Recently I met martial artist, aspiring auteur and fellow Aussie Andrew Thatcher online (via Kiai – Kicks. Michael is generously using this blog to promote the work of independent martial arts film makers at the moment). Andrew had written, edited, produced and directed his own martial arts film called Charity Hurts. Making a full length film (without budget or a professional cast and crew) is one hell of an undertaking. He kindly sent me a copy to watch and below are some random thoughts I jotted down about the film:
The guys who make martial arts films are kineticists (is that a word? If not I just made it up). Like professional dancers, mime artists or circus acrobats they have been immersed in a movement vocabulary / technique at an intense level for a long time. It makes sense that the movement sections are what work the best in a film like Charity Hurts.
When watching martial arts films I think back to when I was choreographing (modern dance and ballet) and remember the questions / challenges I had to put to myself while I was creating work: how can I creatively respond to a set, what rhythms am I going to use, am I exploring different levels (i.e. how much of the choreography happens at ground level and how much happens in the air?), is the movement dynamic / movement vocabulary appropriate to the character you are making work on? I am not a martial artist so I can’t assess the martial arts technique, but when I watch martial arts movies I focus on the use of it as an artistic medium – as something that is used as a performative or narrative device. And this is where the craft in Charity Hurts is at its best. Andrew, who directed Charity Hurts, freely admits that he had no budget or resources and no professional team backing him up when he made this film. It would thus be unfair to judge films like Charity Hurts on the basis of their production values. But I don’t care how schmick The Matrix looked; CGI and special effects can’t replace the real thrill of seeing real human physical expertise well choreographed. I think that perhaps many kung fu movie fans feel that Hollywood has deserted them – that our beloved martial arts footage is being edged out by airbrushed stars and CGI. Even if the stars of films made by Andrew have not yet reached the athletic heights of Jackie Chan or Jet Li or Donnie Yen or Yuen Biao, they are still doing stuff that I (and most average citizens) will never be capable of physically doing. What the Hollywood execs have forgotten (or never noticed in the first place) is that most of us find that incredibly exciting. I feel heartened at the thought that there are independent film makers like Andrew (or Michael on the Kiai Kicks blog) have not forgotten this.
Charity Hurts sports a cast of all shapes and sizes. I like this as this affects the movement styles of the performers and adds variety to the look of the movement sequences.
I found it interesting how this film sat comfortably in its contemporary Aussie urban surrounds. Despite the fact that it was using what I assumed were martial arts styles that originated in Asia, this particular martial arts film looks like an organic expression of white Aussie urban culture. I think it was a smart move for Andrew to work from a setting and a culture that is his own. (Full marks for creating a fight scene where a shopping trolley is used as a weapon).
I’m not as sold on the gun play – but this isn’t a legitimate criticism of the film. I just never like gunplay much in any sort of film (no, not even in John Woo). This is just my personal taste. What I do like is the (deliberately) hokey special effects of the gun shots in Charity Hurts. This shows that the film has a healthy sense of humour about itself.
I admire Andrew’s guts and gumption in making this film and hope that it opens some doors for him. I look forward to seeing his next film.