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Favorite Fight Scenes
Entered on: April 10, 2005 1:30 PM by Ross
As I am wont to do, I was thinking of some of my favorite movie fight scenes today. I normally maintain that the Jedi fight at the end of Phantom Menace is my favorite movie fight (I will defend it later if challenged) and I don't think I'm going to relinquish that position today, but I'm going to talk about one of my other favorite scenes. It's the apartment fight from the Bourne Identity. [30MB, XviD required]

I think is probably my second-favorite movie fight scene. The reasons are somewhat different than they are for the Star Wars fight. One key point to note up front is that I do not think there is one "best" criteria for what makes a great fight scene: some would vote realism, some would vote great technique or flashy moves. Well, really, I guess those are the main camps. But all of those can be broken down a lot further: what types of moves do you find visually appealing, and what is realistic? Something like Ong Bak could be said to have the most realistic fighting ever, as the fighters actually hit each other in those scenes. But that's not what I consider to be most important (not that I wasn't impressed).

For me, the Bourne Identity fight works so well because of its particular brand of realism: this is a knock-down, drag-out fight between two highly capable opponents. This isn't a one-man-against-a-small-army fight, though those can be fun too. This fight lasts a long time compared to real fights, and I can only assume that the vast majority of real fighters could never come close to lasting this long if the blows being landed were real. But this movie sells it so incredibly well because I completely buy the characters.

The guy who busts in on Bourne (I'll call him Crazy Guy) is nuts. He gets his ass whupped ten ways from Sunday and keeps that insane look in his eye. If a human could take that kind of punishment and still keep his eyes on the prize, I believe someone like him could. In so many other movies, when we get to the Big Fight that lasts this long or often longer, people take inhuman amounts of punishment and keep going while cracking wise all the while. I have no use for that, and neither does this movie.

I think what works on a comparable level to the Darth Maul fight is that the Bad Guy is not only nuts, he has very little in the way of motive. Many people regard this as a liability to a fight's dramatic punch, but I think it's an asset in these cases at least. Mainly because in a narrative sense, these are not climactic battles (Episode I's was the climax of the movie but the narrative spans three movies). Instead, these fights serve to show off the abilities of the combatants yet still scare us due to the lethality of the Bad Guy. You know the Good Guys have to win this one because if they don't, they're dead. There will be no Bondesque explanation of the hows and whys of the sinister plot while our hero finds a way to escape, only annihiliation. The axe murderer with no motive is much scarier to me.

Next, there is a sense of urgency here. Bourne looks very concerned about the outcome of this fight, but he also carries the air of supreme competence. Say what you will about Matt Damon's ginormous head, he pulls off an acting job in this fight that I argue is second to none. The ability to execute those obviously freshly-learned punches and blocks along with the subtlety of expression is, for me, cause for amazement.

Finally, the issue of shot composition and editing. This is where this scene is actually inferior to the Darth Maul fight in many respects, but it still works well enough for me to recommend it. The camera jitters a bit to give the viewer the sense that the's there and not a completely passive observer of the action. This technique didn't originate here and although I don't care for it, it has been done worse in just about every other movie that has employed it (including the sequel). One cool use is when Bourne kicks Crazy Guy over the desk and you see a brief instance of Bourne upside-down. It's neat but if you think about it, it is transplanting us from a third person observer to CG's perspective for a moment. Iy doesn't ruin anything simply because it's so brief.

My own personal taste would lead me to want to create fights that pull the camera back and show the entire bodies of the combatants. No fancy camera moves, no circling around opponents. Strictly fly-on-the-wall stuff for me. That's the most important feature of realism - what would you see if you were there?

So anyway, I'd been wanting to get this out of my system for a while now. I encourage you to endure the download and check the fight out (or bust out the DVD if you have it).

Anyone care to contribute their favs or take issue with my findings?

NEWS 273 - 6 Comments
From: The Bone Entered on: April 10, 2005 1:25 PM
It's funny, while you were working on this, I read your place hanger and the fight scene with Darth Maul imediately came to mind as well as the Bourne fight scene.  
I fully agree that although Phantom Menace was kinda crappy, the fight scene with Darth Maul and Obi/Qui-Gon fucking rocked. I loved how you had three different characters with different styles and levels of "ring generalship". Darth Maul was the superior fighter but he was taking on two formidable Jedis. He was confident he could win but he had to take his time, not make any mistakes, and work for the win. His burning intensity really showed up on screen. Qui-Gon, the veteran, was very calm and focused. He knew he was up against a tough opponant and he had to minimize wasteful movents and energy. Obi-Won on the other hand had the recklessness of youth on display. As a contrast to Qui-Gon, when the energy shield seperated him and Maul, he was bouncing up and down, warming up like a boxer. In fact that scene pretty much sums up each character; Maul pacing back and forth with intensity, Qui-Gon meditating, and Obi-Won eager to get back in.  
Honorable mention; The swiftness and ferocity of Darth Maul's attack on Qui-Gon back on Tattooine.  
I would also throw a shout out to Yoda vs Dooku in Attack of the Clones. Man that little fucker could move.  
As for the Bourne Identity, that scene was fucking great. The camera work added as sense of frenetic realism although, I have no idea how Crazy Guy got back up with a broken leg and jumped out of the window. Also, when Bourne had him in an armbar, he punches Bourne in the balls pretty fucking hard. Doesn't even phase Bourne. Strange. Overall though, great scene. I even liked the fight scenes from Bourne Supremacy even thought the camera work was even more chaotic. The fight with his old coworker in the house was sweet.
From: Swerb Entered on: April 11, 2005 12:19 AM
While I'm waiting for the Bourne clip to download (I don't remember the fight scene very well), I'll chip in a couple other terrific fight scenes - and yes, the Darth Maul fight is probably my favorite as well. But, coming in near the top (in no preferential order, and off the top of my head) are:  
*Both fights between Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The first one, at night in the courtyard, is amazing, enhanced by that trival, percussive soundtrack. Gives me fucking chills. The second one, with Yeoh's handling multiple weapons, is just as good, if not better. You can't talk about the best-ever fight scenes without bringing up this movie.  
*Uma Thurman vs. the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill V.1. For sheer entertainment value, it doesn't get any better than this. Also, her fight with Pai Mei is sweet in V.2, as well as the scene in the trailer vs. Daryl Hannah. Are any of these instances of the actor being immensely talented in martial arts, and flaunting those abilities? No, it's more directorial skill, but they're so kinetic (and occasionally shocking) and ludicrously violent, you can't help but love them.  
*When Anakin gets two lightsabers and starts attacking Dooku, it's pants-shittingly awesome. Part of it is the thrill that, Holy shit, we've never seen someone handle two sabers at once! Too bad Lucas is such a pud, he made the scene last about 3 seconds. Good, but not nearly satisfying enough.  
Actually, I just tried to watch the Bourne clip, and I get audio but no video with Windows media player. Bert, do I need a plug-in or update for it?
From: Ross Entered on: April 11, 2005 7:21 AM for the codec, Swerb  
Night-Fight in CTHD, I agree, is in my top ten for sure, probably top five. What really does it for me is, like you said, the soundtrack. It's perhaps the finest example of timing a fight to music (or vice-versa) I've seen on film. Prior to seeing this fight, I had always lamented never seeing anyone attempt it.  
To me, the weapon fight is great as well but I'm not as big a fan of weapon fighting as I am hand-to-hand. That's my only reason for putting it below the first one. (yes, the Star Wars fight runs counter to this, I know)  
I thought about mentioning Thurman vs Hannah in KB2, and it may rank but I guess it hasn't withstood the test of time. THe Crazy 88s fight does not make the cut, however. It's too far off in realism for my own taste. I don't buy Uma as the badass fighter. Actually there is one brief moment (sometime I'll cut it and post it on the site) where I buy her because she moves so fast and sweetly but it's almost assuredly a stunt double since you can't see her face. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the fights but there is no mistaking technical excellence by the actors and she just doesn't have it.  
I also agree that Anakin with two sabers is great but far, far too short to be considered. Actually Dooku's stunt double was one badass mofo if you watch him fighting Yoda. He's easily the best of the bunch.
From: Ross Entered on: April 22, 2005 6:30 PM
Speaking of fights in movies (okay, not lately), this column on CHUD (that site Bone and I were reading a lot about the Matrix movies) has a great article on why Road House is the greatest Western ever made. Clearly that's impossible, but it's an entertaining read:  
I remember how Roche and I used to love Road House. Very nostalgaic.
From: Ross Entered on: May 18, 2005 10:35 AM
I know this topic has been dead for a while, but last weekend I had some free time and rewatched some movies (including Star Wars and Clone Wars, so I'm up to speed for Ep 3). But I also watched Matrix Reloaded. And I've got to tell you, the first fight scene where Neo takes on 3 agents is so fucking sweet, it's lost no power since the first time I saw it. I am still simply amazed at Keanu Reeves' fighting abilities. Say what you will about his acting, but I've never seen an actor come CLOSE to this kind of technical achievement in a film. It's the best executed comic book fight I've ever seen.
From: Ross Entered on: September 25, 2005 9:50 AM
I just came across this site, with the 50 top movie fight scenes of all time (in his opinion, of course). It's quite entertaining:
At #28, he lists Spidey vs. Doc Ock. This passage literally gave me chills because I agree with him 100%:  
"The second Spider-Man movie came around and I got "the train sequence." I call it that because it transcends movies for me. I can hardly think of it as a part of THAT movie, even though it's easily the best part. Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus are fighting on a moving train. They fight clung to the side and go in and out of windows. They tear apart the buildings they pass and the train itself. And then there's this one moment of absolute Brandon bliss where Spidey is knocked from the train. He struggles to catch up but as he does, Doc Ock throws passengers (and I guess Mama) from the train. Spider-Man swings to catch them, throws them, and then catches them again in webbing in the sidewalk lamp posts. I've been waiting for that forever. No, forever. My heart stopped beating in my chest because it had gotten me where I needed to go. I couldn't breathe. I watched a director, actor, and crew who knew exactly what Spider-Man was about and wanted to give that to me."  
This is also priceless:  
"If anybody tells you that someone can beat Bruce Lee in a fight, tell them they are wrong. They are. Van Damme can't beat Bruce Lee. Neither could Jet Li, Tony Jaa, or Hulk Hogan. "But Superman could beat Bruce Lee!" No, he couldn't. Superman would fly at Bruce, Bruce would go WATAAAAAAAAAAAA, and Superman would fall down. The only two people who can beat Bruce Lee in a fight are Batman and Captain America, and that is indisputable realism and comic fact."

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