From John Woo to Quentin Tarantino, the hairiest punch-ups on celluloid
Time Out staff
Oldboy (2003) After being released from a decade-and-a-half of inexplicable solitary confinement, Oldboy’s wild-haired, live squid-eating anti-hero Oh Dae-su asks himself if 15 years of shadow boxing in his cell can be put to use. He soon gets an emphatic answer when he finds his quest for revenge blocked by a corridor full of hired goons intent on wiping the crazy grin off his face. The ensuing dust-up, filmed in a single, wide take is exhausting stuff as Dae-su throws himself into the melee with his trusty claw hammer and fights for his life with dervish-like ferocity. Despite the odds and the minor inconvenience of spending most of the fight with a knife stuck between his shoulder blades, it’s a rather bruised Oh Dae-su who ends up being the last man standing. One would hope for the sake of the actors involved that the scene didn’t require too many takes.
Once Upon A Time In China 2 (1992) While it may be possible to question the historical accuracy of Hark Tsui’s epic trilogy, there’s no doubting that the middle instalment’s end fight is one of the most beautifully executed showcases of martial arts choreography ever witnessed on film. Featuring two martial artists at the top of their game, Jet Li and Donnie Yen, the sequence makes great use of its environment – a grain storeroom – as the combatants swing from scaffolding and trade blows at a distance with lengths of bamboo before bringing the action down to ground level for a lightning fast stick-fight. Things really go off the hook when Yen’s villainous Nap-lan suddenly whips out a weapon that is more commonly associated with locker-room bullies than 19th-century Chinese generals – a rolled up towel – and proceeds to smash the hell out of the place.
Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004) Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) is a woman scorned. A former member of an elite assassination squad, her ex-colleagues attempt to wipe her out while she’s pregnant at the altar and about to get married. Now childless and husbandless, she’s then buried alive in a coffin. After a miraculous escape, she heads off to wreak vengeance on her adversaries. This involves a showdown with Elle (Daryl Hannah) in a remote desert trailer. A vicious fight ensues with samurai swords, cheap ’70s furniture and low blows used to settle scores. Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Japanese and Hong Kong martial arts films is a bloody battle of endurance, with the scene culminating in Beatrix plucking out Elle’s remaining eye as she thrashes around on the floor screaming in a classic fight that redefined the boundaries of female aggression.
Hard Boiled (1992) Hong Kong director John Woo’s final film before he decamped to Hollywood caused an outcry when it was released in the West due to its ultra-violent excess. Its final act, a 40-minute shootout set in a hospital overrun by gangsters, still has the power to make action fans wonder if a line has been crossed. Scores of innocent patients are mown down, everything that can be blown up is destroyed and what one can only assume is hundreds of thousands of squibs are popped in a bloody ballet of two-handed gunplay. Woo keeps a tight grip on the carnage, however, and gets to show off his skills as an action director in a couple of outstanding set-pieces: a one-take gunfight that follows the protagonists across a heavily guarded basement level and a stand-off which sees Chow Yun Fat’s Officer Yuen face off against a bunch of criminals whilst lugging around a cute baby rescued from the maternity ward.
Way Of The Dragon (1972) Is this movie a predictable choice? Well, probably. But then it would be sacrilege to leave Bruce Lee off any list of martial arts films, and this seminal showdown with Chuck Norris, the man who spawned a thousand action styles, certainly goes down as a true classic. The Colosseum of Rome provides an appropriately epic backdrop to a battle of styles that pits the fluidity of Lee’s Jeet Kune Do against the rigid power of Norris’s Karate, and the back-and-forth exchange of blows remains a dazzling display of their skills. His tears may allegedly cure cancer, but things go downhill for Norris shortly after having a handful of his lush chest hair ripped out by the sneaky Lee. At this point in the proceedings, things are all but over, bar the obligatory neck snap and dramatic close-up.