What’s this?

For now, this is just a little public spot to keep my running list of kung-fu and martial arts films that I’d like to watch (based on research, some resources of which are posted below), and tiny snarky reviews of the ones I’ve already seen.

It may eventually blossom into something more structured and/or useful, but for the time being it’s a minor upgrade from the old Github gist based off my internal vimwiki.

Key

  • amz - Amazon Prime. Free for me, and for you if you already pony up about $100/year for free shipping.
  • amz rental - one-off Amazon streaming rentals, usually $2-7.
  • netflix - Netflix streaming. (Many flicks are available on both Amazon streaming and Netflix DVD, so if you’ve got Netflix DVD…make sure to check there too.)
  • torrented - I definitely did not torrent these, but they’re typically available via DVD or Bluray only channels and lack streaming options.

Resources

I cast a wider net but the two richest pages I worked off of are these MetaFilter and SomethingAwful discussions. (So odd how asking a baseline fee of your users results in higher quality content…!)

The films

Seen

  • Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman: 1: Tale of Zatoichi (‘62) - amz rental - yojimbo except the hero is both more and less likable. good film
  • Come Drink With Me (‘67) - amz rental - good all around, can clearly see its huge influence
  • One-Armed Swordsman (‘67) - amz - not great, not bad
  • Golden Swallow (sequel to Come Drink With Me) (‘68) - amz - some of the fights are good but plotting was pretty bad
  • One-Armed Boxer (‘71) - amz - I swear Jimmy Wang Yu actually does have two arms some of the time
  • A Touch of Zen (‘71) - amz rental - a 2hr film’s worth of beautiful cinematography, in 3hrs (the rest is too dark to see shit). the choreography is mixed, some nice, some just blah
  • The Big Boss / Fists of Fury (‘71) - torrented - idgi why isn’t he making those screaming noises he’s famous for
  • Fist of Fury / The Chinese Connection (‘72) - torrented - oh hey there they are. now if only he could act. the disguises bit was legit hilarious though!
  • Hapkido, aka Lady Kung Fu (‘72) - amz - really enjoyed the choreography here; story is almost decent for a kung fu film; dub was well executed too. super didn’t like the female lead’s wide-eyed look anytime she fought though, felt unnecessarily like it was making her seem ‘weakly feminine’ or some shit, even though she kicked major ass
  • Way of the Dragon / Return of the Dragon (‘72) - netflix - boy I hope Enter the Dragon is better because this was pretty bad, only about 12 of the final fight was any good. and let’s not even talk about any of the non fight stuff.
  • Lady Snowblood (‘73) - amz rental - well, that’s a classic for you. actual martial arts barely there but that’s not why this is famous.
  • Enter the Dragon (‘73) - amz - pretty good, though not a ton we haven’t seen in his earlier films. can definitely see the Hollywood-style production values. plot is garbage as usual.
  • The Street Fighter (Sonny Chiba) (‘74) - amz - really liked the choreography but that might be because I’ve taken Okinawan Goju-ryu karate and was tickled at how authentic much of the action was. could definitely have done without all the attempted rape and better-than-attempted murder tho.
  • Master of the Flying Guillotine (‘76) - amz - yup, it basically is a much better version of One-Armed Boxer. Great stuff. Got a bit sick of the Bad Muay Thai Guy’s wai kru and the villain’s fake-ass eyebrows tho.
  • 36th Chamber of Shaolin (‘78) - amz - no rapping but lots of great action, very enjoyable film. only complaint is the “WOW THIS GUY’S A GREAT STUDENT OMG” bits get a little old, but I’m jaded. also, only realized when reading analyses after the fact, but none of the action was sped up as in many films of the same period; it’s all real time, which makes it even more impressive
  • Born Invincible (‘78) - amz - forget why this was recommended to me but it’s a nice balance of entertaining if wholly unrealistic choreography, and incredibly classic kung-fu cheesiness re: wacky/cheap cinematography, dubbing, sound effects (holy shit at the Tai Chi guy’s SFX!)
  • Drunken Master (‘78) - amz rental - earliest Jackie Chan on my list, and he’s already in fine form. funny but not overdoing it, w/ tons of enjoyable choreography. also the first example of drunken kung fu I’ve seen, which was fun.
  • (The) Five (Deadly) Venoms (‘78) - amz - it was okay; first one to go hard on the concept of animal styles, and it was an interesting conceit, though the semi-protagonist guy who ‘knew all five styles’ was a bit of a let-down.
  • Return of the Five Deadly Venoms / Crippled Avengers (‘78) - amz, as Crippled Avengers - enjoyed this one much more than the Five Venoms, had some excellent fights (though a LOT of the action is much more on the ‘dance’ side than the ‘actual fighting’ side of the spectrum - but it still looks great), some neat camera techniques I don’t recall seeing prior, etc. The ending was super abrupt which is hilarious.
  • Heroes of the East (‘78) (aka Challenge of the Ninja, Shaolin vs Ninja, Shaolin Challenges Ninja) - amz - this was a lot of fun, enjoyed the contrast of styles and how the Japanese fighters weren’t slouches even though they (of course) lost (CHINESE BOXING SUPREMACY SPOILERS). I’m a Japanophile so the “Japan suxxx!” bits in these are a bit annoying, but well, they kind of deserve it. One gripe: I disliked was how the wife became 100% passive after the first act :( Also the judo sequence was pretty stupid. Also, wowowow at that crab technique!
  • Green Dragon Inn (‘77) - amz - might somehow be my first pan n scan, tho maybe it just stood out more because the film quality was INCREDIBLY bad. Bulk of the film is just okay - decent fights interspersed with some pretty bad acting/plotting. The last ~20 minutes is nonstop great stuff though and now I see why it was recommended!
  • Magnificent Butcher (Sammo Hung) (‘79) - amz - thought this was gonna be my first Sammo Hung film, but no, he was a supporting role in Hapkido! No wonder he looks familiar…anyway this film was quite good besides the worse-than-average-in-spots English dub (especially the bad-guy master and his cat disciple.) Seriously great choreography and MA skills on display, and a fair enough replica of the “funny action” they were consciously trying to copy from Chan in Drunken Master.
  • Knockabout (Sammo Hung) (‘79) - amz - seems slightly disingenuous to bill this as a “Sammo Hung film” when he’s only a supporting role (ok…and the director). poor Yuen Biao gets no respect! good to great fights but the ‘exhibition’ style scenes go a bit long, and the humor falls flat a lot; the monkey business especially got very old very fast.
  • Mystery of Chessboxing (‘79) - amz as Mystery of Chess Boxing - pluses: multiple Wu-Tang references come from this flick; lots of fun choreography involving very talented/flexible actors. minuses: low-quality transfer; production values also low/cheesy. semi uncommon structure insofar as the protagonist’s “training” arc was on the weak side & much of the action took place elsewhere (via the antagonist.) finally – I’m getting so used to some of the voice actors in these dubs that it’s getting almost distracting…
  • The Kid with the Golden Arm (‘79) - amz - getting kinda sick of the shaw brothers formula. film still worth watching, if for nothing else than Lo Mang’s amazing, smooth, chain-adorned pecs. what? anyway the story is real dumb and I hate how the token woman has nothing to do but look pretty, but as always, fun fights.
  • Fists (Clan) of the White Lotus (‘80) - amz as Clan OTWL - “Gordon Liu learns to fight like a woman and then learns acupuncture.” Was the usual Shaw mix of fun choreography and super mediocre plotting until the last ~15 minutes…seems to be a pattern honestly. The enrobing scene at the end was wholly unexpected and absolutely hilarious.
  • Flag of Iron (‘80) - amz - Yet More Venom Mob; fight scenes are just okay, tho the titular flags make for some very balletic scenes (thankfully they’re not overused.) Story is a bit different than the usual fare, though it’s still typically simplistic, which meant that I was second- and third-guessing what ended up being straightforward and obvious.
  • Return to the 36th Chamber (‘80)- amz - Definitely not a fan of “Gordon Liu does comedy” but it was arguably worth mashing the skip-ahead-10s button for most of the first hour, to get to the training montage and the, I shit you not, Scaffolding Style Vs Folding Chair Style showdown at the end.
  • Prodigal Son (Sammo Hung) (‘81) - amz - As with a few others, this one bills Sammo but he’s mostly directing, only appearing in last ~quarter. Some really beautiful Wing Chun here and a story that flirts with actually being interesting in spots. Also some really dumb humor I could do without. Worth seeing regardless.
  • Legendary Weapons of China (‘82) - amz - This was actually really good, quite funny and great choreography. A few flat notes but whatever. Can see why it’s a classic. Have heard “someone should’ve told Gordon Liu it was a comedy” which is only partly correct…
  • The Shaolin Temple (Jet Li) (‘82) - was on netflix but removed; torrented - I wouldn’t rank it above much of the rest of this particular list but it does show why Jet became a big star (for his moves, if perhaps not his acting…heh) so it’s worth watching if you’ve already seen most of the bigger-name films and can get a decent quality transfer (my copy was pretty bad.)

Unseen or unreviewed

  • Five Element(s) Ninjas (‘82) - amz
  • The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (‘83) - amz (says ‘84 tho, shrug)
  • Project A (Jackie Chan; ‘83) - amz rental
  • Shaolin Temple 2: Kids from Shaolin (Jet Li again; maybe only on Youtube) (‘84) - netflix)
  • Wheels on Meals (Jackie Chan) (‘84) - torrented
  • Police Story (Jackie Chan; yes, martial arts) (‘85) - amz rental
  • Martial Arts of Shaolin (earlyish Jet Li) (‘86) - amz
  • Dragons Forever (Chan, Hung & Biao) (‘88) - torrented
  • Once Upon A Time In China (& sequels) (‘91-‘97) - torrented but also see below
  • Police Story 3 (aka Super Cop; Jackie joined by Michelle Yeoh) (‘92) - amz rental
  • Tai-Chi Master / Twin Warriors (Jet Li) (‘93) - netflix
  • The Legend (of Fong Sai Yuk) (Jet Li) (‘93) - netflix
  • The Legend (of Fong Sai Yuk) II (Jet Li) (‘93) - netflix
  • Iron Monkey (‘93) - amz rental
  • Drunken Master II (aka The Legend of Drunken Master) (‘94) - netflix
  • Wing Chun (‘94) - torrented
  • Fist of Legend (‘94) - netflix
  • The Blade (‘95) - torrented
  • The God of Cookery (Stephen Chow) (‘96) - netflix
  • Emperor and the Assassin (‘99) - amz rental
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (‘00) - amz rental
  • Kiss of the Dragon (‘01) - amz rental
  • Shaolin Soccer (‘01) - amz rental
  • Hero (Jet Li) (‘02) - netflix
  • Azumi (‘03) - torrented
  • Ong Bak (‘03) - amz rental
  • Kill Bill parts 1 & 2 (‘03/‘04)
  • Fighter in the Wind (‘04) - amz
  • Born to Fight (Thai; ‘04) - amz
  • House of Flying Daggers (‘04) - amz rental
  • Kung Fu Hustle (‘04) - amz rental
  • District 13 (French) (‘04) - amz rental
  • The Protector / Tom Yum Goong (‘05) - amz rental
  • SPL: Sha Po Lang (aka Kill Zone) (not much MA until end but apparently a good film anyway) (‘05) - torrented
  • Curse of the Golden Flower (‘06) - amz rental
  • Fearless (Jet Li, ‘06) - amz rental
  • Flash Point (Donnie Yen, ‘07) - amz rental
  • Chocolate [aka Zen, Warrior Within] (‘08) - amz rental is an incredibly bad, unsynced dub…so torrented
  • Ip Man (and 2 and 3 possibly) (‘08, ‘10, ‘15) - netflix, amz rental
  • Red Cliff (2-parter by John Woo; western release should be ~2.5hrs?) (‘09) - netflix, amz rental
  • 13 Assassins (‘10) - netflix, amz rental
  • 14 Blades (‘10) - amz rental
  • Reign of Assassins (‘10) - amz rental
  • Dragon (Donnie Yen) (‘11) - netflix, amz rental
  • The Raid: Redemption (apparently what people mean when they just say “The Raid”) (‘11) - amz rental
  • Haywire (American, mentioned for good fight scenes) (‘11) - amz rental
  • Tai Chi Zero (newer, Stephen-Chow-esque) (‘12) - amz rental

Unable to stream

  • Sanshiro Sugata (& Part II) (Kurosawa; judo) (‘43, ‘45) - dvd only
  • The Bride with White Hair (‘93) - not on streaming or torrents
  • Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (‘10) - only via some amz subscription thingy