Tag Archives: fight scenes

Fight Scene Friday — “The Hunted”

by Gabriel Valdez

The video I’m featuring today is not currently embedding properly. Please watch it on YouTube here.

The only reason Liam Neeson still has an action career is because no one’s employed Tommy Lee Jones to chase him down yet. You could run a day-long marathon of films featuring Jones chasing down fugitives from the law: The Fugitive, sequel U.S. Marshals, two Men in Black movies, The Hunted, The Missing, No Country for Old Men, and In the Valley of Elah.

What’s most impressive about that list is that all these movies are good to great, and you can see Jones becoming a more dynamic and human actor as he ages (In the Valley of Elah may be his finest single performance).

The plot of The Hunted is fairly basic – Benicio Del Toro plays Hallam, a special forces operative convinced that the government is trying to kill him for what he knows about secret operations. He hides out in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest and begins murdering anyone who comes near, including a pair of hunters. This brings the FBI in, who realize they’re outmatched and recruit the man who trained Hallam (Jones’s Bonham) to help track him down.

The Hunted is the least of Jones’s tracker films, still worth watching but surprising in its traditional structure since it comes from director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, Sorceror). Yet it’s also the movie where Jones finally got to throw down in extended fight scenes and take on his fugitive one-on-one. The knife fight above is absolutely brutal, and one of the better ones ever put to film.

This training sequence from earlier in the film helps describe the kind of fight choreography we’ll see later on. It provides emotional background on Hallam, but also acts as a primer to make sure we’ll keep up with what each fighter’s trying to do in the later fight:

The climactic fight does have its weak points, though. As you watch Jones tumble down a waterfall, you’ll realize just how far visual effects have come in 12 years. In terms of the choreography, filmmaking in the 1990s and early 2000s demanded egregious pauses in combat for reaction shots, as well as close-ups of hits and misses. Action films since then, in great part due to the success of The Bourne trilogy, have shifted further toward uninterrupted combat in the service of reality. Since we’ve also drifted away from having reliable action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, reaction shots and close-ups have evaporated and audiences are trusted to keep up without these breaks.

Additionally, where exertion used to be stressed in our violence, we now focus on the mechanical aspects of it, often to the exclusion of emotion. Neither of these portrayals is particularly accurate, and the idea that there’s a best “type” of fighter or a superior “attitude” to possess is a gross oversimplification.

These shifts in the tone of our fight scenes reflect more what’s popular in the portrayal of action; they reflect changing tastes in filmmaking. Fight sequences that feel more realistic aren’t always actually more realistic. Just as pausing in combat demanded sacrifice in the mechanics of the action 12 years ago, a purely mechanical scene demands sacrifices in the thought and emotion that takes place in a real fight. It’s important to remember that each approach sacrifices an aspect of reality when we discuss fight choreography and how action scenes are filmed.

By the way, we selected yesterday the Best Fight Choreography of 2014 and the Best Stuntwork of 2014. If you haven’t yet, check them out.

The Best Fight Choreography of 2014

John Wick Keanu

by Vanessa Tottle & Gabriel Valdez

You know what fight choreography is, we know what fight choreography is. Let’s just dive right in.

Oh, and we should warn you that unlike our other Best of 2014 articles, since fight scenes usually involve a big reveal or someone’s death:


They won’t play without you clicking on them, but just be aware of the above if you do.


Chris Carnel, fight coordinator
James Young, fight choreographer

This has stunts and fight choreography across the board – car chases (although the more outlandish stuff is CG), knife fights, wire-assists – you name it, it was in the Captain America sequel.

It was a really good year for practical choreography on film, and Captain America includes much more practical work than any other Marvel film. That blending also requires a great deal of creativity on the part of the stunt and fight coordinators, who wanted something less cartoonish and more immediate and brutal.

(Read the review)


Jonathan Eusebio, Jon Valera, fight coordinators

Are you going to eat those mashed potatoes?

No, I’m saving them for later.

This is the attitude that permeates the creative fight choreography of John Wick. Gun fu has been around for a while, but what Keanu Reeves practices is closer to gun jutsu. He controls the nearest threat with his body, saving him for later, and deals with the furthest one or two or three. It’s completely counter-intuitive and could only work in movies, but it is downright beautiful to watch.

It completely undermines your expectations of how a fight’s going to proceed and using Keanu Reeves as its dancer, John Wick gives us martial arts movements according to a ballet philosophy.

The clip above is the conclusion to a sequence that sees Reeves fight his way through several floors of a club. Each floor has its own dance music, and the pace of the choreography changes according to each genre – slowed down and deliberate in the new age spa, frenzied and tense on the dubstep dance floor.

It’s exceptionally clever, and that’s even before mentioning the fight between Reeves and Adrianne Palicki a few scenes later, which begins like a dance and ends like a brawl.

(Read the review)


Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, fight choreographers

Here is one of the most overlooked movies of 2014, a martial arts film that you could take every action scene out of and still be left with a compelling gang drama. And yet, those action scenes are some of the best ever filmed.

Director Gareth Evans leaves the fight scenes to his choreographers, who also play a lead and supporting character, but he still insists on using long takes that hit certain marks. The fight scenes to him are opportunities to communicate emotion in a way that’s removed from traditional storytelling. They’re filled with visual beats that lay their characters raw in a way that’s shielded during dramatic scenes.

In this clip, for instance, we already know that Hammer Girl is deaf, but when her sunglasses are knocked from her face, it’s revealed that she only has one eye. We stay on this for only a split-second, nothing is mentioned, and the fight doesn’t stop. It’s a heart-wrenching realization that suggests a whole other film’s worth of story, told in a moment, and that turns the end of a henchwoman from one character’s triumph into another’s tragedy.

This is how the film constantly communicates an anti-violence message through some of the most brutal fight choreography ever put in a movie. That’s not to say The Raid 2 doesn’t like cinematic violence. To the contrary, it basks in it, but it uses this to create a message about real-world violence and corruption in Indonesian politics.

We could talk about Iko Uwais’s tight body control and efficient movement, Yayan Ruhian’s loose, wildly animalistic performance, and how every character in the film fights completely differently, but in the end, Evans uses the choreography not as an attraction, but as one more storytelling tool to convey emotion and fill the world of his story in with detail. It has fight scenes that will make you cry. How many films can say that?

What makes the fight choreography in The Raid 2 special isn’t just the insane technical level required of the performers, it’s that the choreography itself tells vignettes inside the bigger story. The narrative doesn’t stop while we watch the fighting. As in dance, the story condenses and intensifies.

We’re always talking about how filmmakers need to invent new “cinematic language” for technical elements on film. The Raid 2 invents brand new language for fight scenes and how they can be used. It’s a rare instance when a film does that this successfully.

(Read the review)

In the lead-up to the Oscars, we’ve named several Best of 2014 Awards, with a special focus on categories the Oscars don’t include:

The Best Stuntwork of 2014

The Best 3-D of 2014

The Best Diversity of 2014

The Best Original Score of 2014

The Best Soundtrack of 2014

The Most Thankless Role of 2014