This won't come as a big shock to anyone who has been to the theater in the past couple of years, but we're running out of martial arts movies. Sure, you can still see martial arts being used in plenty of action scenes in lots of movies. However, something has changed. Some would argue that the change is for the better. And I would agree with those people, but only to an extent. There is a lot more story content in modern movies which feature martial arts choreography for the simple reason that the martial arts are not the main draw or point of these movies. A better story is always a good thing. However, I'm going to give you a look at what we're missing now.
In today's movies, we see some of our favorite actors being given pre-production training in martial arts and the type of choreography that you would only ever have seen used with someone like Jackie Chan or Jet Li in the past. Just a few examples of this are; Christian Bale, Robert Downey Jr., Keanu Reaves, and Denzel Washington. Now, all of these actors are good at what they do and although I'm not certain of the exact extent in which Keanu Reaves trained for his fights in the Matrix movies, all of the other actors I mentioned are said to have taken their martial arts training quite seriously for the roles which they were preparing for. To that point, I believe it shows in their work. Robert Downey Jr. was actually involved in the martial art, Wing Chun, well before we saw him using it on screen. Still, for those of us who were thrilled by the movies of such martial arts actors as Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, and Chuck Norris, just to name a few, I think there is still something lacking.
We also have to look at the use of special effects such as "bullet time" and things of that nature. It was truly awesome to see these effects when they were being used for the first time in movies. However, after the matrix movies, it seemed like every action movie for the next ten years used some form of this. It became more than just a gimick though. It became a crutch to any real fight scenes. When you can do as much in post production and editing as is possible today, it seems that the need for someone who is actually capable of performing stunts is nearing nonexistence.
No offense to those actors who take on martial arts training to better prepare for their roles, but there is a clear difference between them and the martial arts actors of the past. Being involved in the martial arts for as long as I have, I don't know if everyone notices the differences the way that I do. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to my fight scenes though. I loved the Bourne movies, the Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr., and even the first two Matrix movies (I'm not going into what I thought about that last one...), but I definitely miss movies like, "Kiss of the Dragon", "Rush Hour", and "The Quest". When you see someone who has devoted the majority of their life to training in martial arts, you're seeing action sequences performed to perfection. If you don't believe me, take a look at "Enter the Dragon", "Return of the Dragon", "Kiss of the Dragon", and "Ong Bak". I know there are a lot of "dragons" in there, but the point is valid. All of the movies I just mentioned are excellent, because they rely so little on special effects and so heavily on the real ability of the martial artists starring in them.
That's what the movies are missing these days. For a while, Hong Kong cinema still did its best to provide that kind of entertainment. But let's be honest. They were never as good at reaching the world market as Hollywood and when they did, it was because of the talents of martial artists like the ones I listed earlier. We may be seeing the last of this genre slowly flickering out with only a few last glimmers of the past quality such as "Ip Man". I remember years ago, my friends and I used to talk about who would be the next martial arts movie star to sort of take the torch after Jackie Chan and Jet Li retired. Now, I think we realize the answer... Nobody.