Kung-Fu Movies


While Hollywood has latched onto recent films like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Jet Li’s Hero—trying to profit off of Hong Kong’s unique style of film-making—many people are being introduced to the New School of Kung-Fu flicks without being educated about the True School; the Old School.

Want to see some amazing fight scenes, better than Frodo vs. whatever-those-things-were-called in Lord Of The Rings? How about some crappy acting made up for by bloody, no-holds-barred bare-knuckled Chinese boxing? Want to know just what the hell Wu-Tang Clan has been rapping about all these years? Pop one of these classics into your DVD player.

kungfu_onearmed.jpgOne-Armed Swordsman (1967)
South Park may have helped bring the cripple fight into the mainstream, but Jimmy Wong is the true O.G. when it comes to handicapped hostility. After his arm is chopped off in an attack set up by his sword master’s jealous daughter, Wong learns an ancient sword-fighting technique designed especially for the left hand. He uses his newfound knowledge to overthrow a murderous kung-fu school, setting up brilliant and authentic swordplay scenes. While not a Kung-Fu film by definition, One-Armed Swordsman served as an inspiration to future Kung-Fu films and is generally regarded as a classic of Hong Kong cinema.

kungfu_fistoffury.jpgFist of Fury (1972)
The man. The legend. Bruce Lee needs no introduction. Unfortunately, this film just might. When people speak of Bruce Lee, the majority mentions Enter The Dragon and then start talking about how Jackie Chan has inherited Lee’s throne. Jackie Chan may be the man in Hong Kong but Bruce Lee’s popularity has only grown since his death in 1973. Fist of Fury is a perfect example why. Lee revolutionized the way Kung-Fu was represented in cinema, refusing to compromise its integrity by making it prettier for the screen. Whereas hundreds of similar films in the past had characters fighting for minutes on end without landing a single blow sometimes, Lee would strike once and his opponent would be down. No description necessary. Just go see it.

kungfu_streetfight.jpgThe Street Fighter (1974)
Sonny Chiba is hired by the Yakuza to kidnap a wealthy heiress. Sonny Chiba asks for way too much money to do it and is promptly targeted for assassination by the same people who were out to hire him. Sonny Chiba then goes to work protecting said wealthy heiress, and much violence ensues. Sonny Chiba and violence — what more do you need!?

kungfu_36chame.jpgThe 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
A young man, Liu Yu-De travels to see the fabled monks of Shaolin in order to learn the ancient art of kung-fu after corrupt government officials kill both his father and teacher in an attempt to stop a rebel uprising. Once there, he learns he must pass through a grueling series of 35 chambers, each focusing on severe training of a different aspect of human endurance. Encompassing a strong sense of Nationalism throughout the film, the brutal training sequences coupled with an idealistic plot and incredibly impressive fight scenes makes for a simple movie that is infinitely cool. Featuring cameos by: RZA, GZA, Raekwon.

kungfu_drunkenmas.jpgDrunken Master II (1993)
There is something you need to know about Jackie Chan. He may have wallowed in Hollywood films like The Tuxedo and Shanghai Cowboys, but before he made the transition to the West, Chan was already the biggest star in the East. Walk around Hong Kong and you will see 30-foot high billboards proclaiming the man’s greatness; the Hong Kong Avenue Of The Stars (similar to our stars on Hollywood Blvd) has an entire store dedicated solely to Jackie Chan memorabilia; and when you get off the plane in the airport, there is a life-size cut out of Jackie, welcoming you to the city. And he sure as hell did not gain that kind of stardom making movies like Around the World in 80 Days. Drunken Master II not only exemplifies Chan’s incredible talent for martial arts as well as physical comedy, but his creative skills as a whole – Chan created much of the “drunken style” of fighting himself for the film. The result is spectacular and hilarious fight sequences unlike anything seen before, with a particularly memorable bench fighting scene and a serious message for kids everywhere: “Fighting is better when you’re drunk.”

kungfu_ironmonk.jpgIron Monkey (1993)
He robs from the rich. He gives to the poor. Meet kung-fu’s answer to Robin Hood, the Iron Monkey. Played with a subtle charm, Iron Monkey almost serves as a sort of transition film in that there are no special effects or wizardry aside from some eye-popping wire effects. Classic Kung-Fu style fight scenes will leave you in awe, as the action is almost non-stop – a dazzling mix of acrobatics and action – allowing for some humour in between. Memorable Scene (one of many): the main character picking up pieces of paper being blown around the room. That’s right, a windy day in the office makes for one of the best sequences in the movie.

kungfu_prodigal.jpgThe Prodigal Son (1998)
Quite possibly the last real Kung-Fu film produced, The Prodigal Son, revolves around Yuen, the son of a rich merchant who wishes to learn Kung-Fu. After being humiliated in a fight and having learned that his father had paid previous opponents to throw fights against him, Yuen decides to join the traveling opera in the hopes of mastering Kung-Fu. Without the help of any sort of effects and nothing more than genuine Kung-Fu fighting, The Prodigal Son is a throwback to the classic Kung-Fu films that have come to define the genre, taken to a higher level with mind-blowing fight sequences, a strong plotline and a soundtrack and sound effects reminiscent of the Batman series of the 1960s. Biff! Bam! Pow!

Daniel Davidzon

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  1. I like the sentiment, but this list is far from complete. The following rank higher than all of the above, save perhaps “36 Chambers”. I ain’t mad, just saying that these need to be repp’ed:

    1. Five Deadly Venoms – One of the best ever, this Shaw Brothers classic has it all: an intricate plot (for once), cool-ass characters (with masks!), great fights and classic dialogue sampled many times over.

    2. Five Shaolin Masters/Five Masters of Death – another Shaw Bro’s masterpiece, also directed by the magnificent Chang Cheh, this one concerns the five remaining Shaolin students training to “lick Manchu’s in stereo”, to quote Ghostface. The Manchu’s, with a traitor’s help, destroy Shaolin and kill its monks, but the five take bloody revenge. Sick music.

    3. Where’s Jet Li? His shit is the creme of the new skool crop — peep Fist of Legend (a remake of Fist of Fury, but in a good way!), Fong Sai Yuk 1 and 2, New Legend of Shaolin, Tai Chi Master, and most of all, Once Upon a Time in China, Part II.

    Once… features the greatest fight ever — Jet Li versus the White Lotus Cult leader, wherein neither touches the ground. Trust me…. Also — Tony Jaa in The Protector, is the OFFICIAL leader of the NEW new skool. If you disagree, watch it, then get back to me….

  2. Dude… to make a complete list of the greatest Kung Fu movies would entail so much more time and space than was allotted. Believe me, it would have been a blast to sift through all the classics for a weekend, doobie ashtray by my side, but that wasn’t the case. This is more a primer for the uninitiated… but feel free to add more comments regarding movies that’d make your list.

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