I have been enamored with Kung Fu and Martial Arts films since I was 3 years old. I still remember the very first times I ever saw Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Gordon Lau, Jet Li, Yuen Baio, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Madame Bow Sim Mak, Angela Mao and Michelle Yeoh in movies and wondered who they were. I grew up watching the old dubbed Kung Fu movies and I graduated to seeing the original uncut films in the original Mandarin and Cantonese like they were intended to be seen.
The dubbing process really diluted a lot of the souls of the films (and added an element that made them hard for Americans to take seriously because of the bad dubbing and off track dialogue) because the martial artists were normally trained in opera houses from childhood as actors as well as martial arts. When Americans watch Martial Arts/Hong Kong action films, they think of those actors in the same context of American/Hollywood ones. However, the typical Hong Kong action star (Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, etc.) is usually a great dramatic actor as well...not like in America where action stars usually have limited range and are one dimensional.
I also had to try to exclude most of the obvious films that everyone knows, but I had to add films that you can actually rent and people have heard of but probably never saw. Not very easy to do (at least for me) since I'd like to add a lot of the essentials and classics like "The Butterfly Murders", "Dirty Ho", "The One Armed Swordsman" and "Come Drink With Me", however, the more spectacular and mainstream stuff may be the better place to start.
In order to do this post effectively, I had to write a list of Kung fu movies that I like and are available for rent on Netflix. There are so many more martial arts films that Netflix hasn’t acquired that are mad good. In order to check out some of the newest titles direct from Hong Kong , Korea or Japan that aren't available for rental through Netflix, but are available for purchase at fair prices check the following sites:
For those who slept, I’ll put you on now:
Dart’s Three Trailers Of The Week (1/22/07-1/28/07):
Live Free Or Die Hard
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
Martial Arts films available for rent on Netflix (Martial Arts/Kung Fu/Wu Xia Edition):
Legend Of The Wolf
My Lucky Stars
The East Is Red: Sworrdsman 3
Gen-X Cops 2
Legend Of The Red Dragon
Fong Sai Yuk
Fong Sai Yuk 2
Fist Of Legend
Who Am I?
Master Of The Flying Guillotine
Fearless Hyena 2
Once Upon A Time In China
Once Upon A Time In China 2
Once Upon A Time In China 3
Kiss Of The Dragon
Shaolin Temple 2
Master Of The Flying Guillotine
Kung Fu Hustle
House Of Flying Daggers
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey
Ong Bak: Thai Warrior
City Of Lost Souls
Time & Tide
The One Armed Swordsman
Last Hero In China
The Bodyguard From Beijing
Operation Condor 2 (Armour Of God)
Super Cop 2
Rumble In The Bronx
New Police Story
Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey: If you’ve ever watched Bruce Lee’s “Game Of Death” just for the end to see the scenes he actullay appears in, then you must see this movie. It is a documentary breaking down Bruce Lee’s last film as it was intended to be seen. Bruce Lee was not only a martial artist, but a renaissance man. He wrote (The Tao Of Jeet Kune Do), directed, taught martial arts, did fight choreography and was an accomplished artist as well. Bruce Lee only filmed the final sequence of The Game Of Death before he died (with hella dialogue) and it was lost, the studio made up a bullshit story, butchered some footage they found that Bruce shot (with one camera), spliced it into some more footage that they shot (with a lookalike) and released an alternate film titled “The Game Of Death” seven years after it was due. In this film, they found the full footage that Bruce Lee shot, complete with dialogue and the other actors that entered the pagoda with him...You get to see the different sides of Bruce Lee that the American audience were largely ignorant of, especially his sense of humor. A must see for any Bruce Lee/Martial Arts film fan.
Hero: This film has stunning visuals, great fight choreography and acting, things that are necessities in great martial arts movies. The epic period piece is a huge undertaking in Hong Kong cinema and execution is a point of emphasis. American film studios could really learn a lot from studying how the great Chinese directors go about making these kinds of films.
The House Of Flying Daggers: This film is along the same vein as Hero with the visuals and the overall feel of the movie. The difference being is that this film was an actually a mix between a love story and a martial arts/Wu Xia film that didn’t get corny at any point or lose focus on being an action movie.
Fearless: The same stuff I said about the above two (^) plus it's Jet Li's final (yeah, right...says the Jay-Z of Martial Arts!) epic Wu Xia film. Rent it, cop it, whatever.
The Protector: Tony Jaa (Phanom Yeerum) in his second major motion picture (Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior was the first) with a bigger budget and even more creative control. He makes the argument for becoming the worlds preeminent Martial Arts/action star now that Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and Jackie Chan are all at the end of their action film careers. Jaa’s brand of high flying Muay Thai and innovative wireless stuntwork incorporates elements of red trouser Hong Kong stuntwork, French based Parkour and Brazilian Capoeira. Martial arts action (Muay Thai) at it's finest
Dart’s WTF? Awards/ Watch This Bullshit At Your Own Risk:
The Master (1989)- This is unfortunately credited as a Jet Li film...this was Jet Li’s first introduction the the American market in a terrible late 80’s flick made by a clueless director with no budget. Remember when they tried to break Jackie Chan in America with the cop buddy movie “The Protector” back in the days and cast him next to Danny Aiello? Yeah...this is WORSE. Having Jet Li beat up fake LA gang members at half speed for 90 minutes on what looks like the outdoor set of an old Italian porno is not my idea of a good time. Like the token black guy would say in a teen movie “This shit is wack!”.
The One- Yet another Jet Li film that was butchered by Hollywood production values, CGI and a director that had never done a Hong Kong style action movie. By trying to add a corny sci fi element to what essentially should’ve been a Kung Fu/action film hybrid completely screwed everything up. When you watch a Jet Li Hong Kong film, everything looks natural, even when he runs up walls or does something spectacular. When he does the same thing in an American action movie, it looks like it was done in slow motion and it looks mad corny. To add insult to injury, the premise of this movie was good but it was executed terribly. This is why Hong Kong action stars aren’t too keen on coming to America to do action films, it’s like a great soccer player coming over to America to play in the MLS for mad cash but wack competition...Lord knows that will never happen!
Any movie that Jackie Chan did for an American studio after 1998 (excluding the Rush Hour or Shangai franchises): Don’t even do it to yourself. If Jackie isn’t overdubbing his own Cantonese, it’s gonna suck. How many times can you watch movies where Jackie Chan is a chef/tailor/delivery guy forced into fighting off like 20 dudes with whatever the hell is lying around and he doesn’t know why they’re after him and he’s a pacifist that never actually hurts them intentionally? Miss me with that bullshit.
Next Thursday: The Dartflix Comedy Edition