(If you have watched the first episode of Kitchen Table Gaming then you have already met one of my oldest friends in Paul Yellovich. In addition to carrying a tube of cookie dough with him at all times Paul has given over no small portion of his life to watching martial arts films. Like me, Paul grew up in New York where these films were shown on the Drive-In Movie most weeks on Channel 5. In the 90’s our group of friends starting digging into the canon of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, John Woo, and Tsai Hark — among others — and would venture into the cavernous Sun Sing Theater under the Manhattan Bridge to watch the movies on a big screen while eating pork buns and being serenaded by fornicating cats.
In 2000 Paul got his first DVD player and he went down the rabbit hole of martial arts films the way I went down the Magic: The Gathering rabbit hole a few years prior. He has since collected more than 2000 films — and watched more than half of them — and for years maintained a web database on alternate titles for martial arts films. In his own words, he is nuts — but in the best possible way.
I still love the genre especially with the luxury of having my experience curated by Paul. And now you have the luxury of that experience as well as Paul brings us his Top 8 martial arts fight scenes of all time — BDM)
Top 8 Fights in Martial Arts Movies
by Paul Yellovich
So BDM said, “Give me a Top 8 of the best fights in movie history.”
I said,” Kung Fu/Martial Arts? Weapons, no weapons?
Then he said, ”Your choice.”
So I started making a list. Problem is after a while I felt I had a lot of apples and a couple of oranges. So I decided to make this a Top 8 Martial Arts Fights in Movies.
Don’t get overly concerned with the order, we are all friends here.
VIII. Alley fight from Martial Club (1981)
Gordon Lui vs. Wang Lung-wei
Your kung fu is no good. You must go to Shaolin!
From the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio and legendary director Lau Kar Leung, starring legendary martial arts superstar Gordon Lui comes… an ok movie. Which happens all the time; amazing fights in mediocre films.
This scene screams old school. Rivals pause to call out kung fu styles as they move along an impossibly twisty-turny, narrowing alley. An alley built for no other reason than to be another character in this scene.
VII. End Fight from Hong Kong Godfather (1985)
Bryan Leung & Norman Chu vs. Wang Lung-wei & The Rest of the World
Who the hell’s going to clean this mess!
Wang Lung-wei walks out of the alley in Martial Club and goes on to direct this dull movie. But if you made it till the end you were rewarded. Sometimes it’s not about subtlety. Sometimes it’s about an obscene amount of bad fake blood, wholesale murder, a million stuntmen, and falls that make your back hurt.
VI. Old Vs New School fight from Pedicab Driver (1989)
Sammo Hung Kam Bo vs. Lau Kar Leung
A beautiful dance of violence!
This is the equivalent of the Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dance scene from Ziegfeld Follies. Few have had the impact Sammo Hung Kam Bo and Lau Kar Leung have had on Hong Kong action films. This scene is about a clash of styles. Lau Kar Leung is old school and Sammo Hung Kam Bo new — new being the 1980s. And that premise gives us kung fu comedy that isn’t cringe-worthy.
V. Castle fight from Wheels on Meals (1984)
Jackie Chan vs. Benny “The Jet” Urquidez
Is that the killer from Grosse Pointe Blank?
This is new school martial arts. Gone are the silly costumes and animal styles. Now we have awful 80s clothes, more stuntiness, and more of a western boxing influence. Not that Bruce Lee didn’t give that to us a decade before, but this is the 1980s and Jackie was king.
IV. One Take fight scene from Tom Yum Goong aka The Protector (2005)
Tony Jaa vs. The Editor
Let’s do it again.
When BDM was in Thailand years ago he asked me if there was anything he could bring for me. I wanted a dvd of Ong Bak. You see, Tony Jaa was going to save us. Save us from the crappy martial arts films of the later 90s. Save us from cheap CGI and pop stars who couldn’t fight. He was the new Jackie Chan. But after The Protector he stumbled.
The gimmick of this scene is the single shot with no cuts. The action is a little more tentative and slower than what we usually get from Jaa. But who cares. I would have hated to be the guy that screwed up that take!
III. Alley Fight from SPL aka Kill Zone (2005)
Donnie Yen vs. Wu Jing
Who brings a baton to a knife fight?
Kill Zone is a depressing film with an ending so brutal and controversial it didn’t make it to some countries. This fight is brutal, mean, bloody and to me a little painful to watch. I want to say it’s more realistic, but let’s face it, you’re never going to see two guys in an alley doing this in real life. Let’s just call it raw and less choreographed.
II. Dojo Fight from Fist of Legend (1994)
Jet Li vs. A Dojo
A guy walks into a dojo…
You either love or hate this film. The hate may come from the fact it is a remake, one of many, of Bruce Lee’s classic Fist of Fury from 1972. The love? Jet Li always looks cool. And when he’s tying his shoe at the end…
I. 3 Masters are revealed from Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
3 Masters vs. The Axe Gang
Best of the best!
Kung Fu Hustle is Stephen Chow’s love letter to the films he saw growing up. I had heard people say Kung Fu Hustle might be the greatest kung fu movie of all time. Actually I’ve said that myself.
When I thought about why I find this scene worthy to be on this list I thought I’d discuss the music. I love it. It takes it to another level. But then I thought no, I love this scene because it’s heroic.
Three masters come out of hiding to save the people of their little crappy town.
Heroes. That’s what makes a great martial arts fight. We root for the hero. We want them to win. Winning sometimes means literally cutting the other guy to shreds. Sometimes it’s just showing how much better of a fighter they are.