Hey law school! I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty hyped up for Chinese New Year – red packets, new clothes, good food, off-days and more importantly, KUNG FU MOVIES ON FREE CABLE CHANNELS!

I’ve always associated the holiday with kung fu movies, so I’ve putting together this 2-parter.: Tthe first article is on my favourite kung fu movies to watch on CNY; the second devoted to Jackie Chan, arguably the king of the martial arts picture. I’ve no real criteria for this list so they’re just a bunch of movies I like. Most of these should be on Netflix or at most DVD rental stores so I hope you’ll find something to watch this holiday.

Top 11 Kung Fu Movies to Catch this CNY

1)  Heroes of the East 中華丈夫 (1978)

Gordon Liu, adept at kung fu [Editor: you’re welcome for the rhyme]a kung fu adept, marries Koda (played by Yuka Mizuno) in an arranged marriage. Koda, also a martial artist, causes embarrassment to Liu because her style of training offends Chinese sensibilities. When Liu beats her (in a match) to persuade her to tone it down, an upset Koda flees to Japan. In a well-meaning attempt to bring her home, he sends a letter disparaging Japanese martial arts. While Koda understands his intention, her sensei, gravely offended, sends Japanese martial artists to challenge Liu. With Koda’s advice, Gordon Liu devises strategies to tackle each challenge and resolve the misunderstanding.

The set-up as a challenge keeps the mood light and introduces many different martial artists, giving rise to more than seven (7)7 electrifying fight scenes. I especially enjoyed the mash-upsmatch-up of Japanese and Chinese weapons e.g. katana vs jian; nunchaku vs the 3-section staff. I also liked Yuka Mizuno as the strong female lead because she isn’t just a pretty face. She  but teaches Gordon Liu how to beat the Japanese and prepares him for the matches. [(female) Editor: Good.] Lastly, I like that it isn’t like today’s Chinese vs Japanese/American/whichever-racial-group-the-CCP-doesn’t-like movies that vilify the other race (ahem, Ip Man 4) because both groups are portrayed very respectfully. It’s good, cheesy fun!

Where to watch: it’s not hard to find online/rental

 

 

 

2)  Sentimental Swordsman and the Ruthless Blade 多情劍客無情劍 (1977)

Shaw Brothers Studio brings us this adaptation of Gu Long’s series, 小李飛刀.

Ti Lung plays Flying Dagger Lee, a wandering swordsman (who uses a metal fan and darts) who roams the land with his trusty manservant after giving up his beloved to a rival swordsman (played by Yueh Hwa) who once saved his life (a bit stupid, if you ask me but that’s wuxia for you). This particular adventure centres on the theft of a mysterious package containing the impenetrable Golden Thread Vest. Eventually, Lee is suspected of the theft and being the Plum Blossom Bandit and has to clear his name. Along the way, Lee meets Ah Fei, (Derek Yee), another lone swordsman wielding a broken sword who helps Lee out.

The lavish sets immerse you in this mystery, masterfully translated into film from the novel. The best set is probably the villa setting of the final battle where the combatants fight on walkways over fountains and precarious railings until the dramatic conclusion inside a cramped pavilion. Though characters are introduced frequently and with little development, the strong performances establish them as credible, memorable characters. In particular, Derek Yee’s Ah Fei is one of his best performances in his career and he nearly steals the show from Ti Lung. There’s this really cool line: “江湖中本来就是这样一回事:谁的刀快,谁就有理” which translates to “it’s always like this in the martial world, whoever’s sword is faster can make the rules” which I’ve always thought was incredibly badass.

Where to watch: YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlnjqA8-E2g

 

 

3)  Once Upon A Time in China 2 飞鸿之二男儿当自强 (1992)

Upon arriving in Canton, Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li) is embroiled in a conspiracy by the evil White Lotus extremists and the evil-er Qing to quash revolutionaries and he must help Dr Sun Yat Sen and his comrades smuggle an important document. Standing in his way is Donnie Yen as a Qing military officer who uses a wet cloth as a weapon to deadly effect.

This film exemplifies Jet Li’s brand of wire-fu and it looks super fake but it’s still an eye-grabbing spectacle to behold. You also buy Jet Li as the legendary folk hero. Rosamund Kwan is really good as the romantic interest 13th Aunt (it works in context). The entire series is a bit politicised, like the Ip Man movies, but it’s not nearly as distasteful as those movies.

Where to watch: Netflix https://www.netflix.com/sg/title/81038932

4)      One-Armed Swordsman 独臂刀 (1967)

One-Armed Swordsman is (very lightly) adapted from Jin Yong’s Return of the Condor Heroes. Jimmy Wang is an orphan taken in by his father’s master and trains into an excellent swordsman. He is detested by his fellow students and his master’s daughter, who in an argument cuts off Jimmy Wang’s arm. His disability understandably devastates him, but he uses half a martial arts manual to learn one-armed swordplay, making him even stronger than before. When a villain enacts a devious plot, Jimmy Wang must save the day.

The cast is a little dramatic (as was typical of performances then), they do deliver all the emotional hits of the story. I especially like the dilemma that Jimmy Wang faces between returning to martial affairs or staying with his love interest / benefactor. The fight choreography is noteworthy because it’s not often your main character fights with just one hand and the bad guys have a secret weapon which lends to unique choreography. It’s a classic that you should check out if you can.

Where to watch: it’s not hard to find online/rental

 

5)  Way of the Dragon 龙过江 1972

Bruce! Lee! Fights! Chuck! Norris!

Bruce Lee travels to Rome to help his uncle’s relatives with their Chinese restaurant. Obviously, he’s not there to cook Chinese Spare-Ribs (watch it – you’ll get the joke), but to fight off Italian thugs harassing love interest Nora Miao into selling the restaurant. The conflict escalates and eventually karate hitmen are hired to kill Bruce Lee, in a final battle at the Coliseum!

You have 3 major fight scenes: the first one at the alley where Bruce Lee calls out his moves; the second one at the alley where Bruce Lee beats up a big gang using a staff, nunchaku and his fists; the final battle at the Coliseum with Chuck Norris. There are a couple other fight scenes which are alright as well. Other than that, Bruce Lee was at his peak physical condition and Nora Miao is really pretty again (she’s like a 70s SNSD Yoona) but I always get annoyed that she initially didn’t like Bruce but suddenly started fawning over him right after he beat up the bad guys ONE time because it makes her look so easy. The acting from the bit actors (particularly the Caucasians) is absolutely trash but that’s part of the fun of a Bruce Lee movie so it’s alright.

Where to watch: it’s not hard to find online/rental

 

 

6)  Last Hero in China 飞鸿之铁鸡斗蜈蚣 1993

The only way to describe this is a comedic Once Upon A Time In China rip-off.

Wong Fei Hung, again played by Jet Li, struggles to pay rent and has to relocate his clinic Po Chi Lam. Due to his disciples’ negligence, they find themselves next to a brothel, to the delight of the disciples but the dismay of the upright Wong Fei Hung. Meanwhile, Wong Fei Hung must contend with a Western conspiracy to poison the population and a Qing counter-conspiracy to kill the Westerners and Wong Fei Hung eventually saves the day by dressing as a metal chicken to fight a flame-spewing Centipede “lion dance” with bladed legs.

The fights are even better than Once Upon A Time In China and the film doesn’t take itself too seriously (in fact, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all). The jokes are lame but usually get a laugh and it’s really silly and low-brow (e.g. a music number by the prostitutes who sing Wong Fei Hung’s theme song but there’re sexual innuendos like “thrust” or “spear”). I especially enjoyed the final fight scene but I don’t want to spoil it so you should watch it!

Where to watch: Netflix https://www.netflix.com/sg/title/70007109

 

 

7)  Five Deadly Venoms 五毒 1978

 “I had 5 students…”

The dying master of the 5 Venoms clan instructs his last student (6) to seek out his 5 seniors and stop any who are evil. Each Venom is trained in 1 style: the ambidextrous Snake; lightning-fast Centipede; high-kicking Scorpion; invulnerable Toad; and agile, Gecko. Unfortunately, Student 6 is a jack of all trades trained in all 5 styles, but not deeply enough that he can fight any of the seniors on equal footing. To complicate matters, the 5 seniors have long-since left and changed their identities. The only clue is that the rough location of the clan’s secret treasure. The race is on to find the treasure and determine who can be trusted.

This might be Chang Cheh’s most famous work (other than One-Armed Swordsman) and for good reason. The first 10 minutes is laden with exposition which would be boring in a lesser film but, with the iconic imagery of mysterious masked men in the training hall, is elevated to one of the most memorable scenes in kung fu cinema. The rest of the movie’s story isn’t anything that special, but it’s pretty fun to guess which Venom they might be and how they’ll be defeated, given their powers and abilities which are used to great effect in the fight scenes. The film doesn’t have any grand ideas, but there are a few very profound lines here and there that, I think, make 5 Venoms a bit smarter than most kung fu movies.

 

Where to watch: Netflix https://www.netflix.com/sg/title/60001377

 

 

8)  Martial Arts of Shaolin 南北少林 1986

OK it’s Jet Li’s third appearance on this list. It’s the third in the 3 “Shaolin” series, is notable for being an early Hong Kong- – China co-production so it was actually shot on the mainland with a mainland cast (though the production crew was still from Hong Kong).

Li Zhi Ming (Jet Li) grew up in the Shaolin monastery when his parents were killed by an evil Qing official. He leaves the temple to assassinate the official, only to be obstructed by a concurrent, unsuccessful attempt. While fleeing, Zhi Ming befriends 2 would-be assassins, one of whom linked to Zhi Ming’s past, prompting a dilemma: should Zhi Ming stay a monk or return to secular life?

Firstly, the film shows off the gorgeous landscapes in mainland China. The scenes of the temple and the palace are nice but the scenes shot on the plains and in the hills and the final battle on the river are magnificent. Secondly, the cast is stellar. Other than Jet Li, the cast comprised mainland unknowns who were wushu performers so the fighting is super authentic (although the acting is only alright). To illustrate, even bit actors like Shaolin monks fighting henchmen in the background were hyper-competent that the camera even focuses on them doing a mini-fight routine, whereas normally bit actors at the back just swing their weapons about. In my opinion, it’s the best cinematic representation of traditional wushu. It’s a shame that only Jet Li remained in the spotlight since the other main actors were really good at fighting and I thought the lead actress was pretty decent. For those in the know, the late Yu Cheng Hui (a noted martial arts master) played a big part in the final fight so that alone makes it worth the watch. Lastly, anything Lau Kar Leung touches is gold so the choreography is obviously spectacular. It’s very traditional martial arts and the best part is that you get to see both Northern and Southern styles of kung fu and lots of different weapons.

Where to watch: Netflix https://www.netflix.com/sg/title/80039662

9)  Ode to Gallantry 侠客行 1982

This one’s another Venom Mob flick, but based on a Louis Cha novel of the same name.

Bastard (Phillip Kwok) is a wandering beggar who gets taken away by an eccentric, murderous martial artist Xie Yanke. Xie later gets annoyed by Bastard and teaches him kung fu in reverse, hoping to kill Bastard (strange, but this seems like a recurring theme in Louis Cha’s work). However, Bastard ends up developing incredible internal power and later leaves Xie’s mountain home. His troubles only worsen when he is accused of raping a martial artist’s daughter; a gang claims that he is their leader; and a martial artist (and her powerful grandfather) claims that he’s engaged to her (Bastard obviously has no recollection of any of this). The various factions fight over Bastard, some to protect him and some to punish him, while Bastard must try to clear the misunderstandings.

The story is super good (duh) because there are lots of twists and turns and it’s funny to see Bastard get pushed around despite his pleas of innocence. It gets a little frustrating because he himself contributes to the misunderstandings but you put up with it because that’s how these stories usually go. As with wuxia novels, there are all sorts of colourful characters like the eccentric master who has a tally of evil deeds and exacts a blood penalty and an old man who has a 3-a-day kill-quota. Bastard meets all these interesting characters and since the story is lighter-hearted than other Louis Cha stories, it’s a little like Alice in Wonderland where it’s so absurd but you want to meet and hang out with these crazy people as well. There are a few very feel-good tropes like the bad guys reforming and helping the hero; or the hero resolving a situation without violence. It’s a little messy but I think it’s like a Rush Hour puzzle where you fiddle with all the pieces but you feel really glad at the end of it.

Where to watch: it’s not hard to find online/rental

Pt 1: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x29vxxo

Pt 2: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x29w895

 

 

10)   Come Drink With Me 大醉侠 1966

An official’s son is kidnapped and held for ransom by a gang of bandits who hope to exchange him for their leader who’s slated for execution. The victim’s brother, the swordswoman Golden Swallow (Chen Pei Pei), tries to rescue him but runs into trouble and gets help from a Drunken Cat (Yueh Hwa).

This was arguably the movie that kicked off Hong Kong’s kung fu craze that’s lasted 50 years and for its time, it was really ground-breaking. Firstly, it established Chen Pei Pei as a credible action heroine and she’d go on to star in more kung fu classics like Dragon Swamp (also a great show but impossible to find anywhere), paving the way for future action girls like Kara Hui, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. I really like Golden Swallow and her choreography because she doesn’t really move like a martial artist (sometimes they can look a bit stiff or rigid) as she brings a unique gracefulness into her performance (she’s actually trained as a ballerina). Of course, Yueh Hwa is a delight to watch, as with most of his other performances and Drunken Cat’s convincing as both a drunk and a kung fu master. Second, there’s a lot of talking – in a good way! The movie isn’t loathe to slow the pace down because it knows the conversations and world-building is good enough to keep the audience’s attention. By the end of the movie, you understand both the heroes and villains and that makes you want to cheer for the villains’ demise even more! Third, the fight scenes have a very good variety. You’ve got some scenes where the hero fights off a mob; scenes where mobs of good and bad guys are fighting; scenes where the hero and villain are duelling; scenes set in a cramped interior; scenes set in an open plain etc., so it never gets boring. It’s an important film for not just martial arts but Chinese cinema in general so I think you’ll enjoy it.

Where to watch: it’s not hard to find online/rental

Shou Pin, BTC’s residential martial arts enthusiast.

Yup, so there you have it – 10 of my favourite kung fu movies to watch during Chinese New Year! I really like kung fu cinema and I hope you’ll come to enjoy it as much as I do so please give some of them a try. If you like this article, leave a comment so I know to write more of such articles! Until next time, bye for now!