Enter the Dragon. Duh.
The next two weeks I need to catch up on all the movies the wife doesn't like. In between L4D and overdo house repairs, I am looking to curb the boredom with action. What are required movies that I should have already seen? I can only remember some of the movies that I've watched already, so I won't make a big list. If it's on Netflix, good. if it's lesser known, even better. There's a local rental that can fill in the gaps.
Enter the Dragon. Duh.
A few that I really like:
Fist of Legend
Probably the single best film by Jet Li.
Ashes of Time
(Ok, maybe not really a martial arts film. But I love it dearly.)
Fantasy wuxia at its best.
Assuming Shao Lin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle need not be suggested ..
Kung Fu Genius is one of my all-time favorites, particularly for the Duck Fu.
Actually, you've just seen the best part of the movie .. The remainder is great action but not so hot story/acting.
Are you looking for cover-your-eyes-bad type stuff, a broad expanse of the genre (from goofy Jackie Chan to more serious Jet Li), American stuff (Segal, Dudikoff), ninja stuff (Sho Kosugi et. al.), Bruce Lee, Van Damme?
A list of the cheezy historical icons of martial arts cinema would be easy enough to do, just not sure if that's what you're looking for.
Drunken Master 2 (Legend of Drunken Master) - Jackie Chan's best, I think
Iron Monkey - Donnie Yen and, um, the other guy whose name escapes me, are awesome
Tai Chi Master - Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, some killer scenes
If you can stomach the older, less polished stuff, I like:
Drunken Master 1
Snake in Eagle's Shadow
all 3 earlier Jackie Chan movies.
Kung-fu Panda-kidding- but I love this movie.
Ong-Bak -best of the new breed
All Bruce Lee- every one has at least one AWESOME scene
Shaolin Soccer-yes really, the greatest love letter to the MA ideal ever.
Master of Cookery
Something with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung
Hard Boiled- more gunplay than MA, but still awesome action.
I'm going to throw in a couple that don't get mentioned too often:
Dragons Forever - Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. It's a pretty good movie, mostly because Yuen Biao was amazing back then, but it culminates in an utterly fantastic fight sequence at the end between all three members and Benny "the Jet" Urquidez.
New Legend Of Shaolin - Wildly over-the-top Jet Li movie, notable because the kid playing Jet Li's son is like a martial arts prodigy.
I think the best-ever cheesy Hong Kong drama was by far 5 Deadly Venoms
Sequels or other films with similar names are crap, though. It may not be easy to find a good clean version. I looked it up a couple of years ago, and commentary said there was only one good version, and the one place I found that version listed was out of stock.
For deliberately silly stuff, sure, Kung Fu Hustle and some of the later Jackie Chan pre-Hollywood films are good.
Most of the recent Chinese stuff doesn't do it for me. It's either overly operatic, or with too much crappy CGI. I also hate those silly wushu floppy fake weapons that they don't seem at all embarrassed to pretend are real medieval swords and spears. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was I think the best of the last ten years, mainly due to production values and not due to martial arts.
For HK and kung fu afficionados -- would you say that the majority of the infighting that makes up many standard old-style fight scenes is basically Wing Chun? All those short fast interior punches and rapid-fire hard blocks -- executed of course in rigid time with that silly board-breaking foley for each one -- seem very like what little Wing Chun I learned. Maybe some Tiger/crane stuff for the common grab and ungrab joint-lock-and-escape sort of maneuvers they do in those sequences, too? Just curious.
i'm just going to stick to stuff that's readily available here in america
Come Drink With Me
Fist of Legend
Heroes of the East
My Young Auntie
Tai Chi Master
Legendary Weapons of China
but then i'm a bit of an old school kung fu fan as opposed to the new wire mad stuff
Dragon Dynasty has a pretty decent catalog of both new & old martial-arts films at this point. Almost everything they've released is worth a rental, IMHO. Mostly focused on HK & Chinese films, but a fair sampling of Thai, Korean, and even one Vietnamese martial-arts film.
Bruce Lee, obviously - the man only made four films (ignoring the post-death cash-ins), so it's not like it takes long to catch up.
Jackie Chan - his best films are from the `80s and early `90s, IMHO. If your only exposure to him is his Hollywood films, then you don't know the real Jackie Chan. Personal favorites include Project A and Armor of God II. I'm less fond of the Police Story films - Jackie's always better when he's being funny than serious, IMHO - but there are still a lot of awesome scenes in them.
Sammo Hung - as with Jackie Chan, I think his best work is from the `80s to early `90s. Pretty much anything with him, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao from that timeframe is at least entertaining.
Jet Li - again, his best films are his pre-Hollywood work from the `80s & `90s. I can't think of a particular favorite, though I prefer his earlier films where there's less wire-fu.
Tony Jaa - Muay Thai fighter. Can't act worth shit and his two major films - Ong Bak and The Protector (aka Tom yum goong) - are hella stupid; but damn that man can kick some serious ass.
Akira Kurosawa - not martial-arts films per se, but Seven Samurai should be required viewing for just about everyone; and the Yojimbo films set the template for spaghetti Westerns.
Fox Home Video put out a lot of Golden Harvest DVDs at a $10 price point if you want to see great Jackie, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung films. Check out Prodigal Son for sure
Once upon a time in China series is still one of the best epic martial arts films to have been made. Iron Monkey, and early Jackie Chan are also good recommendations. Donnie Yen had a recent movie out before Ip Man called Flashpoint that's great on the chop-socky if that's all you're looking for. Dragon-Gate Inn is also another must-see.
Big Trouble in Little China. Just because.
Ong Bak - definitely my favorite martial arts movie ever. Tony Jaa may be the most impressive martial artist ever.
Drunken Master 2 - Jackie Chan's best
Fist of Legend - Jet Li's best
Enter the Dragon - worth seeing as the most polished, westernized Bruce Lee movie, and hugely influential, but not as good a movie as the others.
I'm biased against Wire-fu, but if you're not, the Once Upon a Time in China Series is a good place to start.
Old school fun:
Five Deadly Venoms - I had a lot more patience for goofy martial arts films as a kid, and this one is one of the best. Tons of fun.
as a fun joke:
Bloodsport - JCVD isn't really much of a martial artist, but this movie is campy fun.
Above the Law - ditto any of the first three movies from Steven Seagal, which are all laugh out loud hilarious.
Darn, you beat me Zylon. I was coming back here to put Big Trouble on the list. Fun fun movie, if completely silly.
Don't forget Master of the Flying Guillotine!
Five Deadly Venoms is really excellent, probably the best Shaw Brothers production. They made a whole bunch of movies worth watching, though -- try 36 Chambers of Shaolin, Invincible Shaolin, Shaolin Temple (see a pattern there?). Not really essential but still fun!
Also, uh, Story of Ricky?
Iron Monkey- An all around great movie.
Drunken Master II-
The Swordsman II- (not the english version; it has vital scenes cut!) The fight between Master Wu and the Ninja master is my favorite martial arts movie battle scene ever.
I think the definition of essential was well and truly drifted by now. Which is fine by me. Thus:
Versus is mostly essential in terms of grimly poker-faced comedy about nameless characters in trenchcoats that go fwoosh as they turn around. It also contains the essential moral that sometimes, even if you are good at kung fu, the very best approach to a zombie is to brain it with a rock. So it's still easy to recommend.
Story of Ricky is essential in terms of the genre of kung fu masters tying their own tendons back together. On a personal level, it's also essential for the last time I had a bad experience with too much tequila. It's unfair, but that colors my perception enough to make less easy to recommend.
Cripped Masters is the essential martial arts movie about an armless martial artist and a (for all practical purposes) legless martial artist combining their disabilities and their kung fu into an unstoppable force against an evil hunchback with a constantly-shifting and apparently-metal hump. (He can kill people by falling backwards on to them with it.)
The Swordsman is the essential martial arts movie that features, among other things, a horse getting cut in half lengthwise, and ninjas that attack by throwing snakes and scorpions. Also a good example of supreme kung fu power being gained by magical sex change, which gains even more points by freaking a young Jet Li right the fuck out.
I knew I'd get some good recommendations, but hot damn, people. I probably misused the word essential, since in this context it's rather subjective. I didn't want to start a post that would lead anyone on a tangent, so I started broad. In short, no American movies. The focus is on the fight choreography in the East. Campy or high budget, it doesn't matter, but to give you an idea of the depths I will sink, I own both Shaolin Dolemite and Dark Skinned Assassin. Both movies have earned me threats of physical injury.
I've seen Enter the Dragon about 3 times already, and I loved Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Tom Yum Goong was outstanding (best single-take fight scene to date), so Ong Bok is a must. I've lost track of how many Jackie Chan movies I've watched (I've seen at least 3 different Drunken Master movies). I own several Kurosawa movies and I also own Story of Ricky (I think). I may have already seen Master Killer and Master of the Flying Guillotine, and recently seeing Crippled Masters is actually what got me thinking about doing this.
Ok, current watch list so far:
Once Upon A Time in China
Kung Fu Genius
Master of Cookery
Iron Monkey (I may have seen this already)
Five Deadly Venoms
Fist of Legend
Come Drink With Me
Tai Chi Master
The Swordsman (2?)
Thanks for the suggestions everyone. Unless there is a glaring omission, I think this may be enough for now. I just hope I can get through it all.
- "Master of Cookery" is actually "God of Cookery". It's a Stephen Chow (of Kung fu hustle and shaolin soccer fame) movie about Kung-Fu cooking, which is hilarious and great.
- There are (at least) two movies called "Tai Chi Master". The one that everyone is talking about here is the one with Jet Li. The other one that I'm aware of is a sort of conglomerate of episodes of some HK martial arts serial. It has some amazing fight scenes, but the plot is impossible to follow. Before you netflix it or whatever you should make sure that you're actually getting the right film.
same situation with Iron Monkey, as there was a TV show called that as well.
is probably the one that everyone means. It's certainly the one I mean. Watch it back to back with Once Upon a Time In China to see the deliberate call backs to that movie placed within IM.
GTFO, Neflix Copywriter.Hiyaaah! Quentin Tarantino (the writer-director behind Pulp Fiction) retranslated, rescored and subtitled an unintentionally campy Golden Harvest action movie that dates back to 1993. Tarantino's tampering makes the story easier to follow, and that's probably a blessing. But what's also a blessing is the great fight choreography and mind-bending wire-fu acrobatics, which remain intact.