When the Power Rangers (PR) appeared on American television in 1993, few realized that the source material for the first season’s fight scenes were from the 50 episodes of the Toei Studios‘ Japanese tokusatsu genre, live-action Super Sentai (super task force) TV show, Kyoryu Sentai Jerenja (1992-93).
The alien Zordon recruited five teenagers to fight monsters that want to conquer Earth. Zordon transformed the teenagers into space-suited warriors called Power Rangers who could conjure up building-sized, metallic, alter-ego animal/dinosaurs known as zords. When the zords failed, the Power Rangers united to form a giant humanoid-looking robot called Megazord.
Now 23 years later, PR, mirrors the original TV plot except the story is more personal for each Ranger. They’re just battling Rita Repulsa and her gold digging Devil before Angel Grove becomes Pagan Village.
Why is this personal? For the movie’s first 90+ minutes, it’s all about getting to know the deep seeded emotional angst, weaknesses and fears of today’s troubled, outcast teens. As they navigate through their personal hells in search of friends, freedom and purposes in life. While dealing with school, bullies and parents don’t understand them. Yet by learning martial arts, their brazen attitudes change as their paths become clear. They’d rather die for each other than to give up as individuals.
Born in Fuzhou, China and similar to Jackie Chan, at nine-years-old, Lin, who has the same last name as NBA sensation Jeremy Lin, went to school in Australia. During his senior year, Lin emigrated to Canada where he studied Theatre Performance at the University of British Columbia. His love for acting stemmed from hiding behind a curtain and watching his mum perform on Chinese theatrical stages. Though his mum didn’t want him to become an actor, it didn’t stop him. Martial arts opened new doors for Lin, which of course led to a starring role in PR.
As a Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) teacher who has fought professionally, Lin was the most athletically experienced cast member. He shares, “I’m also really into Jiu-Jitsu, so we incorporated some of that into Zack’s style. But I can’t pay the stunt guys on the film enough compliments. I learned so many things every day. They kept coming up with new ideas to create something even better.”
One death-defying stunt required the Rangers to leap across a yawning chasm. Using cranes, wire rigging and a machine called a ratchet, which they normally use to flip cars was now propelling stuntmen 130 feet through the air. They tested the contraption by using heavy bags before the stuntmen.
Lin, who’s also fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, recalls, “It literally felt like flying. I wanted to screw up my takes so I could keep doing it over. Yeah it was a little scary but it was also that fun. Acting, martial arts, sports all have many things in common. They challenge the performer. There can be no deception.”
A turning point in the Super Sentai action stemmed from the Shaw Brothers 1975 film The Super Inframan. Influenced by Toei’s Ultraman (1966) and Kamen Rider (1971), Inframan was an insane, souped-up tokusatsu movie. It was filled with wild and wacky kung fu action that was vastly superior to its contemporaries. The Hong Kong fights upped the ante over the Japanese combative action, compliments of Bruceploitation star Bruce Lee and veteran Hong Kong fight choreographer Tang Jia.
When Power Rangers hit stateside in 1993, inspired by Hong Kong’s high flying Fant-Asia action (1983-1993) and Jackie Chan’s new style of fight choreography from Police Story (1985), the Japanese fights sparkled with fast paced samurai swordplay and body fidgeting gestures. But the new PR movie lacked this quality.
The beauty of the stars being clad in full body-armour suits is the stunt doubles doing the fights. I used to stunt double Chinese women in period piece kung fu soap operas in Taiwan back in 1980-82.
Yet even the stunt double fights were incoherent and lacked pace, logic and rhythm. A Ranger would intermittently flash a Brazilian capoeira-like skill or a fancy spinning kick but they were out of action context. It’s as if the director said, “Throw a cool kick or flipping gymnastic strike and we’ll stick it into the final edit hitting some CGI villain.”
Furthermore, one couldn’t follow the action or what anyone was doing because they used too many close-ups and earthquake cam. The fighters would perform one to three skills per shot. Then they edit them like disjointed dancing moves on a mediocre music video.
However, when the Power Ranger broke out the Dinozords and rushed into battle to the soundtrack of Go Go Power Rangers, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, it sent a pleasing chill up my spine and the audience cheered.