I (want to) know kung fu (movies)!
July 28, 2009 6:44 PM   Subscribe

What are the best, can't-miss-em, #1 funtime classic wuxia movies?

I've been really enjoying some more or less recent martial arts blockbusters. I'd like to build up a list of must-see martial arts films, but don't know where to start.

For reference, I enjoyed Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Curse of the Golden Flower, and (to an extent) Fearless. I'd prefer to stick to Chinese-produced wuxia films (I really, really hated the American The Forbidden Kingdom).
posted by oinopaponton to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Follow up by watching other films from the same directors. In this case, Zhang Yimou has some great films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers (the latter of which drags on too long in spots, especially near the end). I love these films, too, so I'm favoriting this question. :)
posted by jdroth at 7:05 PM on July 28, 2009

Ip Man was good.

Jackie Chan's earlier stuff can be good, too, like the original Drunken Master (the sequel's more polished, but I liked the feel of the first one). Another Jackie Chan early movie favourite of mine is Snake in the Eagle's Shadow.

Jet Li's Fist of Legend and the "Once Upon a Time In..." and "Fong Sai Yuk" series are pretty seminal.
posted by porpoise at 7:06 PM on July 28, 2009

Fist of Legend is one of my all-time faves.
posted by gnutron at 7:07 PM on July 28, 2009

I reckon The 36th Chamber of Shaolin might be the greatest Kung Fu flick of all time... plus it gets props from the Wu Tang Clan which makes it all the greater...
posted by Philby at 8:09 PM on July 28, 2009

Kid With the Golden Arms and The Five Deadly Venoms are two of my favorites.
posted by electroboy at 8:35 PM on July 28, 2009

Kung Fu Hustle is to wuxia what Shaun of the Dead is to zombie movies.
posted by Paragon at 9:10 PM on July 28, 2009

Come Drink With Me... a Touch of Zen... Zu Warriors... Kung Fu Hustle... Shaolin Soccer... Bride With the White Hair (I and II)... a Better Tomorrow... Azumi... Samurai Fiction... Aragami: Raging God of Battle... Versus (is a wuxia zombie comedy)... Death Trance... Casshern... The Great Yokai War... But I notice that I'm drifting into more and more modern wuxia. Stepping back a few years: The Big Brawl...

I'm trying to think of any noteworthy American attempts... maybe Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins... Big Trouble in Little China... Bulletproof Monk...

Have to agree about Forbidden Kingdom. they seemed to figure that if most your scenery is digital matte that it doesn't really matter how much of it your principal characters chew.

Warriors of Heaven and Earth... Master of the Flying Guillotine... Onmyoji... Sukiyaki Western Django...

Chinese television: The entire Lone Wolf and Cub series... Laughing in the Wind...

That ought to get you started. And before anyone jumps me about it, I know that some (if not most) of these films are outside the "classical" notion of wuxia, but those titles are direct decendants and heirs to the genre.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 9:27 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jet Li's Tai Chi Master aka Twin Warriors is lots of fun. There's another movie floating around also called "Tai Chi Master" that's a condensed version of a recent TV show and is pretty much two hours of awesome fighting.

You should also check out The Bride With White Hair, Legendary Weapons of China, and Master of the Flying Guillotine.
posted by jtron at 9:31 PM on July 28, 2009

The Emperor and the Assassin is excellent, kind of similar to Hero

Red Cliff is an epic mega-budget two film saga about the Battle of Red Cliffs preceding the Three Kingdoms period. I don't think it's been released in theaters outside of Asia yet, but there are high def torrents with subtitles out there. I recommend reading up on the story and characters first, you'll get more out of the movie.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:44 PM on July 28, 2009

swordsman 2.
posted by juv3nal at 10:02 PM on July 28, 2009

THE BLADE is hands down the greatest wuxia film ever made. Of course that means it is not available on dvd or blu-ray.

Sticking with Chinese films: anything by King Hu is worth a look - though his films may not move at a pace that engages you. (They work for me - the last thirty minutes of A TOUCH OF ZEN has been a touchstone for almost every Asian martial arts film to follow.)

As for kung-fu, any films produced by the Shaw Bros or Golden Harvest are worth a look; especially 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, RETURN TO THE 36TH CHAMBER (its the film THE KARATE KID is loosely based upon), THE SHADOW WHIP, KING BOXER (aka FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH), and THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (any of the early Jimmy Wang Yu films are worth a look).


Look for actors such as Gordon Liu, Jimmy Wang Yu (also as director), Lieh Lo (also as director), Cheng Pei Pei, and directors such as Chang Cheh, Tsui Hark, and Lau Kar-Leung.

My favorite thing about Chinese martial art films is the emphasis on training - these films are great motivation for getting in shape or toughening up your fists.

A lot of the great Shaw Bros films were supposed to have been released by the Weinsteins/Tarantino's Dragon Dynasty - but I guess they got distracted. Celestial Pictures has all of this stuff available in Region 3 and in decent quality editions (if you don't mind audio watermarks...) Bootlegs abound for this genre like no other on earth...

You can torrent almost every title above.

I would try to avoid Australian and South African martial arts films if you don't like the American ones.

Personally, I don't like Jackie Chan or Jet Li.
Ducks and runs

posted by cinemafiend at 11:02 PM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, not to be pedantic, but for the record wuxia are more specific in scope than a lot of the movies listed above. For more, see here.
posted by zennoshinjou at 4:59 AM on July 29, 2009

This list in the same article is pretty good also.. lots of good titles.
posted by zennoshinjou at 5:02 AM on July 29, 2009

If you search for these films by director (which you should), you'll come up aces. Try films by:

Chang Cheh (aka Zhang Zhe, aka Chang Che) - my favorite
Lau Kar-Leung (aka Liu Chia-Liang)
Corey Yuen (aka Yuen Kwei)

for starters.

cinemafiend: The Blade is indeed a great masterpiece, and is on DVD. I own it - in two different versions, even. Contact me if you want more info.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2009

You say classics, so I'm guessing late 60's through the 70's? The best way to find some of these is look at what specific directors/actors did that you liked and then check out the other stuff they did. When a movie was a hit it almost always spawned sequels. The The One-Armed Swordsman series is great. Old Jackie Chan and old Jet Li stuff is great. I saw Fist of Legend recently and thought it didn't hold up as well Bruce Lee's Chinese Connection/Fist of Fury. Check out Chang Cheh, he did a ton good stuff.

On the Japanese side, almost all the Zatoichi films were great. Skip the one from 1989, but be sure to watch the one from 2003. Skip the one Rutger Hauer did also. Shintaro Katsu, besides Zatoichi, did Hanzo the Razor series. Sonny Chiba did the The Street fighter series and Karate Fighter series.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:58 PM on July 29, 2009

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