Matthew Vaughn directed Kingsman: The Golden Circle (KGC). In Kingsman: The Golden Circle the British debonair fireball Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and the Kingsman Knighhood ally with their American bucolic pseudo-alcoholic, Kentucky-based cowboy counterparts Statesman, to have a right to-do and wrangle with the narcissistic femme fatale Poppy who wants to narcotically rule the world.
In Hollywood movies with martial arts influenced fights, you might notice the trend that they’re playing off traditional kung fu flicks. Kingsman was inherently a Hong Kong kung fu film where a kung fu master Harry Hart (Colin Firth), takes a downtrodden street bumpkin (Eggsy) and mentors him in the combative and philosophical ways of spy fu. As Eggsy’s training improves so does his attitudes and views on life. Like kung fu students, one philosophical tenet of Kingsman training is to become superior to your previous self.
Sammo Hung told me if you build good kung fu action, audiences will come. When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) hit U.S. theaters as the first original language wuxia film that mainstream U.S. audiences experienced, what sold it? The directing, cinematography or screenplay? Neither. Yuen Woo-ping‘s frenetic paced, high-flying kung fu action. Sammo’s words rang true. Such is the case with the Kingsman films.
Apart from the amazing action fights featured in Kingsman, the film’s action star was of all people Colin Firth. Though his smooth manners maketh man brawl was dazzling, Firth’s church fight garnered critics’ attention. Why so special? It’s worth a quick revisit.
Renowned for his quintessential British gentleman role, Firth was more out of his acting comfort zone than Jackie Chan doing Hamlet on stage using perfect English. Firth’s three-minute, one-take pugilistic storm of spins, twists and blustering ballistics with no transitional rests between any of the 100+ attackers was most exhilarating. This coming from a 54-year-old man who knows nothing about action, fights or guns.
In comparing the action he does in both films, Firth shares, “In Kingsman I was learning from the Jackie Chan trained Brad Allan and his team, a 6-time world championship Thai boxer, an Olympic gold medallist gymnast, and a special forces man for gun training. I trained three hours a day, every day, for several weeks. I learned to use parts of my body I didn’t know existed. I never expected to be an action hero…especially in my fifties. It’s clear as day I did most of my own action and there was little possibility of cheating.”
“Yet in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I can’t tell. We had four units working at the same time, sometimes I’m doing a shot in one unit and a little way from me, I’m shooting in another unit but it’s not me. When I saw Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the action style is a bit different, using new technology, a hypercam, which controls the pace of things so I’m less clear about what’s my work.”
Notice in Kingsman: The Golden Circle how Hart mentally returns…a backwards twist of why John Wick kills.
Vaughn said that the challenge on Kingsman: The Golden Circle was not to simply repeat these moments but to create new, visually nutty and cool set pieces and do most of it real. I recall the time I spent with Ching Siu-tung in Hong Kong. The greatest piece of advice he told me about fight choreography was, “Think with you brain and not the physical ability.” Ching would always create a movement and scene then figure out how to physically do it.
He says, “We built those cabs and did the action with camerawork. Kids look at CGI and say, ‘Pfft. Whatever.’ It’s not as impressive like it used to be. Point is, if you can think it, you can do it and doing things by camera is the future.”
The organically filmed comedic fight uses wire work when Eggsy soars above one of the speeding taxis while combining slow motion with camera speed ramping at the same time. Inside the car, Eggsy and Charlie, punch, kick and knee trap each others heads as they lean into camera then spin away from camera to escape the headlocks. By simultaneously adjusting camera speed and dizzying camera movement it makes the fight look more intricate than it is. It adds to the mayhem without being distracting.
During the later Eggsy-Charlie rematch where Charlie has an ultra-power robotic arm and after Eggsy dis-arms him, in the spirit of fair play, Eggsy also continues with one arm. It mirrors the finale fight between Liu Chia-liang and Lung Wei Wang in My Young Auntie (1981), reflecting Liu’s belief that fights should occur on equal grounds.
The new action star in KGC is Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) as the Marlborough Man/Burt Reynolds looking Statesman character Whiskey, who fights with a whip, an electrified lasso and two six-shooter guns, which have been altered to 12-shooters.
We’re introduced to Whiskey‘s ability in the Kingsman homage to Hart’s English Pub fight, where now it’s Whiskey who mantras manners maketh man before taking on a bunch of rednecks with wowee-zowee lasso throws and whip snaps in an American bar.
During an interview on NBC‘s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Pascal laughingly admitted that although he learned how to use a whip, for the lasso sequences all he did was wave a rope no longer than the length of his thumb around his head and body and SFX did the rest. He added, “I might get reprimanded by Vince for saying this on TV.”
During Whiskey’s barroom brawl with whip and lasso, and the cartoon-ish fisticuffs and gun fight at Poppy’s World with Eggsy doing gymnastic flying elements with guns blazing and Whiskey cracking his whip, Vaughn uses a classic Ching choreography trick. Ching would shoot three, unrelated jumping or spinning swords skills out of the fight flow but when edited together in succession it gave the fight a pleasing rhythmic appeal. For reference, watch Michelle Yeoh‘s 9-section whip-in-hell-duel in Heroic trio (1993).
Yet the ridiculous fight between Elton John and his captors is the most precious bout of all. Costumed in his full Yellow Brick Road regalia with platforms, it’s done with such outlandish panache that it’s the perfect sequined curtain closing for this gem of a movie.
Wednesday nights all right for fighting.