Ever since I first saw Enter the Dragon, much like every other red blooded American male from my age demographic or older, I have been in love with martial arts. Ever since then I have been a Kung Fu junkie and really hit my stride a few years back when I was buying up pretty much any DVD/VHS with anyone on it who even looked like they might know a little Kung Fu. So, I’ve amassed a fairly decent collection of Kung Fu flicks over time. As of recent I haven’t been picking up many newer releases, but I still like to break out my tapes and what not from the older days which are of course my favorite. I am not a strictly old school > new school kind of guy, I do appreciate wire work in martial arts cinema – but when it comes down to it, watching a guy really go out and do something versus another guy getting lifted by strings to do it; well, I’ll take the natural ability any day of the week. So with that said I’m going to go over some classic martial arts films that my fellow readers out there might not be aware of. These films are absolute must haves and I urge you, if you are a fan of HK cinema or martial arts or older action films – seek these out and enjoy. I’m not going to say this list is one of level of importance, but perhaps my level of enjoyment at this particular moment. There, did I cover my butt from any fanboys who might want to tear me a new one? Okay then, let’s move on!
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5: Snake in the Eagles Shadow The whole world, and martial art film fans in particular, pretty much owes Jackie Chan a round of applaus and thanks for everything he has done for the world of cinematic Kung Fu. The guy helped re-establish the market in the 80s and helped show that you can still use Kung Fu while making a film set in modern times. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was his breakout role and one of the greatest Kung Fu films of the old school, and the finest example of a new style of martial arts film that focused a lot on providing a comedic story along with breathtaking action. Jackie is as on in this film as he ever was, and his fight sequences are inventive exciting. This film helped pave the road for Drunken Master and eventually Police Story and Legend of the Drunken Master. Easily one of the top five most important Kung Fu films of all time.
4: Fist of the White Lotus – Although it may not be anywhere near as popular or important in the grand scheme of things as something like Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow – Fist of the White Lotus is one of the best the genre produced. With Gordon Liu and Lo Lieh in the lead roles, FOTWL is a seminal masterpiece. Providing the film world with memorable characters like Pai Mei, the white priest who somehow has a catcher’s mitt where his testicles are pretty much. If you haven’t guess, yes, Fist of the White Lotus focuses a lot on the gimmicky side of the Kung Fu film universe – but in my opinion that can be one of the greatest things about this genre. Jimmy Wang Yu (who I am sad I don’t have a place for on this list, not today at least) pretty much built his legacy on it with films like Master of the Flying Guillotine and One Armed Boxer. The campier things get, the more fun they tend to be in my book and I think Fist of the White Lotus and the next film on this list prove that.
3: Crippled Avengers I am a big fan of the Five Venoms, which turned out to be a Kung Fu troupe that often starred together in slightly gimmicky films, but always demonstrating top level talent that couldn’t be topped. Crippled Avengers shows that same talent put to great use in a film where guys have legs and arms made of iron and retarded guys kick the most tail. Definitely a fun little movie for sure. The climatic battle at the end has to be seen to be believed, as our heroes literally jump through hoops trying to beat each other in a showdown that reminds me of the martial arts version of Hard Boiled. With characters going completely all out and with scenes of tremendous talent on display. Probably the greatest and mos acrobatic fight scene I’ve seen in any old school martial arts film ever. The kids these days with all the wire the world could provide would have a hard time topping this film in terms of excitement and entertainment.
2: The 36th Chamber Gordon Liu made his name with The 36th Chamber, and helped revolutionize martial arts cinema from there on. The 36th Chamber, or Shaolin Master Killer as I will always remember it, helped develop the Kung Fu film into something larger than it already was and cemented itself as one of the most copied films in history with it’s massive training sequence that lasts nearly the majority of the film. It seems these days that if a Kung Fu film doesn’t feature at least a five minute sequence of Rocky-esque training – then it isn’t complete, and I would say arguably the majority of that can be blamed on Master Killer. Without a doubt, Master Killer is another very important film that I have spent hours and hours trying to convince people to check out. I’m not going to say it is going to keep someone with ADD happy at all times, because much like my first choice, it is a lot more story driven than many of my other favorite Kung Fu films but regardless, you can’t be a major Kung Fu film fan without seeing it and understanding the brilliance of handeling a deep script and a great amount of action.
1: Five Deadly Venoms I’ve talked so long and hard about the film that I’m almost tired of looking up words to describe Five Deadly Venoms, not because I’m tired of the film, but because I am always convincing others. Five Deadly Venoms would probably be the first Kung Fu film I can think of that I really notice of how the script is woven and in my opinion it is one of the most deeply shapen films of the genre and time period. Bruce Lee always said he wanted his characters to have true meaning behind the reasons that they have to fight, and I think Five Deadly Venoms helps to establish such characters. It is generally a Kung Fu whodoneit, but it is infinitely more than that and features an amazing fight sequence towards the end that truly shows the grace and talents of these great men that many called the Venom clan. I definitely recommend you run, not walk, to see any of these films if you love this genre and haven’t seen one. These are films that might just change your life and are definitely worth seeing now rather than later.