One of the most fun things about genre films and television is the weaponry. Who hasn't marveled at Beatrix Kiddo's Hanzo sword from KILL BILL or Oberyn Martell's viper spear from GAME OF THRONES? If you are into that sort of thing, I'm sure you've looked into purchasing a replica of your favorite only to find that most are just really shoddy showpieces meant for display on a mantle.
What if though you had a true weapons master actually create a famous weapon from myth or pop culture, like Conan the Barbarian's broadsword for example? Would it be a functional tool of destruction or would it be an impractical mess?
The El Rey Network series MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR seeks to answer that very question on a weekly basis and it has returned after a successful first season. I was given the opportunity recently to check out the first few episodes in advance of its season 2 premiere.
What I discovered with the show is that, while the concept is inherently fun and host Danny Trejo (MACHETE) certainly adds to that vibe with his infectious laugh and friendly demeanor, the topic itself is handled seriously. Each week Trejo meets with a panel of experts that includes blacksmiths, weapons and martial arts experts, and stunt performers. A couple of notable inclusions in the rotating line up were DTV action star Marko Zaror (UNDISPUTED 3) and Robert Rodriguez's own son, Rebel, who is adept at forging metal weapons.
They then discuss the cultural significance of the style of weapons they will be covering in that particular episode. They talk about where the weapons appeared and what they mean to them personally, fandom, and sometimes even their historical significance. These introductory chats always include clips from television shows and films where the weapons are featured. In the handful of episodes I watched, clips from YOJIMBO, EXCALIBUR, and even NARUTO were shown. The panel is then given two weapons from the show's topic that week to create as not only a screen/story accurate item but also as a completely functional tool. No easy task.
The majority of the show then covers the handcrafted creation of these weapons. If you're into weaponry or even simply repair and "do-it-yourself" shows you will find this aspect fascinating to watch. The blacksmiths and weapons experts craft beautiful screen-accurate items with a minimal amount of modern fabrication and they walk you through the entire process of creation with simple easy to follow language.
Once the weapon is forged, it is presented to Trejo and he acts as the audience surrogate and gets even more information about the final product before passing it over to one of the highly skilled martial artists to test.
The testing is done by using the weapon to destroy various objects like bamboo poles, shields, slabs of meat, and most graphically gel-based dummies filled with fake blood and organs. This aspect of the show is comparable to a program that used to run on Spike TV called DEADLIEST WARRIOR. The main difference here though is that MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR avoids the silly recreations and faux rivalries of that show and instead lets the beautiful craftsmanship and power of these weapons take center stage.
The show is an easy, enjoyable watch that will subtlety teach you bits about crafting and history as it goes along. Sometimes, the forging scenes can be a little too lengthy but the thrill of watching a skilled warrior decimate scenery with a beautiful weapon that may not have ever really existed before cannot be denied.
To sum it up, if you like Renaissance faires, shows about crafting, or just watching a little good-natured destruction then MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR just might be what you are looking for.
MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR Season 2 premieres Thursday, October 4th at 8 pm EST on the El Rey Network.
- Matthew Essary