1. The Legend Of The Drunken Master
Masterpiece. Playing a man who’s unstoppable when he’s had a skinful of booze (you know the feeling), Jackie Chan wallops home an amazing one-two combo of comedy and kung fu. The climactic eight-minute sequence is one of the most thrilling, inventive and outrageous pieces of fight choreography ever filmed. Once you’ve watched Chan crawling through a bed of hot-coals for a few seconds of slapstick fun, you realise why his physical abilities burnt out so fast. Right here, he’s on fire.
Elbow, knees and blows. Unquestionably the most exciting martial-arts star alive, Muay Thai superhuman Tony Jaa arrived like a flying elbow-smash to skull – everyone else suddenly looked like lumpen pub brawlers. Ong-Bak is still his top trump: a teeth-rattling genre actioner that ditches wire-fu, CG and personal safety for full-contact ultraviolence and gravity-defying gymnastic balleticism. The only thing that comes close to watching Jaa fight is watching him flee: through barbed-wire coils, between sheet glass corridors, over shambling cyclists and under moving trucks…
With this hi-octane remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist Of Fury, Hong Kong superstar Jet Li finally became an icon. Executed with concussive agility and electric speed by Li, each kinetic mega-fight carries bone-snapping force in this classic story of Chinese versus Japanese combat. Master action-choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping’s incredible work here won him gigs with The Wachowskis, Tarantino and Ang Lee. Nothing they did ever matched this.
Although Way Of The Dragonpacks Bruce Lee’s epic showdown with hairy Chuck Norris, this remains his most legendary fight film. Choreographing the carnage himself, Lee smashes through an island of martial-arts stars to revolutionise Hollywood action scenes forever. Wait for the bit where Lee accidentally breaks actor Bob Walls’ sternum with a running thrust-kick. Ouch.
Hong Kong police thriller turns ruthless all-star brawl-‘em-up, as Sammo Hung (kung fu legend), Wu Jing (wushu champ touted as the next Jet Li) and Donnie Yen (MMA innovator) go head-to-head in some sensationally fast, furious unarmed combat. Don’t miss Yen’s Flash Point, either: it climaxes with the greatest Mixed Martial Arts duel ever put on the big-screen.
There must be JCVD – and Bloodsport is his fightiest. Breaking out as a wonky-accented American (real-life US fighter Frank Dux) competing in an underground Hong Kong battle royale, Jean-Claude Van Damme showcases a groundbreaking variety of fighting styles from around the world. Highlight? Split-kicking Van Damme goes zen warrior after being blinded by enormous nutter Chong Li.
7. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
Oh Riki… The most mad-crazy cult fight movie of all time. Sent to prison after avenging his girlfriend’s death, a young man with superhuman strength must fight for his life against the corrupt warden and his henchmen. Result? The most hilariously gory fist-fights in cinema history. Jawbones evaporate in a puddle-splash of blood. Eyeballs pop out. Ricky is strangled with someone’s intestines. Seek it out.
8. Hard Times
Speaking barely 500 words in the entire film, Charles Bronson (the man director John Huston once summed up as “a grenade with the pin pulled”) lets his fists do the talking. Ol’ stone face gives one of his most iconic performances here, as a Depression-era streetfighter slugging it out in illegal bare-knuckle brawls. This bruising, brutal film (the debut of The Warriorsdirector Walter Hill) makes you feel every grubby, stinging, sweaty punch.
It didn’t matter that there’s actually no such thing as the ‘Crane Technique’. Back in the ‘80s, kids everywhere went running to the nearest dojo and painting Asian people’s fences when Mr Miyagi (Oscar-nommed Pat Morita, who beat Toshiro Mifune to the rule) taught Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) to wax on/wax off the bullies at Cobra Kai. Three decades on, this kick-ass coming-of-age tale – directed by Rocky helmer John G Avildsen – is daft, dated and impossible not to love.
This. Is. SPARTA! Watchmendirector Zack Snyder’s abs-and-stabs actioner is one long cascade of blood-drunk fighting, as Gerard Butler’s 300 born-to-fight Spartans use brain and brawn to tear through videogame levels of invading marauders. Shot in stylised, swooping slo-mo against greenscreen, the 360-degree scraps have rarely been matched for ferocity and choreography.
Publication: MSN Movies.