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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 factor in modern action films due to its visually appealing nature (regardless of its actual practicality in a real-life combat situation). This is a contrast to American action movies of the 1980s which focused more on heavy weaponry and outright 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.
Anthony Leong wrote of the gunfights in A Better Tomorrow,
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).
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.
In the 2017 CGI film Resident Evil: Vendetta, Chris Redfield and Glenn Arias engaged in a gun fu fighting sequence.
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Gun fu/gun kata also appeared in various video games:
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".[volume & issue needed]
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, DekaRed is specifically mentioned as a master of gun fu technique, which in the series is called as "Juu Kun Do" (jaa is the Japanese word for 'gun'). 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 and the Delta Squad Megazord using the same technique, though that was more because of the source material - the S.P.D. Red Ranger isn't 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.