Not everyone has karate skills that translate to film. If they did, then everyone would be Jean-Claude Van Damme. And now that I've given Jean-Claude Van Damme the plot for his next movie, let's talk about some of his colleagues. These are the action stars who, regardless of any real-life martial arts experience or toughness, never seemed able to put together a convincing fight scene.
#9. David Carradine
In 1972, David Carradine was hired as the star of the show Kung Fu, supposedly because Bruce Lee looked too Chinese. There was hardly any kung fu in the show, which was lucky, since Carradine fought like a gentle current pushing a corpse against a rock. His character used combat as a way to spread peaceful enlightenment, probably because by the time one of his punches landed, no one could remember why anyone was fighting.
Despite attacking with the fury of a beginner tango class, Carradine was typecast as a martial artist and went on to film hundreds of clumsy slow motion kung fu battles. He fought Chuck Norris, James Remar, Rick Springfield, Al Leong ... he even had his own cardio karate workout video where you could stand and breathe your way to Shaolin fitness.
He eventually learned how to perform martial arts, but never managed to make it look like they'd hurt. The only thing slower than a David Carradine karate chop was the editing process for one of his fight scenes. If you didn't use eight camera cuts and a perfectly wigged stuntman for every attack, his battles looked like Tom Petty politely trading business cards with someone. It took David Carradine longer than a minute to throw a kick and, in what would be his undoing, longer than one masturbation session to get his neck out of a belt. It got to the point where the editors of Kung Fu seemed to be using the slow motion effect just to make fun of him. Take a look at the absurdly unnecessary use of slow motion in this scene and tell me I'm wrong:
#8. David Heavener
When you picture the kind of filmmaker who would write, direct and produce a movie just to cast himself in the lead role of martial arts master rock star, you're picturing David Heavener (Lethal Ninja, Kill Crazy). Undiscovered actresses take one look at him and know his first question is going to be unzipping his pants. If evil scientists collected all the sperm from Hollywood casting room couches and jammed it into Tori Spelling, David Heavener is the beast that would hatch from her chestplate. I understand that the last half of this sentence will sound like I'm kidding, but Heavener is the man in this fight who isn't in a dress or a wheelchair:
Heavener is a living Tim and Eric sketch, and his fight scenes are violent mockeries of violence. It's often hard to tell if Heavener is trying to punch someone in the face or knock the boom mic above their heads out of frame. He makes battles against enemy ninjas look less exciting than battles against tile mildew. His co-stars have no idea how to react to him, since they can't tell when he's throwing an actual kick or just adjusting his pantyhose against their ribs. Luckily, he makes up for it with his incredible parkour. Prepare yourself as best you can for Outlaw Force:
#7. Fred Williamson
People started calling Fred Williamson "The Hammer" during his professional football career, and when you think about how many gigantic men were trying to get that same nickname to stick, you'll realize that this achievement is the closest thing a person can get to a Nobel Prize in Badassery. This is a man who has crippled dozens of offensive linemen and starred in three movies that have the N-word right in their titles. And yet despite how terrifying that is to me, I'm still choosing to say that a Fred Williamson fight scene looks like two people with cerebral palsy feeding each other.
There are several reasons for these bad action sequences. First of all, he had to hold back so much to not kill his co-stars. If he wanted, Fred Williamson could kick your ass so hard that nine months after you die, your wife would give birth to his foot. Full-powered Fred Williamson attacks are the second ingredient in Taco Bell ground beef.
The other reason Fred's fight scenes suffered is that it takes a lot of Hollywood magic to get martial arts to look right on film. It's a collaborative effort between the choreographer, stuntmen, cinematographer and editor. Most of Fred Williamson's movies were made in Italy by his own production company, and his movies had budgets smaller than a family in a D.L. Hughley punchline. Fred Williamson can make a movie with 75 cents and a dirty look. The only drawbacks are that most of the extras are pedestrians gaping into the camera, a few of the main characters are Italian security guards asking everyone to leave, and if you ever see anything explode, that probably wasn't on purpose.
Still, anyone can admire the frugality in this scene from Black Cobra 3. Both the soundtrack and the dialogue were legally too stupid to pay for, and Fred massacres a gang in a grocery store while destroying only one candle, one package of cookies and one roll of toilet paper. If Fred Williamson made John Carter, it would have been called Spaceman Brown: Chocolate Motherfucker, and it would have turned a $250 million profit.
#6. Lynda Carter
For four seasons of Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter taught the world how to get turned on by terrible fighting. You know, that might be why my yellow belt test involved so much mouth stuff.
#5. Eric Roberts
I have no idea how Eric Roberts has been cast so many times as a martial artist. He fights like an interpretive dance about coming out to your father. The only fight I've seen him in that had any believability is this one from By the Sword, where he loses a gentleman's slap fight to aged Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham.
Eric Roberts has a reputation for changing choreography to suit his limited arsenal of attacks, which may explain why his character in Best of the Best, the captain of the American taekwondo team, uses only female rape-prevention techniques. In Dead or Alive, a stunt man stands in for so many of his moves that his face is like a special guest star that only shows up at the beginning and end of his fights.