How to Film a Good Sword Fight | Video Essay

How to Film a Good Sword Fight | Video Essay


Don’t use your sword like a baseball bat Don’t use your sword like a baseball bat! Look, there are times it can work Usually when your character is desperate and losing temper But when Rey is supposed to be one with the force She still does that And it works!? Man, lightsaber duels just aren’t what they used to be Are they? Look, I wasn’t the one saying this is bad A Hollywood stunt coordinator did “Oh my god, I hate this…” And the biggest sword nerd on YouTube also did In any case, for the biggest franchise in cinema history They have done better And they can still do better With Episode IX coming up, finishing up the saga once more The time is right Let’s look to our old friend, East Asia And show them how it’s done That Is how you do a sword fight Before you fight You have to build up the anticipation Distilled into its purest form It’s literally just two men Staring at each other for literally 30 seconds Until the tension is so high It explodes We call this Qi Shi in Chinese Or ikioi in Japanese The feel of an aura, or the battle spirit being build up Yes, that’s where Dragon Ball Z got the idea Think of it as the battle of the spirits Before the battle of the flesh It’s something the original trilogy did well Thanks to the slower pace Because of the wait Even with the primitive choreography Every swing feels tense and impactful As if any time, someone is about to be chopped in half It’s also something that The prequels didn’t do nearly as well You just know they are going to fight for a while But the concept of the aura is more than just tension In Asian cinema, it borderlines supernatural Going back to Sanjuro for a moment Pay attention to the audio Did you hear that? As soon as their stands are ready The birds go silent Listen again It is as if there’s an invisible force Emanating from our swordsmans And scared off the animals Other ways to capture this aura can be a simple dolly in Or a sound of the wind Weather is a nice way to boost the mood and tension Dust in the air Heavy rain Heavy wind Cherry blossoms Snow And let’s not forget: Smoke Build your anticipations Utilize your environments Wait for the tensions to explode Imagine if Rey didn’t rushed into the fight Guns blazing Imagine these two stands in the heavy snow Wait until the perfect moment to strike Wouldn’t that be cool? But what’s a fight without… You know, the actual fight So how do you film a good movie sword fight Well, first, you have to stop whacking it around You’d think a martial arts weapon from a civilized time Would show more skill and dexterity Compare this To this See how she is leaning back And she’s… parrying It’s a common problem in lightsaber duels Where both parties are swinging away Neither is impacting the actions of the other So instead of a back and forth fight The result looks like a group of people Each with their own dance routine This problem is even worse with the CGI fight Between Yoda and Dooku There is no impact when their lightsaber touches Now take a look at this One side guides the actions of the other And instantly, there is a dynamic struggle A fight for control Star Wars eventually came close to this The duel on Mustafar actually incorporates a lot of parrying The result definitely feels more like a fight But there are still so much more you can do You’d think dodging would be a pretty obvious action But it comes up surprisingly rarely It is a good way to break up your characters From the standing up right face to face Speaking of standing up right Break your character’s posture Knock one of your character to the ground and keep fighting Grapple Wall Jump Do more than just swinging your swords But I think the most important lesson Star Wars has to learn Is this: “What was that?” “An exhibition?” “We need emotional content” Tell me who’s winning at this moment Now tell me who’s winning Many lightsaber duels share this fundamental problem The characters don’t emote in a fight This is something the sequels actually did better The way she swings her lightsaber around As if to tell him to “back away” That’s good emotional content right there But what we really want, is this Now, tell me who’s winning Finally, let’s talk about what makes Asian sword fights So distinct from… This And the answer is not just because one is faster Look at this Now, what if I do this In choreography These are the key poses you have to hit The actors are basically trying to move from one pose to another in rapid succession And look at how clean their poses are Even if I do this You can still clearly tell what they are doing This clean and clear posing Is what allows the action to be fast Without it coming off as confusing Works for non sword fights, too This is actually what the prequels were trying to do And it definitely flows Although as you can see The actors poses aren’t as dynamic Put your whole body into it Not just your arms Now, let’s take a look at The Last Jedi Um… Ug… Can you see the key pose? No, I’m genuinely asking because I can’t! Look, Kylo’s block From this to this You call that a pose? Rey’s swing At this angle It’s hard to tell at a glance what the pose is supposed to be Rey’s saber thrust From this To this The target is blocked by this jackass There’s even a moment when Adam Driver just stands there No, he’s not Kylo Ren At this moment, he’s just Adam Driver Waiting for the stuntman to come in See how fluid and clean this is? And all the stuntmen stay out of the foreground? In short, The Last Jedi failed at a very fundamental level It makes a step forward And a few steps back For a continuation from this And this This might as well be a regression Now you know why the pros really dislike this fight Mandalorian came out and reminded everyone that Star Wars was meant to be a samurai western And people love it So what we did today Looking for guidance from Asian cinema Is not as far-fetched as it sounds It’s hard to believe that the saga is ending once more And the lightsaber is barely used Fans have had better Expects better And deserves better Hopefully, the sage ends on a high note But even if it doesn’t… You know what? There are people out there Making their own lightsaber duels fan films The passion of the Star Wars fandom is endless Now you know how to make a good sword fight Why don’t we get out there And show them how it’s done?

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  1. First!
    Nice analysis, thank you very much. There's also a lack of power and "weight" into it, so editing could be improved as well. As Jackie Chan filmed his hong kong films, iterating the hit so it is processed twice but blends in the eye, making a hit much more powerfull and painful to see! (yeah, from the dissapeared video of every frame a painting on j4cki3 ch4n's 4cti0n c0m3dy). There's a lot of blame to share, as editors, choreographers, actors and directors and producers are neglecting the possibilities the fame of their franquice deserves.

  2. One of my fave swords fights? Well not really a sword fight, more like a spear fight in the Akira Kurosawa movie "Hidden Fortress" where Mifune character has a spear duel with his rival who captured his princess. The duel was pretty intense, also spear always been Samurai main weapon but this weapon was never covered much in samurai movies.

    My second fave sword fight is actually Tsui Hark Blade a remake of One armed swordman. This whole movie was basically a deconstruction of Chinese Wuxia genre where most of these "legendary" fighters all rely on luck and dare. The final showdown was pretty realistic and brutal with no flying Chinese.

    My third was Takeshi Kitanos movie version of Zaitochi the Blind Swordman. He managed to add in some subtle but gory humour in his sword fight. Also the swordfights in every scene is quick and brutal.

    And then of course it is Yojimbo when Sanjuro singlehandedly defeated all the remaining gangsters in the final showdown.

  3. I know, after the death of the Jedi council, the arts of lightsaber aren't what it used to be, hence the blunt and unskilled fight scenes.
    I'd argue making the fights more satisfying to watch is more important that justifying the lore, but maybe that's just me. Come on, Kylo Ren stopped a blaster shot in mid-air. He can swing better than this.

  4. I actually feel like the fight The Last Jedi. Because Rey has only fought using staff and essentially clubs, it makes sense that she would use her lightsaber that way. Same with Kylo, he's brutal and kinda crude but powerful. He probably hasn't had a decent fight in years.

    With that said, the fight between Finn and Captain Phasma is probably better.

  5. technically the jedi order in the republic deliberately teaches jedi not to emote while fighting, but it does still make for more bland combat, not to mention that qui-gon, obi-wan, and of course anakin are all somewhat mavericks when it comes to defying traditionalist jedi teachings, so they would have had just as good of an excuse to do better if they wanted

  6. I've been think about sword fights lately. The recent clip released for The Witcher series on Netflix looked more like Geralt was just smacking people with swords.

  7. Choreography matters, hence getting the john wick team for YouKnowWho in the 3rd act of Rogue one
    for more on why ep7 and 8 are bad see Mauler's videos.

  8. Thank you for bringing attention to the Rurouni Kenshin live-actions, some of the best choreographed sword-fighting sequences out there imo (also a really good adaptation).

  9. Star Wars is a travesty of cinema, even the originals. I'm genuinely surprised at how many people still like that garbage. Baby yoda is final layer of toilet paper on top

  10. Yeah, Daisy and Adam had no grounding or planting. Mostly just shoulder-swings, and off-torsion thrusts. No drive from the floor through kinetic chains.
    Worse, when you're used to the classic Kurosawa or any of the classic Chinese/HK films, you're used to the speed and fluidity with the cuts mostly being plausibly aimed as-if you're trying to actually cut the other fighter. Seeing their wild swings 6, 8, 14 inches over the taller stuntmen's heads . . . It looks like a re-shoot of that one kid's video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRz3yFZsjFI or the many others like it but with a much better effects budget.

  11. Could not agree more, and was amazing to get your take and see some Eastern master piece fights in your discussion and analysis did not hurt either :P. Thank you for this and for all your content in 2019 here is to 2020 being even better for you, the channel, and thus us as well whom <3 what you do and create.

  12. Thx you for pointing out that how Ryan the director fail so miserable on that scene. And yet people still praise that. For those who argue coz Ray didn't have proper training, so there is no nice form saber dueling on her, I counter it with how a fucking noobie like Ray able to fight and win so many trained guard at the first place

  13. Chanbara! That's what I love to see. Star Wars has definitely lost it's way but I cant really say that it ever caught me well. Chinese martial arts films have always been my favourite for this. Have you by any chance ever seen Sword of the Stranger? They do a fantastic job of animated sword fighting in that one despite it being animated. I cant wait to see your opinion on Fog Hill of the Five Elements next year too. That should be a masterpiece.

  14. It is such a small thing, but what you said about key poses completely blew my mind, I think I may have to look at my favourite Hong Kong fight scenes and action scenes in general in a completely different way!

  15. Hey AC, I don't know if you watch anime but I wonder if you could do video topic or discussion about Live Action Anime Failure vs Comic Book Movies Success.

  16. I think that The Last Jedi presents another valid approach to sword combat. The only part Im totally agree with is the emotion part on chapter 3. I love tense fights in which the swordsman wait for the perfect moment to strike but I also love fights with them giving their all with no moment to breath. Despite not having their poses in the praetorian fight scene that well defined, I still can feel every strike in mid of the beautiful chaos. In the other hand I think the Rurouni Kenshin crowd fight example you use is very loose, the camerawork is annoying and I feel that the crowd is just jumping away without being attacked, it seems like it have no weight. The other Kenshin scenes that you shown are so great in contrast.

  17. love the points you raised! Didn’t realise 气势 was an asian concept (thought it was universal before this). watched this vid w Adblock off to support you 👍🏼

  18. I feel that the problem its that Abrams decided to use Kendo, that uses a Shinai and that its more of a martial sport that a martial art, its based on getting points, not cutting the other person or stab it.
    Besides the fact that most directors and choreographers are kinda bad, most dont understand that an action scene its a conversation scene where the action its the conversation, the same with fight scenes, that is why we have such a terrible camera work, blocking, etc…, they see the action and fights as the parts of a video games with no story in them, because i guess they have never play a game that moves the story while you are playing it.
    One would think that they would allow Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian and Donnie Yen to tell them how to film a fight scene and how to choreograph a fight scene, but i guess that was too much, lets just have them there because for some reason people likes their movies and loves their fight scenes, for some weird reason.
    One final thing, George Lucas original action and sword fight choreographer choice was Sammo Hung, George Lucas loved Sammo work and saw how amazinh he was as a directors, so in an alternate universe Sammo Would had saved Star Wars lightsaber duels.

  19. Just had to work in a Bruce Lee scene. Great video, but I can't believe you did not include any scenes from a 程小東 film.

  20. For a good sword fight in western cinema, watch the last fight of Kingdom of Heaven, it might be in the deleted scenes, but that one was wonderful.

    Or even better watch the Duel from the polish movie The Deluge. It's often regarded as the most realistic fencing/sword fighting scene in a movie

  21. Star Wars is indeed inspired by Samurai films but it's still a Western movie meaning the action and choeregraphy would be very western. The original trilogy felt closer to Japanese sword fights, while the prequels felt like they were trying to do Chinese sword fights. The new trilogy, I don't even know, god it looks awful. In Rogue One, Donnie Yen's character properly shows choregraphy and a nice fight. They're swinging their light sabres like they're a bat and not a sword, you have to move your wrists and have a clear main hand that directs the flow.

    Also, wouldn't it be cool if there actually was a Jedi/Sith that has a style that is close to Iaijutsu/Iaido? The quick draw and 1 cut fatality. I reckon, it'd be amazing if somehow Japan got the rights and hollywood funding to make their own Star Wars film. It can be like uncannon or like a side side story set within the same universe.

  22. 7:35 she is clearily hitting the air infront of the actior…not the face, its still coreography and not swordfighting….
    but just look into some historical european martial arts shorts, Dryenshlag, Adorea, Akademia Szerimy and cupple others…they basicly mastered that thing

  23. Does anyone have link to the video he makes a reference to with the stunt people not liking the Throne Fight scene in Last Jedi?

  24. one thing that shows the team of The Last Jedi doesn't care about action is because members of Jackie Chan's stunt team are in the movie but they are in a talking scene as background characters instead of used in the one fight in the movie

  25. …well now that brief bit on the Madalorian made me want to see a vid from you regarding it and how it tributes samurai westerns…because for myself that is the #1 reason why I'm enjoying it so much.

  26. Ironically, as for the majority of the Star Wars fans the fast-paced Prequel lightsaber fights are their favourites, with duel on Mustafar being the top rank next to duel on Naboo. It's the reason why the Maul vs. Kenobi duel at Tatooine in Star Wars: Rebels got huge backlash for its suspense and lack of acrobatics when it's supposed to be an homage to duels in Kurosawa films; short, precise and deadly.

    I guess it kind of depends on the context of the plot progression, though. Personally, I love more fast-paced duels because it's so otherworldly.

  27. It's not like Hollywood never done some great sword fights. 1938 the adventure of Robin hood or 1940 the mark of Zorro has some of the best sword fights. They just seem to forget that they can do it…

  28. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that Johnson chose that angle at the start of the fight scene was due to dramatic impact. This was one of the few surprising moments in the movie where the big bad was suddenly dispatched of and we got a rousing moment we never thought would happen – Kylo fighting alongside Rey and a tease that either person could actually join the other’s side permanently. I was already overwhelmed at this point and checking out the sword choreography was not exactly a priority at this point. I have a feeling that Johnson had coverage of other angles, close-ups and whatnot, but ultimately he picked the establishing wide shot because it serves the story and the moment.

  29. Hard disagree. This fight is more about showing how in tune they this specific moment. Their raw power, their anger, and how alike they really are. These two are bubling with pent up emotion and power and they both release ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) at the same time. The moment they converge, so that their divergence is more tragic. It's the most emotional and meaningful fight (so far!) in the entire series for me, and I really think reducing it to not following key poses really sells it short.

  30. I really enjoyed this video and love your examples highlighting the differences in timing and choreography. My only fan quibble is that Rey spent her whole life using a quarterstaff – so, yeah, she's going to swing the light saber like a bat.

  31. this video is the take i didn't know i needed so thank you!
    (i've never commented before but i love your videos–they're clear, interesting, and visually dynamic and I always have a really good time here)

  32. Yoda vs Dooku, I disagree – I'm a HEMA enthusiast and I tend to criticise duels that have no basis in reality quite a lot. But I've always considered Star Wars Jedi duels to be something that we non-force users cannot comprehend. And I enjoyed the duel between the two quite a lot. It was a positive, exciting and completely unexpected.

  33. The best part is where the hero gets a slight wound and says "Thanks. I needed that scratch to awaken me." He then fights like a demon and kills the bad guy.

  34. Surprised you didn't mention art of the saber. If you haven't seen it, I would totally recommend it. One of my favorite fan films

  35. Lightsaber duels just got ruined for me, but… I think that's a good thing lol Definitely reminded me of how much I adored the fights from the original trilogy.

  36. Dude…. you keep making videos on stuff I’m exactly talking about with my brother, in regards to film and certain film theory philosophies you hold and point out. You are great.

    Next your going to freggin make a video on sergio Leone and spaghetti westerns and what western even means. And how music drives emotion.

    The best lightsaber fight is in a cartoon between darth maul and obi wan. It ends with in 3 strokes. It’s the best depiction of a light saber duel.

  37. nobody needs good old times, i think some indeprentent movie like "Drive" can be a good thing to review, afterall a action movie without lots of car-chase scene. good looking actor simply matters

  38. Dude…. WE ARE BROTHERS!!! 😀
    You expressed things I couldn't figure out how to even tell myself.

    Great job. And yeah… The Mandalorian is pretty great. 🙂

    strikes key pose!

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