Martial arts were initially used in Hong Kong cinemas back in the 1960s. In the 1970s, they managed to become a cult figure in leading Asian movie productions. Martial art based films in the early 1970s showcased unarmed combat skills (the Shaolin effect). These films were choreographed much better than the ones in the Golden Harvest era. In the late 1970s, the choreography of unarmed combat improved even further. Nonetheless, in the 1980s, the showmanship took over serious skills possessed by the hero and the use of wire permitted unimaginable stunts to be incorporated into movie scenes. In the 1980’s, emphasis was laid on kickboxing and the main actors that hogged the limelight during that period included Yuen Biao and Michelle Yeoh.
Unarmed Combat and the Hollywood Connection:
In the 1970s, Chuck Norris introduced Hollywood movies to the Karate fighting style. These were ninja style movies. Nonetheless, in the 1980s, Van Damme introduced the kickboxing style of fighting that became very popular among the masses. At the same time, Steven Segal made Aikido fighting technique famous but it was overshadowed by Van Damme’s popularity. In the 1990s, TKD and poorly choreographed kickboxing style movies made their presence felt in the Hollywood circuit. In the the 2000 era, more fighting styles such as Silat and Muay Thai became popular.
Current Fighting Styles in Hollywood Movies:
Currently, judo, sambo and jiujitsu styles have become popular. In fact, MMA style of fighting which includes wrestling, boxing, jiujitsu, sambo, judo, Muay Thai, is the latest trend in Hollywood movies. Flashy and unrealistic fighting styles such as TKD, have been omitted from current movies because viewers know this is unreal.
Few MMA stars such as Gina Carano and Randy Couture have introduced MMA style fighting in Hollywood movies. They have spiced up their fighting styles by including some improvisations to their existing techniques such as flying armbars etc. Kevin James starer “Here Comes the Boom” is a classic example of an MMA style Hollywood mainstream movie.
Viewers understand that fighters in Hollywood movies are natural human beings devoid of mystical powers or Superhuman skills. Hence, they like watching realistic fighting techniques that are acceptable in the real world.
Basic Facts on Martial Arts Styles Used in the Present Day Movies:
1) Judo and Filipino martial arts are used widely in movies such as the Bourne series, John Wick and James Bond style flicks.
2) Brazilian JiuJitsu style of fighting is currently being followed in several TV series and several modern day Hollywood flicks.
3) Several present day Chinese films use Wing Chen style of fighting.
4) Traditional Jiujitsu and aikido fighting styles are also used in several Hollywood flicks.
5) The use of JKD and TKD (Black Widow) styles have reduced significantly.
The Top 10 Currently Trending Martial Arts Stars and their Fighting Styles:
1) Van Damme – Known the world over for popular movies such as the Kickboxer, Bloodsport and Universal Soldier, Van Damme is a 2nd degree black belt in Shotokan Karate and proficient in Kickboxing.
2) Michael Jai White – Michael has a list of accomplishments in the world of martial arts and he still competes in bare knuckle fights called Kyokushin Karate Kumites. He is a leading Hollywood action star. He knows several forms of karate and Taekwondo. He is also well versed with MMA fighting style, the Superfoot System, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Tang Soo Do and Kobudo.
3) Jackie Chan – A legend action star, Jackie needs no introduction. His popular fighting styles include Hapkido, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wing Chun, Judo, Taekwondo and Shaolin Kung Fu.
4) Dolf Lundgren – This popular Hollywood action star is well versed in Judo, Kyokushin Karate and Goju Ryu Karate.
5) Steven Segal -This kick-ass action star is known to take on an entire posse of criminals single highhandedly. He is proficient in Aikido and Kenjutsu.
6) Scott Adkins – If you have not yet seen the Boyka series, it is time you did so. Scott Adkins is undoubtedly one of the most popular and charismatic on-screen performers. He is a gymnast, proficient in Karv Maga, practices Taekwondo, knows Wushu and is well versed in Karate. Scott also teaches PKA Kickboxing and practices Ninjutsu.
7) Tony Jaa – The man who made the following lines popular “Where are my elephants?” needs no introduction in the world of action movies. Known for his super-hit movie Ong Bak, Tony is proficient in Muay Thai, Wushu, Taekwondo, Judo, Muay Boran and Aikido.
8) Randy Couture – This Greco Roman wrestler is a 5 time MMA champion and well versed in boxing, wrestling, Brazilian Jujitsu and Muay Thai style of fighting.
9) Gina Carrano – She is not only a good looker and a popular Hollywood actress but also a former MMA Women World Champion. She is well versed in Muay Thai and Brazilian JiuJitsu fighting styles.
10) Wesley Snipes – Popularly known the world over for his tough character in the Blade series, Wesley has been practicing martial arts since he was a young kid. He is well versed in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Taekwondo, Hapkido, Eskrima and Kung Fu.
Reality Check on Martial Arts used in Movies:
1) First and foremost, the fighting styles used in movies are all fake. They have no connection whatsoever with the speed, strength, flexibility, fighting skill, conditioning, assertiveness and ‘split-second’ decision making ability of the hero. Over here, the villain has no other choice but to get clobbered by the star until the director feels that the action scene was perfectly done.
2) Currently trending action stars such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li cannot fight any longer as they are too old to do so. Nonetheless, they still manage to pull off one hit after the other owing to their superior acting ability and their ‘larger than life’ fan base.
3) Complex fighting scenes often include body doubles. Even if the star is performing his/her own stunt, the use of wires, padding and other safety equipment is mandatory. For filming unrealistic fight sequences, special effects using advanced animation technology are used. Hence, everything you see on the screen has been choreographed to perfection.
4) Ironically, most viewers tend to believe what they are shown on the silver screen to be real. While they do realize somewhere deep down in their hearts that certain actions sequences are unrealistic, they tend to believe that Scott Adkins can actually beat a dozen thugs single-handedly.
To understand the complexity that lies in capping a perfect action sequence, it is highly recommended that you watch the documentary made by the Hong Kong Legends company. In this documentary, several top action movie stars, choreographers, action directors and cameramen were interviewed and their viewpoints showcased via this eye-opening film.