Dojo Tribute: Action Directors
Action directors aka fight choreographers aka fight directors have been an indispensable part of the martial arts film genre. These men play an important role in the action movie industry worldwide, but especially in the martial arts genre of film. Action directors have been a staple of Hong Kong based martial arts films since the silent era of Chinese films (1920’s) and still are in demand in modern Hong Kong Action Cinema.
The role of the action director is to plan stunts, choreograph hand to hand or weapon to weapon fight scenes. In some cases, they are responsible for filming the action sequences of movies while directors did other things (even sleep)! During the golden era of traditional costume based kung fu films, action directors modified or created kung fu styles to fit the script or to enliven the genre. This is seen in the classic Five Venom; action directors Robert Tai and Liang Ting created the five Poison Clan styles used in the movie.
Director and Hung Gar Grandmaster Liu Chia Liang insisted on real kung fu principles in his training and fight sequences in the movies he directed. While Grandmaster Liu modified some of the real Hung Gar movements for the movie screen his emphasis on strong stance work, waist strength, and arm skill earned (earns) him accolades from his martial arts peers as well as the kung fu film fan. When one views a Grandmaster Liu choreographed fight scene you can see the precision, form, and execution of kung fu technique. Stars such as Gordon Liu, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Chen Kuan Tai, and Alexander Fu Sheng looked awesome in Liu Chia Liang choreographed fight scenes ( and movies).
Action director extraordinaire Sammo Hung is another example of a fight scene genius! Sammo revolutionized choreography and took Hong Kong movies to an apex of hand to hand fury during the 1970’s and the 1980’s. As a student of Peking Opera stage Kung Fu, Hapkido, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Judo Sammo was and is one of the most diverse action directors of all time. Hung’s choreography has ranged from acrobatic to simply brutal! Mega star Jackie Chan looks invincibly awesome in Sammo Hung crafted fight scenes! In traditional kung fu movies such as The Shaolin Plot and Hand of Death, Sammo shows his vast creativity as ever major character has a distinct fighting style and the final duels in both movies are tour-de-frances of hands, feet, and weapons duels. And remember, Sammo loves to showcase the actors who can kick (Casanova Wong, Tan Tao Liang, Kwan Yung Moon)!
Tommy Lee is another creative action director who is responsible for the kung fu in such classic as The Hot, The Cool, and The Vicious, Fatal Needles vs Fatal Fists, Challenge of Death and many other genre classics. Tommy crafts interesting styles such as the Spider Fist from Challenge of Death, Chen Chieh’s Iron Fist style from Fatal Needles as well as showcasing the great kicking skill of Tan Tao Liang. Tommy is also responsible for helping Wang Tao improve kung fu-like hand techniques that became Wang’s trademark in kung fu films.
Kung fu movies would be very boring without the kung fu! Action directors make sure we are treated to a plethora of creatively choreographed empty hand and weapons duels. They make some of our favorite stars look deadly, smooth, crazy, and sometimes drunk! As fans of the martial arts film genre we need to give a big salute to action directors and their disciples. Without them there would be no fu in our kung fu movies! The Film Fan Dojo wishes to thank ALL action directors who tirelessly choreograph, plan, and film the fight scenes in our favorite kung fu movies!!!!!
PS This is by no means an exhaustive list of all action directors who have worked and continue to work in the martial arts film genre. Please visit The Hong Kong Movie Database and discover some of the talented people who are responsible for our love of this amazing genre of film.