“I know Kung Fu!”
This is perhaps the best-known line from the hit movie The Matrix. After all, who doesn’t want to be able to say and mean it? Despite the much-envied, sci-fi concept of being able to literally “download” a martial art into one’s own mind, in reality we all know that this type of ability takes years of training and study. Perhaps it’s this lack of motivation that has made the action/adventure genre so popular – after all, it’s far easier to pop the movie into the DVD player and watch Bruce Lee kick ass.
A high-action fight sequence of any kind is almost a given for any film in this rather broad genre, and for the filmmaker it poses some rather large challenges. Such as: a realistic style of fighting, a style that the actors can easily learn and imitate; as well as finding an instructor who can teach said fighting style, and of course, the safety concerns for both cast and crew. A good fight scene can add a lot to a film, but the logistics involved are usually enough to deter most microfilmmakers. However, this book helps make that prospect a much more realistic one: Fight Choreography: The Art of Non-Verbal Dialogue; authored by veteran stuntsman, John Kreng.
My biggest concern in having to review this book is that I have very little practical experience in this area – other than watching the occasional Jackie Chan movie. It’s an intimidating, large book, especially for someone not well versed in fight styles and choreography. Someone like our editor – a black belt in karate – would most likely be drooling by the first few pages.
Fortunately, the book isn’t quite as intimidating as it appears to be. In fact, there is an entire chapter dedicated to terms and definitions, which comes in handy and helps those readers who are less familiar with the subject.
Depth of Information
There is quite a lot of information contained in this book. The first chapter (92 pages) is devoted solely to a history of fight choreography, 15 pages of which are about things that can be learned from Bruce Lee. The second chapter explains the difference between sport, art, and self-defense, which could be a useful section for the filmmaker looking for the appropriate fighting style. The third chapter is the previously discussed glossary of terms, followed by several chapters related to training actors, the structure of a fight scene, its purpose in a film, and narrative structure. The next two chapters delve into the physical and technical elements of a fight scene, related to the filmmaking process. The book concludes with how to think like a choreographer and a quite extensive list of recommended viewing.
I was quite pleased to see several chapters devoted to narrative structure and a fight scene’s relationship to the story of the film. We’ve all seen far too many movies that revolve around all the cool action scenes, thereby making the plot and character development secondary elements. A case in point is The Transporter, a film with some incredible action sequences, but the plot is sadly illogical, though interesting. While an action enthusiast might want to skip over these chapters in favor of the later ones, I highly suggest avoiding the temptation.
A martial arts enthusiast, even those not interested in making a movie, would find a lot of interesting information in this book. It was a bit difficult to read, as this genre of film is not my absolute favorite. However, the author includes a few true stories to illustrate his points; such as what can happen when a director or actor plans their own stunts, rather than relying on the stunt coordinator, along with the importance of proper and extensive training. Much of this information should be common sense, though could be overlooked in the mad rush of tasks involved in moviemaking
This category is quite subjective, as it really depends on your goals as a filmmaker. If you’re planning a low-budget “starter” film with a couple of brief action sequences, intending to work your way up the budget scale, you’ll probably use this book until the spine breaks and the pages fall out. Trust me, this is a compliment! Even for someone who only intends to a few fight sequences, this book could save them from some costly mistakes. Plus, a reader may just discover a whole new love in fight choreography!
Value vs. Cost
For the filmmaker who intends to try their hand at making multiple films with fight sequences, this book could really be a great asset. It offers a lot of information and advice in a logical and easy-to-read format. Just be forewarned that the task of reading through such a large book is a rather daunting one.
As a textbook, it has an expanse of information and is not that expensive. However, if all you want is a bit of advice for one action film and do not intend to make another, it’s more of a toss-up. You might be better off consulting with an experienced friend or the leaders of a local dojo. Just make sure said dojo is of a reputable martial art! Either way, it’s certainly worth looking, if you think you might use even a quarter of the information.
This book would probably be best suited for the hard-core fight enthusiast filmmaker, who intends to make multiple martial arts or street fighter films. The cost is reasonable and it contains a wealth of information, which may be a bit overwhelming to a first-timer. Fight Choreography: The Art of Non-Verbal Dialogue could help give a filmmaker the confidence to branch out into the action genre. I say go for it!