After mentioning some of my favourite little-known chop-socky movies in my review for the amazing Donnie Yen film Ip Man, I realized that relegating them to mere references in a larger review didn’t do any of them justice. So it seemed only natural for me to put together a proper list to celebrate these largely unknown martial arts masterpieces. Hit the jump for five terrific martial arts films that I consider forgotten classics! If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll enjoy every one of these – I guarantee it!
5. Snake in Eagle’s Shadow
Jackie Chan plays a simpleton janitor who finds himself in the middle of a war between two martial arts clans and gets taught Snake Fist kung fu by an eccentric old master. There’s not much else to the plot, but the fight sequences are so frequent and so cool that you really won’t mind. This film also gets accolades for having the best use of a rice bowl that I have ever seen.
4. Heroes of the East
A Chinese martial artist is forced to marry a Japanese martial artist, and they proceed to argue about whose country has the best martial arts. This leads to a series of funny arguments and fight scenes between the two lovers, and in the process the husband (the Chinese guy, played by Kill Bill’s Gordon Liu) manages to insult the entire Japanese martial arts world. This results in a group of Japan’s top martial artists coming to China to fight our hero in a series of one-on-one matches, each with a different weapon and/or martial art. These fights are definitely the main draw of the film, but unlike some other kung fu flicks from this period, the surrounding plot and characters are all really entertaining. The fight between Gordon Liu with a three-sectioned staff and his challenger with a nunchaku and a tonfa is not to be missed!
This movie is awesome! The first half is mostly slapstick comedy, and the second half is incredible fight sequences! What more could you ask for from from a martial arts film? While the plot is pretty thin, it’s fun and funny, and you never have to wait long before another amazing action scene takes place. Moments like Yuen Biao fighting the villain while skipping rope or performing ten standing flips in a row make this the kind of chop socky flick that I love to watch again and again.
2. Chinese Super Ninjas (a.k.a. Five Elements Ninja)
A martial arts clan recieves a challenge to fight the five elemental ninja clans, each based around an elemental theme. There’s fire, wood, water, earth, and…gold? The plot really doesn’t make much sense, the sets are incredibly cheesy, and the costumes look like they were cobbled together from pieces of dime-store Halloween outfits. But none of that matters, because this movie has ninjas that jump out of trees! And ninjas that paddle around in the water wearing inner tubes! And ninjas that spring out of holes in the ground, which the heroes fight using spear-stilts! Do you really need anything more than that?
1. The Crippled Masters
A jaw-dropping piece of exploitation cinema that you can’t help but be amazed by. I mean, let’s be honest here: how often do you get to see a guy with no arms wear a guy with no legs like a backpack so that they can fight a bad guy who apparently wears a metal turtle shell under his clothes? The correct answer: only in The Crippled Masters. Even though it’s blatantly exploitative, the skills of the two protagonists – the titular “crippled masters” – are undeniable. It isn’t often you feel certain that a guy with no legs could kick your ass.