Review of A BITTERSWEET LIFE (2005)

March 9, 2012 3 comments

A BITTERSWEET LIFE 달콤한 인생 (lit. “The Sweet Life”)

CJ Entertainment/ South Korea (2005)

 Director & Screenwriter: Kim Jee Woon

Fight Director: Jung Doo Hong

Cast: Lee Byung Hun, Kim Young Chul, Shin Mina, Kim Roi Ha, Lee Ki Young

In Korean with English subtitles

“You can do 100 things right, but it takes only one mistake to destroy everything.”


Sun Woo (Lee Byung Hun) is the manager of a hotel restaurant, who is also a trusted and valued right hand man and enforcer to Mr. Kang (Kim Young Chul), a powerful gang leader.  Sun Woo is an unusual character because he’s very meticulous and emotionless with everything he does.  This is seen when he has to be physical and carry out his enforcer duties for his boss.

Before Mr. Kang leaves on a business trip, he asks Sun Woo to look after his mistress, Hee Soo (Shin Mina), for three days to find out if she is cheating on him.  If Sun Woo catches Hee Soo cheating, Mr. Kang gave him direct orders to kill her and her boyfriend on the spot.  While following Hee Soo around, observing her daily life, Sun Woo develops an appreciation for her and the life she lives, realizing how empty and lonely his life really is.  As a result, his icy cold exterior starts to thaw.  When Sun Woo discovers Hee Soo is having an affair, he even surprises himself when he does not have the constitution to kill them, and lets them go on the promise they will never see each other again.  However, Sun Woo’s decision unknowingly puts his own life in jeopardy and sets a series of events that results in an irreversible war with a rival gang.


On the surface, this gangster revenge thriller has a simple premise that we’ve all seen before.  But there are so many elements in this beautiful movie that sets this apart from your typical gangster film.  This film is a study on how an individual human life can easily be invalidated in a structured hierarchal environment (the Korean mob culture).

Lee Byung Hun’s portrayal of Sun Woo completely carries this picture with style and grace with an incredible cast alongside him.  Lee has an engaging screen presence and is pitch perfect in his performance, and is not afraid to be subtle and introspective at key times with his performance, which is exactly what draws you into his world.  His performance is multi-layered, which makes it a compelling joy to watch.  Lee’s performance also combines the ultra cool suaveness of an 80’s Chow Yun Fat along with more a reserved and subtle version of Tomisaburo Wakayama’s Ogami Itto (from the Lone Wolf & Cub series 子連れ狼1972-1974), where he is ready to physically and emotionally explode at any given moment.

Lee does not do this all alone.  The rest of the cast all deliver solid and impressive performances throughout the film and prove to be an incredible ensemble by unselfishly supporting, taking, and giving back to each other with every scene.

The cinematography by Kim Ji-Yong is elegant and stylish and at times breathtaking, without calling attention to his work.   Ryu Seong Hie, the production designer, does an exemplary job in creating sleek set pieces (like the hotel restaurant ,named “La Dolce Vita”) to the dark seedy locations throughout the film creating a stark contrast and mood that has a visually delicious film noir feel to it.

Also important to this film is the soundtrack by Dalparan and Yuhki Kuramoto.  The music is haunting and tragic in tone, which compliments the visual lyricism of the film.  The ultra violent fights and gunplay are never gratuitous and an important part of the story and in synch with the actor’s interpretation of their roles (see more about the action in the next section).


**Scroll past this section if you do not want to read any spoilers for this film.

A good majority of this film takes place at night, indoors, or in seedy places giving it a film noir feel to the movie.  I feel the reason is because Sun Woo is dealing with issues deep in his own subconscious, much like one might have a nightmare and try to figure out what it meant to them.  This ties in perfectly with the Buddhist parable that Sun Woo ponders at the beginning and end of the movie where you realize the whole movie was a dream.  This ending is similar to the final resolution with Tom Cruise’s character in Vanilla Sky (2001).

**End spoiler alert


The film has a good healthy mixture of martial arts type fights (which later turn into rough and tumble brawls) and gunfights that can keep an action junkie satisfied.  The action is not overly stylized or too melodramatic like what we might normally see coming from Asia and should easily appeal to Western audiences without having to suspend their willing suspension of disbelief too much if any.

There are many action set pieces in this movie that will keep action junkies satisfied and were expertly handled by Jung Doo Hong.  He works well with lead actor Lee Byun Hung, because they both understand the emotional content of each scene that is required in making the action believable and is not disjointed from the non-action sequences.  Every action scene Sun Woo is involved in is an extension of his emotions at that time.  The first fight that starts within the first 5 minutes of the film shows Sun Woo as calm, cool, and completely in charge.  As the film progresses, the fights get gradually more rough, messy, and raw as he looses his cool with himself, the situation, and the people around him.  I’ve seen this film several times and did not notice if there was a stunt double for Lee, so kudos goes to him for performing his own stunts.

I am being nit picky here, but some of the camera moves in the abandoned warehouse sequence that were too tight that you might have a hard time appreciating what is happening on screen.  They also took some creative risks by mounting the camera right above Sun Woo’s head as he fights and runs away from the thugs, which sometimes do and don’t work.  But seeing this movie on DVD on a 30 inch TV is a different experience than seeing it on 60 feet wide theater screen, which would probably remedy all the problems I just mentioned.  Overall the action scenes are very well executed and performed.


I really liked this movie when it first came out in 2005 and 7 years later, the film still holds up.  I am very surprised this film has not been picked up for U.S. distribution at the time of this writing.  Besides an all-Asian cast and the dialogue spoken in Korean, there are no other Asian-centric themes that would dissuade a Western viewer from appreciating this picture.  There are so many elements in this film that would attract a huge cross section of cineastes from art house, film noir lovers, foreign film fans, and action junkies.  This is a well-crafted film where all departments (in front of and behind the camera) stepped up to create an unforgettable modern day gangster, revenge-thriller, film noir classic.

This film easily holds it’s own when compared to the best Chinese Triad (A Better Tomorrow, Infernal Affairs, City On Fire), Japanese Yakuza (Graveyard of Honor, Tokyo Drifter, Battle Without Honor & Humanity), or Western gangster (Scarface, Road To Perdition, Reservoir Dogs, Heat, Goodfellas) films.  Since this film not easily available in the US, I strongly urge you to go out of your way to see this one.  Yes, it’s that good!

Copyright 2012. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.

Review of BLOODSPORT (1988)

March 5, 2012 15 comments



Cannon Films/ USA (1988)

Directed by Newt Arnold

Fight Coordinator: Frank Dux

Cast: Jean Claude Van Damme, Bolo Yueng, Donald Gibb

“You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.”


Frank Dux (Jean Claude Van Damme/ JCVD) is an American martial artist who has come to Hong Kong to enter the “kumite”, the secret illegal underground martial arts tournament, where only the best fighters (different styles and countries) in the world are invited.  During the competition, severe crippling injuries and even death befall many of the competitors.  Frank wins match after match until Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), the defending champion, brutally injures his friend, Jackson (Donald Gibb), leaving him all by himself.  Frank can be the first Westerner to win the competition.  However things are not that easy for him, also in town are Dux’s U.S. Army C.O.’s (Norman Burton and Forrest Whitaker) hot on his tail, and a beautiful journalist (Leah Ayres) determined to get her story about the Kumite.  Will Frank face the ruthless Chong Li and be the first Westerner to win the competition?  Gee, I wonder (sarcastically scratches head)!


I know I am in the minority about this, but I feel this movie was a formulaic “by the numbers” story that just served to justify the action.  However, with that said, this film is much better paced and executed than a majority of the Western martial arts films that came out at that time.   The martial art tournament film also a difficult sub-genre of martial arts cinema to write and make different because of all the required set pieces, character motivations, plot twists, and story procession that are usually required to happen in the story.  This creates a dilemma because it narrows the opportunities for the writer to do anything different from their predecessors.

I also felt there were many technical things wrong with this film that had nothing really to do with the story.  From a martial arts historian’s point of view, the use of the word “Kumi-te” means “fight” is a Japanese word, however Chinese men run the underground tournament.  Also Dux’s character uses the term “Dim-Mak” (Chinese) when he is a student of Ninjitsu (Japanese).   These are common oversights done by insensitive screenwriters unaware of the history of the friction and strong national pride between the two countries.  Also the cross use of terms and techniques from different countries without a care to accuracy were somewhat irritating.


When I first saw JCVD as the villain in “No Retreat, No Surrender”, he proved himself to be very versatile, agile, had incredible form with his techniques, and was exciting to watch. His fights had great timing and rhythm that were very kinetic, and most importantly…he never repeated a technique or combination.

However, in his Western films that followed, the fights got much simpler, nothing too complex, yet very repetitious.  This is a common problem with many martial arts films made in the West, where they unconsciously follow the rules of the barroom brawls you see in John Wayne movies. The rules are the fighters never block anything and each exchange is very short and fairly simple.** Also how many times can we see him throw a spin kick and the drop into the splits (which he does 7 times in this movie)?  The point I am making here is Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee never had a trademark technique that they carried from film to film and they were able to expand and push the limits of the action genre because they kept evolving and had the audience guessing what was going to happen next.


I feel the set up of Dux using Dim Mak aka “the death touch,” by breaking only the bottom brick from a stack furthest away from him from was a nice set up.  However, the pay off was prematurely wasted when Dux used the technique while fighting the Sumo Wrestler, a secondary and unimportant character, who did not have any character arc or dialogue.  It should have been saved and used on Ching Li, the final villain.


Since Dux’s character was a black belt in Ninjitsu, there were no real techniques from the style displayed to show a difference from the other styles that were highlighted.  I also felt a lot of the fights with JCVD were somewhat repetitive, had the same timing and rhythm, lacked any type of fighting strategy, and the opponents lacked any type of defensive intelligence because they would often times they would stand flat footed within striking range with their guard down, waiting to get hit.  I never once during this film, did I ever feel Dux’s character was in any real danger during an action sequence.  This is the common problem I have with many of JCVD’s films around this time.  I feel this is a typical case of being caught up and trapped in the minutiae of the technique’s “cool factor” instead of letting it be a part of the non-verbal dialogue.  As a result of everything I mentioned, the fights came off as more of a child or teen fantasy of what a fight would be like in their imagination than a serious physical conflict.

 **Note this subject will be discussed as an in depth article on this blog site.  So don’t send the mad villagers with torches to come after me yet!  Stay tuned- John


Looking back on this film, there are several things that are historically important about this film.  (1) It revived the tournament film genre in the West, first started with Enter The Dragon, (2) made JCVD an action superstar of the day, and (3) made Cannon Films a ton of cash.  This movie also caused a lot of controversy and rumblings within the martial arts community about Frank Dux and JCVD’s credibility as a fighter/martial artist and whether the legitimacy of the kumite was real or made up.

Blood Sport is an emotional favorite for a lot of fans much like original The Karate Kid is to many people.  It has its place in martial arts film history, but objectively looking back at it and for the reasons mentioned earlier, but I feel the film does not hold up today and is somewhat dated.  However, it is JCVD’s charisma and extreme athleticism that was missing from a lot of Western martial arts stars at the time that sells this film.  This is definitely your typical 80’s drive-in cinema, so put your logic on pause, set your willing suspension of disbelief on high, and regress back to your naïve teen years to enjoy this film.

Copyright 2012. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.

Review of BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

March 4, 2012 6 comments


Toei Studios/ Japan (2000)

Directed by Kinji Fukusaku

No Action Choreographer credited

Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Masanobu Ando

“Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you’re worth it.”


The story of a not so distant dystrophic future, where the unemployment rate in Japan zooms up to 15%, leaves 10 million people out of work.  As a result, the youth rebel against their parents and authorities when 800,000 boycott going to school.  To get more control over the youth, the Government enacts a Battle Royale Act, in which each year, a randomly selected 9th grade class is kidnapped and sent to a deserted island where they are equipped with weapons and are forced to kill each other until one survivor is left.


The film definitely has an exploitation aspect to it and Director Fukasaku is not at all ashamed about it.  But on a deeper and subtler level, similar to John Woo’s A Bullet In The Head (喋血街頭 /1990 Golden Princess), this film is also an examination of violence on the human psyche.  The exploitation aspect is obvious because of the gore and violence we see on screen.  However, the gore is not as graphic as some of the extreme horror films that have come out here in the U.S. but visually and emotionally the film packs a walloping punch to the viewer’s gut.  The examination of the violence is in the subtext where the audience has to feel the actor’s emotions and reactions as the students are “forced” to take deadly action on their friends or die.  By doing this, the film asks the audience to feel and experience along with the unwilling participants, which can be very unsettling for many viewers who may not want to go to that emotional place for their “entertainment.”  This film can be viewed as a dark, modern day, cautionary fairy tale about the depths of where mankind can easily go.


At the start of the 2nd act of the movie, each kid is told the rules of the game and given their bag of survival rations and weapons to kill their fellow students.  How each student takes their bag and accepts their fate that there is a good chance they will die (without much dialogue) is key to the action and violence that is about to happen right after this scene.  Only a veteran director like Fukasaku can direct and pull the nuances out of the young actors, effectively drawing you into what is happening with each student as they internalize what is transpiring right before them. before their eyes.  This is a scene a younger or inexperienced director might simply overlook or trivialize, but Fukasaku sucks you in with that scene and keeps you emotionally on the edge from this point on and never lets you go.

Since this film is coming from Asia, don’t expect the action scenes to be a beautifully choreographed, flowing, elegant, dance like, John Woo-esque “gun fu” blood ballets.  The brawls, shootings, and killings are rough, ugly, and brutal… yet it is still effective and well choreographed.  The camera angles are set up so you can see everything that is happening; with necessary emotional close ups to capture the emotions, while the editing steps up the pace without calling any unnecessary attention to either camera work or editing.  There are no shaky hand held shots or fast paced “epileptic style edits” to artificially replace the emotion(s) of the scene.  What you see on screen are sobering action scenes that will make you emotionally uncomfortable (without being too extremely gory with the visuals).

There are many little action pieces throughout the film that is very different from one another without ever getting repetitious.  What I liked about the action scenes in this movie was how each student dealt with having to have to kill (external motivation), mixed with the reluctance to have to do so (internal conflict), and the different reactions once the act was committed.  The one of the many action scenes that stands out for me is the unfolding of the girl gunfight at the lighthouse.  The set up and resolution was so deliciously dark.


Rumor has it that this film would never get an official release here in the U.S. because of the recent student shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine.  However, that fact is far from the truth.  The film has been screened at several film festivals and at special screenings but has not opened to a wider domestic release in theaters.  Toei Films (the company that owns the rights to the film) are asking for a big price tag for this film in order for it to get an official release here.  The problem with that theory is the core audience who desperately wants to see this movie already have a copy of the movie through bootleg or have bought an imported version of the DVD from another country.

This is a must see modern classic by a master filmmaker with 40 years experience behind him.  Unfortunately, this was Director Fukasaku’s last completed film.  He passed away at the age of 72 while he was in the middle of working on the sequel to this film.  Battle Royale is based off the popular Japanese novel and can be considered the Lord of the Flies or Clockwork Orange for the new millennium.

If you are seeking out this movie, I highly recommend you get the director’s cut, which has a running time of 122 minutes (original theatrical release is 114 min) that has several flashbacks and back-story for some characters.

NOTE: I wrote this review well before finding out Anchor Bay will be giving Battle Royale it’s official US release on home video on March 20, 2012.  I am sure this is not a coincidence but the home video release will be several days before the theatrical release of Hunger Games, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, which looks like a very toned down version of Battle Royale.  The New York Times defends Battle Royale and reports that “the parallels are striking enough that Collins’s work has been savaged on the blogosphere as a bald-faced ripoff,” but that “there are enough possible sources for the plot line that the two authors might well have hit on the same basic setup independently.” *

*source: wikipedia

Copyright 2012. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.


March 4, 2012 3 comments



Universal Studios/ USA (1993)

Directed by Rob Cohen

Fight Choreographer: John Cheung

Cast: Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly

“I’m no bastard, I’m Bruce Lee!”


The bio-pic of the martial arts legend and film star, Bruce Lee mainly focuses on the inter-racial relationship between Bruce (Jason Scott Lee) and his girlfriend/wife Linda (Lauren Holly).  The film starts with Bruce as a juvenile delinquent in Hong Kong fighting British Sailors, his coming to America to start a fresh new start, dealing with racism in the 60’s, teaching kung fu to Westerners and the resistance he gets from traditional Chinese martial artists who do not want “their secrets” taught to them, and his struggle to show the martial arts and his Chinese culture to mainstream Hollywood.


Jason Scott Lee (no relation to Bruce) does a great job bringing to life Bruce Lee’s essence to the big screen.  The filmmakers made a very wise decision to choose a well-trained actor who has the skill and experience to give Bruce’s character the much-needed depth and life.  Because of this, the film gives the audience a much easier willing suspension of disbelief, rather than casting an incredible martial artist overcome the insurmountable obstacle of trying to act along with the pressure of being able to carry a movie.  We’ve seen that happen countless times over the decades where films have failed because of rigid wooden acting skills from talented and gifted martial artists who don’t know what to do with themselves when they were not fighting.  This is one of the main reasons (besides a good story) why movie critics and the general movie going audiences do not take the Western martial arts film genre seriously at all.

While watching this film, I have always felt torn because as a screenwriter, I understand that you have to condense storylines and combine characters to keep the story simple and not confuse the audience.  Screenwriters Ed Khmara, John Raffo, and Rob Cohen did an admirable job in condensing Bruce’s dense, rich, and inspiring life into a briskly paced 120 minutes, which is not an easy task.  The filmmakers were smart to focus on the romance aspect between Linda and Bruce to attract a wider audience.  But as a Bruce Lee Historian, the film was somewhat of a glossed over fairy tale or Hollywood’s multi-million dollar version of a Bruce Lee exploitation film.  Gladly, this film is leaps and bounds and nowhere near the cheesy Grindhouse classics from the 70’s such as Bruce Li in New Guinea or The Clones of Bruce Lee.


Having listened to Director Rob Cohen’s audio commentary on the DVD, he says that he felt Bruce’s style of fight choreography was boring and much too straightforward.  So he hired John Cheung (a former member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team) to choreograph the fights.  His reasoning was “Jackie’s style of fight choreography” was the current trend at the time of filming the bio-pic.  The problem with this theory is he mistook a film fighting style for a trend.  The reasoning is, Jackie created his style of fight choreography in the late 70’s with “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master” because every Asian film production making a kung fu movie was still looking for “the next Bruce Lee,” recreating fight scenes the way Bruce would have done it- serious, intense, and to the point with varying degrees of success.  In order to be different and separate himself from the pack, Jackie would do everything that was the opposite of what Bruce Lee would do.  He came up with the reluctant/wise ass hero who gets into trouble but knows he cannot beat the villain by going toe-to-toe and is forced to find creative and funny ways to get out of the situation.  This was a style that would create Jackie’s film career, redefine martial arts movie fights, and would also spawn countless imitators.

As a result, I felt the fight scenes were disjointed from Bruce’s personality of meeting challenges head on and his philosophy towards the martial arts.  What I feel would have been much more interesting is to show the physical and emotional differences between the real life street fights, skirmishes, and death duels he encountered and contrast them with his kinetic and dynamic style of fight choreography for film.  However, you do see a little of the absurdity in the re-creation of the Green Hornet TV series but it was not exploited other than that small and brief fight scene.


For a man that lived for only 32 years, it still amazes me as to how much Bruce Lee has achieved in such a short life.  In order for the audience to fully appreciate the Little Dragon’s life and achievements, filmmakers will have to turn his life story into a mini-series.  This has been already done several times in Asia, but with varying degrees of success and none of the productions could not get away from being cheesy and/or exploitative.  The other reason is the unfortunate actors who portrayed Bruce had a huge task in portraying a real life person that is now larger than life and also made poor acting choices by mimicking his gestures and not delving any deeper, making their portrayal of the legend look very shallow and cliché.  So far the only portrayal of Bruce that has not gone over the top and did not coming across as a shallow one dimensional caricature was Jason Scott Lee’s portrayal of Bruce in this film.

On a positive note, it is nice to finally see Hollywood pay homage to a true legend and pioneer in action cinema and the martial arts world.  I also feel this movie was not made for true hard-core fans of Bruce Lee (like me), but more of an introduction for a newer generation of fans who were not alive or aware of his impact in the world of action cinema and hopefully pique their interest making them want to read the books he has written, the countless articles, documentaries, and biographies about him, and hopefully see his movies.  Because of that, I feel the movie has admirably done its job.

Copyright 2012. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.


March 4, 2012 Leave a comment

GREAT NEWS! I have been green lit to write my second book. The book is titled THE FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER’S HANDBOOK and is more of a practical approach to creating your own fight scenes for your films. Please keep coming back here to see news on the progress on who I interviewed and when the book will be released.

How not to interview Writer/Director Ben Ramsey!

Copyright 2012. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.

So Why Can’t I See You Kicking His Ass?

January 11, 2011 35 comments

Here’s the typical scenario… The star will go on a TV show to do an interview to hype the next biggest and best action film.  Great!  There’s nothing wrong when someone shills their project for the world to know about it.

Then they will talk about the many months it took for them to practice and train to make the fight scenes look great.  Sometimes we’ll get to see some behind the scenes footage of them rehearsing the fight scenes to tease us so we can  get excited about it.  I’ll often see some friends working on it in the footage doing the stunts.  I’m already hooked!  Mission accomplished!

By now, I’m excited, my hopes are really high, and I can’t wait to see it!  Somehow, they accessed the little boy in me who wants to see buildings blow up, cars crash, and bad guys get their butts handed to them by the hero.

So when the film comes out, I go to the theater, eager to suspend my disbelief.  However, when the fight scenes come on screen, we do not really get to witness the action unfold, because the camera was much too tight on the action for the audience to make any sense of it and/or the editing was so fast and choppy with no continuity flow that it could easily induce an epileptic seizure.

Many of my friends usually know what to expect when they go see a film with me when I see the action.  They usually hear moans, groans, and mumblings of varying degrees of objection coming from me.

Unfortunately, this “style of action” is status quo about 95% of the time for any type of action that has come out of the US and Europe.  Because of this, many film-goers I have discussed this issue with make a separation in their minds between the action and the rest of the movie.  The only time we get a chance to see how the fight scene will unfold is when we see the behind-the-scenes rehearsals in the DVD’s special features.

Because of the close-up camerawork and choppy editing, the audience has to work it out in their minds and figure out what happened instead of witnessing the action unfold right before their eyes.  Often times the audience just tunes out.

Why is it that we continue to see this artistic crime happen repeatedly (despite a movie critic’s rant every now and then)?

Here’s some excuses/explanation that I have heard while “in the trenches” of why they do what they do followed up with my counterpoint on why those theories cannot hold any water.


This is the usual response when asked why filmmakers are so addicted to getting in so tight on the action.  Sorry, I’m not buying this propaganda.  The problem is the camera lens does not have peripheral vision or depth of field like the human eye has.

Not all filmmakers know how to shoot action.  Filming action sequences is not a curriculum taught in film schools.  So they try fall back on what they already know, which is the traditional angles they were taught to shoot dialogue (master shot, camera left, and camera right).  Depending on the type of action, this often times is not adequate in capturing the essence of the scene.  In addition, there are many traditional rules on how to shoot a non-action scene that often times does not apply to shooting an action scene that the filmmaker has to let go in order to make the action scene look effective.

What happens when you get too tight on the hero during an action scene is you cannot see the impact of what they have done to their opponent.  The reaction from the opponent is an extension of the hero and the scene, which says a lot about the characters when choreographed and performed effectively.  With the close-up, they can only rely on the hero’s facial expressions to sell the scene, which is not the complete story.  It’s much like filming only one person during an intense conversation–we are missing a bigger picture.

Originally, the reason why you get in tight close-ups with an actor during an action scene is because they aren’t skilled enough to perform the physical movements.  So to make it look like they know what they are doing, they get in close and have the actors move around to fill up the camera space and not have much interaction with the stunt actors.  This was very evident with the late David Carradine in the iconic TV series “Kung Fu.”

BUT unfortunately, this practice also extends with actors who can perform their action quite convincingly.  Check out any Jackie Chan’s or Jet Li’s American films (with the possible exception of “The One”) and Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne series.


It’s true, MTV has changed the face of how we visually see and process images we see on the screen.  But that does not necessarily have to make everything look manic.  A great editor can close up the dead gaps in a fight and make it feel more immediate.  But when you edit an action scene that resembles a hyper kinetic highlight reel for A.D.D. patients, you lose the emotion of the scene created by the actors and fill it in with an artificial one created by all those cuts.  This leaves the audience breathless but unemotional about what just happened because they are not emotionally connected.

An editor can easily change the way an action scene comes across on the screen.  This can be good and bad.  Unfortunately, in many instances, the editor is taking away from the performance by calling more attention to their editing techniques than to making the action more enthralling and connecting with the audience.  Many fight choreographers have told me that their scenes have often been edited out of order or simply put together backwards.

A typical example is with “The Last Samurai.” According to IMDB, Tom Cruise trained almost two years to prepare for the film.  Too bad, we do not get to see any of the fruits of his labor.  I am referring particularly to the scene in which Cruise is attacked at night in the alley.  You hardly get to see Cruise finish his sword strokes or and see a reaction from the stuntman, while the editing did not have a natural flow and continuity.  The same thing can also be said for all the fight scenes in Sylvester Stallone’s recent film, “The Expendables.”

This blog is meant to open up conversation on this topic, which is too complex an issue to wrap in a nice little bowtie and say “case solved.”  I will continue to delve into in future blogs about this until it is stopped…OK, well…maybe I’m dreaming.

Copyright 2011. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.

Hello world!

January 7, 2011 3 comments

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to my first blog.  I plan to write a lot of things on here some of those topics are personal observations/reflections on life, experiences in the movie making trenches, my dalliances back into the world of stand up comedy, and occasional film review.  If you have any questions for me, don’t be afraid to ask me.  Looking forward to hearing from you.


Categories: Film and TV reviews