To Jump Or Not To Jump

by Kung Fu Bob O'Brien on September 10, 2009 · 10 comments in Buddhist Blog

Greetings from the Temple of the Dragon Monkey!

Fellow fans, life is full of many unanswered questions. And we all find ourselves constantly searching for truth, logic, and the reasons behind the many complex turns that our lives take. So I would like to ponder, along with you, one of these timeless mysteries, and see if we can get to the bottom of it once and for all.

It’s a peculiar plot convention that’s pretty common in kung fu films. Either the hero, or the villain, is having a fierce battle in a courtyard. Suddenly it becomes apparent that they are fighting a losing battle. They realize it’s time to throw in the towel, and that they must improve their skills to win this battle another day. They bolt from the fracas, and make a superhuman leap up onto either the roof or the courtyard wall. Sometimes they give a quick look back before making their escape. Occasionally they will make one last defiant statement to their opponents- “You’ve not seen the last of me. I will avenge my teacher!” or something similar. Then they leap out of view, down the other side of the wall or roof… and apparently, to their complete and utter safety! Inevitably, the protagonist’s enemies grimace, or clench their fist in defeat as they watch the quarry make good with his escape. Um… huh? Wait just a minute here.

Therein lies the problem. Couldn’t they- not to sound crazy, but… I don’t know, run outside and try to catch the guy? Is that too much to expect from a group of soldiers, a bunch of kung fu experts, a team of constables, vicious bandits, or an army of Mongol raiders? It’s not like the guy was airlifted via helicopter, made the leap into hyper-drive, or entered a transporter module. He’s on the other side of a wall! He’s 15-20 feet away tops! How about some of these guys just run outside to get him?! It’s one guy running from multiple enemies. The odds are fairly decent, that at least one of them can run faster than a guy that was probably wounded, and severely kick his ass. But no. He has left our line of sight, therefore… he has made a clean getaway. And allow me to reiterate- huh?!

We just saw them fighting, using impressive skills, and the guy has to run away because he can’t win. So… then doesn’t it make sense that the people who were winning the fight could easily make that same jump? It seems to this armchair director that it should go down more like this: the guy leaps onto the wall, and as he turns to feed them his departing line, his foes are landing next to him, clobber him, and toss him back into the courtyard with a “Where the Hell did you think you were going?” Right? Are these people just too cool to run? Is that it? To reach their current levels in kung fu they’ve no doubt trained quite hard. They’ve probably carried water jugs with arms outstretched, kicked through flaming hoops, jumped in and out of ever deepening holes, or been forced to eat hundreds of eggs. So they’re trained for endurance, and are obviously not afraid to get a little dirty. But chase a guy after he’s “made the jump”? Nope. They’re not up to that.

Sometimes these guys even have horses, or bow and arrows, but they still don’t even make an effort to stop or catch this jumping man (or woman, of course). Before the dust from his leap has settled they’re already talking about the next step in getting him. “We can set a trap” or “We’ll kidnap so-and-so to use as bait”. Or… you could just run through the entryway your standing next to and tackle the guy! He’s running because he lost a fight. He’s probably limping or even crawling just around the bend! In the name of Buddha- GET HIM!

The strangest part, is that this senseless plot contrivance is not only used in cheap, made-on-the-fly movies. It doesn’t matter how accomplished the director, screenwriter, or action choreographer is, you can still find this bizarre escape appearing in classic films. Even Lau Kar Leung has used this silly scene ender. Despite all of the action leading up to it being only slightly exaggerated, but essentially grounded in reality, suddenly there goes the guy leaping 20 feet into the air to the top of the wall. It even happens in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON after seeing that the character Michelle Yeoh plays can effortlessly leap from rooftop to rooftop, and easily run up walls. Suddenly, when Zhang Zhi Yi makes that jump, Michelle just stands there and looks on helplessly. She wasn’t injured, or momentarily knocked down, or anything. But for some unknown reason she just sort of makes that “Damn, she got away” face, and doesn’t bother to chase her any more.

Once in a blue moon I’ve seen these jumpers get chased in a rational manner. In SHAOLIN MANTIS, after an hour of very grounded choreography, David Chiang’s character makes a 30 foot leap to escape from the family mansion. Um… if he could do that, then why didn’t he just do it when he was first told he wasn’t allowed to leave? Instead he first fights an entire clan of martial artists! But once he jumps, they “Prepare the horses!” Okay, cool. Same thing in GANG MASTER. Our hero makes his jump, and they are soon in hot pursuit. But wait a minute… at another point in the same film, one of these escape jumps is handled in the same old, ridiculous manner. Oh well, he jumped. What are we gonna do now? Looks like he got away…

Well sadly, after writing this piece, I must admit that I didn’t come up with any answers to the questions I posed. But still… it kind of makes you wonder, huh?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

SMK May 27, 2010

Love this look into Kung Fu cinema. Good article.

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Kung Fu Bob September 29, 2009

Or even… “device”. Doh!

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Kung Fu Bob September 29, 2009

Hi Marla. Hmmm, I see what you mean. But I think of this as laziness beginning with the script (when there even was one), and not so much “padding”. Padding for me, usually consists of flasbacks to something we saw 10 minutes ago, montages of silliness set to happy music, travelogue style shots of locations, and Dean Shek. 🙂 But I do agree that the jumping is very amusing, despite it’s inherent flaw as a logical plot devise.

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Marla Mize September 29, 2009

Bob, these are excellent points one and all. But this conundrum goes beyond Kung Fu Cinema, it has been worldwide since cinema was born. There is an answer though. With the birth of cinema, was also born, an element that is used to this day, it comes in many different plot shapes, such as jumping the wall, or an amazing car get away, or dodging bullets through sheer luck, etc., and used so that the opponents may, again, have their final showdown. It is a revered and sacred element of most movies, and it is called “padding the film”, and there are few screenplays that can work their magic without it. Film padding is a time honored tradition, and unfortunately, bound to be with us for years to come. It’s way more fun to watch in a “kung fu” film though. heh heh

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