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Choreography is hard!

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Guest Choreography is hard!

I guess anyone who choreographs fights and then watches a good HK fight, turns around and holds his/her head between his/her knees and pouts wondering "HOW THEY HELL DID THEY THINK OF THAT?!" knows that choreographing a fight scene is especially difficult and sometimes, utterly depressing.

In every way, it's the same as writing a book. You sit there on the spot (or planning, but on the spot is how it's been done many a time because juices flow like mad there) and think, and think. You get nothing and put the typewriter away. Then you go to sleep and wake up the next morning and while eating cereal, or scraping mud off your shoes, or swatting at a bug, a wonderful idea comes to you. You run inside and type it up, make 4 or 5 pages from it and consider it a success... if you can remember all of it.

Choreographing a fight works the same way, and it's even worse if you're in the fight. To make something truly innovative and catchy, you can't just ask yourself, "If I were in a real fight, what would I do here?" That's like editing a movie and just lining all the shots up in order and sending it to the lab. Other things factor in. You have to consider emotion, waist movement, which way your toe points, and where your eyes are looking. With so many factors involved, I always find the best way to choreograph is get away from everyone, bury my head into the ground and stop thinking. Usually something comes to me that way, and it's either impossible or outrageously cool (and we still can't do it because we're not good enough yet, which is why it's nice to have the choreographer who ISN'T fighting). So usually we end up taking the "...real fight..." approach, which is boring.

One group I have immense respect for is the Yuen troupe. Anybody ever even CONSIDER choreographing 9 rings flying around, and then adding in a piece of fabric that winds around the rings and pops them apart with someone in the background making a miniature model of the whole scenario? Maybe it's me but I think these guys used some stimulation similar to what the Beatles did with Rubber Soul. If not, then they're not human. Practically everyone is enthralled from seeing Shaolin Drunkard and Dreadnaught, but of course someone will say, "Well, that's not usable in a real fight." I can't say how many times someone's creative choreography genius has been destroyed by those words.

Well that's all!



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Guest Fight Choreography


Here's my humble take on this aspect of the filmmaking process (and you raise some very interesting ponits):

First, if we do a cursory examination of the "evolution" of Hong Kong Kung Fu Choreoghraphy, what becomes most noticeable is the fact that it has developed from using the extremely exagerated choreography present in Chinese Opera (as necessary to convey concepts on stage) to schools of action for cinema purposes.

Therein lies the problem which occurs one the average "Joe" attempts his hand at it. Most martial artists, and non-martial artists, attempt the process without having first assessed proper camera angles (blocking shots), film speeds and the martial techniques best suited for the two. No attempt has been made to structure a fight choreoghraphy that best captures a given art's strengths relative to the filmmaking process. For Westerners, instead of utilizing Kung Fu, they would be better served by approaching Western martial arts societies such as AMMOROSS, the American branch of a Russian martial tradition which, just, also happens to specialize in Russian-Cossack martial arts choreography (armed and unarmed traditional Cossack-Russian martial discipines) for film and stage peformances (they done the latter for such plays as "The Fiddler On The Roof" as well as for numerous Russian based period films). Their art features kicks, hand strikes, grappling, beautiful weapons work (twirling weapons, etc.) and acrobatics rivaling their Asian counterpart!

That's the trick-check it out!



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Guest RE: Choreography is hard!

Hey cool, it's Eric Jacobus! :)

I don't know if I agree or not with you, Eric, I think it's different from day to day. Some days choreography comes so easy that it's almost scary, and some days you never comes up with it!

I am a very tragic person, I am obsessed with choreographing fights. I do it all the time! When I am bored I tend to start making up fightscenes in my head, but most of the time, well almost in every case, it never makes it in to any of my films. Am I the only one with this weird addiction?

Oh, and BTW, Eric, I've seen all of your movies and I think that the Stunt People makes the best indie-action movies!

I have done my own Kung Fu movies for about 1½ year now, though none are available on the net. That will change though, since Night of the Fighting Dead, mine and Hung Fist's current project will be available as soon as it is finished, but that will probably take, like, 6 more months....:/ (i'll get Hung Fist to update the site soon though, with some more pictures and stuff)

Thank you, and good night!

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Guest Heh thanks, but!

Yea I'm with you. If I sit for 3 seconds or longer, I start thinking about the same stuff. Music, I think about choreography. But putting that into reality takes real genius, which is why I like Donnie Yen and YWP so much... well some of their stuff.

And if you think we do the best indie action, check this out


These guys are making a movie called HK, and it's incredible looking. Also Kampfansage II looks promising.


The Kwoon is also excellent, and their new movie with Cung Le, I imagine, will be one of the best action movies on the net. They topped everything with their Mummy Dearest flick, so I think they could do it with this too.


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Guest RE: Heh thanks, but!

Yeah, I've seen ww.4-16.com's trailers, and they look FANTASTIC, but it is obvious that they have a big budget on their movie.

The same goes for the Kwoon. I've seen their movies, but I'm not that impressed. And the guys from the Kwoon behave like they are the best. I can't stand their ego!

I still think that you guys do the best Indie-action movies with little or no budget.

And I can't wait for Terry Suguri, the trailer looks awsome!:)

Keep up the good work!


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Guest Period Piece Filmed Action

Greetings All,

Most of the films mentioned in the forum, on this topic, concern those utilizing "New Wave" Hong Kong choreography. Except for Sammo Hung's Prodigal Son, there has been no film, or choreographic style, which combines the lighting fast sppeds of "New Wave" style with the choreographic genius of the "Old School" method.

Any thoughts?


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Guest italdesign
there has been no film, or choreographic style, which combines the lighting fast sppeds of "New Wave" style with the choreographic genius of the "Old School" method.

That's a shame indeed. Prodigal Son was made in the transitional period between old school and new wave. I really like films made in this period, as they combine the best of both eras. There are a couple of Shaw Brothers movies that fit into this catagory, but most of them are swordplay. However, there are always:

-Roar of the Lion

-I will finally knock you down, Dad

-Lady Assassin

-Long Road to Gallantry

-Abbot White

-Shanghai 13

-Duel to the Death

None of them is as good as Prodigal Son, but...

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Guest rebelfilmsltd

Hmm i am having to coach a lead actor who plays a samurai warrior in my film, The actor in question has never done any martial arts before.. we are getting there, but its one hard slog....

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Guest exactly

That's correct about Prodical Son. I noticed that the fights were undercranked at fps more consistent with New Wave style, while retaining all the grandeur of traditional set pieces!

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Guest Pro8mm, DV or Hi-Def


Of those of us, here, who are actually filming, are you filming on Pro8mm, DV, Hi-Def, 16mm or, if you have the budget, 35mm. Additionally, are you having your footage, if on film, transferred to Negative prints and, then, to DV for Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere non-linear cuts?

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Guest Hard Knuckles

in my opinion what shadows good choriography is good talent, if the two fighters have real skills and look good in front of the camera, choriography becomes secondary, take scorpion king (operation scorpio) for example, in my opinion Kim Won Jun is the best kicker in hong kong cinema, every kick that he does looks flawless, but the film has very poor and hardly any choreography, you could make a film with him just doing chained kicks during every fight sequence, and it will look good.

However, if for the less talented (us) choreography is important, although it is very difficult to do 8 hits, cut, 8 hit, cut, but the less editing the better it looks to a trained eye, if too slow you can always undercrank the frame rate, thats my opinion anyways.

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Guest Yi Long

I am a martial artist, so for fun have have thought up fight-scenes many a times. This never seemed to be hard to me because the way I always practiced martial arts is imagining all kinds of attacks being thrown at me, so I am already pretty well self-educated by always figuring out counters and using the surroundings etc.

It's kinda hard to explain I guess.

It also helps if your familiar with MANY different martial arts. A good example is the capouira kick in the Jet Li-Chin Siu Ho fight in Fist of Legend. That's probably one of the first-if not THE first- time a kick like that has been used in a HK martial arts mopvie and it looks great. It also underbuilts Jet's character being very open-minded to new techniques etc.

That's also a thing what makes choreography easier; giving the characters well-suited 'styles' and learn the moves well within those styles; If you have a big fat guy, will he be more powerfull!? Or still fast!? Or not really powerfull but use aikido-like skills, or Wing Chun!? If the opponent is big and fat, and the main guy is fast and agile, give him some attitude and let him play a bit, underestimating the fat guy perhaps but using some fancy moves, getting in and out fast & fancy.

The less cuts the better, using camera angles which show the action from both players at the same time very clearly, and use no extra cuts of people getting hit in the face in close up or anything, and then growling like a raving lunatic.

We're not after JC van Damme choreography, are we!?

Get Jackie Chan's My Stunts for tips.

Use the surroundings. If You're next to a wall, use the wall for landing kicks on the wall and then straight from the wall into the opponent, orusing the wall to jump off it and kick with the other leg, many different combinations possible here, plus also brutal finishing options.

Get the reactions from the players RIGHT. A good reaction is worth more then a 360 spinning kick. Try to get the falls right etc and the neck-snapping.

Tip for the guy who has a samurai-leading character; Make him wear the sword for a week (or longer) orso at home and ask him to play with it as much as he can. Also loan him a bunch of swordplay movies, not necesarrily Samurai moveis but also ninja flicks and chinese broadsword. Like Burning Paradise where Fong Sai Yuk has that Big Ass Sword.

Also educate him well on distance and circle-movements.

Most important thing will be to make him look like he'sbeen using that sword for all his life, so he should look extremely relaxed and confident while using it.

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Guest KWOON complements and apologizes.

KWOON complements and apologizes.

This is directed to the many groups out there producing and choreographing cool Martial Arts films.

For example, Decan Mulvey thinkbigproductions.net/c...warz.html)


The Kampfansage guys(For got link to their site) and any others that may or may not have been put off by KWOON.

Please do not forget, KWOON fans and the actual KWOON members are totally different. What other peoples opinions are thier own.

I just watched Prison Wars. Man, I believe these guys have some serious ability.

These guys are similar to the German guys. The Kampfansage guys. They can do it all.

Props to the stuntpeople too.

There is no way that I could do some of those aerial maneuvers my self. These guys and the German guys are simply awesome in their athletic abilities.

The reason I never tried to incorporate such stuff was because:

1. I don't think we could do it as well as them.

2. Hollywood is attempting to do this stuff, albeit perhaps not as good as them.

3. Of course, like many old schoolers. I prefer to do Old school kung fu fights, mostly duken out on the ground with no wires.

I want to restate that I highly admire these guys for what they do. I think that recently they may have taken some of what we have said on the board as an insult or possibly EGO. Rest assured it is not that case at all.

So I would like to apologize to the Kampfansage if they took what we said as an insult. It is the complete reverse.

(Reason, I assume that it may be the Germans are because in another thread that Pete started. The TigerCranefist guy had listed a web page. Although the link didn't work for me, I could tell it was a German site.)

Come to think of it, they must be fellow Hung Gar players. Tisk tisk, I always try to support my fellow Hung Brothers.

Misunderstandings are comical to me…like a watching an episode of “Threes Companyâ€



Now, what is my take on Choreography. Of course I prefer more intricate hand stuff. But more over, in Chinese Martial Arts it is what would be referred to as a “STICK POINTâ€.

Allot of choreography out there is done with standard movie rules such as:

1. Not getting too close to your opponent by closing the gap.

Note: “O†= To a trained martial artist this is easy to pick up on. The players are not truly advancing on eachother or attempting to really hurt eachother. The emphasis is on doing the moves and not the martial intent.

2. Catching or holding too long will interrupt the flow of the fight.

3. Keeping the rhythm of the moves with a musical timing.

4. ect ect.

I like to involve more traditional Kung Fu principles. Perhaps some people would perceive that as boring. So be it. So is classical fencing if you watch it as well. But for me, as a pure martial artist, it is a thing of beauty. In Kung Fu, especially internal martial arts, the desire is to stick to your opponent and use listening skill to adapt to what your opponent is doing. This is done by, closing the gap and creating a bridge for example to listen to them. Another parallel is like watching professional boxing, it looks slow from a distance but in reality up close it is fast and hard to do.

KWOON wants to have Good kung fu principles thrown in with basic cinematography as well as some additional flashy stuff. But never to stray away from what is important.

Also, we don’t “undercrank†the camera at all. We can’t, TODD’s editing sytem can only slow down effectively, not speed up or undercrank. During testing we simply couldn’t “undercrank at all†so all the fast motion is reality. Take it for just that, either it’s slow to you or normal speed. I don’t care.

KWOON also wants to develop a story. Not just to have fights "out of the blue" but legitimate reasons for fighting. It is not easy. I remember Stanley Tong commenting on that very thing.

I say, don’t just please the main stream people who know nothing about martial arts. As they are pleased no matter what (to a degree).

DO please the hardcore pure martial artists who want something other than just flash and you will grab them all. WHY? Because these are the people who are teachers and trainers. They are the cult culture that belays the entire martial world. So when they give a recommendation, their peers hear it more clearly.

One more thing, KWOON tailers it's episodes to the particular "guest stars" That are in it. For example, Cung Le in the upcomming EP2. He is a college champion wrestler who combined muay thai and boxing to produce truely astounding San Shao skills. Now I know for a fact that he doesn't not particularly prefer Kung Fu. (at least in the traditional sense) So when I worked with him, we tried to do the things that make him comfortable. Also, being that when I tried to get him to do some OLD SCHOOL type moves, he didn't really care for them. I believe that it came out ok, but one thing I learned from it was that his costume "Obstructed" some of the moves and so that allot of the stuff shot in the can was not placed in. I know that this is not our best work but such is life. It is nobodys fault. Every film is a learning process of course.

People need to see the thin line between talk on a public forum and reality. I have a great respect for anybody that take the time to film, no matter what.

I don't think what i've written is arogance or ego. Just what I believe is good. If you have a problem with that, then my HUGE EGO is preventing me from caring. haha

KWOON Choreographer,

“Oâ€nassis Parungao


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Guest um, sorry "O"

I must have been i a bad mood or something when I wrote that part about your ego earlier:o

We can still be friends, right?;)

About that wepage a posted a link to in another thread, the reason it didn't work was that I had forgotten a part in the url, but I never got around to fix it:P

The url is: hem.passagen.se/xfeffex/index.html

and oh yeah, we're not german, we're Swedish:)

Thank you and goodnight!

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Guest stuntpeople

Jeez O, you're quite, let's say, articulated in your explanation of your (The Kwoon) choreography. If you remember, I reviewed Mummy Dearest a while back and I thought it was the best thing I had seen online yet. It probably still is. I love nothing more than a complex set of hand movements, and I'm all with you in that one should focus on the moves, not the martial art. Taking advice from the numbskull who took 3 seminars in Aikido and reads Black Belt every month but never steps foot into a school will get you a lot of "Grab him and throw him down on the ground", 3-step crap. It's like counciling for chrissake. Let's just make a sparring video.

As lame as this sounds, I wish I could come up with a decent formula for the action. Not that I want a calculator program where I plug in a value for punchx and get a returned number, but for those times when my brain stops, I wish I had a clear-cut method, kinda like a jump start. Funny, and I'm sure most people experience this, funny how at times like that, nobody helps. They all stand around and vegetate. It's wonderful, especially when it's at 11:00 pm because somebody from your crew couldn't get out the door until 8!


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Guest Subitai

Yeah bro,

I remember, I was just spouting off in reaction to somethings. But I'm all props to the "Stuntpeople". I think we "THINK" alike. Actually, many many of the groups out here Think alike.

***Props to all out there, we all need to prop eachother to help our genre succeed***

I was just astounded by what was said because I feel that we (KWOON) are very grounded and realize what our limitations are and also what are possibilities are. The only advantage that we may have HAD at one point was that Todd had a big winfall in the stock market back in 96-97'. (Which is how long we've been doing KWOON)

But now were are on a very shoestring budget like everybody else and...like most everbody else. It is very frustrating and hindering for the project.

Getting to what you said about everybody veggin' out, I really can relate man. But does that mean you Choreograph on the fly? Dont you do it b4 hand?

Also, about choreog. I was saying that I WANT to mix in the MARTIAL INTENT not just to focus on the moves. Mix in with other stantard practices that is. That is the only thing that sets KWOON apart. I mean, everybody has to have a stich, correct?

About what you said about having a "Formula for action". The answer is simple, truely study Kung Fu in as many aspects as you can. Immerse yourself in quality training if you can. The ideas pop into your head more readily. Look at the basics instilled in Jackie, after all the years of hardcore Opera training. Singing, dancing(this provides the musical timing required for choreog.), weapons play, empty hand training and finally, opera sparring sets and showmanship. Also what ever heavily REAL Martial Intented styles or skills he picked up along the way.

Ask yourself what are you trying to achieve? Who are the principle guys in the scene? What are their background skills in? Those will give you allot of ideas. For example, a Judo guy vs a karate guy. I know exactly what I would do in this scenario. I wouldn't make them do the things "I" wanted to do in my dreams. I would focus on what things they can do. I often preshoot or video story board the guys. I see what they can do. Then I start, putting together the song(choreography of movement ie.) Find the moves that they can do to become the refrain or small sections of connector moves. Then place within the body of the song. I'm sure you follow my meaning, right?




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Guest stuntpeople

Yea we're along the same track, except we're not into the kung fu aspect as much as you are. Really, we've tried it and it's 100% true that you gotta have a good backbone in real kung fu (not to kiss your butt, but Hung Gar is probably one of the best, and had classes been cheaper in SF I wouldn't be in TKD now) to make things look right. PROPS to you guys in return for doing it right ;)

Choreography; yes we do it on the spot for a single reason: it's nearly impossible to get together to rehearse and THEN make the movie another time. If we're together, rest assured we're gonna go out there and create. We rehearsed once and shot the entire fight in 2 hours, so yea that's the prefferred method, but on the spot is a possibility and usually we can crank something out doing it that way.

Anyways, we have some similar philosophy on the MA aspect of the movies we make, and at the same time it's always nice to say "yea the Kwoon does this and the SP do that and EW does those." Specialty is great. And putting the choreography of body movement into a song format is a great idea; I never thought of it that way. My production teacher made a movie that way once and with that he could easily write a soundtrack for it later on, or he could give out sheet music to musically-inclined audience members and have a live music accompaniment wherever it played.

Good stuff O! Keep it up!


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Guest HungKuen

Yeah, Hung Gar is the best! ;)

And the school where I train is probably one of the cheapest Hung Gar schools in the world! I just payed for this years, and it was about 75$! :lol

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