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OUR TOP 5 MARTIAL ARTS MOVIES OF ALL TIME

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OUR TOP 5 MARTIAL ARTS MOVIES OF ALL TIME
Let’s start with the obvious: writing this list was no easy task! Trawling through the gargantuan back catalogue of martial arts movies, it quickly became apparent we’d opened up a can of worms. Before the real research had even begun, we’d reeled off in excess of 20 memorable titles from memory. The ensuing internet research only served to complicated matters further. But you’ll find no Norris, Seagal or Van Damme here. That might disappoint some and indeed we’ve had our own moments of doubt. Van Damme’s Bloodsport and Kickboxer in particular were, for us, seminal movie moments that fought for inclusion, but they didn’t quite make the grade. After much perseverance we eventually whittled it down to 5 killer movies. If you haven’t seen them, book in a martial arts movie fest now and get watching! If you disagree with our selections or feel there are glaring omissions, let us know. After all, what’s a list if it doesn’t inspire debate and disagreement? Enough of the procrastination; let’s dive in! At number 5…. 5 - Police Story (1985), starring Jackie Chan OK, we acknowledge there are probably a number of movies more deserving of taking 5th place, but for its overall influence in refocusing the genre we’ll argue Police Story makes a strong claim. When Hong Kong martial arts movies were beginning to look like a conveyor belt of copycats, Jackie Chan came along and gave the genre, and indeed the industry, a much-needed face-lift. Mixing incredible stunts with crazy choreography, Police Story was a ground-breaking piece of film work, which guided and set the style for the genre as a whole for years to come. Don’t expect a great deal in terms of compelling storylines: this is very much (Hong Kong) Cop Vs Bad Guy stuff, but when the action is so irresistible, who cares. A worldwide box-office smash, there were several Police Story sequels and spin-offs of, it’s fair to say, variable quality. Whilst Chan had been making movies from as early as the mid 1970’s, Police Story was also the vehicle that confirmed him as one of the world’s greatest film stuntmen and for that, if nothing else, we should be grateful. 4 - Ong-Bak (2003), starring Tony Jaa One word: brutal! The Thai Kickboxing-inspired fight scenes are so intense and real you can almost feel the pain. Tony Jaa, the film’s protagonist, is simply sublime as a fighter extraordinaire and, for our money, might well be the hardest on-screen martial artist of them all (cue roars of disagreement). Again, let’s suspend any hope of highly involved storytelling here. Baddies steal something (a precious Buddha head), along comes Tony (a simple peasant) to give said baddies a good beating before returning stolen item. Erm, that’s it really. But this is highly accomplished fight choreography that will leave you reeling and wincing, especially with the film’s penchant for slo-mo replays of killer blows. Bone crunching aside, it also boasts one of silver screen’s best foot chases, with big Tone leaping through, under and over just about every obstacle you could imagine in an extended chase scene through the back streets and alleyways of Bangkok. 3 - Seven Samurai (1954), starring Toshiro Mifune An oldie (black and white no less) but a goodie, Seven Samurai may only be familiar to diehard movie fans but will appeal to movie buffs and martial arts fans alike. This is an epic tale from Japan that has heart, social commentary and important moral messages to deliver, but it’s also a cracking action flick. Beautifully made throughout, the film follows Seven Samurai (duh!) hired by village folk to deal with the threat of bandits ransacking their village. There are subplots aplenty and at over 3 hours long this is a marathon watch, but it rarely feels laboured. Go and watch before any other! 2 - Once Upon a Time in China (1991), starring Jet Li Very much the roots of Hong Kong cinema’s kung-fu renaissance, it’s also the flick that launched Jet Li as a bona fide global movie star. The film follows a rebel, Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung, as he fights the colonial baddies in 1990s Hong Kong, just as China is taking sovereignty of the region back from the British. We’re back in weak plot territory again and it wears Chinese nationalism a little too proudly, but the action scenes are epic. CGI-free but packed with wire-assisted fight action, the ingenious fight choreography is compelling stuff. But perhaps the film’s greatest strength is Li. An accomplished actor – not something we can always say of martial arts movie stars – he’s also a kick-ass martial artist. He kills one baddie with a bullet – without using a gun. His athletic ability is no less impressive, demonstrated throughout but perhaps most emphatically in the final warehouse action sequence. It’s edge of the seat cinema that leaves an appetite for more… which we got, with four sequels in the following two years. Nothing like milking a good thing! 1 - Enter The Dragon (1973), starring Bruce Lee Truthfully, we weren’t sure if Enter The Dragon should take the number one spot, or even feature in the list at all. Bruce had to appear somewhere, no doubt, but purists may argue that there is better work in Lee’s filmography. Ultimately, Enter The Dragon is here, and at number one no less, because of its legendary status. It was a colossal box office smash, taking well over $22m in the US (huge money at the time). It was also Lee’s last film before his untimely death at age 32. But we also think it’s a belter of a movie: cracking soundtrack, great cinematography and of course Bruce Lee at his balletic best. Lee, like the movie, has such a strong presence in our conscience that ultimately the decision made itself. We’ll say no more on the plot; instead, seek it out – if it’s not already in your collection - and enjoy. Notable Omissions Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Michelle Yeoh & Chow Yun-fat Ip Man (2008), Donnie Yen Drunken Master & Drunken Master 2 (1994), Jackie Chan

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  • Alex Wright
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