Thinking about Frank Miller’s impact on my early life has caused me to reflect on my longtime love for choreographed violence. There was an amazon reviewer writing about one of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight projects mentioning that what Frank does best is visually is depict violent acts. Yep. As someone who has no interest in the perpetuation of real-life violence on a small or large scale, I have still somehow always loved the fictional representation of violence. And not Saw III type violence, the lurid inevitability of serial killer films, but what John Woo calls “romantic violence.” Whether the fists, feet, and improvised weapons of Jackie Chan, or the ballet of bullets of Woo’s own work, I love me some highly stylized and choreographed violence. In fact, a martial arts film, or a highly stylized action film, are more likely to get me into the theater than any thing else. (Except for a new mind-twister David Lynch film. “Inland Empire” anyone? Or Sacha Baron Cohen’s next opus.) I never want to fire a gun at someone or inflict violence with my hands, but I love watching portrayals of this, done gracefully, and artfully. I know I am not alone in this among peace-lovers. There is something about fantasy violence that appeals to all sorts of otherwise pacifistic, non-violent personalities.
When I was living in Egypt as a child I saw a Zorro movie (My attempts to track this down have me convinced it was a 1975 Italian version directed by Duccio Tessari and starring Alain Delon, but I have never re-watched it to verify this.) with a climactic duel winding up the inside stairs of a tower. This movie so affected me that my mother made me a long Zorro cloak that I would wear in the hot Egyptian sun, stalking the gardens of our apartment’s front yard, looking for any signs of evil-doers. In my childhood I loved Westerns and was simultaneosly confused and put-off by War films. I liked the loner romanticism of the Western and not the order-following pursuit of death of the War film.
There was this AMAZING zine out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the mid ’90s called “Trash” that had an excellent article on Sam Raimi, John Woo, and Peter Jackson and how they were being courted by Hollywood at the time precisely because of their ability to artistically portray violence. Lotta money in that, the portraying of violence. In fact, what with Sam’s success with Spider-Man, and Woo’s with MI2, and Jackson’s with Lord of the Rings, I’d say Hollywood got their money’s worth. The main guy behind “Trash” was a genius (Not least because unlike nearly everyone on earth he realized what an incredible film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” was.) The zine had stopped and he had left Chapel Hill by the time of my last visit there in the summer of ’96. Where did he go?
To this day I don’t think anyone has topped the Hong Kong New Wave for choreographed violence, and all the best action films not from Hong Kong either make use of Hong Kong action directors or borrow heavily from their innovations. Walter Hill’s film “Last Man Standing” was the first Western action film during the height of my Hong Kong obsession in the ’90s that I actually thought had compelling action scenes, and Buce Willis two-guns-blazing shtick could never have existed without John Woo.
Well, Mr. Incredible, if you are so into choreography and grace, why don’t you go to the ballet? This is something I think about a lot. To what extent is my aesthetic enjoyment of bodily movement dependent on a spin ending with a kick to someone’s throat, or a leap ending up with an elbow on someone’s head (Tony Jaa, represent!)? I’d say pretty important. Even though I do not engage in physically violent acts in my daily life, I am well aware of how my mind is populated by such visions as I go about my work. Are these visions of violence helpful and productive? Do they create a more kind and loving Kid? Probably not. I’ll still go run out to see the new Tsui Hark or Yimou Zhang in a heartbeat. One of life’s contradictions: I want peace, but I want to watch artfully-depicted violence. “Curse of the Golden Flower” here I come.