Denver Comic Con 2017 Day 2
I Definitely Didn’t Doublebook Myself
It would be an insult to suggest otherwise, good sir. I certainly didn’t end up arriving at DCC until well into the afternoon and only manage to attend one panel. Such a travesty that you’d even insinuate such a thing!
So the one panel I attended was a riveting deep dive into the world of fight choreography with James Lew presenting “The action of Luke Cage”, moderated by Mark Grove. James Lew, who grew up in south LA, has been a fight choreographer and actor in dozens of films including “Escape from LA”, “Big Trouble in Little China”, “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist” and a broad swath of Jackie Chan movies including all three “Rush Hour” movies. With such a wide variety of different films (above and beyond what I said, go check him out!), his multifaceted skillset is clear in that he’s completely comfortable choreographing serious martial arts films, along with silly comedic works, as well as the gritty realism of Luke Cage.
Admittedly, “realism” isn’t quite the word one would expect when referring to super strong heroes capable of knocking people across the street and twisting dumpsters into makeshift holding cells, but there’s an element of reality that’s important in such a piece. as Lew said, Luke has so much strength that if he were to actually use correct form and punch someone’s head as hard as he could, they wouldn’t have a head anymore. Netflix, it turns out, wasn’t quite that keen on such a level of visceral gore, so he developed what was affectionately referred to as “Smack Fu” where Luke would slap, shove, flip or otherwise irreverently dispatch his human foes. This allows for a very obvious and relatable demonstration of his insane strength without the over-the-top levels of violence needed to otherwise show it. It tires directly into how Lew insists that fight scenes should be closely related to the story and, if possible, further it.
Along with the importance of the story telling aspect of fight scenes, Lew was also insistent that fight choreography had more in common with dance than with fighting. Those details of footwork, precision, consistency and accuracy of action, while important in any good martial artist, are taken to a whole other level in the context of choreographed fighting. In the same vein that acting is, itself, an entire field worth studying and learning and excelling at, the expression of simulated fighting is a very different branch from typical martial arts. From a philosophical sense, this made sense to me. The depiction of the thing is not the thing.
It’s long been an element of philosophical discourse as to how the depiction of a thing relates to that thing which it depicts. The avatar, the analog, the shape, the shadow, etc. It would make a lot of sense that there is an entire industry devoted to translating those moves that may seem cool into moves that seem cool on a screen, instead of in reality. While I am certainly guilty of remarking on how (painfully) unrealistic the depiction of violence is in media, I have to admit that, when you take a step back, you really don’t want to see a realistic fight. They’re brutish, ugly, short and difficult to understand what’s happening. This is why we end up with situations where people who may not be very good martial artists may get picked up and relied on for stunt work when there’s better fighters/martial artists/whatever out there. It’s not about how good they are at fighting, it’s about how good they look on camera.
Lastly, I wanted to share a piece of advice from James Lew that, while not terribly relevant to my posts here, resonated with me. When asked how one can break into the industry, he responded with “learn how to act” as generic advice, but he also suggested to just keep making things. Make short films, make demo reels, film things you can do that are cool. Eventually, you’ll develop skills enough to be able to make a demo reel to send someone and that may be all you need to break into the industry. He also had a sort of blanket assignment: Go find your favorite action sequence and remake it, shot for shot. You have a perfect guideline! You might as well give it a shot and see how well you can do! You’ll learn a lot and might end up being the next Jackie Chan.
Check out the other DCC articles and stay tuned for my Day 3 coverage tomorrow!