Home » Martial Arts » Tropes Of Martial Arts Films

Tropes Of Martial Arts Films

Martial Arts films have changed quite dramatically over the last decade or so, moving away from the standardised cookie cutter action flick to including memorable stories and likeable characters other than the protagonist. For a long time, martial arts films were made by a handful of studios which practiced the same techniques repeatedly. Although this gave way to what many call ‘classic’ titles, they also delivered many tropes in a short space of time that today are strange bites of movie-making cheesiness. Modern films by new filmmakers are doing away with these, but some are so ingrained into the heads of the creators (and the expectations of the audience) that they cannot be evaded.

Bloodless Bouts

This spawned from early censorship which deemed much of the fighting in these films too violent. The word ninja was deemed too frightening for kids, so much so that it was altered to hero for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles viewers in the UK. Therefore, you could imagine Kung Fu masters laying waste to piles of bodies may have looked obscene to uptight onlookers of the past. No matter how many punches, kicks or indeed slices of extra sharp blades people took, sometimes you wouldn’t see a drop of the red stuff. This has changed drastically today as many martial arts directors aim to make their fights as visually bloody as possible.

Unprecedented Training Montage

For the inevitable baby-faced apprentice to become the grey-bearded master they must first undergo a spirit breaking set of training that we all recognise. Of course, we couldn’t sit through every movement of weighted press-ups, bamboo walking and wall punching that the trainee goes through, otherwise it would be a remarkably long film. With a staple of this process being katas at sunrise and sunset, we can only assume the time span of these skill cultivating exercises is an extremely lengthy period, most of which involves hellish procedures no ordinary human would expect to attempt. Luckily viewers get all this condensed into about a minute accompanied by a catchy song and understand that the character is now automatically a pro.

Glares Aplenty
Glares Aplenty

Glares Aplenty

These sharp, glass breaking stares occurred frequently in old martial arts titles, why this happened is unclear. When enemies would meet in these films, they would often give an obvious visual squint of displeasure or sometimes a wide eyed-surprised look that was often accompanied by some sort of audio too. You may remember a pastiche of this trope in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill titles, where a look between rivals is joined by red colouring and a loud siren.

That One Guy

You know the type. He jumps in the space where the two sides are standing off and unleashes a torrent of swings, spins and fancy tricks. It doesn’t matter if he is holding nunchaku, swords, Sai or is unarmed, the display he brings is impressive and lightning fast making it unquestionable that he is a master of his art. After landing on his fighting stance the hero then approaches, knocking him out cold with a single underwhelming hit.