Discussing Theories On Martial Arts Films with Don Wilson...
I was invited by my friend Debbie Goodman, creator and host of Martial Arts Mania, to visit the Martial Arts History Museum in Burbank, CA. We were attending a fundraiser for the museum and I was surprised to find that the majority of the guests attending where not only martial artists but involved in films.
I am a complete novice concerning Martial Arts Films and had had mixed emotions of the genre. As an instructor I can’t even begin to count the times students come in asking when they would learn to do front flips or climb up the walls like a ninja.
Yet, who am I to judge? “The Next Karate Kid” was a hit when I first started taking lessons. I remember watching Hillary Swank obsess over her forms with Mr. Miyagi then many years later jumping in the ring with Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby”.
The truth is it never fails to see a high attendance in Dojos when a blockbuster such as The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Karate Kid (2010) opens. As I walked through the museum, viewing items such as Danielson’s headband from the first “The Karate Kid,” I felt myself slowly becoming more inquisitive to this mainstream subculture of karate.
Was an audience’s fascination on martial arts or the film? How engraved had the film industry become in Martial Arts?
Luckily, later that night I got to have dinner with Don “The Dragon” Wilson.
Don is an 11x World Champion Kickboxer, practitioner of Pai Lum Kung Fu and has starred in over 30 Martial Arts Films.
One of the reason’s I have attributed to not being so enthralled with Martial Arts Films is because the films usually feature a male leading role. Everyone in Marital Arts (especially Jiu Jujitsu) has heard the horror stories of gender discrimination towards females. I wondered if the lack of leading heroines was movie based or martial arts based, so I asked Don if he had ever witnessed or experienced any gender discrimination.
His response was diplomatic and realistic, “They are not prejudice. Hollywood is color blind, they only see green. It’s about how much they make on opening night. Women now-a-days can do action films, you are seeing more and more of them. What they (Hollywood) wants a big opening and it’s believed a female star might not open as big as if a man was the leading role.”
It’s an interesting concept for Hollywood considering the largest Martial Arts film opening is Rush Hour 2 at $226.2 million and the largest Action Heroine film opening is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at $424.7 million.
For all the people that failed math like me, that almost a $200,000,000 difference.
Regardless, $226.2 million is a lot of money to open with, but how did the martial arts genre take off? What was it about martial arts in movies that has had audiences so captivated over the years?...
In 1973 Enter The Dragon starring Bruce Lee and distributed by Warner Bros opened and changed the film industry and began the “Kung Fu Kraze.”
Don explained the significance of the genre...
“If you went to a video store and looked around you would see the different genres: drama, action, comedy… Our genre is special in its own way. It’s a genre focused on what we do. If you think about it there are no genres for construction, medical or for lawyers—but there is one for Martial Arts.”
As for the captivation...
He further clarified, “You can watch the flashy kickers and the stunts with flips but it’s not realistic on the street. It’s not applicable.”
He had a point. Somewhere between the flying kicks and super strong punches, audiences had become captivated with the genre, but there is still a line drawn between Martial Arts and Hollywood Martial Arts.
That line is application.
You can go home and analyze every move from a movie, but in the end the stunts shown on the big screen won’t save you in a fight because they are not applicable. Martial Arts is a form of self-defense and is realistic.
This could possibly even be the reason student’s that first start at a Dojo seem somewhat disappointed at times. In the end, flashy showmanship will not save them from someone trying to harm them. If we could all run up walls, we would never have to fight anyone.
Nonetheless, we will still see an influx in students when the next martial arts film releases. For the lucky ones that walk into our school it could change their lives for the better. There are still the unfortunate ones that find themselves in a McDojo; schools that feed off the craze but do nothing to better their students.
I believe the best thing we can take from Martial Arts Films is what they are intended for: Entertainment.
Enjoy the film and the story behind it. Focus on your training on real threats, not a cinema villain. Parents: let the fight scenes tickle your child’s imagination, but be sure before they step onto a mat that you have done your research and you don’t find yourself in a McDojo.
Now excuse me, I need to go watch a shirtless Tom Hardy in "Warrior."
Jesalyn Mae Harper
Hello my name is Jesalyn. I'm a divorced single mom and a karate addict...