To star in a martial arts film takes intense training, athletic talent and charisma. Actors including Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan have mastered this art and are widely recognised as international superstars both for their martial artistry and their on-screen presence. Jackie Chan re-introduces his magnetising energy later this month as producer, choreographer and lead actor in DRAGON BLADE, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from 14th March. To celebrate Mr Chan’s return, let’s take a look at some of the top martial arts films of recent times…
DRAGON BLADE (2016)
The living martial arts legend that is Jackie Chan made his long awaited return to action in DRAGON BLADE this year, the riveting martial arts historic action flick, starring John Cusack and Adrien Brody. Set two thousand years ago, General Lucius’ (Cusack) legion of Roman soldiers marches East along the famous Chinese Silk Road to protect Publius, the youngest son of Consul Crassus, from his vicious brother Tiberius (Brody). After becoming lost in the desert they arrive at Wild Geese Gate, where Lucius meets Huo An (Chan), the Commander of the Silk Road Protection Squad of the Western Region. The two men – who have each been framed for treason – earn each other’s respect and form an allegiance against Tiberius. To protect his country and to clear his name of treason, Huo An gathers all the allies of China to unite together and take on Tiberius in an epic battle that will be remembered forever… A soaring martial arts epic where East brutally meets West. Jackie Chan’s inimitable style is put to unforgettable effect.
KUNG FU KILLER (2015)
Donnie Yen stars as Hahou, a former martial arts instructor imprisoned after accidentally killing an opponent. When a vicious killer played by Wang Baoqiang starts targeting martial arts masters, Hahou offers to help the police capture him in return for his freedom. Donnie Yen displays his incredible ability once again in this all-action feature.
IP MAN (2008)
This 2008 semi-biographical martial arts film is loosely based on the life of Yip Man, a martial arts grandmaster, founder of the martial art Wing Chun and master of Bruce Lee. It centres on the events in Ip’s life during the Sino-Japanese war. Donnie Yen stars as Yip Man, once again bringing his martial arts expertise to the big screen. Sammo Hung and Tony Leung Siu-hung designed the martial arts choreography for the film. Ip Man was hugely successful and soon became part of a franchise, the third instalment of which was released last year.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991)
Jet Li stars in Once Upon A Time In China – a film that alerted the world to the incredible talents of the unknown, but extremely gifted martial artist and actor. It follows his character Wong Fei-Hung and sees the locals become concerned with the growing influence and presence of Westerners and foreigners in Foshan. General Liu Yong Fu of the Black Flag Army approaches Wong Fei-Hung and requests that he helps gather and train a militia to assist in defending the town. Directed by Tsui Hark, the film is a dazzling and colourful spectacle. Once Upon A Time In China was one of the first to cross over into western pop-culture in the post-Bruce Lee era, and is a firm favourite of martial arts fans around the world.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000)
This absolute classic is synonymous not only with the genre of martial arts films, but martial arts itself, winning numerous accolades over the years, including the 2000 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film tells the story of Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) an expert swordsman and martial artist and his warrior friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) on their search for a stolen sword. Crouching Tiger… combines action packed kung-fu seamlessly with a truly moving love story, thanks to the genius director that is Ang Lee, who also introduced the Matrix’s choreographer, Yuen Woo-ping, to orchestrate the film’s incredibly complex fight scenes.
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
A blockbuster hit, Enter the Dragon is rightfully considered one of the best martial arts films of all time and was Bruce Lee’s final film before his death. The film was the first Chinese martial arts film to be produced by a Hollywood Studio (Warner Brothers) and the story follows a master martial artist who agrees to spy on a reclusive crime lord by entering a martial arts tournament as a cover. It is an exotic and extravagant spectacle and Lee is a unique and humble star who exudes emotion and unsurpassable martial arts prowess.
HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004)
Set during the Tang dynasty in China, this film follows two police captains (Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro) on their search for the leader of the counterinsurgency group, the flying Daggers. Jin (Kaneshiro) poses as an average citizen and busts Mei (Zhang Ziyi) out of jail because they believe her to be a secret member of the Daggers, but it turns out that nothing is quite what it seems. Directed by Zhang Yimou, this film contains fantastic fight choreography, dancing, traditional Chinese music, and of course: martial arts.
A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971)
A Touch of Zen made cinematic history when it became the first Chinese film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. It stars Feng Hsu as Ku, an artist who meets the beautiful Yang and discovers that she is being pursued by agents of an Imperial noble who have murdered her family. He becomes entangled in her struggle to survive, and many fierce battles are fought before there is any resolve. The story effortlessly combines elements of comedy and romance along with its drama and action.
KILL BILL VOL. 1 and 2 (2003 & 2004)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 follow the story of The Bride, as she seeks revenge on an assassination squad led by Bill (David Carradine) due to his assassination attempt on her and her unborn child. The film received both critical and commercial success and is considered one of Tarantino’s best films to date. Kill Bill is extremely unique in the martial arts genre as it stars an American female protagonist as opposed to the more traditional Asian male. It also co-stars Daryl Hannah and Lucy Lui proving that women can be deadly too!
Another Jet Li film, Hero is a wuxia film that is based on the story of Jing Ke’s assassination attempt on the King of Qin in 227 B.C. When the film was released it became the highest grossing motion picture in Chinese film history. The film was nominated for both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Li stars as Nameless, a master swordsman and the primary conspirator in the assassination attempt. He brings his usual style and energy, while the film also stars Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Chen Daoming.
In Ong-Bak, Tony Jaa stars as a young martial artist living in rural Thailand who goes to the big city to retrieve the head of his village’s sacred statue: Ong-Bak. The film used no special effects or stunt doubles, but you wouldn’t believe it when you watch Jaa’s speed and execution of his martial artistry. The film was directed and written by Prachya Pinkaew and features stunt choreography by Panna Rittikrai. The fights are staged excellently as Jaa takes down every enemy that gets in his way. It was so successful that it also inspired two prequels: Ong-Bak 2 and Ong-Bak 3.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2012)
As a rookie member of an elite special-forces team, Rama (Iko Uwais) is instructed to hang back during a covert mission involving the extraction of a brutal crime lord from a rundown fifteen-story apartment block. But when a spotter blows their cover, boss Tama (Ray Sahetaphy) offers lifelong sanctuary to every killer, gangster, and thief in the building in exchange for their heads. Now Rama must stand in for the team’s fallen leader (Joe Taslim) and use every iota of his fighting strength – winding through every floor and every room to complete the mission and escape with his life. The Raid showcases the traditional Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, with fight choreography by Uwais and Yayan Ruhian.
DRAGON BLADE arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from 14th March 2016, courtesy of Signature Entertainment [win the film on DVD, Enter here]