Okay, let’s play Fantasy Football with movie directors for the in-process Shang Chi movie.
Marvel Studios’ Shang Chi Movie is going to be not just an action movie, but a kung fu movie. That means it’s going to need a director who can actually direct martial arts action. The problem with the majority of American action directors on martial arts movies is that they don’t know how to direct martial arts scenes. They keep chopping it up into close-ups where you don’t see the moves or the action. They do not understand what makes martial arts scenes tick.This is a pet peeve of mine. When there’s a kung fu fight, you want to see the actual moves. Martial arts fights are about the choreography, not the punching. We want to see the moves and how they lead from one to another before the punches or the kicks land. They have a particular rhythm. Most of the best martial arts directors are from Hong Kong, since they nailed the genre first, going all the way back to the 1950s and stretching to the present.
So here’s a list of five possible directors who could tackle Shang Chi. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll stick to Asian directors. We might as well stick to the ones with all the inside knowledge.
And I admit it – this is really an excuse to show you cool clips.
Yuen Woo Ping
Yuen Woo Ping is a trained Wushu expert and choreographer who began in the Shaw Brothers era before he became a director and continues to work today. He choreographed Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Matrix Trilogy and dozens of movies before that. He has forgotten more about kung fu and how to direct it for movies than most A-list directors will ever learn in their entire lifetimes. Adept at both Wuxia movies, which involve swordplay and wire work and straight-up kung fu fight movies that focus on the pure fighting form of martial arts Yuen is the ultimate martial arts director.
Of course Tsui Hark should be on the list. He’s one of the best action directors in the world. He also put Jet Li on the map with Once Upon a Time in China. He has worked in Hollywood and survived Jean-Claude Van Damme. Twice. He’s currently on the Chines A-list for directing the berserk Detective Dee movies. He’s the one director who does interesting things with big CGI setpieces because he creates crazy, surreal CGI action imagery that reveal character through the action. Just look at his recent Monkey King movie Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back and Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings.
Unless you know Hong Kong movies, you might not have heard of Herman Yau. He’s directed in almost every genre known to movies. He made documentaries on the plight of sex workers to serial killer exploitation flicks to cop thrillers to gangster sagas to hitman thrillers to blockbuster action thrillers. He has, of course, made his share of kung fu movies, including a prequel movie about Yip Man’s early years, an action biopic about a real-life revolutionary female scholar and martial artist, The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake, and the masterpiece Yip Man: The Final Fight, about the aging martial arts teacher after he leaves China and witnessing the social changes of Hong Kong from the 1950s to the 1970. Yau is a director attuned to social nuances and issues in his movies, even when he makes cheesy horror flicks. He might be the most well-rounded director in Hong Kong.
These days, Korean directors are no slouch at directing action or martial arts either. They’re making some of the best thrillers in the world. They also crank up the intensity of the drama further than anyone else in the world. I’m putting two Korean directors on this list.
Park Chan Wook
You must know Park Chan Wook by now. He made Old Boy, whose one-take fight in a long corridor has been endlessly lifted by Marvel’s Netflix shows over and over again, starting with Daredevil. He recently directed the BBC’s adaptation of John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl to critical acclaim. He is a master at coordinating the actors and the movement of the camera together like an elaborate dance for action setpieces, making them painterly and stylish as hell. He can also coax intense emotional performances from his actors
Kim Jee Woon
Kim Jee Woon has a diverse filmography that includes the gothic horror drama A tale of Two Sisters, the stylish gangster drama A Bittersweet Life, the action-packed Asian Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Weird, the underrated Arnold Schwazenegger action comedy The Last Stand, the wartime spy thriller Age of Shadows, and the near-future Science Fiction political thriller Illang: The Wolf Brigade. He is a master of huge, elaborate and stylish action sequences that never loses the focus on human drama.
And there you have it. There are tons of qualified directors out there from Asian for Shang Chi, but they probably won’t get the job. Shang Chi had better be as good as these directors’ movies, or it’s going to be weak sauce.