Cinema has really upped its game with fight scenes recently. There was a time when we had to make do with crudely edited punch-ups, where all we could really see was blurry hands hitting things with the occasional over-dramatized pop of a fist apparently hitting flesh. Actors would drink coffee on the side-lines, while stunt doubles pummelled the hell out of each other. But those times are becoming a thing of the past, as indie films began showing the professionals how it was done. Slowly, the professionals listened, meaning that now in 2017, we get some amazing fight choreography to witness in our mainstream cinema. Warning: there are some spoilers in the content below.
5 – BLADERUNNER 2049 – K VS DECKARD
The fifth place of these lists is usually the most interesting, because it is usually the winner between three or four other films about who had the honour of making the list. 2017 had a lot of good action movies and a lot of good fight scenes. But there was something about the short punch up between the old and the new Bladerunner heroes. For one, it was a battle made of tension, rather than style. There was hardly any break-neck choreography as we could argue all four of the other placeholders boast. But it was such a neatly edited piece. No score, the sound editing comprised of echoing punches and the occasional snippet of a malfunction Elvis hologram in the background. It could be the best moment in an incredible film, remaining in my memory where all the other fight scenes faded away. Perhaps it was simply the notion that we were watching two Bladerunner idols duke it out. A mesmerising notion, even without the harrowingly faultless direction.
4 – JOHN WICK 2 – MIRROR HALL BATTLE
To be honest, John Wick 2 could be injected into this list as a whole movie. Every fight scene has some stroke of genius that can be whispered about excitedly in a film debate. That is, to a degree, the whole point of the John Wick series. A fight movie that isn’t afraid to have real fight scenes. If anything, John Wick 2 is on this list as a nod to the fact that perhaps this was the movie that first introduced Hollywood to the concept of proper fight scenes. There is definitely at least one other film on this list that was directly inspired by the antics of the first John Wick.
But I had to prioritise one fight scene over the rest. And while there are loads of contenders (Reeves and Common a subway train!), the one that had to win was John Wick’s homage to the father of fight films, Enter the Dragon. A mirror hall full of goons that disorientated the viewer, yet John Wick seemed at home in. He fights his way through a variety of thugs, ending up taking on Ruby Rose’s mute assassin (the one time I have been impressed by the controversial actress), in a stunning fight to the “death?” In a movie like John Wick, where every fight is spectacular, the final battle needs to be something above and beyond. Here, with John Wick 2, perhaps more so than the original movie, the film absolutely delivers.
3 – KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE – EGGSY AND HARRY VS WHISKEY
In the first Kingsman movie, there was an exceptional fight scene where Colin Firth brutally butchers a church full of people. It was the most talked about moment of the film and the exact point where the film rocketed from good to golden. It was the one-shot tracking paired with the brutal violence. Vaughn’s fights are super-surreal, the choreography sped up to unnatural lengths, so we don’t really get the realism of John Wick here, but we do get a punchy slice of pop culture mayhem. It suits the comic book style of the content well. In Golden Circle, Vaughn felt compelled to replicate that style of fight scene somewhere, choosing to save it for the end, when our heroes come up against the treacherous, Pedro Pascal.
The downside: it isn’t as good as the first film, hampered by the fact that it is clearly borrowing from that iconic fight scene. But it is definitely a close second place. It is the mayhem of the moment, as the punches are both unpredictable and hectic. You need to watch it again to make sure you appreciate what is going on with the shot. It makes the heroes that much more impressive as they successful take on this tough foe. But the real kicker: Boss Hogg’s brilliant folk take on ‘Word Up’ by Cameo. It makes the moment not just fun, but hard to get out of your head. A great ending to a strong film.
2 – ATOMIC BLONDE – ONE-SHOT STAIRWAY
Atomic Blonde was bound to have a good fight scene in it, because, during opening week, it was the only thing on the critic’s lips. Have you seen that fight scene? How incredible was that fight?! It means that as you tune into Atomic Blonde you are eagerly anticipating that one moment. In honesty, the film itself was a tad underwhelming, but one strong plus is that that fight was worth the hype. The one-shot isn’t too innovative now. Netflix’s Daredevil and John Wick have shown it a few times, making the originality obsolete and there are a few Indie films (Victoria, Bushwick), that have kept it up for an entire movie, so the added length isn’t too impressive. Yes, Atomic Blonde’s prolonged and meticulous cinematography is worthy of applaud, but the real reason the fight places second is the brutality of the battle. Charlize Theron is not spared as a female hero, having the living daylights kicked out of her. Rarely has a female protagonist been so beaten on camera, yet it makes Atomic Blonde pleasantly feminist in its own way.
1 – THE VILLAINESS – OPENING FIGHT
However, perhaps predictably seeing as the country holds the most innovative and memorable fight scenes in cinematic history, it is a Korean film that wins the award of Best Fight of 2017. Few people have watched The Villainess, but it deserves equal praise to that of the classics, such as Oldboy or Snowpiercer. The thing with Korean cinema is that they are unhappy with simply making a good fight scene. It has got to be original, innovative and new in some way. Therefore, director Jung Byung-gil tears up the rule book and not only creates the most shocking fight scene in quite some time, but starts his movie with it.
To call it a one-shot fight, or a POV punch-up, doesn’t do it justice. No, the camera does not cut and yes, there is a lot of POV angles, but that isn’t the extent of the masterpiece. The truth is that it extends in most areas. The fighting is relentless, as bad guy after bad guy rush after the heroine, each meeting a grizzly end. Then there are the jerky camera movements as every angle reacts to a certain punch. The end result of the directional style is this sensation that we are being tossed around a room along with the fighters. But then there is the fact the fight switches from first person to third person without cutting, so the fight stops being a simple case of a snazzy trick. Whenever we begin to think that the director is doing one thing, he does another. I cannot even fathom how it was filmed, but I am compelled to find out. Hypnotic, brutal, fantastic… just when Hollywood caught up with independent action films, they changed the rule book and put mainstream way behind once again.