Have we moved beyond the martial arts superstar?

Originally published at: Have we moved beyond the martial arts superstar? | Boing Boing

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Hmmmm. I don’t think so. We just added lots of guns and bullets.


Hrm - I am trying to think of a younger “superstar” martial artist, and drawing a blank. I can think of people still active who I would consider martial arts superstars, but they were well established a decade or more ago.

There are more and more Asian actors on the screen than ever before in American cinema. And there are more and more action scenes that incorporate martial arts moves and the wire work pioneered in Hong Kong cinema.

I think perhaps the problem is these moves have been come ubiquitous in film, and there is a large stable of stunt actors and trainers to be able to pull it off well. In other words, the skill set to look good doing it on film has become common enough that a “superstar” is no longer needed.


I don’t think we have moved beyond the martial arts superstar, what I think we’ve done is seen a hollywood and entertainment industry that isn’t interested in going the extra mile to do the takes like Jackie Chan insisted on. Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos discuss this in this video essay:

Where we do see that dedication to the craft are in things like Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible series, or Keanu Reeves John Wick series. Both of which are high action with very choreographed stunt scenes that they’re interested in getting RIGHT instead of RIGHT NOW.

So I think there easily could be a martial arts superstar once one fills that niche of both being good at martial arts AND demanding enough to film it as thoroughly as the craft requires.


CGI killed the martial arts star.


I feel like, in general, the hold the big budget established IP films have on Hollywood right now might be broken if A24 continues to have success. If their success continues, other studios are going to follow suit. Hollywood wants a sure thing. If they decide that audiences want new, original stories now instead of existing product, we may see a renaissance that could include a new influx of martial arts films and stars.


Yeah, no…

As has already been said, John Wick. Not to mention Michelle Yeoh and EEAAO just won, like, all of the awards a few months ago. And before she tanked her career Gina Carano had some great stuff, Haywire is still one of my faves.

The stars you mentioned (Lee, Chan, Yen) made all their best stuff before America even caught on. Like them, the best new martial arts actors these days are mainly in Asian cinema. Especially those coming out of Indonesia, Iko Uwais (The Raid, Star Wars VII, Stuber, The Night Comes For Us) and Yayan Ruhian (The Raid, Star Wars VII, John Wick 3) in particular. And Thai actor Tony Jaa is pretty awesome too.


The Martial Arts Superstar will never die:


Was that the janitor that helped with the toe :thinking:


“Mmmm…Could Be!”

edited for extra phoo


But the difference is that’s all acting and special effects and choreography. Keanu doesn’t have any of those skills himself. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan were real expert martial artists and that added something to their performances.

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This is not true.

Reeves is a black belt judoka and is trained out on all the weapons he uses in at least the John Wick movies. He’s also working his way up the belts in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu.


Okay, he’s not completely a novice. But pretty much anyone can get a black belt these days. I have several friends who have. That doesn’t mean they are anywhere near the skill of a real expert.

I was going to say the same thing. It has become the conventional wisdom that all minions of the “Bad Guy” are automatically highly skilled in martial arts. This makes for more exciting and longer lasting fight scenes, but when everyone is an expert no one stands out anymore. This is one of the reasons the Daredevil TV show didn’t quite work for me. When the comic started he was trained in esoteric martial arts, but was fighting common thugs. Now that everyone knows how to fight he is less special.

IIRC in the first season it was thugs, and there was weight and exhaustion that came with the fights.

But the later seasons had The Hand, which amped up the martial arts (TBF - The Hand is from the comics.)

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This is very true, but is the difference sufficiently obvious to those without any martial arts training that they notice and care about it in movies? I would guess no, for most people.

Regression toward the mean - Wikipedia

O yes the past where everything was better and you really had to know a skill to get you black belt not, like these kids now where they just hand them out like candy…


Part of the confusion in the term is that “black belt” means very different things in different martial arts. And the common parlance mistakes it for some sort of terminal rank.

In some martial arts your first black belt (or Shodan which means first Dan rank) takes about a year, whereas in others it can take closer to 10. It varies with the number of kyū (ranks before Dan ranks) ranks in the art.

In very general terms black belt indicates you are a dedicated student and higher dan rankings (2 to usually 8 or 9 depending on the organization) start to indicate increased expertice/skill, teaching levels, and organization involvement. Due to the huge variability between arts (and styles within an art) a specific rank is only really relevent within an art. However you can assume that higher Dan rankings indicate a deeper dedication to an art and teaching it.

So “black belt” doesn’t mean you’re done learning. It more indicates you have started towards a serious commitment in a specific style.

Also FYI the Dan ranking system shows up in non martial arts pursuits (Tea, Go etc.), and some martial arts don’t use the Dan system at all.


I think that it’s a good thing that movies and TV shows these days are emphasizing more realistic fighting.

I don’t mean that to denigrate martial arts; I just mean that martial arts are primarily sporting disciplines in which mastery means perfecting techniques that are far removed from what goes on in an actual fight between two people who genuinely want to hurt each other.

I want to see more fights like this: