Best martial arts action movies / thrillers in the...Hong Kong style?
October 29, 2017 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I don’t actually know enough to phrase this correctly, but I just watched this episode of Every Frame A Painting about Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong movies vs his (far crappier) Hollywood movies, and I want more kick ass movies with people who can actually fight. Googling “best martial arts movies” yields way too many lists with Kung Fu Panda on them. I also loved Old Boy. Got any recs?
posted by schadenfrau to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The Raid: Redemption.
posted by parki at 5:17 PM on October 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Enter the Dragon
posted by jazzbaby at 5:25 PM on October 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Legend of the Drunken Master (aka Drunken Master II) is one of Jackie Chan's best
Fist of Legend is one of Jet Li's best
Dragons Forever has Jackie Chan alongside multiple martial arts stars
posted by justkevin at 5:32 PM on October 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Jackie Chan is a unique treasure, but I'll recommend the Ip Man and Ong Bak serieses. The Protector. I like Kick Ass a lot, too.
posted by rhizome at 5:43 PM on October 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Rather than list a bunch of films, I'd suggest you get a copy of Sex and Zen &
A Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-bending Films
and use that as a guide. Published in 1996, it's a breezy yet detailed overview of the heyday of "Hong Kong Cinema" (roughly the mid-80's to '96) that also touches on the older films that are worth watching as the H.K. film industry found its unique voice. Tons of info about many films and directors and why you should watch them, covering not only martial arts movies, but thrillers and noir and fantasies and horror, and the many many H.K. films that meld more than one genre together in a single movie.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:57 PM on October 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wing Chun starring Michelle Yeoh, has great fight scenes and a good story.
The Heroic Trio, starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung, is also very entertaining.
posted by mogget at 6:03 PM on October 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

(I’m now like 30 min in to Ong Bak 2, and holy shit did that dude just SURF A HERD OF STAMPEDING ELEPHANTS?

Tony Ja is a legit crazy person and I love him already)
posted by schadenfrau at 6:22 PM on October 29, 2017

Iron Monkey is my personal favorite Woo-Ping Yuen film.
posted by selfnoise at 7:21 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jackie Chan's "Police Story" series are pretty good; it was Police Story 4 that was brought to the US as "Supercop." You'll also see Jackie Chan perform the original scene, shooting confidently with a pistol at an oncoming bus, that was recreated for Ray Tango (Stallone) in "Tango and Cash." Likewise, a car chase downhill that demolishes a slum which is probably the most memorable scene when it was recreated for "Bad Boys."

And for fun, try Stephen Chow's movies "Shaolin Soccer" and "Kung Fu Hustle," both hilariously over-the-top movies where martial arts endow one with extreme supernatural powers. The former is an underdog sports movie in format, while the latter is a kung-fu western in format. Save these movies for a time when you're ready to be on board with, say, someone standing atop an flying eagle.

I don't know where it can be found, but a younger Jonathan Ross once had a TV series called "The Incredibly Strange Film Show" which covered "psychotronic" film genres. In one episode, Jackie Chan and his corner of HK cinema, and that whole series is worth watching. Another episode introduced me to The Evil Dead.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:20 PM on October 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Stephen Chow. Specifically Journey To The West.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:30 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon old enough now that I shouldn't assume everyone already knows it?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:05 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Heroic Trio and Michelle Yeoh. Chow Yun Fat starred in a number of HK movies before he went to the US.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 10:03 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

My personal favorite is Jet Li's Fearless. As a former instructor and present practitioner of kung fu, I most enjoy films with minimal wire-fu, and this one was good in that regard. Also, I loved that this film avoided the typical "good guy's friend/teacher/girlfriend is killed, takes on bad guy, loses, gets better at martial arts, takes on bad guy, wins" storyline.
posted by EKStickland at 10:12 PM on October 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yuen Woo-Ping is a good person to follow. He directs as well as does Stunt Coordination, which amounts to the martial-arts choreographer.

Looks like he directed a sequel to Crouching Tiger last year, which brings back Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh reprises her role) and adds Donnie Yen, who played Ip Man in that series of movies (well, the 3 worth seeing-- there are many movies about Ip). In real life, Ip was the teacher of Bruce Lee, and the popularizer (that's probably not a word) of the Wing Chun school of Kung Fu.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:52 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's so many great martial arts/action movies from Hong Kong it's hard to know where to start for recommendations.

Sammo Hung is probably the closest in spirit to Jackie's most loved Hong Kong Movies, they worked together on Wheels on Meals, and Hung's films, which he directs, often have a blend of comedy and action in that fashion. Pedicab Driver, The Magnificent Butcher, Winners and Sinners, or The Prodigal Son are some of his more popular movies.

Cheh Chang is another fine director. One Armed Swordsman, The New One Armed Swordsman, Five Element Ninja, Magnificent Trio, or Have Sword Will Travel might be some titles worth checking out from him.

Even better is Chia-Liang Liu, who also went by Lau Kar-leung. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho, Heroes of the East, Legendary Weapons of China, My Young Auntie, and Return to the 36th Chamber are some of his best.

King Hu is one of the most important directors from the wuxia genre, helping to define the style. A Touch of Zen, Come Drink with Me, Dragon Gate Inn, or Raining in the Mountain would be where I'd start with his films.

Tsui Hark is another worth looking into. He's still working and has a large somewhat inconsistent body of work, but with many really enjoyable films to his credit. I'd definitely suggest the Once Upon a Time in China series from him. They star Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung, the same character Jackie Chan played in Drunken Master, and are really fun. There are six films in the series overall, though Jet Li dropped out after the third and Hark didn't direct all of them, the later ones are still enjoyable, but not as good as the first three in the series. Some other Hark movies of note; Shanghai Blues, Peking Opera Blues, New Dragon Gate Inn, and Green Snake

if you're looking for something more modern that's set in our era, than Johnnie To is a director to look for. His action scenes are great, but that's just one small part of what makes his films so good. To works in a variety of genres, his romantic comedies are excellent, and often blends genres into something more his own. The Mission, Fulltime Killer, Election, Mad Detective, Vengeance, Exiled, PTU, Wu Yen, or Throw Down might be some places to start from with To, but I like so many of his movies its hard to choose favorites. The action sequences in his movies are more impressive from their overall choreography than from individual fight scenes, so they aren't like Chan's movies in that sense, but they're impressive in their own right. Here's the opening tracking shot from Breaking News for example, seven minutes of action choreographed for the camera without a cut.

I could go on, but I think I've probably gone on long enough already. I should point out that some of the directors and films listed do use a lot of wire work, but the action is no less exquisitely choreographed for that use. It isn't the same kind of action as in Chan's films. Which is hardly surprising given Jackie's predilection for risky stunts. Whether these fit the concept of "people who can actually fight" or not I guess is a bit unclear, with Sammo Hung and Jet Li's work with Hark being most in line with that concept.

If you're more interested in the best action stars, like Jet Li or Donnie Yen then that'd make for a bit of a different list, where the best fighters may not be in the best movies or where actors who can sell the fighting still use wire work and so on. The suggestions offered here are just movies where the action is well handled in the service of enjoyable experience overall.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:26 AM on October 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

I started watching martial arts movies with "The Five Deadly Venoms" or at least I think so, so I'm very familiar with a lot of these movies, but it's always nice to get new recommendations. I particularly enjoyed "Kung-Fu Hustle" because I recognized so many of the great stars of earlier generations. Thanks, y'all.
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:54 PM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wasn't going to mention it in this context, but Green Snake is one of the most incredible movies ever.
posted by rhizome at 4:02 PM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

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