The X-ray of a slap
by Víctor Navarro Remesal
If film equals movement, slaps are a first-rate cinematographic resource. Real violence might make us shiver, but a good old clout in film is fascinating even for us hardcore pacifists. Slaps are the universal lexeme with which Kwan Tak-hing introduced Chinese acrobatics into the medium, later improved by Bruce Lee, charged with poetry by Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou, sublimated in slapstick form by Jackie Chan, and turned into punch lines by Bud Spencer. Without slaps as narrative and expressive elements, films would be lame, or one-armed. And nobody has been able to shoot a clout as well as actor Sonny Chiba and director Shigehiro Ozama, both responsible of The Street Fighter.
Chiba told Jonathan Ross, in an Asian Invasion episode, that for the film’s last coup they wanted a blow given on the enemy’s back of the neck, but there was no way of doing this without sending him to hospital. Surely, limitation is the mother of invention: by simulating an X-ray view they not only achieved the impact, but were also able to show its consequences with clinical coldness. The whole thing is, besides, a break from the film’s style, a formal present for the viewer that works as a kind of money shot: this artistic gesture turns the camera into a liberated object able to see what the human eye wouldn’t be able to, in a climax sum of omniscience and hyperbole.
The X-ray shot was repeated in the wild and frenzied Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, an even more over the top film, closer to that decade’s gore manga. However, they needed a change of medium in order to make it bigger: for Mortal Kombat, ninth issue of a saga characterised by its cartoon tripe and offal, designer Ed Boon found in it the ideal complement for his despicable fatalities. Thus, X-rays were integrated inside the mechanics of the game in the shape of X-Ray Attacks, special blows that scored the combat and added strategy and spectacle before the final K.O. The most striking thing is that, due to the medium’s particular nature, after getting these attacks the enemy can keep on fighting as if nothing had happened, as long as he has any life bar left. Yes, strikes hurt, but they’re still a fake.
There’s something perfectly repeatable and isolatable in those perfectly crushed skulls, and that’s why they work so well as GIFs: like in Mortal Kombat, the clinical consequences are shown (and celebrated) at the same time they are denied. These loops hold as much disgusting truth as grotesque aesthetics; they make us shiver and at the same time allow us to keep our distance, they refer to the real world while they create one of their own and so they let us enjoy, quite safely, a lie as an aesthetic gesture. If GIFs are movement multiplied until deconstructed, slaps such as these, isolated and seen time and time again, are without a doubt some of their best resources.