In a recent post on NYMag.com’s pop culture blog Vulture, they posed the question, “Are Martial Arts Ruining Movies?”; citing movies like The Green Hornet, last year’s primary source of Asian American casting controversy, The Last Airbender, and, of course, Hanna which was in theaters yesterday.
Hanna is directed by Atonement‘s Joe Wright and stars Saoirse Ronan (pronounced SEER-SHAH) as a little girl who is raised in the wilderness by her ruggedly handsome dad (Eric Bana) to kick some major ass. After living in isolation and donning stylish carcasses for years, she is finally released into the real world and is tracked down by an icy bitch of an agent (Cate Blanchett) and her band of merry men.
It’s a good thing her daddy taught her martial arts to fight off the bad guys — which brings us back to the question at hand: are martial arts ruining movies?
Simply put: no — if it’s done right.
Sure, there is an oversaturation of martial arts in Hollywood action flicks, but it’s Hollywood — and martial arts are entertaining for people who get eyegasms at the sight of hyper-kinetic ass beatings and bone cracking. All of this takes place in the arena of disbelief suspension: the movie screen.
In Hanna, the title character (Ronan) snaps necks, stick-fights and uses her diploma from the Run-As-Fast-As-You-Can School for actors to show that she could be the long lost sister of Hit Girl from Kick Ass — but Wright didn’t want to make the violence look real.
“I tried to make it quite sensational – because it’s not real,” said Wright in a recent interview. “It’s a fairy tale. Fairy tales are dark and they are very violent. In Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, she commits suicide. Hansel and Gretel get an old woman and put her in an oven and cook her alive. The whole point about fairy tales is that they are dark. They have been colonized by Disney and children are lied to and told everything is going to be happy ever after. The point of fairy tales is that they are going to come up against cruelty, deceit and darkness in the world.”
As Hanna, Ronan was trained by the go-to Hollywood guy of martial arts: Jeff Imada. He has had a hand in coordinating fights and stunts in movies like The Bourne Supremacy franchise, Fight Club and according to the semi-reliable IMDb, he is involved in the upcoming final installments of the Twilight movies (I am so Team Edward). Like many other actors involved in a martial arts-centric action movie, she trained for months at the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts in L.A.
Ronan refers to Imada as a “God” and agrees with Wright in that the fight scenes were supposed to be “surreal and magical.”
She forgot to mention brutally violent.
Ronan says that there wasn’t a single martial arts style that embodied the character of Hanna — it was a potpourri of techniques.
“The fighting style was basically designed for Hanna because the majority of the people she fought were men,” says Ronan. “I needed to use their energy and strength against them.”
Wright enjoyed working with Imada as well. Based on many of his Brit-lit films, he hasn’t done too many large-scale fight scenes, but he says that with the small amount of fight scenes he has done before, the fight coordinator would impose a style on the character that has nothing to do with the character.
“(With Hanna) it was all bout finding her character through her fighting style and her fighting style through her character,” says Wright. “So when we started, we weren’t just looking at punches and moves and all that kind of stuff, but we were looking at how she might move as a human being.”
When it boils down to it, movies that have martial arts are entertaining. They propel the story forward and, in some cases, provide a break in monotony. It doesn’t really ruin them per se. With exceptions of movies like Hanna and The Matrix, frenetic gravity-defying fight scenes are a smokescreen to poorly executed stories and bad acting — like like Sucker Punch or Charlie’s Angels.
Actually, I kind of liked Charlie’s Angels. The second one sucked.