"Fighting movies are [one of] two things: They're either real, or they're cool," says "Ultraviolet" stunt coordinator and fight choreographer Mike Smith.
Falling firmly into the latter category, "Ultraviolet" is a futuristic vampire tale starring Milla Jovovich as Violet, a victim of a disease called hemophagia. The sufferers gain superhuman speed, agility and senses but are left with an abbreviated life span.
Director Kurt Wimmer, whose film "Equilibrium" wowed audiences with its "gun kata" style of gunfighting and martial arts, added much more to the mix this time around. He enlisted Smith to combine multiple martial arts disciplines, such as jujitsu and aikido, to create a new action form they jokingly refer to as "Hollywood Do."
"One thing you typically see in martial arts movies ... it's very much of an Asian influence,'" says Smith. "[Then] there's the very hard-hitting, impactual movie that's more American style. What we were trying to do here is blend all styles and make something a little different."
At a gymnasium in Van Nuys, Calif., Smith and his stunt team members -- J.J. Perry, Mitch Gould, Robert Alonzo, Ming Liu and Youlia Galenko -- demonstrate this colorful mix of global movement styles. The most surprising specialty isn't a self-defense form at all, but dance-inspired rhythmic gymnastics. It's usually performed with swirling ribbons, bouncing balls or small clubs, but for "Ultraviolet," these were replaced with swords.
"I taught Milla how to work with the swords ... because rhythmic gymnastics is all about working with apparatus, tossing it, and different elements," says Galenko who demonstrates a movement known as "illusion." With one foot firmly planted, she swings the other leg back and up, inverts herself, and then completes the circle to catch a sword she had tossed into the air.
"There's a move in the chapel fight where Violet whips the sword around her hand, wrapping it horizontally," adds Smith. "In a real swordfight, that would never take place, but in this movie, it's a very unique move that's derived from rhythmic gymnastics."
Jovovich also worked closely with Alonzo on eskrima, a Filipino stick fighting style, and with Liu on wushu, a Chinese discipline of martial arts that emphasizes speed, force and an aesthetically fluid style. Liu, China's seven-time wushu national champion, trained the actress for more than six months, starting with wide-legged stances to build up her strength for the film's rooftop sequence.
"When she's surrounded ... the concept behind the fight is that she's so in tune to what's going on around her, she's able to anticipate the movement," explains Smith, "and through the beautiful wushu or rhythmic movements, she avoids the bullets."
Jovovich's enthusiasm for training impressed the stunt performers, who occasionally found themselves nursing injuries she inflicted.
"I've never, in all the time I've been doing films, seen an actress work this hard," says Smith. "She probably hits harder than most of these stunt girls. In the sequence where she rips the gun in half ... we used these [padded sticks] because Milla was killing us."
"Ultraviolet" opens nationwide on Friday, March 3.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times