Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Favourites #5: Martial Arts Movies

They sure don't make martial arts movie the way they used to. Sure, you can see elements of it incorporated into virtually any kind of movie; may it be science fiction like The Matrix [1999] to the newer James Bond movies. What I'm talking about here are martial arts movie in the truest sense of the genre;

Martial arts movies are really about an alternate universe where authority figures doesn't seem to exist, and regardless of the nature of dispute, everything can be solved by the good ol' street justice. Whoever can kick ass in ways cooler than the opponent (usually the protagonist) wins, and they can rest assured that there will be no repercussions whatsoever.

"Lawsuit? What's that?"
The Mafia is extorting your restaurant for money? Don't call the police, just call for backup in the form of a kung-fu master from Hong Kong. Poachers stole your elephant? Don't call for the wildlife authority, try tracking it down yourself, yell "where's my elephant?!" in every room you break into and proceed by breaking the bones of everyone who give you quizzical looks.

Caught my drift yet? 

Nobody watches martial arts movies to get awed by the story, or to be blown away by some critical social commentaries. Instead, it's really about watching people who are very light on their feet doing things that makes us look down on our flabby stomachs with shame. If you're watching it for the story, you are missing the point, and not to mention missing out on the spectacular human feats. However, you will notice the complete absence of wuxia movies because... well, even I draw the line somewhere.

#1 Way of the Dragon [1972]
Director : Bruce Lee
Martial Artist(s) : Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Robert Wall, Hwang In-Shik

There's not a doubt in my mind that this is the greatest martial arts movie ever made, and not to mention my favourite Bruce Lee movie. It may not be as grand in scale as his best known movie in the U.S (we'll get to that later), but Way of the Dragon is simplicity at its best as far as martial arts movies go.

#2 Kiss of the Dragon [2001]
Director : Chris Nahon
Martial Artist(s) : Jet Li, Cyril Raffaelli

Kiss of the Dragon is one of those instances where they made it very plausible for martial arts to take place, fitting in seamlessly with the story. You see, most martial arts movies were written in such a way that it made it appear as though they came up with the fight scenes first, and have the story written around them. Well, not this one. It was a decent thriller with its fight scenes being the highlights.

#3 Enter the Dragon [1973]
Director : Robert Clouse
Martial Artist(s) : Bruce Lee, Robert Wall, Sammo Hung, Tony Liu

This Bruce Lee movie is grander in scale, with a James Bond movie feel to it. A bit far-fetched it may seem, but it's never really about what is the logical thing to do if you were stuck in the same situation as our protagonists, it's really about putting our heroes in a situation where they can best apply their ass-kicking skills, and few did ever come close to Enter the Dragon.

#4 Rumble in the Bronx [1995]
Director : Stanley Tong
Martial Artist(s) : Jackie Chan

I didn't have the opportunity to have multiple viewings of this movie, but that one time I saw it was enough to immortalise Jackie Chan as one of the best action stars of all-time. Now, I am aware that Jackie Chan is more of a stuntman than a martial artist, but that hardly matters when it comes to what ends up on screen; he never failed to deliver and this is one of his best when it comes to him just kicking ass. 

#5 Equilibrium [2002]
Director : Kurt Wimmer
Martial Artist(s) : Practically none

A martial arts movie without actual martial artists. The inclusion of Equilibrium might raise plenty of eyebrows, but I'm talking about my personal favourite martial arts movies, remember? Not to mention this one is unique; the martial arts featured in this movie isn't real, not to mention it's just implausible, but nevertheless it was still captivating. Imagine if someone found a way to "kung fu-nise" gunfights, but not in the way The Matrix did, no I'm talking about the Gun kata.

#6 Ong-bak [2003]
Director : Prachya Pinkaew
Martial Artist(s) : Tony Jaa

Why Ong-bak? I know as far as a Tony Jaa movie goes, Tom-Yum-Goong [2005] is superior in many ways. One example would be the five-minute uncut fight scene across five staircases. But the thing about that movie is the attempt at making a cultural export that's rather baffling to a non-Thai. Besides, it was really Ong-bak that reminded people the cool times when martial arts movies were really about able-bodied martial artists instead of all the wire-fu (or CGI-fu) nonsense.

#7 Never Back Down [2008]
Director : Jeff Wadlow
Martial Artist(s) : Practically none

Not very well-received as a martial arts movie, people let the overriding high school drama cliches in the movie cloud their judgement that this is actually a very decent mixed-martial arts movie. It's relatively not as flashy as a typical martial arts movie, a lot more technical and more deeply-rooted in reality. Imagine The Karate Kid [1984] given a remake with an MMA twist to it.

#8 Ip Man [2008]
Director : Wilson Yip
Martial Artist(s) : Donnie Yen, Fan Siu-wong, Xing Yu, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi

How can you not include Ip Man in any "good martial arts movies" list? This is a semi-biographical movie about the celebrated master of Bruce Lee, but heck, you probably weren't thinking of that when you saw the movie because it was a spectacular movie in its own right. Not to mention it was the first in a rather long time to make a martial arts movie with actual martial artists.

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