I few years ago I created a list of what I thought were the greatest films to feature martial arts over the modern age of cinema. I am human, slightly on the super-side, but still prone to changing ideals, tastes and new obviously new options and additions are considered. So today I am revisiting my list, to see how my original holds up and where things changed. I penciled out my new list before looking at my old list and this is what I got.
As you can see a few moved slightly, several new movies were added and a classic was given a new appreciation. Want a break down, here it is:
Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon – Still my all-time favorite, will never be replaced. I didn’t pick this for the action, there are 3 dozen better martial artists on any given day than Tiamak, No insult to Tiamak, he is far better than I ever came close to being at martial arts, just the simple truth. But what they captured in The Last Dragon is responsible for bringing me into the world of martial arts. At 10 years old the flashy music and humor attracted my interest and the homagery to Bruce Lee pointed me in the direction of who was and always will be the most important person in Kung Fu Cinema. Not to mention Sho’nuff is the baddest of the bad guys in any film.
Enter the Dragon – For years I resented this fill, I don’t know why, maybe because it was the Americanization of Bruce Lee films and the connection to his death. Maybe it is the years of refusing to acknowledge and watch this film with an objective eye, but when it was released on Blu Ray I could not watch it and the lessons and influence Bruce carried into this film are monumental. From the introduction of the basics of what is now the success of the UFC to the teachings of the young student on the bridge Bruce clearly ended on his magnus opus.
Hero – Dropped a spot only to squeeze in Enter the Dragon, you may agrue The Last Dragon, but who can argue moving Hero for Bruce Lee.
Bloodsport – I am clearly over-rating this film, but there are few films I will watch every time I see it on t.v. (and this movie is on cable a few times a month) or someone suggests it. 25 years and I never tire of watching it. Jean-Claude gives us the bare necessities to have a solid storyline and then does what he does best, fantastic ass-kicking. Too many action stars begin to think they are actors and push for the deep plots with character development. Great if you have the talent, but Van Damme started to fall off when he became an actor instead of an action star.
Way of the Dragon – Switching spots on the list with Bloodsport, I debated this in my head for a while and this is because of what I just said, if Bloodsport is on once a month I will watch it, or at least some of it, I won’t do the same for Way of the Dragon even if it is the better movie. Bruce Lee, unlike others, could develop a film and was a tremendous actor as this film shows. Had history been different he would still be acting today making great comedic roles sans the action.
Ip Man – New to the list as a new release since the last list. Everyone knew Donnie Yen had a great film in him, this was it. Really an amazing actor that knows martial arts, Donnie Yen has been cast in film that he was far superior for the role. This film defined what he can do when the well written spot he deserves. Historically the film is far from reality, but historical-fiction based on a real man the story, regardless of its validity is amazing. Both parts of the planned trilogy are well done and by far one of the most well done sequels in Kung Fu Cinema.
Only the Strong – An older movie, done around 1993, the film was a Netflix suggestion that I gave a shot on one of those snowed in days with nothing to do between shoveling the walk every few hours. Aside from what was considered cool dress in the 1990s the film is the martial arts equivalent of The Outsiders. A former special forces operative moves into real life after retirement and back to the old neighborhood that nearly claimed him to crime. Taking a job as a teacher he moves the kids from gang life with the tutelage of Capoeira a Brazilian martial art that look almost like dance when not in combat.
Ong Bak – I was going to list all 3 films separate, but it would look a little ridiculous crowding a top 10 with what could be a movie series. Honestly how 1 connects with 2 & 3 other than the setting is still a mystery. But the saga is unforgettable. Not on my first list because I had yet to see the first as it was just growing in America. Tony Jaa is proving that he is the most exciting martial artist to ever participate in film. He combines Muay Thai and Parkour into one with the lack of wire acting to prove that man can not fly, but he can damn well try.
Pray for Death – Falling only because the list is crowding with new additions, still the premiere ninja actor and film of the age of stealth assassins.
The Man From Nowhere – I am not entirely sure this film should be included in here because of the minimal action and more focus on story, but because the majority of America would pigeonhole it as kung fu I will honor their generalization. A former special forces agent goes into seclusion as an everyday lazy twenty something until the local gang takes the one person he considers a friend. Trained to take no prisoners Tae-sik takes down an army to save a little girl everyone considers extra baggage.
Those that fell and honorable mentions:
Fist of Fury – Still an amazing film, just over watched and will probably be back once I make a new list. Not to mention it is hard not to put 4 different Bruce Lee films when they all could arguably deserve the honor.
Unleashed – Jet Li’s american roles are sometimes shunned by kung fu snobs, but his transition into semi-action roles is great ant the list of his Hollywood films would easily all fit into a top 25. Taking away humanity and creating an animal seems like a reliable weapon, but even a pet’s loyalty is not guaranteed if you mistreat them.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins – Sadly the list was just too full, I still find this incredibly influential and entertaining. One of America’s best action efforts during the 1980s.
Cradle 2 the Grave – Like others, a victim of space. Like Bloodsport a re-watch favorite.
The Karate Kid – ditto
No Retreat, No Surrender – Much like The Last Dragon this film introduced me to Bruce Lee, even more so that the former. With a young man in the middle of thugs hustling his family he turns to the one man who can train him to fight the unbeatable… Master Lee. Or the ghost of. The icing on the cake, the villain’s goon is a very young Van Damme.
Honorable TV mention
Ohara: Mr. Miyagi gives up his maintenance job in Reseda, California for a job with the LAPD as Lt. Ohara. More of a Cop drama with some karate thrown in for good measure with some Japanese wisdom, think Walker Texas Ranger in the city. Sadly it only lasted 30 episodes and has never been put onto DVD.