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I'm asking b/c I've read the gun fu wiki and it omits key references.

Clearly John Woo is the spiritual father, but his use of "balletic gunplay" is not what is meant by this term, which has recently been most notable explicated in the John Wick films.

("Gun fu" properly refers to use of guns in hand to hand combat. The early mention in the game Cyberpunk predates the contemporary choreography to this the term has been recently applied.)

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    Not sure if it’s the first, but I feel like the peak might have been Equilibrium. Also called “gun kata”. Oct 17 '20 at 0:04
  • @ToddWilcox At the very least, Equilibrium is responsible for the most martial-art style name of the idea.
    – matt_black
    Oct 23 '20 at 16:32
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Whether or no one agrees with the supposition that true "gun fu" requires hand-to-hand combat involving guns for finishing moves, a major omission in the gun fu wiki is the Gareth Evans film The Raid (2011), which prefigures the John Wick gun fu choreography.

It's true that hit girl in Kick-Ass (2010) was probably the earliest strong example, most notably her using a flexible weapon to tie up an gunman's hands and make him shoot himself, which heavily draws on innovations in House of Flying Daggers (2004).

[Note that House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were largely homages to the work of King Hu, both in terms of cinematic tricks to convey magical martial powers, and the wuxia themes.)

However, it's undeniable that the explosion of gun fu, from John Wick to Old Guard derives largely from Evans' innovations in The Raid.

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  • Notably, there are at least two Jack Reacher novels where, after knocking bigger, stronger hand to hand fighters to the ground, reacher finishes them by retrieving a gun and shooting them instead of relying in his hands or fists for the coupe de grace.
    – DukeZhou
    Oct 26 '20 at 23:43
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The archetype for the idea likely comes from Equilibrium

While there are interesting and related examples of Gun Fu in John Wick and The Raid, the movie that probably deserves the original idea attribution is Kurt Wimmer's Equilibrium. While the movie is sometimes thought of as a low-budget Matrix rip off it is widely loved and is something of a hidden gem.

Its relevant to the origin of Gun Fu is that it actually invented and named what might be the original idea. In the movie a totalitarian society tries to suppress human emotion using drugs and a pseudo-religious police called the Grammaton Clerics. The movie itself explains that they are specially trained in the art of Gun Kata which is a martial art designed around a statistical understanding of the disposition of enemies in gunfights. This enables them to avoid being hit by enemy fire and also to have a high kill ratio when shooting back.

Many action scenes in the movie are based on the idea and Clerics defeat superior numbers of better armed enemies pretty frequently in scenes that, though slightly absurd, are extremely visually entertaining.

So, whether the idea of Gun Fu can be reliably traced back to a single idea or not, Equilibrium gave the idea a specific name and contained plenty of examples of it. And it did this in 2002, nearly a decade before some of the other quoted examples (John Wick in 2014, The Raid in 2011) were released.

It is also probably true that Wimmer was influenced by more conventional martial arts movies. His contribution seem to have been to add modern weapons into the mix.

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  • Way of the Gun (2000) was also an interesting commentary on gun strategy, and may have provided some inspiration for Equilibrium. (I liked especially that, in the end, it was the out of shape bagman who undid the heroes, using an un-sexy .38, and stitching them across the midsection with very little effort, simply by being wilier;)
    – DukeZhou
    Oct 27 '20 at 0:02

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