Icons / August 2016

Retirement-age, Extremely Dangerous

Action movies today are dominated by older actors, and rightly so. The Rake applauds the rise of the lethal geezer.
The Magnificent Seven, 2016.

You see some pretty extreme, superhuman acts carried out in action movies. If we’re to believe Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule — which posits that to become seriously good at something, you have to put in at least that amount of “deliberate practice” — it’d take years and years to develop the know-how to perform the type of kick-ass derring-do regularly seen on the blockbuster screen.

Which is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the biggest action stars today are men of ‘a certain vintage’, shall we say.

It’s a touch of realism in an otherwise pretty much unbelievable genre. Think about it — in the real world, youngsters just wouldn’t have had time to gain all those ninja-like abilities. Older gentlemen with the benefit of many decades’ experience, however? Mad skills. It’s the reason that statistically, a man’s peak earning years are his 50s — by then, he truly knows what he’s doing. It comes naturally, instinctively. He’s a seasoned professional.

There’s deeper meaning behind one of the most famous quotes in recent action-movie history — the statement made by Liam Neeson (56 years old at the time of the film’s 2008 release) to his daughter’s kidnapper in Taken. “If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money,” Neeson’s retired CIA operative calmly remarks. “But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

As anyone who’s seen that movie will know, Neeson’s character makes good on his promise, demonstrating the “particular skills” he’s picked up over the course of a “very long career” to a series of ill-fated, ill-prepared whippersnappers, puffed up to their last breaths with the naïve, conceited confidence of youth.

Bruce Lee may have sadly (like Neeson’s swiftly dispatched adversaries) died at a young age, but he firmly grasped the fact that the most formidable foe is the experienced one. “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once,” Lee said. “But I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake's Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music - ideally in unison.