El Rey’s second Thanksgiving kung-fu movie marathon is coming up this weekend, as Mike noted here, and these are just some of the movies they’ll be showing:
THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, THE BIG BOSS, CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS, CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS, COME DRINK WITH ME, CRIPPLED AVENGERS, EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, FIST OF FURY (a.k.a. THE CHINESE CONNECTION), THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, GAME OF DEATH, HOUSE OF TRAPS, LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA, ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, OPIUM AND THE KUNG-FU MASTER, TEN TIGERS OF KWANGTUNG, VENGEANCE, and WAY OF THE DRAGON.
Phew. That’s a lot of high-kicking.
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Daily Grindhouse cast and crew weighs in with our favorites of the genre. Some of our choices are mentioned above and many aren’t. Either way, we hope you’ll find something here to keep an eye out for!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE KUNG FU MOVIE (AND WHY)?
Finding MASTER KILLER (aka THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN) in a video store as a teenager was akin to a religious experience. I was already into exploring Jackie Chan’s Golden Harvest catalogue at the time (or, at least whatever the Weinstein’s felt like trickling out) but this was my first real taste of Shaw Brothers – and even on that dubbed, pan & scanned, beat up version, I knew I was watching something special. It’s hard to believe that we live in a world where the entire Shaw Brothers catalogue is readily available in beautiful widescreen, subtitled prints, but while I’ve seen — and loved — many, nothing will ever quite live up to my first time seeing Gordon Liu struggle through each chamber on his way to becoming a kung-fu master. There are plenty of other martial arts films I adore: THE PRODIGAL SON, CHINESE SUPER NINJAS, THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA… but as the VHS cover shouted, “(Master Killer) was the best.. He killed the rest!”
PATRICK SMITH: Although its been years since I’ve seen it, DRUNKEN MASTER still holds a special place in my heart. It wasn’t my first Jackie Chan movie — that was probably RUMBLE IN THE BRONX — but DRUNKEN MASTER is one of the first movies to perfectly utilize the one-of-a-kind special effect that was Jackie Chan in his prime. I still remember big chunks of this movie years later, and the way Chan stretches his body to the limits is still jaw-dropping. It’s timeless entertainment, and if nothing else, it acts as a great stepping stone to his other stuff, like PROJECT A and SUPERCOP.
My favorite is MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE.
That they don’t have KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM in the mix is a travesty of a farce. By which you can presume it is my favorite kung fu flick. It has the slightest of plots to get in the way of the fight scenes, and seeing it for the first time in my teen years is what got me seriously into the wuxia flicks. Do you remember when superhero movies and TV shows sucked? I do, and here was a superhero story done right. Heroes and villains in a fight to the finish, and what fights!
It got me seriously looking for director Chang Cheh’s flicks with a group of actors/martial artists called The Venoms, after their first collaboration, THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, which I see is in the lineup. I’m not a big fan of that one, it’s simply too mean-spirited, but it’s beloved by a lot of people. They have two of the weaker Venom flicks, TEN TIGERS OF KWANGTUNG (which has an all-star cast, but is a little too constrained by its dramatization of popular folk yarns) and HOUSE OF TRAPS, but they also have one of the strongest — CRIPPLED AVENGERS.
All the Bruce Lee flicks are worth watching, of course, but for my money, the best director here is Liu Chia-Liang, who created compelling, entertaining martial arts movies, so mark down 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN/THE MASTER KILLER, CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS, EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, and LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA on your must-see list this weekend.
Kung fu movies, much like giallo, are notoriously hit or miss for me. Perhaps it’s because the tropes are so set in stone that it takes a true auteur to really bring something special to the game. When it comes to Kung fu, I’m a greatest hits kind of guy: FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, and anything from the master, Bruce Lee, are my favorites. I’m also a sucker for anything that has hopping vampires.
Of course, I love kung-fu movies, but I love gore, splatter, prison revenge films, and over the top ridiculousness even more. With that in mind, RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY has got to be my favorite kung-u movie. At no time does this movie let up –just nonstop action and gore! Oh, and that head-crushing scene, Jon Stewart used to have at the end of his show… that’s from RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY! Boom!
The name would have given me the giggles as a teenager — hell, it still gives me the giggles now — but DIRTY HO is a refreshingly subtle kung-fu movie. The fighting style practiced by secret martial arts master/secret aristocrat Master Wang (Gordon Liu) is more sophisticated than the bone-crushing macho heroics of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH and its many imitators, best reflected in the scene where he and a rival engage in a low-key battle disguised as antiques shopping. The plot deviates from the standard revenge template as well, instead playing out as a mistaken-identity comedy straight out of Shakespeare — if Shakespeare practiced kung fu.
For me it’s THE CRIPPLED MASTERS — because I’m just sick like that. There are two sequels, but they do lose their novelty pretty quickly. The first is just plain incredible.
DOUG TILLEY: No arms. No legs. No limits.
Assuming everyone with even the most passing familiarity with me and my work already expects me to bring up BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON, I will mark that as a given and keep moving along. I’ll also keep walking (or back-flipping) past NINJA BUSTERS, which I recently saw for the first time and still don’t exactly know how to classify. But it’s clear that any time I am asked an honest and direct question concerning favorite examples of the genre, my instinct always seems to be to act like a pain in the ass and to name the genre-busters. In that spirit I’ll go with the half-a-“Spaghetti”-Western THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER and the half-a-Hammer-horror-film THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES. The first co-stars Lee Van Cleef, who was like peanut butter and the color black in the 1960s and the 1970s — he teamed up perfectly with anybody. And the second co-stars Count Dracula, but played by “the other Christopher Lee,” John Forbes-Robertson, which was the guy who played Dracula when Christopher Lee wasn’t available. This spoils my opportunity to make a unifying joke about all the Lees, but that’s fine, sometimes I need to be thwarted. Anyway, here are the posters, which are probably more awesome than the movies, but that’s not an insult when the posters are this awesome.
And just to prove I can play by the rules, here’s a more straight-ahead recommendation…
Unable to settle on a favourite kung-fu film I’ve gone for some favourite kung-fu moments involving Bruce Lee. His ‘mirror scene’ in ENTER THE DRAGON, the battle with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in GAME OF DEATH, and his EPIC fight with Chuck Norris — at Rome’s Coliseum surrounded by cats — in WAY OF THE DRAGON.
Although these are firm favourites, there is another non-Lee moment that I always return to: the animal fight in SNAKE IN THE MONKEY’S SHADOW. I was first shown this clip — all three unedited minutes – when I was about four years of age. It became bedtime viewing, and although I cannot remember the rest of the film, that scene has always stuck. “Watch this cute little monkey kill a snake!”. It has become a metaphor for my life.
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