Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Top 5 Tuesday: Cinematic sword fights

Yar!! Happy International Speak Like A Pirate Day.

Seriously. Where did this come from? And why oh why did it have to fall on a day when I'm not teaching? That would have been too much fun.

But in lieu of plundering and pillaging my father's favourite pirate jokes to inflict on my students, I give you instead my top five sword fights in movies.

5. Romeo and Juliet. (Leonard Whiting, John McEnery, Michael York). Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version of the play is beautiful to watch, and never more so than when Michael York as the gleefully psychotic Tybalt is on the screen. The extended fight sequence between Tybalt and Mercutio, and then Tybalt and Romeo, is brutally exquisite, running (it seems) from one end of Verona's dusty streets to the other.

4. Rob Roy. (Liam Neeson, Tim Roth). As much as I love Liam Neeson, this is really all about Tim Roth. In a movie otherwise only worth watching for the Scottish landscape, Roth's lazy, foppish, ice-cold and deadly assassin is chilling to watch. The climactic sword fight between Roth and Neeson's Rob Roy is so entirely a one-sided affair, with Roth toying with his opponent like a haughty cat, that it almost doesn't qualify as a fight.

3. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. (Liam Neeson, Ewan MacGregor, Ray Parks). If only Rob Roy had some of Qui-Gon Jinn's jedi skills, he would have made much shorter work of Tim Roth. Seriously: I hated this film, and I consider it the best of the prequels. But the one sequence that almost made it worth the price of admission was the fight between Darth Maul and the two jedis -- largely because George Lucas, with no sweet ninja skills of his own, had to hand over the choreography to Parks. This is a lesson he should have learned, and handed over the writing to someone with talent, but that's a rant for another day. If I ever find The Phantom Menace in a discount DVD bin, I'll grab it just so I can watch this sequence.

2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi). There are so many unbelievably beautiful fight sequences in this film that it is hard to choose -- almost making the cut here is the initial fight between Li Mu Bai and the Jade Fox, especially for the sublime moment when he trips her up and she falls flat on her face, and Chow-Yun Fat's otherwise placid features betray a ghost of a smile. But really, the fight between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi where Yeoh essentially fights her way through an entire arsenal of weapons is one of the most spectacularly beautiful and jaw-dropping sequences anywhere.

1. The Princess Bride. (Cary Elwes, Mandy Pantinkin). Can there be any other in the number one slot? Inconceivable!

Runners-up: the fight between Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in The Mask of Zorro; the sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring where Aragorn sends Frodo off on his own, then turns to fight an army of orcs single-handedly; the beautifully absurd and protracted fight between Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and (former) Commodore Norrington in Pirates of the Caribbean 2; the climactic fight between Robin Hood and the Sherriff in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, less for the actual fight than for Alan Rickman's frothing and mugging; Hamlet and Laertes in Zeffirelli's Hamlet; all the classic Errol Flynn bits in his Robin Hood.

And I also want to reserve a special mention for my friend Sean Mulligan, who to the best of my knowledge has not yet choreographed any film sword fights, but has done some pretty spectacular work on the UWO stage -- the best of which was when he played Banquo for me in Macbeth, and choreographed his own death scene. A spectacular bit of theatre that I can claim absolutely no credit for.


jer said...

How about Polanksi's Macbeth? Whizzz...bonk.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder about Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. I just looked it up on amazon.ca, romantic head case that I am, and it's $8.79 in widescreen.

Anonymous said...

What? No love for the Kill Bill movies?

iFreud said...

I agree with the Princess Bride being a top choice, however, I too, have to advocate for Kill Bill, volume one. No question.

Lesley said...

Craptacular? Dude, have you been watching the Bachelor or something???

Swain said...

Certainly not Top 5, but still worthy of note for its absurdity is the ski pole duel between Lane Meyer and Ricky Smith in Savage Steve Holland's Better Off Dead. Any movie with a claymation burger voiced by David Lee Roth is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the #1. Good choices Chris!

b said...

i seem to remember a pretty good one from robin hood: men in tights as well.

also, your sshrc post was hilarious.