- 21 Aug 19
It turns out what Hollywood fight scenes are fraught with fragility – who knew?
This month, the behind-the-scenes politics of fight scenes in two high-profile movies highlight how actors’ egos and ideas of masculinity are dictating what we see onscreen. It has been revealed that three of the lead actors from the Fast & Furious franchise – Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Jason Statham, who have all built careers based around physical action and machismo – are perhaps not as secure in their strength, presence and masculinity as they appear. Indeed, the three actors reportedly pore over every last punch and kick in their films, ensuring that they never lose fights onscreen, so fearful are they of being perceived as weak.
This rigid approach to fight choreography apparently started on Furious 7, when Vin Diesel tried to “assign numerical values to every move – headbutt, roundhouse kick, body slam – so he could calculate a total and determine” whether he and Statham were taking an equal amount of punishment during their fight scenes. When Fast & Furious producer Michael Fottrell was asked if vanity plays a role in these bizarrely controlling demands from actors, he responded “No comment,” then added: “Of course it does!”
Though this mathematical formula didn’t stick, the shot-for-shot philosophy remained. It’s very noticeable in the new Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, which sees Statham and Johnson beating each other up for much of the action flick’s runtime. It won’t take an eagle-eyed viewer to notice that every scrap between Statham and Johnson is self-consciously equal. When Statham throws Dwayne Johnson through a pane of glass, it only takes Statham eight seconds to return that favour. And when fights start to get really nasty, they are invariably interrupted by an explosion, a bad guy, a Very Large Distraction, so that the fight can end – without either man conceding defeat.
Politics also played a role in a major fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. One scene sees Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee challenge stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to a three-round fight, and each man wins one round. Let’s immediately acknowledge that having Bruce Lee be easily defeated is somewhat ludicrous, and fuels the film’s nasty portrayal of Lee as an arrogant, overhyped blowhard (a portrayal that Lee’s daughter has objected to). But stunt co-ordinator Robert Alonzo has revealed that Tarantino’s original script featured a much longer fight scene, where Pitt’s character clearly beat a humiliated Lee. Thankfully, Pitt objected to showing one of the world’s most influential martial artists losing to a random white stuntman, so a compromise was struck: like Hobbs & Shaw, the fight would be interrupted, so that neither man technically loses.
But having fight scenes so rigidly controlled to protect egos makes it obvious that in the battle of fragile masculinity, nobody ever wins.