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[TELEVISION] Influence of "Martial Arts"

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  • madchinaman
    Fists of Fury: TV Is Kung-Fu Fighting Fri, Apr 12, 2002 04:08 PM PDT by Kate O Hare http://tv.zap2it.com/shows/features/features.html?25213 On television, it
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 20, 2002
      Fists of Fury: TV Is Kung-Fu Fighting
      Fri, Apr 12, 2002 04:08 PM PDT
      by Kate O'Hare

      On television, it seems that everybody is kung-fu fighting.

      Seemingly gone are the days when a good right cross and a gun were
      enough. Now it's all kick-boxing and wushu, improbable flips and
      impossible leaps. What would '60s TV tough-guy Joe Mannix (Mike
      Connors) of CBS' "Mannix" make of a world where lithe Jennifer Garner
      of ABC's "Alias" or petite Jessica Alba of FOX's "Dark Angel" can
      make mincemeat out of enemies twice their size?

      It's not that high-octane fighting is an entirely new TV phenomenon.
      Back in 1966, martial-arts legend Bruce Lee played black-clad
      sidekick Kato in ABC's "The Green Hornet," starring Van Williams as
      the hero made popular on radio in the '30s and '40s. Britt Reid --
      aka The Green Hornet -- may have had the souped-up wonder car Black
      Beauty, but when it came to fisticuffs and flying feet, Kato was the

      One can only wonder what would have happened had skittish network
      executives not rejected the idea of Lee as the star of ABC's "Kung
      Fu," which premiered in 1972, instead going with the definitely non-
      Asian David Carradine as a fugitive Shaolin monk and martial-arts
      master in the American West of the 1800s. Almost certainly, the fight
      sequences wouldn't have all been in slow-motion.

      But movie-style fight sequences remained a rarity on television,
      which is produced at a blistering pace that seldom allows time for
      the elaborate choreography and staging required for truly spectacular
      battles. As with a weary Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark,"
      it's a lot easier to just shoot the sword-wielding bad guy than to go
      mano-a-mano with him.

      On the big screen though, fighting just kept rising to higher and
      higher levels, and that eventually would have an effect on
      television. On April 17, USA Network premieres "Ultimate Fights," a
      one-hour special featuring a selection of movie battles. Two
      sequences -- from "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Legend of Drunken
      Master" -- feature Jackie Chan, one of the martial arts' most
      accessible stars. On-screen blurbs emphasize how slow a process it is
      to produce an outstanding fight sequence -- 20 days for "Rumble" and
      four months for "Drunken Master." For prime-time dramas shot in six
      to eight days, that would seem an impossible challenge.

      After a brief stab at weekly martial-arts action in the 1984 NBC
      drama "The Master," starring movie tough-guy Lee Van Cleef, it was up
      to action-film star and karate expert Chuck Norris to turn the
      concept into a paying concern. From 1993-2001, "Walker, Texas Ranger"
      blended Norris' deadpan acting style, old-style Western heroics and
      just enough fighting into a winning formula for CBS' Saturday night.

      In 1998, CBS followed up with "Martial Law," starring frequent Chan
      collaborator Sammo Hung as a rotund but formidable Chinese police
      officer on loan to the LAPD. The show only lasted a couple of
      seasons, but in the meantime, a bomb exploded in the middle of the
      martial-arts world, and things would never be the same.

      In 1999, writer-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski brought together
      the best of Hong Kong-style martial-arts action (with a particular
      nod to the balletic gun battles of director John Woo), gravity-
      defying wire work and dazzling CGI to create the feature film "The

      Martial-arts action was back at the forefront, dressed in high-tech
      style. This season, you can't swing a nunchak without hitting Woo-
      or "Matrix" -inspired action. Whether helped along by the
      supernatural (UPN's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), spy training
      ("Alias") or genetic engineering ("Dark Angel"), female heroes best
      foes of every size and kind with amplitude and grace.

      Not to be outdone, The WB Network's "Angel" opened its third season
      last fall with vampire-with-a-soul Angel (David Boreanaz) battling
      red-robed, demonic monks in an elaborate sequence that made full use
      of his supernatural strength and agility.

      Over on TNT, "Witchblade" -- which has been rerunning its first
      season in anticipation of a June 10 second-season premiere -- dazzled
      in its two-hour pilot with a move straight out of the Woo playbook,
      in which New York cop Sara Pezzini (Yancy Butler) hurled herself
      sideways while simultaneously firing two guns at her opponents.

      Shows from syndication's "Mutant X" to The WB's "Charmed" are using
      wires and harnesses to make their combatants windmill through the air
      or float like birds (and there's at least one soft-drink commercial
      that looks so much like the martial-arts feature film "Crouching
      Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that it needs a disclaimer).

      And no doubt it was soaring, supercharged battles that contributed to
      the longevity of such action fare as the syndicated
      series "Highlander," "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Hercules: The
      Legendary Journeys."

      So what's it all mean? Are we addicted to the violence? Perhaps -- or
      perhaps it's something simpler. Fight scenes are as precisely
      choreographed and beautifully timed as dance numbers. Maybe we just
      love the moves, like "Buffy" creator and movie-musical lover Joss
      Whedon, who says, "Fred Astaire has been replaced by the man flying
      through the plate-glass window. They both give you the same kind of
      rush, watching a human being do that, watching how they edit it, put
      it together, the music, the way it all comes together."
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