Dr. Craig's Martial Arts Movie Lounge
For knowledgeable aficionados, who understand the nuances of MMA combat and can go beyond emotional subjectivity, the three most anticipated MMA rematches in history might be Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2, Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell 2, and Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 2. In 2002, I interviewed Liddell, Couture and Ortiz on the set of Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) when the three were at peace with each other (picture below). Yet little did each fighter know that one of the biggest MMA fights in history had occurred in 1962, at an early-unsanctioned pre-Shooto event in Japan, KK vs. GZ 1.
Though a draw, the humiliated GZ skulked away and angrily resurfaced in 1969 as a warning to KK as he scored the quickest victory in MMA history against KK's distant relative with a squash-out that none of the above fighters could survive. I am referring to Godzilla's animosity driven revenge against mammals, created by Kong at the Wicked Wham in Japan. It was a soul disturbing, millisecond long, crushing defeat of Bambi. Now 52 years later, they're b-a-a-a-ck and this time it's personal, the rematch, KK vs. GZ 2, welcome to the insanity and inhumanity of Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) and they are BIG.
Though Godzilla has had more bouts than Kong, taking on crazy, gigantic monstrous animals like spiders, reptilian birds, moths, a pincer-wielding lobster and three colossus praying mantises, Kong has a superior martial arts ancestral pedigree and heritage.
Kong's earliest martial monkey ancestor is Hanuman from the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, which is uniquely intertwined with Thai martial arts. Based on 24,000 verses of Sanskrit and orally passed down for 5,000 years, it's a tale of love where hero Ram asks Monkey King Hanuman to help him rescue his wife from King Ravan. In 200 AD, the poet Valkimi put it into a written version.
Born in 1930, Muay Thai is a watered-down version of the lethal muay boran, which has its foundation in an even older art named ling lom (air monkey). Traditional muay boran fights were dances to honor Ramayana and the various deities battling each other, which included Hanuman, who could fly, change heights and fight. This is curiously similar to Swuin Wu-kung, the Monkey King in the Chinese novel Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng, 1300 years after Valkimi's version.
Another Kong heritage art is monkey kung fu. Although kung fu related monkey moves can be traced back to the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) the official monkey style is associated with a man serving a 10-year prison sentence. In the late 1800s, Kou Sze's prison cell faced a monkey colony living in nearby trees. Based on observing how each monkey fought, Kou categorized them into five personality types: tall; wooden; drunken; lost; and stone. Lee Shao Hau added angry to the list later on. Kong exhibits them all.
Sammo Hung told me if kung fu films have great action, stories don't matter. Godzilla vs. Kong is one of those kung fu films. Regardless of plot, acting, conspiracy theorist roles, evil scientists, idiots, actors simulating care or scorn toward 70-foot creatures represented by tennis balls and laser pointers, the whack'em smack'em monster bouts ruled the film.
Kong has a laundry list of quality yet will it be enough to take Godzilla to the cleaners? Or will Godzilla hang Kong and his laundry out to dry. It's appropriate that the first of their three rounds is an ocean fight that begins like the underwater duel in Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) that then switches to Chinese ching gong skills where heroes can run across water. Using head butts and kicking Godzilla backwards, which propels him a safe distance away from the resentful reptile, shows Kong's use of momentum and the pneumatics of Bernoulli's equation. Gasping for air, Kong surfaces, runs across the ocean with human help and when he grabs an item and throws it like a knife, it's flamboyantly appealing. The money shot is a mesmerizing wide angle, side shot of a right cross to die for.
As the mayhem proceeds, Godzilla counters with a body-twisting claw across Kong's jaw who moves with the strike and rolls backwards. Kong uses a taiji-like shoulder-to-body snap, pushing Godzilla into the water for more underwater grappling. When Godzilla rides Kong's back BJJ-style, Kong drops, escape rolls and with a two-footed drop kick against Godzilla's body, propels himself back to the surface a second time. Godzilla fights with instinct and a tail, Kong with intellect and physics.
I semi-detailed the first round to provide a flavor of things to come. Like one of those aforementioned kung fu films, each of the next two rounds are longer and better than the previous, with more intricate fight choreography and due to the special effects, you can see five of the six monkey personality traits. The drunk trait appeared in KK vs. GZ 1.
In 1969, Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees using branches as weapons. When I met Ms. Goodall in 2004, we discussed my undergrad thesis at Cornell about how I identified stereotypical fighting strategies of praying mantises. When she asked me if I knew any monkey fighting behaviors and I flashed some skills, she excitingly blurted, "I saw those in the wild!" Kong uses these movements in the film, especially during the intense finale.
Good humans help Kong find his ancestral home, where he reconnects with his ancestral tribe's sacred weapon, a fire-shape bladed battle ax, the unobtainium missing element Godzilla lacks, which will play out crazier than if the first responders welcoming the Apollo 11 astronauts home to Earth were dressed in Planet of the Apes (1968) costumes.
As one might expect with the ax, Kong becomes an ape vegematic and uses increasingly creative MMA skills like the violent pound and ground system, merciless hammer fists to the head, powerful descending elbow strikes, headlocks, double-fisted strikes and an elevating-up Godzilla's body ending skill with a flying dropkick to Godzilla's skull.
Yet Godzilla's blue atomic breath may be Kong's undoing. To paraphrase Blue Oyster Cult's 1977 Godzilla song, "Oh no it's wrong, there goes Hong Kong, there goes Godzilla." It's far out man!