Dr. Craig D. Reid, author of the Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies, lists his candidates for the top 5 Kung Fu films of the '80s, when the martial arts movie craze was in full-swing. Did your favorites make the cut?
Twenty-first century kung fu film fans are more aware and appreciative of good movies than their ancestors ever were. There are three main reason for this: the mainstream success of Chinese-language martial arts films such as Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou's Hero and House of Flying Daggers in the West; the use of stylized Hong Kong action in Hollywood blockbusters; and the international success of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and their cohorts. Now, without further ado, let's take a trip down memory lane and dive in to the top five kung fu films from the eighties.
5: Zu: Warriors From Magic Mountain (1982)
This movie started the "fant-Asia" film craze, a mixture of horror, fantasy and science fiction with over-the-top martial arts action. It also initiated the now-prominent "wire-fu" action as created by Hong Kong's Ching Siu-tung. Zu gracefully intertwines Chinese myth, brilliant special effects and comic-book action. It's a roller coaster of magic, giant world-protector deities, killer poltergeists and supernatural heroes sporting phenomenal fighting skills.
4: Police Story (1985)
Just when Hong Kong martial arts movies were all beginning to look the same, Jackie Chan came along with Police Story. It gave the industry a face-lift by creating a whole new style of martial arts movies called wu da pian — a genre that mixed contemporary themes, fast-paced choreography, and the most dangerous and amazing stunts ever put on film. With no wires, no doubles and no holding back, Police Story cemented Jackie Chan as one of the world's greatest stuntmen.
3: Martial Club (1980)
Liu Chia-liang — whose first directed film Spiritual Boxer (1978) started the kung fu-comedy genre — helmed Martial Club, which stars Gordon Liu Chia-hui as Huang Fei-hong and includes a rare appearance by Wang Lung-wei as a nonvillain. The final conflict involving those two — which takes place within the confines of a 3-foot-wide alley and without wires — beautifully depicts the effectiveness of hung gar kung fu in tight spaces. This fight inspired Jet Li's bathroom battle sequence in his latest film, Unleashed.
2: Duel to the Death (1983)
Directed by the father of wire-fu, Ching Siu-tung, this film blurs the line between the real and the supernatural. The villains are ninja who seem neither human nor poltergeist. Ching's swordplay action is said by some to have honed decapitation into a fine art and by others to have plunged human vegematics to the depths of beauteous slaughter. No one has ever done a ninja film that comes close to this one.
1: Legendary Weapons of China (1982)
The best pure martial arts director of all time, Liu Chia-liang stars and directs himself as Lei Gong, a Chinese boxer who quits an evil sect of martial artists who think they can stop bullets from Western guns. The final 10-minute fight between the 50-year-old Liu and his real brother, Liu Chia-rong, features the most outstanding and authentic Chinese weapons choreography in the history of the genre. Each weapon is clearly demonstrated in one continuous scene that you wish would never end.