior to stage fighting. They are based on exactly the same principles. Did I mention how I've done some (a tiny amount of) stage fighting training? Well, shockingly, I actually talked to the instructor, who works for a company which supplies fight choreographers for stage and screen and it is the same thing, modulo some obvious differences (editing, the fact that on a stage you have to make movements that are visible to the back of the gallery whereas in a film you can use a close-up, etc).

    And secondly about the realism. Again, I have talked to people who do this, and basically, stage fighting (which includes, did I mention, screen fighting?) is not meant to be realistic in exactly the same way that stage dialogue is not meant to accurately reproduce the way people talk. That's the last thing you want dialogue to do, and equally, you don't want stage fighting to look realistic.

    So to go back to the initial point I made: don't complain that stage fighting isn't 'realistic'. That's like complaining nobody in real life talks like a Stoppard character. It's not meant to be realistic.

  • I like theatre. I just don't rate stage fighting. And it's perfectly fine to dislike Stoppard dialogue for not being realistic, just as it's perfectly fine to dislike theatre for being too stagey. Or film for being too big. Or TV for being too small. Or comics for having pictures.

    You don't like a medium for those reasons or you don't like particular traits of a genre, those are perfectly valid criticisms, even if they're built into the genre or medium. They may be intended but you can still critique them for doing it. Same as Steven Moffat puzzle box story in that respect.

    I don't like stage fighting because it looks false. Usually laughably so. I'd much rather there were more dialogue instead or at least something else, and theatre tried to do what it was good at instead. Just like I prefer film to be more filmic and do the things it's good at.

    At least with film and TV, if you want to aim for realistic, you can. And I've seen it done. Certainly not always, and I almost always gripe to myself about, and it's not always what I'm looking for. But it is done sometimes. Did I mention how I've done some (12 years) teaching jiu jitsu and self-defence?

    As for whether stage and screen fighting are the same thing, as you've just said, they're based on similar principles except for the bits where they're different. It's the differences that are important. And of course, it's not so much the choreographer who's important with film and TV as the director, the DoP, the editor, etc. The choreographer can organise the actors/stunt people and suggest shots, but how the fight scene actually looks is down to a lot of other people, which isn't really the case with stage fighting, because it's all live.

    And have I mentioned how few decent UK fight scenes I've seen and thought good, particularly on TV? Your mate might be part of the problem. I wouldn't listen to him.

  • JustStark

    I don't like stage fighting because it looks false

    Well it does, as mentioned, have to be clear all the way to the back of the gallery. And the participants have to find a way to do the naps, which you can dispense with on film because you just put them on later. And it does, of course, have to be done perfectly, in real time, night after night after night (and twice on Saturdays): even a single-take film fight, if those involved make a mistake, you can re-set it and do it until you get it right. Try asking a theatre audience to let you have another go.

    So while it may 'look false', it probably, actually, requires far more skill than the film fighting you seem so impressed by.

    And it's perfectly fine to dislike Stoppard dialogue for not being realistic

    You can dislike it, but you can't say it isn't good. Because it is. Because the point is not to be realistic, just as, as mentioned, nobody involved in a stage fight, in a theatre or on film, has realism as their goal: they are trying to make something that looks good and is satisfying to an audience. Realism is a distant second.

    Did I mention how I've done some (12 years) teaching jiu jitsu and self-defence

    Yes, and I have fenced for a similar length of time, which is how I know how different the skills of actually attacking and defending are from stage fighting. And I gathered from the guy on the course with me who was a martial artist that the same was true for him, in the unarmed combat section: how you hit someone, and how you telegraph to an audience or a camera that you're trying to hit someone, are very different.

    Perhaps you should try having someone video you as you fight, and see if it looks as good as the stage fights or UK TV fights you so disparage. See if you'd buy a ticket to see it on the big screen.

    And have I mentioned how few decent UK fight scenes I've seen and thought good, particularly on TV

    Yes well, you do think UK TV sucks, we know that.

  • “Well it does, as mentioned, have to be clear all the way to the back of the gallery. And the participants have to find a way to do the naps, which you can dispense with on film because you just put them on later. And it does, of course, have to be done perfectly, in real time, night after night after night (and twice on Saturdays): even a single-take film fight, if those involved make a mistake, you can re-set it and do it until you get it right. Try asking a theatre audience to let you have another go.”

    All of which indeed are reasons why stage fighting probably always look false. Agreed.

    “So while it may 'look false', it probably, actually, requires far more skill than the film fighting you seem so impressed by.”

    I'd look up what a kata is first before saying that. And, of course, I'd also point out that the last time anyone tried to replicate anything complicated from a movie on stage, it was Spider-Man on Broadway and it felt like half the cast ended up in hospital as a result. Film can try more complicated things than theatre can.

    Which isn't to say it's more realistic, rather to say that the skills might be different and more varied rather than greater. Although they might be. Is doing a head-height crescent kick precise to a centimetre harder or easier than a lunge with a sword with the same precision? I honestly don't know.

    “You can dislike it, but you can't say it isn't good.”

    Watch me: “Tom Stoppard dialogue isn't good.” Simple.

    You want more? Allow me to elaborate

    1) Only realistic dialogue is good
    2) Tom Stoppard dialogue is not realistic
    3) Therefore Tom Stoppard dialogue isn't good.

    Easy that.

    Now you can say that Tom Stoppard's dialogue is excellent at doing what it sets out to achieve. Sure. It might also be excellent by dramatic convention, quality of language, wittiness, and more.

    But if none of those are my criteria, who gives a monkey's about any of that? You're never going to make me think it's good. You can persuade me that it does what it's trying to do. But are you going to make me enjoy it or like it?

    No more than you'll ever properly enjoy a superhero movie. Or that woman over the road is going to stop watching EastEnders and start watching Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead. Horribly, people do actually talk like EastEnders in real life. I've met some. I almost laughed. That's possibly one of the reasons soap operas fans like them: their terrible but realistic dialogue. Again, horrible thought.

    “Nobody involved in a stage fight, in a theatre or on film, has realism as their goal: “

    Some people do indeed have realism in their fight scenes in movies or on TV as their goal. They really do. Not always. Maybe not that bloke you met. Maybe not you. But when they do, they do.

    Have a look at Heat's fight scenes (unarmed and armed). They got Andy McNab in for them. Why do you think that was? His people skills? So they could get his autograph? Do you think maybe it was because he was a member of the SAS and he could show them how to things as realistically as possible? You think the US Army Rangers who applauded Heat at a preview and said it was because of its realistic fights were just being charitable? Or were they really just praising the subtext of how Val Kilmer reloaded his magazine?

    “Yes, and I have fenced for a similar length of time, which is how I know how different the skills of actually attacking and defending are from stage fighting. “

    Of course, everyone knows how similar fencing is to real-world fighting. Certainly, I noticed how many people are using épées outside Weatherspoons of a Friday night lately.

    But you're missing the point. The point isn't how it's done but how the end result looks to an audience, particularly one that's versed in the real-world versions, as well as the range of options available.

    So last time: theatre fighting can only ever be unrealistic-looking, except in trivial cases*; movie/TV fights at least have the option, which they sometimes take, of looking realistic and not in just trivial cases**. And someone can perfectly well take either of them to town for being unrealistic, whether that was the intent or not, if that's their criterion. It may be utterly unfair of them, but es macht nichts.

    *At least, you say so, and I've not seen anything to disprove it

    **And the proof is that I know what a real fight looks like, as do others, and we've seen some film/TV fight scenes that look realistic to us, whether that was all-out martial arts, scrappy fighting or even sports fights. They're there, they exist. Proof by example. QED.

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  • Mark Carroll

    That seems right. I like the fight scenes where they are either part of an otherwise worthwhile story about how it is to live in the kind of environment that would be a bit, er, fighty, or where the story has set them up as being well motivated or resolving or whatever; basically, if they follow from or complement that story then that's good. The opposite being, what JustStark sees in current Doctor Who, but with fights instead.

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