When it comes to any kind of action, it’s easy to stay glued to your tv set while your adrenaline reaches an all time high. Throughout the years many people have become entranced with the phenomenon, and the evolution of action. You have fights, chases, explosions, and major shootouts in the midst of a great storyline. But how many of us are aware of the differences between action films? Martial arts has become so completely mainstream, and it seems as if everyone is placing martial arts in their films these days. It’s important to know the difference between the two genres. Is it a martial arts film, or an action film with a martial arts fight scene?
Martial arts or wuxia films, to some, are pretty easy to point out, and it seems to follow a formula. It’s not always the case, but many martial arts films are set as a period story. Ancient Chinese stories, for example, have martial arts in their storyline, in a way where it is usually the center of everything going on within the story. Most of the time, the story could be about rival martial arts schools competing with each other, trying to prove which one of their martial arts systems are the best. And in this case, there is always a school with students who promote good qualities of martial arts vs. another school with students who promote bad qualities of what martial arts is all about. No matter what’s going on, it’s usually one of the major plot points.
The majority of the action scenes will only have one fighting style with another fighting style in hand to hand combat, without the use of firearm, as you see in today’s stories. With a martial arts film, you will also find the story being about a non-fiction character who is regarded as a hero. The Wong Fei-Hung films that’s been released throughout the years are a good example of using fictional plots based around a real life person, and it shows the true essence of a martial arts film. Another non-fiction hero that’s been portrayed in different films would be Huo Yuanjia. Actors such as Jackie Chan, and Jet Li have portrayed these people many times, and has become one the most popular storylines within a martial arts film.
Examples of these films would be the Once Upon a Time in China series, Jet Li’s Fearless (Huo Yuanjia), Legend of Drunken Master, and its predecessor Drunken Master with Jackie Chan portraying Wong Fei-Hung in his usual comedic way. There are tons of other films based around the folk hero, Wong Fei-Hung that you can look up to get some ideas of what a martial arts film is like, based around a real person.
Another element of a traditional martial arts film would be the use of swords and other ancient kung fu weapons. You see a lot of that with wuxia films that has a lot of sorcery within the storyline as well as a basic storyline. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a good example of a film in this genre based around the use of an ancient sword, known as The Green Destiny. And lastly, you have the hero of the story, which always seems to be a martial arts master portrayed as having little to no flaws because of the values that he/she grew up with. Of course, this character could be fiction as well as non-fiction. This hero usually has to resort to using their skills to fight for what they believe in or to try and defuse a situation.
With an action film, it’s a different type of complexity. An action film can consist of many things that don’t necessarily have to have anything to do with martial arts, however, there are plenty of scenes within an action film that has some type of combat in it. In this case the fight scenes will most likely be extended and more brutal, resembling a street fight. Overall the violence in an action film will go above and beyond what a martial arts film will give you.
Although you see fight scenes with Karate or Kung Fu, the main storyline has nothing to do with the fight skills of the characters involves. In an action film, you also see the use of firearms to counter the use of hand to hand combat. The hero, or lack-thereof, will have some or many flaws based on what’s going on in the storyline, and didn’t necessarily grow up with a certain set of values that you would normally see with the hero in a traditional martial arts film.
Action films will mostly consist of having major shootouts, car chases, and explosions at some point, with a lot swearing involved in the dialogue. There will be other physical feats that the characters will have to go through in order to resolve whatever is going on. When it comes to the villain in an action film, they are more menacing, more dangerous, and it usually takes the hero or anti-hero through a lot of emotional stress as well as physical in order to defeat this person.
CGI is also incorporated more times than not in today’s action film because of the many stunts that can’t be done physically without the actors getting hurt, although it has been met with criticism. In action films, other genres are often incorporated within action such as thriller, suspense, crime drama, and even espionage.
Urban Martial Arts Within Action or Drama:
This genre within a sub-genre can get pretty confusing. When it comes to an urban martial arts film it usually consists of having martial arts as the basis for the storyline, however, it doesn’t usually have the traditional elements that you would normally see in a classic martial arts film.
The storyline is more up-to-date, and other genres such as drama can be apart of this element. Examples of this would be Karate Kid, Enter the Dragon, Ninja Assassin, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Romeo Must Die.