Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan and...er...Jack Black
Fans of martial arts films will no doubt debate this list, and with so many kung fu films worth a watch, from traditional Chinese stories to more modern incarnations there are dozens more that are worthy contenders for a spot on our little dim-sum selection of flicks. We’ve picked a batch that don’t just show off the artistry and skill of the fighters, but are beautifully made films and have taken the oriental genre to a new level.
Enter The Dragon (1973) Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly It’s impossible to talk about kung fu without mentioning Bruce Lee’s final and seminal work Enter the Dragon. Whether or not it was Lee’s best film is still hotly debated by fans, but it’s certainly the film that catapulted Lee into legend status. In the film Lee plays a martial artist who is recruited by British intelligence to attend a martial arts tournament and spy on the criminal host Han. The film’s final showdown in the hall of mirrors is a classic.
House of Flying Daggers (2004) Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau House of Flying Daggers grabs your attention instantly not just with fighting action but also for its sheer beauty. Set in 859 AD in the Tang dynasty, it depicts elements of ancient Chinese society in decadent colour, flowing silk fabrics, painted floors and walls. The story revolves around a police officer who investigates a blind dancer, believing her to be a part of a rebel group who steal from the rich to give to the poor.
Once Upon a Time in China (1991) Jet Li, Biao Yuen, Rosamund Kwan This was the film that set Jet Li on his course and is credited as starting the renaissance of martial arts film in the mid-nineties. Once Upon a Time in China is based on the real life martial arts master and healer Wong Fei. At the turn of the century locals are worried about the influx and influence of British and American Westerners in Foshan, and Wong Fei-Hung (Li) is asked to help form and train a militia to defend the town.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) Chia-Hui Liu, Lieh Lo, Chia Yung Liu This film tells the story of San Te, an 18th century rebel who sought asylum in a Shaolin temple and was taught kung fu by the monks. The film is famed for scenes of gruelling body conditioning and drills, which reminds the viewers just how skilled as athletes the film’s stars really are.
Kung Fu Panda (2008) Voices: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie A bit of a curve ball but just because it’s cute and animated doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a mention. The family flick has all the virtues of a classic kung fu film – action, triumph over adversity, self-discovery and discipline – only with panda and the voice of Jack Black.
Fist of Fury (1972) Bruce Lee, Nora Miao Lee plays Chen Zhen, a student, who discovers that his master has died. Determined to discover what happened, he fights to avenge the death. Set in early 20th century Shanghai, it depicts discrimination in society at the time especially when Zhen fights a park guard who tells him ‘no dogs and no Chinese’ allowed.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang A gravity defying feast of kung fu magic. Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger artfully combines great acting and fight scenes, with believable plot, drama and incredible visuals. It’s full of action, yet there’s a grace that had been rarely seen in films like this. The story begins with the theft of a precious sword, and two warriors played by Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh pursue the thief. The scenes of flying over roofs and treetops add an element of fantasy to the combat scenes.
Police Story (1985) Jackie Chan, Magie Cheung We had to have some Jackie Chan in this kung fu compendium. Chan has made comedy kung fu a style all of his own. As a former stuntman, Chan brings an element of dare and adventure to the acrobatics he attempts in his films. In the making of Police Story Chan insisted on doing every single stunt without a double (except for one on a motorbike) and racked up a pretty serious list of injuries including a dislocated pelvis, severe burns, and a shattered vertebrae. The film centres on an honourable and successful cop in Hong Kong who gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit.