Accented Cinema is a wonderful YouTube channel, which covers mostly foreign films. The host provides insightful analysis about filmmaking, but what makes the channel somewhat unique is its perspective: that of a Chinese Canadian movie-buff, most popular for his insightful work on the often-impenetrable modern Chinese movie landscape. He’s also a filmmaker in his own right, and in this video he uses a lifetime of Kung Fu-movie-fandom and an eye for the genre’s minutia to explain, beyond the obvious, what Ireland’s first (and potentially only) Kung Fu action flick gets so wrong.

The film is Fatal Deviation from 1998, a no budget brawler helmed by writer and director (and as these things tend to go, producer and star) James Bennet, a martial artist who was looking to show off his talent
to Chinese investors in the market for the next big thing in martial arts action. Doing most of the fight choreography himself, Bennet is not untalented, and yet the scenes come across as amateurish. Lesson number one: Good Kung Fu won’t save a bad Kung Fu film.

After introducing this delightfully eccentric mess of a movie, Accented Cinema uses comparisons to gleam what makes this production fail while others, sometimes just as cheap or just as simple, pass with flying colours.

Noting Bruce Lee’s influence on Bennet’s fighting style, our narrator admits that Lee’s films also tend to focus on fisticuffs above screenwriting, but storytelling does makes its way into a good fight scene, mostly through the incorporation of progression. Moves cannot be individual, resulting in a stop start stop start feel, instead they must telegraph the overall direction of the fight. AC points out the subtle progression in Bruce Lee’s battle with Chuck Norris, wherein Lee first teases his opponent, then socks him once, and before Chuck can return the favour, Bruce pivots to a two-hit combo. Norris steadies himself sideways, seemingly the barrage is over, but no, Bruce takes the opening and unleashes an assault landing blows to the knees, abdomen, and especially the face (three times). Bruce’s famous persona comes into play. Cocky, restrained, but unflinching.

Bennet seems to want to model his persona after Van Damme professionally, so AC next takes a look at Bloodsport. Van Damme finds himself in the clutches of his opponent, one defence after the other fails
him, so, with fear in his eyes, he headbutts his captor. Noticing his opponent is stupefied, the fear fades away and a smug Van Damme steps in to deliver the finishing blow. Fatal Deviation involves none of these touches. Its brawls go on for until Bennet decides they’ve fought long enough, because he has no eye for the elements that make fighting entertaining.

AC goes on to examine the cinematography and editing of the film, including an interesting discovery about martial arts movies as a whole. This exercise is immeasurably important to aspiring filmmakers. Trial and error is important, but it is a learning tool you can punch up on vicariously. If you’ve only ever watched great movies, you’ve learned a lot, but their brilliance may glide over you unless you’ve seen poorly implemented alternatives. If you’ve seen it done well, you know it can be done well. If you’ve seen it done well and poorly, you know for sure how it was done well.

Irish Kung Fu and Learning from Failure
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