My previous 2 blogs have also dealt with the action in My Father is a Hero. The last blog I posted commented on the action and its choreography in the opening scenes.
I am a hopeless structure freak. When I used to choreograph myself I always paid a lot of attention to structure in my work as I felt that appropriate structuring of material that was even detailed or challenging could help an audience find their way into a performance piece. I have noticed that Hong Kong martial arts films often structure their choreography beautifully, both within discrete set pieces and the placement of these set pieces in the overall structure of the plot. One such structural plot building technique that director Corey Yuen Kuei and writer Wong Jing use in My Father is a Hero is to use one scene to prefigure action or gesture shown in a later scene. As mentioned in a previous blog, the very first fight scene prefigures the last in showing the successful father and son martial arts team of Kung (Jet Li) and Ku (Xie Mao) at work.
Another piece of neat prefiguring happens soon after, when we see Ku and Kung practicing a martial arts breath control technique together. At the end of the film we see Ku having to draw on this very same technique in order to survive. Another example of prefiguring happens during the scene which shows Kung’s violent reaction after learning of his wife’s death. He incurs the wrath of Po (Yu Rong Guang), who starts beating up Kung. Darkie (Blackie Ko Sau Leung) intervenes to start beating and berating Kung himself. This is ostensibly to back up his boss, but it is really to save Kung from an even worse beating at the hands of the sadistic Po. In one of the movie’s most startling scenes, Po beats and then makes to strangle Ku. Kung intervenes to do the strangling himself, ostensibly as Po’s man (in his guise as a ruthless criminal). Actually, Kung only nearly strangles Ku to death, knowing that if his son is to have a slim chance of survival then it relies on Kung controlling the act of near strangulation rather than having Po do it for real.
These prefiguring scenes play an important part in keeping the film as a cohesive whole. Yuen has a sprawling plot line, melodramatic story arcs, and some implausible situations to cram into one movie. By using this prefiguring technique he keeps the movie’s structure tight and cohesive, and this makes the free ranging story line accessible and digestible for the audience.
My next short blog will be about the use of action choreography to establish a relationship between 2 characters.