Have "wired" fighting scenes in martial arts ruined the entire genre?

After seeing a 165-lb Drew Barrymore doing reverse flying spin kicks in Charlie’s Angels II, I’m beginning to rethink this whole high-wire kung fu craze. At first glance, these special effects rock. But they quickly lose their punch and a voice in my head (and maybe yours) keeps saying: “This is a cheap stunt.”

Think back to the vintage Bruce Lee flicks. He didn’t use (or need) these cheesy, heavy-handed techniques. His martial arts proficiency spoke volumes.

But after the Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Charlie’s Angles and a few dozen other movies, I wonder if Hollywood is ruining it for real screen talents. I mean, if you have to keep trumping the last movie, where does that leave the purist? Even Jet Li has gotten into the fly-by-wire fever, which suggests that a technique once the hallmark of a low-budget chop-socky genre is today embraced by Hollywood and the movie-watching public.

Also this: If released today, would Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” cause such a sensation as it did back in the early 70s? I don’t think so.

Wire work is fine; bad wire work is awful. (And IMNSHO, the wire work in Crouching Tiger sucked sucked sucked.)

And what do you mean by “Even Jet Li has gotten into the fly-by-wire fever”? He’s been doing wire work for years, since waaaay before the '97 Hong Kong handover sent so many people to the U.S.

OTOH, “Fist of Legend” was entirely without wire work (I think), and it was great, so you can get good results either with or without wires.

Wire work is why I HATE HATE HATE The Matrix. It has totally fucked up fight scenes in all sorts of movies since its release and I cannot stand them.

Honestly, I think it stunk when Jackie Chan started doing it. I mean, the whole point of Chan’s work was that that was all him, man! No special effects! And when he does it, it detracts from the whole Jackie Chan image.

Fist of Legend had some wirework, but it was mostly pretty subtle.

I understand not liking poorly done wirework, but I still see it as a useful tool. Ideally, you want a star who is both a good actor and a good martial artist, but there aren’t a lot of people who can do both. Wirework makes it easier to pass a good actor off as a martial artist. So far, there’s no equivalent technology that will make a good martial artist pass as an actor.

Besides, it’s not like Bruce Lee’s fight scenes were any more “real” than Keanu Reeves’. It’s all about choreography and editing.

What I notice about Lee’s films is how there is a flow of action, several moves uninterrupted by camera cuts. Now there is seemingly a cut and an angle change after almost every blow. It’s boring, repetitive, and devoid of any style or personality.

Yes, yes, yes: wire work and bad wire work have become synonyms.

Physically impossible moves don’t look extra cool - they look ridiculous (unless you are in a super-hero movie, I suppose). All the tension is sucked right out of a fight when the fighters start jumping thirty feet in the air or run up walls.

And I agree that this hurt Crouching Tiger rather than helped it.

Wirework isn’t cheating; it still takes a hell of a lot of training, talent, and stamina to fight in a wire harness. That aside, I think you’re kind of missing the point. Wirework wasn’t invented to disguise lousy martial artistry: it’s a product of HK film vocabulary, which is sensitive to the beauty and force of pure motion in a way our cinema no longer is. (Cf. Chaplin or Keaton.) It’s used for comic or heroic exaggeration; the people seeing it know it’s not supposed to look “real.”

I think if you put a movie out there today that doesn’t use wire work but has some amazing fight scenes, people will flock to it. The wire work movies haven’t ruined martial arts - they’ve displaced it. It’s a separate genre. At some point, someone will make a really good martial arts flick that uses all real action, it will make a ton of money, and the pendulum will swing back the other way. I think it may already have done so - audiences mostly reacted to the Charlie’s Angels movies and the last Matrix movie with yawns.

Why? *Crouching Tiger *wasn’t supposed to be an action movie. I personally thought the flying, unrealistic as it may be, added to the ethereal beauty of the film. Sure, it didn’t make you wet your pants in awe at Chow Young Fat’s fighting skills (but there’s other movies for that, if that’s what you want), but it was pretty. And it served to drive the story and themes of the film, which is more than one can say for stuff like Versus, which as excellent fight scenes, but is as thematically vacant as Happy Gilmore.

You’d be hard pressed to find a Jet Li movie that had no wire work; Swordsman 2, Fong Sai Yuk, Fong Sai Yuk 2, Tai Chi Master, and the Once Upon a Time in China movies are filled with wire-work.

Fist of Legend has some fairly obvious wire work in the scene in which Chen Zen fights for the right to be master of the school. The fight with his girlfriend’s uncle and with the general appear to be fairly clean to me.

I agree. It’s similar to the initial CG craze that followed Terminator 2… for a while, even huge-budget action movies had quick and horribly sloppy CG in replacement of even simple effects. The most recent, and thus the most horrendous, offender was the movie Swordfish

[spoilers]… when Hugh Jackman blew up what he thought was Travolta’s helicopter?[/spoiler]
I say that was the worst offender because a lot of the other special effects in the film were wonderful, in my opinion… and that helicopter explosion looked goddamned TERRIBLE!!

Anyway, I’m rambling…

But, yes, wire work: I love it. I loved it in The Matrix, I loved it in, well, almost anything. I think it produces a wonderfully off-kilter effect, inconsistent with reality but internally consistent, I think, with the feel of the story. Sometimes it’s bad, yeah, but for the most part, I love the effect.

Though I would agree that I also have a special love for plain, simple, down-and-dirty fisticuffs. I see no reason why one can’t like it both ways.

Buh-teehee, ruined that Spoiler tag. Could a, uh, oh-so-beauteously-wonderfully-delicious-sparkling-bright-white-teeth-and-happy-with-his-and-or-her-coffee-mug Moderator repair that SPOOFEY boo-boo?

I think of wire-fu as being parallel to use of cg effects–both are easy trendy targets for people to bitch about. Both, when done badly, don’t look–go figure–good. This will, of course, be subjective–I’m a bit boggled that some think CTHD’s wirework was bad, but I generally agree with Tarssk’s take on its deliberate thematic choice of slow, flowing style. (But Versus is still precious to me. I feel about it as I do the Evil Dead flicks; I love them with the same love I have for small goofy gamboling kittens.)

The main issue with Hollywood stabs at it is wirework tends to look a lot better when it’s a skilled cinematic-martial-artist being hauled about by them, as Jet Li’s the common living example of.

I guess it just goes to show that people probably just notice it when it’s bad, not realizing that not all of it is bad…

And it can be very entertaining when done well. In the aforementioned Fong Sai Yuk, the richest man in town has a tournament in which the first man who can beat his wife in a martial arts battle on a wooden tower will get to wed his daughter. The wife dispatches several suitors. Li joins just for the fun of the fight, and the two battle for some eight to ten minutes, the final two or three while hopping about on the heads of spectators. It’s a delightfully loopy scene, and doesn’t pretend to be any more realistic than Superman flying.

On Jackie Chan, it’s true that part of the appeal of his movies was the acrobatic grace he showed without wires, and the recent wire-work, special effect films don’t hold up to the older ones. The explanation, though, isn’t as much that he’s sold out to Hollywood so much as he’s in his 50’s, and less able to do the stunts and heal from mishaps than in his best work from the 80’s.

Wire work isn’t a sign of a cheap production. It’s actually more expensive than groundwork; the cheapest Hong Kong movies don’t use a lot of wires for just that reason. Bruce Lees three Hong Kong movies were, like most movies of the time, quite cheaply made, which may account for their lack of wire work.

I agree. When it was released, American audiences had never seen anything like it before. Now audiences who care for such films have seen a lot more of them, and a great many of them better than Enter the Dragon. Jet Li’s Fist of Legend is a remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (The Chinese Connection in the US) and is better in every way than the original.

Ohhh, okay–it’s been a while since I saw the movie, and I thought that the latter two scenes were the most memorable, so that’s where my mistake came from. At any rate, it has a lot less wire work than many other movies that he did.

Hey! Ease up on Drew, buddy! :wink:

If you like watching the actors frantically trying to reach the ground when they’re supposed to while Ang “I Can’t Competently Direct Anything More Exciting Than A Cup Of Tea” Lee looked on and said “that’s a take”, I suppose. The rest of us prefer martial arts directors who know what chroepgraphy is and use it.

I’d nominate the original Shaolin Temple. Not much else, though.