John Salvitti, the Bostonian who’s been by Donnie Yen’s side since the late 80s, has just released a reel from his new Yen effort Special ID. The trailers gave us a hint as to what kind of action to expect, but this new reel is something else entirely. Salvitti (bald head or in hat) is mixing MMA and filmmaking in ways we’ve never seen – counters are dirtier, the grappling flows, and of course all the kicks connect. Salvitti is pushing hard this time to deliver the most badass action since, well… since Flashpoint, so we can officially credit the man with being on top of the game. Expect tons of homages and tributes to this style once Special ID is released.
I’m making action filmmaking tutorials now for indie action filmmakers, martial artists, and stuntmen and stuntwomen, a series I’m calling “Indie Action Essentials”. The first skill I’m tackling is the Hong Kong spin, or the “HK”. The video includes all the steps plus what padding I recommend when doing the stunt on hard surfaces.
If you have any requests for tutorials you’d like, comment below or at the video’s YouTube page. I’m always listening!
After we spent a week at 87eleven, Alvin Hsing and I came away with this video to show what came of our efforts – a pre-viz (choroegraphed and shot rough version) for the final knife fight in A Good Day to Die Hard (that’s Die Hard #5). The scene called for McClane to face off against the film’s villain Alik on a rooftop, with Alik wielding a knife and using some combination of Krav Maga and some basic Silat. McClane is, of course, limited to his wits and left-handed haymakers, which was a lot of fun. Lock an artist in a room and he’ll build a city.
I play John McClane fighting the Alik character, played by Alvin. It’s an American-style fight with some Hong Kong flare, but done in a way to 1. take advantage of the fact that Willis is left-handed and 2. not overload the producers with “shoe leather”, or excessive martial artsy stuff. You know, that straight, industrial-grade action that we all drink by the gallon, the side effect being that we now require it on a daily basis.
But perhaps it was still too much, as the fight never made it into the film. I can’t say whether it was filmed and subsequently edited out, but judging by the structure of the finale of A Good Day it’s apparent that they never shot it at all.
So maybe we will.
All in all it was a huge joy primarily to work with JJ Perry in crafting the scene, with Chad Stahelski nearby. They would tell us when we were taking it too far in certain directions, since these guys know producers from an action standpoint like nobody else. We had some fun ideas that were just too Hong Kong-y, like a flying headbutt that was tied off so my body would stop mid-air when the contact line was hit, as well as a LOT more shoe leather. I love that stuff. Also working with Jeremy Marinas, who aside from being of the world’s best trickers is also a hell of a photographer, was straightforward and fun since we both knew the best angles for action, which tended to be the same. The Natural Law of Action shines through.
Having just been released in China yesterday (January 8th), The Grandmaster, which is based on wing chun master Yip Man – portrayed by Donnie Yen in the Ip Man movies and with a third installment ready to be shot in March this year – and starring top-class actor Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Bullet in the Head, Hard Boiled, Infernal Affairs), is set to impress and attract audiences (especially martial arts movie fans) around the world. Read reviews below.
Shooting of The Iceman Cometh 3D has already started and been ongoing since December 17. Helmed by long-time Johnnie To/Milkyway Image associate Law Wing Cheong (Punished) and written as well as produced by original Iceman Cometh writer/producer Stephen Shiu, this remake puts Donnie in Yuen Biao’s role and is led by a cast consisting of principal cast members Wang Baoqiang (Assembly, The Fire of Conscience) in Yuen Wah’s villainous role, Simon Yam (Bullet in the Head, Full Contact, Election, Exiled), Eva Huang (Kung Fu Hustle), Mark Wu, Ava Yu, Shi Yongli, and Jacquelin Chong.
Donnie who also is the film’s action director describes the forthcoming action scenes as explosive and breath-taking, including a James Bond-like scene involving skiing while taking on the enemy and fighting the Hong Kong Special Duties Unit on top of the Hong Kong Police headquarters. On top of that, Donnie also praises co-star Wang Baoqiang highly - who by the way is a legit martial artist and has had 6 years of intensive training in shaolin kung fu at the shaolin temple – joking that Wang’s martial arts skills are superior to all of his action choreographers’.
In The Running Man the future is depicted as an authoritarian police state with a broken economy. When our man Richards (Schwarzenegger) faces airport security and has no travel pass, he rummages through his bag until a line of anxious tourists forms behind him. “We got a plane to catch!” one yells, so the guard lets him go! Watching it today, we’re shocked at how stupid this is.
But airport security was like this in 1987, back when you boarded the plane on a staircase outside the airport, so we all believed the scene. Today, Richards would have been arrested after a DNA analysis of his dandruff, unless facial recognition software caught him first.
This depiction of the Orwellian Police State in The Running Man recalls the 80s when trust levels were so high that you could jump onto an airplane just by threatening to slow down business. They projected this sentiment into the dystopian future, which was complete with game shows, money spewing from every crack, and what in general seems like a lot of vibrant, happy people, a stark contrast to the 2010s’ Hunger Games or Looper.
The Terminator searched for Sarah Connor’s address in a phonebook. Somehow he didn’t have a photo of her nor knew what she looked like. A mistake like this would not pass today, but did this bother anyone in 1984? I don’t think it did. Photos weren’t very important then – we took a few of them, they wore out, and we threw them away. We felt fine relying on personal memory or stories to recall information, so we comfortable forgetting things and letting them die. As I was watching The Terminator tonight, I remembered thinking this way too, and how long it’s been since I thought that way.
Technological innovation has allowed us to resist human forgetfulness and death. We take millions of photos, keep our files forever, and we seem convinced that immortality is not only possible, but that it’s a moral imperative. Cameron imagined a future where even robots let memories die, which is a window into seeing how people thought in 1984. Show this film to your children and grandchildren.
I have a theory that art films are starting to masquerade as action films because in a globalized economy, producers can’t pick any contemporary villains, so characters’ conflicts end up being directed internally. Hence, we get a slew of boring action movies, which hire the best talent to pepper the film with 5-10 minutes of amazing action scenes, “delivering on the promise”, but still manage to leave audiences starving for more ass-kicking. Haywire, Drive, Killing Them Softly, and Looper are recent examples.
But demand for good action keeps increasing in the West, especially under hard economic times, and it’s not being delivered in spades here the way the market demands it. That makes my job incredibly easy. Seriously, Hollywood and Europe, keep it up.
So far, there hasn’t been any updates on Donnie’s anticipated action film Special Identity which should complete its’ post-production stage at some point soon. Meanwhile, I’ve found a couple of interesting news on what’s to come from Donnie…
In a tweet by MMA champion Cung Le made on September 14, he revealed that he met up with Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen – while touring Asia and stopping by in Hong Kong – and discussed opportunities of working together again in the near future, possibly next year. Both guys first collaborated on Teddy Chen/Peter Chan’s epic political action thriller Bodyguards & Assassins about a group of fighters assembled to protect revolutionist Sun Yat-Sen against the Qing Dynasty and its’ army of assassins in the early 20th century. Yen played one of the protectors and got to square off against Le’s ruthless Qing assassin in one major fight scene which is considered to be one of the highlights of the film, although it was somewhat unsatisfying for some people in terms of editing and overall style as well as design of the fight choreography. I think this could be the time for both to work together again as Donnie has publicly stated that he’s moving on to doing contemporary action films after making a streak of period action films in the last five years.
Word from Hong Kong Cinema expert Bey Logan is that Donnie might star in a Hong Kong remake of Tony Scott’s 1991 action film The Last Boy Scout starring Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans, with Bey himself playing Willis’ role. I’m not sure about the overall idea but at least it’s a sign of films Donnie promises to make from here on.