Gun fu, a portmanteau of gun and kung fu (also known as gun kata, bullet ballet and gymnastic gunplay), is a fictional style of sophisticated close-quarters gunfight resembling a martial arts battle that combines firearms with martial arts and traditional weapons in approximately 50/50 ratio. It can be seen in Hong Kong action cinema and in American films influenced by it.
The focus of gun fu is both style and the usage of firearms in ways that they were not designed to be used. Shooting a gun from each hand (usually paired with jumping to the side at the same time), shots from behind the back, as well as the use of guns as melee weapons are all common. Other moves can involve shotguns, submachine guns, rocket launchers, and just about anything else that can be worked into a cinematic shot. It is often mixed with hand-to-hand combat maneuvers.
Gun fu has become a staple of modern action films due to its visual spectacle, a result of often impressive choreography and stuntwork, regardless of its unrealistic elements when compared to real-life gun warfare. This contrasts American action films of the 1980s, which focused more on heavy weaponry and overpowering brute force in firearm-based combat.
Director John Woo originated the style in the Hong Kong film A Better Tomorrow in 1986. The film launched the "heroic bloodshed" genre in Hong Kong, and gun fu action sequences became a regular feature in many of the subsequent heroic bloodshed films. John Woo continued to make several classic heroic bloodshed films, all featuring gun fu, and all starring leading man Chow Yun-fat.
Before 1986, Hong Kong cinema was firmly rooted in two genres: the martial arts film and the comedy. Gunplay was not terribly popular because audiences had considered it boring, compared to fancy kung-fu moves or graceful swordplay of the wu shu epics. What moviegoers needed was a new way to present gunplay—to show it as a skill that could be honed, integrating the acrobatics and grace of the traditional martial arts. And that's exactly what John Woo did. Using all of the visual techniques available to him (tracking shots, dolly-ins, slo-mo), Woo created beautifully surrealistic action sequences that were a 'guilty pleasure' to watch. There is also intimacy found in the gunplay—typically, his protagonists and antagonists will have a profound understanding of one another and will meet face-to-face, in a tense Mexican standoff where they each point their weapons at one another and trade words.
Woo saw gunfights in musical terms: His primary conceit was the shootout as dance number, with great attention paid to choreography, the movement of both actors within the frame. He loved to send his shooters flying through the air in surprising ways, far more poetically than in any real-life scenario. He frequently diverted to slow motion and he specialized in shooting not merely to kill, but to riddle—his shooters often blast their opponents five and six times.
Other Hong Kong directors also began using gun fu sequences in films that were not strictly heroic bloodshed films, such as Wong Jing's God of Gamblers (1989). There were several heroic bloodshed films that did not feature gun fu, but opted for more realistic combat, such as Ringo Lam's City on Fire (1987).
Spread to the US
The popularity of John Woo's films, and the heroic bloodshed genre in general, in the U.S. helped give the gun fu style greater visibility.
One classic gun fu move consists of reloading two pistols simultaneously by releasing the empty magazines, pointing the guns to the ground, dropping two fresh magazines out of one's jacket sleeves, or strapped to one's legs, into the guns, and then carrying on shooting. In Equilibrium (2002) the law enforcement responsible for handling "Sense Crime" are trained in gun kata to gain an advantage in their raids on armed opponents. In the film Bulletproof Monk (2003), The Monk With No Name (portrayed by Chow Yun-fat) empties two pistols, ejects the magazines and spins to kick the empty magazines at his assailants. The style is also featured (albeit in a small way and with the assistance of gadgets) in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movies. In Wanted (2008), assassins belonging to The Fraternity possess the skill of "bending" bullets around obstacles; in a gunfight early in the film, one assassin knocks another bullet out of the air with his own round. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Agent Zero (Daniel Henney) reloads his handguns by throwing them into the air and catching them with the magazines he's holding in his hands.
In the 2010 film Kick-Ass, the character Hit Girl, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, frequently uses gun fu. In the 2012 film Django Unchained, the climactic shootout in Candieland is inspired by John Woo, replicating scenes from The Killer shot-by-shot. The 2013 G.I. Joe: Retaliation also featured gun fu in the climactic fight between Roadblock and Firefly. Gun fu is also heavily featured in the John Wick franchise, as well as the 2015 film Kingsman: The Secret Service.
A gun fu sequence involving Chris Redfield and Glenn Arias is also featured in the 2017 CGI film Resident Evil: Vendetta. Although produced in Japan, the Resident Evil franchise takes the majority of its inspiration from American horror and action cinema.
Often as a means to provide more dynamic and exciting gameplay, gun fu appears in several video games, largely in the beat-em-up and action shooter genres:
- In the Tomb Raider games and movies, Lara Croft uses dual wield pistols and reloads with a gun fu style. This characteristic was removed since the Tomb Raider reboot.
- The Half-Life game modification "The Specialists" is one of the very few examples of multiplayer gun fu. The mod features melee and gun combat, with encounters often resulting in frenzied exchanges involving both types of attack. Dual-wielding weapons, slow motion, and advanced melee are popular features of the mod which still has a loyal following years after the final version was announced. Another Half-Life mod, "The Opera", is named after Hong Kong blood operas, and features akimbo-wielded handguns and stylized gunplay - players are awarded cash for stylish kills performed during flips, cartwheels, and other martial-arts inspired maneuvers. Yet another Half-Life mod featuring gun fu is Action Half-Life.
- "Gun fu" moves, closely tied with a slo-mo concept essential to their execution, appear in the video game Max Payne, along with dual-wielding various weapons, including semi-automatic pistols and machine pistols such as the Uzi and the Ingram MAC-10. The game, itself heavily influenced by Hong Kong action cinema, arguably signified the advent of extensive slo-mo as an interactive device in videogames.
- Shadow Hearts: From the New World features a character, Natan, whose special skill is labeled "Gun Fu" and is designed to resemble the martial art.
- Dante of the Devil May Cry series employs gun fu using a variety of firearms, the wielding of dual pistols being his trademark combat stance. Some of his more spectacular maneuvers include turning upside-down in midair and rapid-firing a rainstorm of bullets onto enemies below, firing a shotgun while wildly swinging it over his shoulders like nunchaku, and staking a rocket launcher into the ground with its bayonet and letting dozens of missiles randomly fire out in a chaotic display all around him.
- In 2007, Stranglehold, a game sequel to John Woo's cult film Hard Boiled, was released, which featured the protagonist Police Inspector Tequila on another blood driven conquest.
- Noel Vermillion, from the fighting game BlazBlue, also uses gun kata with her two Nox Nyctores pistols, called Arcus Diabolus Bolverk.
- In 2009, Cryptic Studios released Champions Online, which features a Munitions character class with skills involving dual-wielding pistols; many of the powers combine firing with martial arts, including a power called "Bullet Ballet" and a high level ability called "Lead Tempest". The similar game City of Heroes incorporated a Dual Pistols power set in the expansion pack Going Rogue, which involves switching between ammunition types mid-combat and various trick shots.
- Wet, a grindhouse-inspired, Tarantino-esque shooter action game, was also released in 2009. Rubi Malone, the main player character, carries an assortment of weapons, including twin pistols, dual shotguns, and submachine guns, and if the player fires these guns while acrobatically jumping through the air, sliding on the ground, or running on a wall, then the game will slow down into bullet-time. Performing successive kills while in this bullet-time state increases Rubi's health regeneration rate and the player's points score, which is used to purchase upgrades.
- The titular character in the video game Bayonetta features combat resembling gun fu. In addition to hand-held pistols, the character has pistols built into the high heels of her boots. Her guns range from her signature weapon, Scarborough Fair, to rocket launchers and unique "gun-chuckiez".
- The Ranger/Desperado class in Dungeon Fighter Online has several "gun fu" style abilities.
- The online game Ragnarok Online has a Gunslinger class, whose main skills resemble gun fu. Gunslinger's advanced class, Rebellion, also has gun fu skills, and is also the only class capable of wielding the powerful Altair and Ares, a pair of guns.
- A Korean-made online game, S4 League, features this type of gameplay.
- The 2012 video game The Darkness II has "Gun Kata" as one of the abilities that can be purchased.
- Every firearm in Resident Evil 6 has a special "Quick Shot" that is executed by pressing the aim and fire buttons simultaneously, which is often a more dramatic attack that puts enemies into a vulnerable stun state; one particular weapon, Leon Kennedy's "Wing Shooter" dual handguns, has the only Quick Shot that can be instantly repeated to fire multiple times, up to 5, which will have him automatically target a different enemy if there are multiple in range, swiftly and stylishly turning around and over-the-shoulder shooting if any are behind him.
- The 2013 video game Deadpool also features "Gun Kata" as a non-upgradeable skill.
- Athena from 2014's Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel has a skill called Gun Kata that boosts her gun and melee damage.
- Vayne, a character from the MOBA game League of Legends does the gun kata stances in her dance animation. In addition, the character Lucian does gun kata in his recall animation.
- In the 2016 game Overwatch, the character Reaper performs a gun kata-styled attack when using his ultimate ability: Death Blossom.
- In the free-to-play game Warframe, the frame known as Mesa has an ability called Peacemaker, in which she goes into an aimbot mode and does gun kata moves as she shoots enemies. The game also features "aim gliding," in which the player slows down their movement while gliding to shoot from mid-air.
- In Skylanders: Imaginators, the class of Senseis (Dr. Krankcase and Tidepool) and Imagiantors known as "Quickshots" use special techniques based around gun kata.
- In the video game series Hitman, the main character, Agent 47, dual wields pistols.
- As of recently, the game Payday 2 offers a VR option where you can essentially wield dual pistols in a gun kata form, able to point your pistols in opposite directions to engage targets as in the film Equilibrium, or more so along the lines of John Wick, where you can punch enemies backwards and unload a few shots into them.
- During Ubisoft's press conference at E3 2019, where they showed off some gameplay footage of the upcoming 2020 video game Watch Dogs: Legion, a female protagonist is shown using multiple methods of execution of enemy NPC's, including some instances of gun kata.
Gun Fu is also the name of a series of comic books by Howard M. Shum and Joey Mason, about a Hong Kong police officer in the 1930s who employs a combination of gun-play and martial arts. In the Iron Fist comic books, the character Orson Randall uses his Iron Fist power with his two fire-arms, which a colleague jokingly refers to as "Gun-Fu".
In the Buffyverse role-playing games, gun fu is the name for the firearms skill, but this is more likely meant to be humorous rather than to imply characters practice an actual firearm-based martial art.
In the Ninjas and Superspies supplement Mystic China, gun fu is the Triad assassin training, and is a martial arts skill that can be available to player characters. It primarily emphasizes the use of paired 9mm pistols.
In the Japanese series Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, Banban "Ban" Akaza a.k.a. DekaRed is specifically mentioned as a master of gun fu technique, which in the series is called as "Juu Kun Do" (jū is the Japanese word for 'gun', and the name of the style is a play on Jeet Kune Do). As a result, the mecha for the series, Dekaranger Robo, is also sometimes shown using gun fu. The American adaptation of the series, Power Rangers S.P.D., also shows the Red Ranger Jack Landors and the Delta Squad Megazord using the same technique, though that was more because of the source material - Jack is not specifically mentioned as being a master of gun fu.
In the anime Mazinkaizer SKL, Ryou Magami (one of the two pilots of the titular Mazinkaiser) uses gun fu as his primary style of combat as he wields the Breast Triggers, a pair of handguns which store on Mazinkaiser's chest. Magami's fight scenes contain several visual homages to the film Equilibrium, including a scene in the first episode where Mazinkaiser performs the signature pose of the Grammaton Clerics.
The GURPS roleplaying system has a Gun-Fu supplement, written by S.A. Fisher, Sean Punch, and Hans-Christian Vortisch.
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- Interview with Patrick Fortier, Creative Director, Wet, Artificial Mind and Movement (A2M) (May 5, 2009). A2M Video Interview (Video interview). IGN. Event occurs at 2:16.
- Comic book series