Day 4 – Saturday May 19
Today was much more relaxed. I slept in until 7:10am for a change and spent the first two hours writing. Rebecca and I ate some of the fine, bagged 2€ madelines from the supermarket and set off to catch all the booths we may have missed.

What we found was that Asian countries are all represented at booths and they’re looking for more action content than any other region other than America. Europe just doesn’t seem to care, and Latin America and Africa are basically the same as Europe in terms of their film funds and what genres they direct funding to (dramas, documentaries, and more dramas). Canada is also Europe, so that leaves Asia.

Big-time South Korean studio Showbox showed off some of their new trailers, and A Company Man looks to be one of the best Korean action films to date. Trailers are deceptive, and it could easily turn out for the worse, but it was a talking point for us to go talk to a Showbox representative about doing a coproduction in South Korea. We showed off our knife fight from Death Grip, got some emails, and went over to CJ Entertainment, the other big-time Korean studio, and asked the same thing. Got some emails, and moved on.

Thailand, same deal. Got emails, moved on. Indonesia, same thing. They’re all releasing mainstream action films that are festival-friendly. Good action, good (err… sometimes good anyway) scripts, so we made the case that these are ideal relationships with a movement like ours, which unites solid action choreography with good screenplays. We didn’t bother talking to China. They have too much money and there’s no reason to deal with us. Plus their stringent guidelines on how Chinese characters are to be portrayed isn’t something we feel like dealing with right now.

All in all, if action filmmakers want to coproduce with a foreign country, Asia’s where it’s at, not Europe. We couldn’t have known this without coming here.

Shot some footage, played with our host’s cat, found 50€ in the gutter, and treated ourselves to a killer dinner of veal and duck with some wine that I couldn’t pronounce (Rebecca could pronounce it and she took every chance she could to rub it in my face. The pronunciation, not the wine). Saturday night on the Croissete was busier than I had seen thus far. It was basically Long Beach. Same decor, same style as back home. And same music. Globalism has taken this place, whether you like that kind of thing or not, yet American action films are strangely faux pas here, even of the independent sort. But then again, action films, indie or not, have a way of kneading themselves into themes of good and evil that don’t fit a global world of greying morality. Action requires that people fight to the death, and shades of grey appear less often than among the suits of celebrities walking the riviera. That’s not the world here, even though the music and costumes would make you think otherwise. Whether the Euro Zone crisis changes this phenomenon is yet to be seen.

Here’s a little video of the halls of Cannes.

That’s our last day at Cannes. Tomorrow it’s Italy, and I will become fat.

Tired of stunts done with computer graphics? Wires that gently float actors down after a dangerous 4-foot jump? Still imagining the pads off camera? Here is some much-needed medicine for your ailment.

Let’s start early on, just at the peak of the Hong Kong “old school” kung fu film. “Shapes”, or succinct, posing movements that didn’t necessarily have formal application but rather held symbolic meaning, dominated the fight scene. Phillip Ko was one of the champions of shapes, with a lot of vertical movement, extensive footwork, and complex handwork that only an octopus can mimic. He made otherwise lackluster stars look good while at the same time schooling them righteously. Here’s The Loot from 1980. Check out all of his films from 1978-1981.

When the modern Hong Kong film squashed the old “Shapes” franchise, there was a wave of kickboxing that dominated the market. One man who didn’t quite make the squeeze was superkicker and Drunken Master villain Hwang Jang Lee. His last major outing in Hong Kong was a starring role opposite veteran Wang Yu in Innocent Interloper (1986), choreographed by Shaw Bros. veteran and kickboxer Wang Lung Wei. Hwang does all his signature kicks, all with a cool shirt and a jheri curl. And check out Wang Yu. What’s going on? I don’t remember him being able to punch let alone kickbox. I have no idea what amount of cocaine or steroids the guy took to fight like this, I almost don’t believe it’s him, like it’s a different Wang Yu. In any case, he holds his own.

Meanwhile in Thailand, a film made by Tony Jaa’s mentor Panna Rittikrai (or “Litkrai” if you want to search his name) called Sing Wing Lui (1987) appeared on the radar and promptly vanished until 2006 when Tony Jaa made a big splash. Panna does “real-contact hits”, where instead of lining up the shot and faking it you just smack the stuntman with your kick. While he didn’t invent the method, he took it to its logical ends. The result is nothing short of pornography for action lovers. Panna did a lot of these films for ultra-low budget in his back yard and in the woods, much like your standard indie action filmmaker, and before 1992 they are for the most part spectacular. I also recommend Plook Mun Kuen Ma Kah 1 and Gerd Ma Lui (aka “Born to Fight“, remade in 2005 with Dan Chupong under the same title).

Where’s Japan in all this? One of the younger players in the Sonny Chiba-founded Japan Action Club was Junya Takagi, who put together a pet project called Bad History (1985). Three things come to mind when watching this clip: 1) single, long takes, a HK film lover’s dream, are everywhere, 2) this film is nowhere to be found. If anyone has a link to a VHS or anything, please let me know, and 3) there’s an absurd shortage of modern martial arts films in 1980s Japan, which extended into the 1990s, with only Henry Sanada filling the void on rare occasion (also a JAC heavy). The description of the video says Junya was “The last big gun of the action world in Japan,” which has a ring of truth to it. The Japanese market never had much of the modern martial art film, which is a crying shame because we could have had a LOT more of these. The clips are rough around the edges, but you can’t help but love this kind of editing that hides nothing.

Back to Hong Kong to round out the modern era. In the vein of Jackie Chan’s Police Story, and with many of the same stuntmen and similar in style, here’s stuntman Ben Lam’s breakout film Angry Ranger (1991), another one by Wang Lung Wei. You’ll also see Venom’s superkicker Sun Chien in the villain’s seat as his last big outing.

Lastly, Night Life Hero (1992) is similar in vein, but with a different stunt crew. Chin Kar Lok, the stuntman who doubled everyone including Jackie Chan, heads this pic. Ridley Tsui, Sam Wong, and other awesome new-wave-era stuntmen get tons of screen time. Night Life Hero is essentially a bunch of stunt guys getting together to make a goofy action film, so enjoy the non-obtrusive camerawork situated on a tripod 15 feet away, making every move clear as day. The film has tons of action aside from this clip, so search it out on YouTube.

Things slumped worldwide through the late 90s and early 2000s, and they picked up recently with some entertaining flicks, but the rawness of these videos can’t be glazed over. There is no CG, no faking anything. It’s straight out of the pipe into your head, and it’s the stuff I like to go to when I’m feeling down and need a quick fix. Here’s to a resurgence of the good stuff. Action Kickback all the way.

If you’ve watched Tony Jaa, you understand the term “real contact.” Though Sammo Hung had been doing it in the early 80s, Thailand was hardly slow to the plate. Panna Rittikrai, the choreographer behind Ong Bak, directed/produced/actionized (just pretend it’s a word, you know what I mean) 15 or so ultra low-budget martial art films in Thailand between 1986 and 1995, and some of them are amazing, with fighting and stunts comparable to Hong Kong actioners during the same period. I’ve posted vids for some of the best ones below, and all of them can be purchased from ethaicd.com.

Sing Wing Lui – Not much here except for the end fight, but it’s arguably one of the craziest sets of real contact I’ve ever seen.

Gerd Ma Lui (Born to Fight) – Gold standard in Thai stunt films. GML was remade with the same name in 2004 with the equally talented Dan Chupong, but the action setpieces were more disjointed. It felt like the same translation from the original Gone In Sixty Seconds to the remake.

Gerd Ma Lui 3 – Another mashup of fighters, including a crazy gymnast. This is the most “HK” of them all, with a lot of hand and legwork.

Plook Mun Kuen Ma Kah 1 – With fantastic sword fighting and a slew of multi-talented stunt guys doing literally everything, like a fat TKD guy, a superkicker, and a girl who takes kicks the the head, this is arguably as good as it gets.

There are more too. I’d research him on YouTube before buying, because there are some stinkers. I’m trying to figure out why exactly Panna slowed down so quickly after Gerd Ma Lui 3 in 1990, after which his films looked cheaper, the action got slower, and Panna started relying more on editing and camerawork when the action fell short. In any case, Panna’s work from the 80s shouldn’t be forgotten. He took the strength of Thai martial arts – Muay Thai, and the ability to get hit hard – and being inspired by Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung translated the martial arts into an action form that had a flavor of its own. Hopefully these will get a proper remastering one day because they’d make amazing midnight cinema showings.