Martial Arts Flicks

Let’s talk about movies.

hate it when people use movies as a crutch for small talk. Trying to fish for film interests is lame, but that’s usually because neither party is really into it.

A: So uh… you like movies?

B: Yeah. How about you?

A: Yeah, I like movies.

Naw, man! Movies– just like sports and music– are a portal to another dimension. There’s a lot of mental practice to be had by inserting yourself in a role. What would you do? What would you say?

It’s fun to critique the production side. What would you cut? What would you have expanded? What would you have changed?

And when you’re watching movies with good company, you’re creating memories to last a lifetime. I’ll never forget the time I predicted the suitcase in Ultraviolet was carrying a kid.

A medium in which you can take the bad and still turn it into good– it’s a damn shame so many people are missing out.

Imagine my surprise when my pal screenwriter Greg Hovanesian told me he’s never really watched any martial arts movies. I realize that kung fu flicks and the sort aren’t always the most accessible, so here’s a list for not only Greg, but the rest of y’all.

Jackie Chan – Legend of Drunken Master

Jackie Chan has quite the extensive catalog to sift through, and it was hard to narrow it down to one. I’m sure there’s plenty of Jackie fans out there who’ll disagree. But I picked Legend of Drunken Master for these reasons:

  • great humor
  • excellent training montage
  • exposure to drunken fist
  • epic Ken Lo fight scene (featured above)

Fun fact: Ken Lo was Jackie’s bodyguard at the time.

Second pick: Rumble in the Bronx (Jackie’s first big US release; also a great testament to Jackie’s professionalism– he gets injured during filming but wears a sleeve over his cast to look like a shoe so he can continue to perform anyway!)

Jet Li – Fist of Legend

Compared to Jackie, Jet Li is like the little brother who feels like he’s got to prove himself. He’s got an axe to grind, and that means punching lots of people in the faces while scowling. He’s been very successful in his own right, of course, but his choreography is a whole lot meaner. You’ll rarely see humor in his films. For fans of bad Steven Seagal movies, you might enjoy Jet Li’s US releases. Anyway, Fist of Legend rules because…

  • dojo fight scene
  • dojo fight scene!!
  • dojo fight scene!!!

Second pick: Fearless (a more “recent” film of his; incorporates some wire choreography that might turn off some for being unrealistic)

Tonya Jaa – The Protector 

When Tony Jaa first hit the scene with 2003’s Ong Bak, he made such an impact. For one, martial flicks had been pretty lackluster without any real standouts for some time. Second, he exposed everyone to the art of Muay Thai, which was visually much more brutal than Kung Fu due to its use of elbows and knees. Tony has made it no secret that Jackie Chan is one of his idols, and just like his hero he does all of his own stunts. I’m picking The Protector (aka Tom-Yum-Goong) over Ong Bak:

  • While Ong Bak was a good showcase to introduce Muay Thai, it’s in The Protector that Tony Jaa really cuts loose with the choreography and fight scenes
  • Lots of “boss battles”
  • Pro-elephant
  • Epic “no cut” fight scene that no doubt influenced the fights in Netflix’s Daredevil

Second pick: Ong Bak (also pro-elephant and full of great boss battles).

Iko Uwais – The Raid 2: Redemption

The splash that Tony Jaa originally had fizzled out because he quit acting for awhile to become a monk. Now, Iko Uwais is almost having the same kind of splash. Hopefully, he sticks around for awhile. Lots of credit should be given to the director Gareth Evans too. In the day and age where fight choreography is all zoomed in with quick cuts (Jason Bourne’s fault!)– it’s nice to have fight scenes that pull back to show you everything again. Iko incorporates Pencat Silat, and unfortunately I know very little about it. But be sure to check out The Raid 2 anyway!

  • more mean and brutal than Jet Li and Tony Jaa combined
  • humor arises in the form of ridiculousness (i.e. Hammer Girl, Baseball Bat Man)
  • very beautiful cinematography– it’s amazing to watch all the destruction unfold

Second pick: The Raid (note that even though they are “linked”, you can just jump straight into the sequel; the first served more like a pilot for the Director to get funding to make The Raid 2)

The Other Guys

But Jon, aren’t you leaving out a whole lot? What about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Overrated! Donnie Yen’s IP Man? Solid, but less accessible. Gasp… no Bruce Lee?

All right, all right. While I’m grateful and dig Bruce Lee in spirit… I just don’t think his movies are a good starting point for newbies. It’s like trying to get someone who doesn’t watch movies to start with Citizen Kane. Sure, there’s plenty to appreciate. There’s a lot of influence to be noted. But that’s stuff to digest after you’ve been in the mix for awhile.

So there’s my action-packed, bone-crunching, kicky-punchy list. What would be your top picks?


Published by Jon Dao

Formerly, the Conversation Coach

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