Article by Patricia Pieterse
Why do we love martial arts movies so much? Is it because they show the possibility of the human body? Is it the magnetic mystery of the East? Or is it that they’re just so damn cool? Whatever the answer, they’re a god night’s entertainment. With this month’s picks, you won’t be doing much brushing up on your Mandarin, though – they’re all in either Cantonese or English.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
You’ve probably seen this iconic Robert Clouse-directed Bruce Lee film. If you haven’t, you don’t need me to tell you to watch it. However I hadn’t seen it before, and, well, I used this article as an excuse to finally get around to it. And now I can confidently say it’s the most ‘70s movie I’ve ever seen. There are bellbottoms, turtlenecks, afros, big earrings—it’s delightful. One thing that did surprise me, though, was how enjoyable Bruce Lee’s performance was. I’d never seen a Bruce Lee film and assumed he’d have the sort of strong-silent-wooden performance that usually comes from people being cast for their action skills rather than their acting prowess (see: most MMA fighters-turned-actors) but his character was genuinely likable and, well, fun. It’s also the only movie this month that features a scene where a woman actually gets to kick (a little) ass.
Police Story (1985)
Jackie Chan directs and stars in this ridiculous but utterly enjoyable chunk of ‘80s martial arts comedy. With Jackie Chan at the helm, did you expect anything else? Chan plays a Hong Kong cop trying to bust a drug lord by protecting/following his secretary. The plot is as thin as the infinite panes of glass these guys smash through, but it’s just a way to stitch together the stunts anyway. I’d say this is my favourite of this month’s picks, and not because it features an unrecognisably young Maggie Cheung. The thing that made this movie for me was the credits sequence showing some behind-the-scenes footage like bloopers, stunts, injuries and Jackie Chan giving orders in short shorts.
Fist of Legend (1994)
This Jet Li film is a loose remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972), about Chen Zhen, whose life as an engineering student in Japan is interrupted by the death of his teacher. He returns to Shanghai to get to the bottom of things, and a hero’s journey ensues. Written and directed by Gordon Chan, this film is enjoyable, if unchallenging. But who wants moral complexity in a martial arts movie? We want to see asses getting kicked. And that, at least, there’s plenty of here.
Ip Man (2008)
Like Fist of Legend, this is also a ‘30s-set inspired-by-a-true-story film about a reluctant hero forced to use his mad skills to avenge a loved one murdered by the Japanese. Donnie Yen (who can be seen in last year’s Rogue One) plays the man who would eventually teach Bruce Lee (I love it when an article comes full circle). While his performance is enjoyable, he’s just too good. He’s unflappable and humble and never looks like he’s even close to losing a fight. There isn’t much complexity or subtlety here, but the Sammo Hung-choreographed martial arts (i.e. the reason you’re watching it) are quick, slick and satisfying. And if this film only whets your appetite for Ip Man goodness, you’re in luck: Wilson Yip has made two more Ip Man films, with plans for a fourth for release in 2018.