Jennifer Garner as MARVEL comic's Elektra Do you ever notice with the Hollywood/Hong Kong craze that studios parade the Hong Kong action directors around like they're important to the film? Well they are, because without them, MATRIX, DAREDEVIL, CHARLIE'S ANGELS, X-MEN, anything decent by Jackie Chan and Jet Li and many more films, would be putrid. However, when an American does the action, nothing is said. Even in the film's production notes, they're not mentioned. This is an abomination because lets face it; the action for these films is the selling point. And if you disagree, watch the trailers. ELEKTRA is the last straw, because the action in the film is more superior to its predecessor DAREDEVIL, which boasted choreography by Yuen Cheung-yan, one of Hong Kong's elite. Back to the title. "It's 3AM, do you know where Jennifer Garner is?" According to ELEKTRA's director Rob Bowman, action designers Mike Gunther and Marcus Young, who've worked together for 10 years, not only know where Garner is, but also they put her there.

Mike Gunther is the founder of 3AM Entertainment, and with his colleague Marcus Young (who runs Cold Zero Productions), their goal is to change the face of Hollywood's stunt industry, and ELEKTRA seems to be a great starting point. Gunther quickly notes, "The great thing about this film is that I didn't have two movie stars to do the fights, so to speak, but two people in Jennifer Garner and Will Lee, that were trying to do something good. There wasn't that movie star element, because many don't want to work. But they both cared about the work and Jennifer set the example with her work ethic and so everyone drew off of that. And Will also worked equally hard everyday. You can see it in the fights, they did great jobs.

"But also a lot of that comes down to director Rob Bowman who gave Marcus and me a lot of latitude and Rob trusted me and didn't keep me in a box. So I'd have to have more than one idea at a time, in case he wasn't happy with the first one."

Jennifer Garner with director Rob Bowman Director Bowman admits that at the film's beginning he didn't want to use wires - stressing that he wanted to abide by the laws of gravity - but later realized working with Gunther and Young that wire work is not all about guys flying around like birds.

"I listened to what they said," Bowman tells me, "and I eventually gave Mike, Marcus and myself the liberty and latitude that if we got to a point of a fight where wires could heighten or accent the fight, I'd approve it. But I didn't want it to look like a variation of another fighting style, not to look like CROUCHING TIGER. I wanted to ELEKTRA to have its own voice. So we would design the fight, see if it was exciting, and if we needed to use wires to heighten it, we'd add it in."

Bowman is adamant saying that he didn't spend any time watching Hong Kong films or other comicbook action hero movies, thinking that it might influence him into a certain look or tone. And after watching the film, apart from Elektra's blind teacher being strangely reminiscent to the recent ZATOICHI movie, and having bed sheets flying around like in Tsui Hark's ZU: WARRIORS FROM MAGIC MOUNTAIN, Bowman succeeded. Even the sai fights look nothing like the repetitive sai fights from THE MUMMY RETURNS. Young points out, "Well Mike and I aren't trying to emulate anybody, we're trying to be originators and not imitators.

It was established in DAREDEVIL that Elektra used the sai "It was established in DAREDEVIL that Elektra used the sai, but in that film she didn't get to use them that much, so we wanted to create opportunities in this film for her to do that. Jennifer worked hard on the fights and Don Lee trained her well with the sai. But I got the feeling that Jen really enjoyed the bo sequence. After all the hard work in training with the bo the screenwriters wanted to rewrite the scene. Jennifer fought hard for the bo fight and it stayed."

What were they going to change the scene to? Chasing dragonflies. Now that would've bugged me too.

For those of you who came in late, Elektra is the Greek assassin from Marvel Comics who got first appeared in "Daredevil" #168 in 1980. The film is basically from the "Story of the Hand" storyline by Frank Miller that happens right after her fateful encounter with Bullseye, which we saw in DAREDEVIL. Of note, in one version of the Marvel Universe, Elektra and Wolverine have a daughter. Now there's an interesting sequel, Garner and Jackman.

In the film, when the loner, brooding, cold-hearted assassin Elektra decides to befriend her targets and defy the "Order of the Hand", the Hand leader wannabe, Kirigi, sets out with four deadly vagabonds to finish of the job and Kirigi wants to prove his worthiness by short circuiting Elektra.

Bowman explains how this Elektra is different from the DAREDEVIL version. "She's more feminine," he says, "and I wanted to make Jennifer more sexy and also keeping the action in mind, it was important that her red outfit not only be cosmetic but she could move around in it.

"But more interesting, is the stuff inside. The film is driven by her internal life, not just the external conflict. Who is Elektra, what does she do, how does she feel, how does she deal with things, peacefully or in tumult? So I built her from the inside out. And my villain basically bruises her inside. Not just about beating her up or killing her but by haunting her, knowing what keeps her up at night. Kirigi shall remind her she's a broken spirit and that's how he will beat and defeat her. And so for this villain I was looking for someone handsome and someone with quite strength and Will Lee was that man."

THE HAND Ninja Cult

Voted one of "People" magazine's 50 most beautiful people in 2002, Lee was featured as Colonel Moon in the James Bond film DIE ANOTHER DAY, starred in TORQUE and is known for his role of Danny Woo in TNT's WITCHBLADE. But ELEKTRA is the first film to prominently feature his martial arts training, something he practiced not just because his father Soo Woong Lee was one of the five big taekwondo masters to come to America in the 1960s, but because he liked the color blue.

Lee reminiscently laughs, "Yeah, I loved the color blue, so I always remember picking up a blue belt at age three out of a box and I was hooked. I really didn't train seriously until I reached 13 and got recruited to Berkeley for the taekwondo team. I had hoped to attend the Olympic trials, but my class load couldn't afford me to train as long as I needed to be successful.

One of "I was planning to go to law school, then my dad got sick so I had to put graduate school on hold and teach taekwondo nine hours a day. Between our three schools we had 1200 students, so I got burned out and decided to come to Hollywood to become an actor."

Yet Lee shunned martial arts character auditions. He didn't want martial arts to be the crux of his career citing that with his theater group experience and six years of acting training, he didn't want to rely on his martial arts skills, knowing that as an actor he'd have more longevity. So why martial arts now?

"Of course I'm concerned with stereotypes. It used to be that Asians were 50-50, geek-martial arts gangsters, and now it's 80 percent martial arts villains. But I took this role because I firmly believe I could do something with the part. I now feel comfortable enough as an actor, and being part of the Marvel universe where the villains and heroes all share this cool quality. And it was also about wanting to be that kid again. I had just finished a serious project and I really wanted to play."

Elektra vs. Kirigi And playing he did. Fighting Jennifer Garner with twin katanas and lots of bumps, bruises and a few worries. Lee elaborates. "All the fight guys were great. The fights I did with Jen were hand-to-hand, weapons, and rough and rugged, and that girl is probably one of the hardest working people I've ever seen. My own fear on holding back at certain times, was just not wanting to get on a plane and being fired for being the dude that hurt her. But I didn't hold back and she handled it.

"The weapon fight was tough because the weapons were not right. She was using titanium sais and I had heavy aluminum katanas, so we both were worried about whacking each other with these weapons, knowing it could be dangerous."

So were there any accidents? "Well," moment of silence later, "two that I saw. One was her stunt double Shauna. She flipped a sai and it stuck into her thigh about five inches, and blood was gushing all over. I almost passed out (slight laugh). They taped it up, finished the fight, then went to the hospital. Then while fighting Jen, I clipped her finger once. We were fighting in this dirt field, and her hand was just gushing everywhere, so she stuck it in the dirt to stop the bleeding, then finished the fight. I'm like, 'What the ....' My face went white. I'm like, 'Oh my god, I'm the first guy to hurt Jen.' But luckily it was at the end of the shoot."

Jennifer worked hard on the fights and Don Lee trained her well with the Bo staff

But besides wanting to be like a kid and playing the cool villain, Lee also has a serious side, a side he hopes can help Asian American kids. "When I was growing up there was never a face except Bruce Lee, to feel that it was okay to be Asian in America. All the other Asians I grew up with, we feared speaking our languages to our friends, and no one had anyone to look up to, who could say that it was alright to be the way you look, and be proud of where you came from. I think it would be cool to put a face to Asian kids in America to say there is someone who looks like me, someone I can identify with. So in a round-a-bout way I'd like to be a role model, someone I hope they can relate to."

Bowman, on the other hand has his own mission. He wants to start a new form of comicbook films saying, "If you have an interesting character, surround her with an emotional engine and give her unique obstacles to overcome, then you can establish an original film with its own voice. The challenge of this film was to not follow in anybody's footsteps and make the action original and not derivative like Hong Kong. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Hong Kong action, I just have my way and trust myself that I'm doing the right thing."

After all the hard work in training, Jennifer fought hard with the bo stick. What the Hong Kong influence has done, is weeded out many American stunt coordinators that complacently do their jobs for the paycheck without regard to helping prepare the next generation of American stunt coordinators for fear of losing their own jobs. Yet their pettiness hasn't stopped the new generation that is carving out a new niche in the stunt industry. Led by people like Gunther under his 3AM Entertainment banner and Young, they call themselves action designers; filmmakers by trade, who can shoot action. Where most Hollywood directors and producers have no clue about designing and shooting action, these new wave action designers are trained film directors and screenwriters, so they can do it all.

"The key is - it's about teamwork. On ELEKTRA, my team was Marcus, Don Lee, Shauna Duggins and Larry Lam. And I'll fight for what my team deserves. And I'll listen to my team and get all their ideas. Many guys I've worked for are happy to pick up a check; they don't believe in what they're doing or want to take a risk, and really don't know how to push the envelope. They don't take care of the team and we're not all equals.

Elektra vs. Ninja "We also just don't do a cool move for cool move sake. The choreography must move the story forward. We're melding Eastern and Western ways and coming up with something new. So as action designers, I write the action, set it up and shoot it and it's not just about coming in and repeating what the script said. And for ELEKTRA, I was able to do this. But I want to add, that my biggest influence is Jackie Chan. I love his early work and the way he uses everything in the room. He's the man."

Young adds, "But also, you don't need to study or watch Hong Kong films to create good fights. Ringo Lam told me that if the action is good, it doesn't matter how you shoot it. You have to envision it, create it, perform and capture it, and edit it. If you can't do all those elements then something is lacking. It's why Jackie is so successful because he has control of the editing and that makes a big difference. And that is what Mike and I want to do. The bottom line is...we're filmmakers."

About Craig Reid :
Find us on facebook Written by Craig Reid for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM

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