10 Of The Best On-Screen Kung Fu Fights

A look back at the most memorable martial arts fisticuffs captured on film...
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A look back at the most memorable martial arts fisticuffs captured on film...
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Kickboxer: Final Fight

I really wanted to put a Jean-Claude Van Damme scene in here somewhere, but it turns out that these 80’s films that I fondly recall from my youth are really, really cheesy. The final scene in Kickboxer, where Kurt Sloane gets his last chance for revenge against Tong Po, starts with a great concept (they wrap up their hands, dip them in treacle and cover them in shards of glass - yeah, ouch) comes straight from the mature cheddar section in Asda, but still has some pretty strong moments. And who can’t help but cheer JCVD on when that rousing synth-pop comes blasting on and he rescues the fight from the jaws of defeat?

Scorpion King: Sunny the Scorpion First Appears

This charts for me purely because it wins the award for ‘most-impractical-fighting-stance-ever’ yet somehow Jung Yuen manages to kick serious arse whilst shuffling from side to side on his fingers. It showcases a man so lithe, so well balanced and acrobatic that even the wire-work can’t keep up with his backflips and hyper speed kicking. He even uses his hair as a weapon. And what’s the only thing that can defeat the evil Scorpion style in the emotional climax of the film? Eel style. That’s right. To be seen to be believed.

The Raid: Final Fight

The Raid, the brilliantly executed high concept film from earlier this year featured some devastating battle sequences, from firearms to fisticuffs. In this final scene, our protagonist is pitted against two opponents in an enclosed, gritty space, at breakneck speed (literally). Utilizing a lot of Muay Thai style elbows and knees (which have been becoming more and more popular in contemporary martial arts films) it’s a wonder how they keep going for so long as they can’t have many ribs left.

 Enter The Dragon: Fighting O’Hara

When it comes to Enter The Dragon, everyone remembers the final fight scene in the mirrors. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but for me it’s too Hollywood; Bruce starts off strong, then fumbles, stumbles, looks like he’ll lose but then brings it back at the end, like a Tom Cruise role wrapped up in one fight. This scene, though, is ace: Ol’ Brucey is facing up against the man that cruelly murdered his sister, so naturally he’s gonna fuck him up. There is never a moment when it doesn’t look like he hasn’t got this entirely under control, and the speed of his hands (note, there was no camera trickery in this, no sped up footage, he really is THAT fast) is terrifying in the opening moments.

Hero: Battle in the Rain

When it comes to many Kung Fu fight scenes, the cinematographic angle is not in any way the focus; rather, the choreography and the visceral action is at the forefront. Yet Zhang Yimou, in the sublime Hero, managed to forge moments that combined all three. Here, the wire work (which I normally don’t like when used in such extremes) merely seems to mirror the magic realism of the fight itself, a beautifully shot, dream-like battle between two greats.

 Unleashed: Toilet Scene [from 5.41 - 9.50]

In stark contrast to the last position, we have Unleashed. “What’s that?” I hear you cry, “Bob Hoskins in a martial arts film with Jet Li?! Surely not”. Well, tis true. Whilst the film had its ups and downs, the ups were mostly Jet Li’s fists. And feet. Here, he manages to do battle across the grimey streets of Glasgow, first along the rooftops, through a warehouse and culminating in the cubicle of an apartment toilet. The sheer audacity to have a battle within the tiny confines of a dirty Scottish shitter is brave, but amps up the realism and the brutality. Like if Mike Leigh were to direct Jackie Chan.

Ip Man: ‘I want to fight 10 men’

Ah, the Dojo. Naturally, home to some of the best battles on screen, a sacred place of honour and respect that is all too often recklessly cast away by two-bit villains. So of course, when a Chinese man loses in a battle against the tyrannous Japanese, and is subsequently shot in the head by an army leader, Donnie Yen, aka Ip Man, has to step in to defend his nation’s pride. ‘I want to fight 10 men!’ he cries, to the disdain of the army leaders. They graciously accept, knowing that he of course has no hope. They clearly don’t know they are being filmed. This is an angry man, and he’s gonna make damn sure that they get well and truly beaten, and by the sheer volume of punches he throws, you better hope plastic surgery’s been invented.

Drunken Master II: Final 20min Sequence

Jackie Chan is a brilliant performer. So, whilst he has undoubtedly performed some tremendous fight sequences, he is more of a physical entertainer, looking for humour as much as hitting in a fight. It’s no wonder why he is so often compared to Buster Keaton. Yet it would be negligent of me not to include this scene, as it truly is a masterpiece: TWENTY minutes of acrobatic carnage, laced with humour and shifting constantly in tone and energy, it’s a breathtaking sequence.

Warrior King: Restaurant Scene

Tony Jaa has to be one of the modern greats of martial arts, and it’s a wonder why he hasn’t been snapped up by Hollywood yet. His schtick, when he first came on the scene about a decade ago, during an era of revitalized wire work, was that there were no tricks, wires or CGI during his fight scenes. Specialising in Muay Thai fighting style, his scenes were fast, furious, and always bone crushing.

This scene in particular, from Warrior King, is a masterpiece. It starts with a 4 minute, single take rampage up through a restaurant’s spiral staircase, before climaxing with a brutal vengeful strike against the gang that stole his beloved elephants (look, we don’t watch these things for their deep plots). It’s mindblowing. Not a single edit during those opening minutes!! Cinematically and choreographically, it is undeniably one of the greats.

Fists Of Fury: Dojo Scene

Now, the number one spot always belonged to one man. In one of my personal favourite scenes, here, he manages to single handedly take out an entire dojo full of Japanese that had previously disrespected his club. He shows them who’s boss, and then, just for kicks, grabs a pair of nunchaku. Now, have you ever tried to use nunchaku before? They’re impossible. And they really, really hurt if you get them wrong. Which you will. So it’s a joy to see Bruce here utilizing them in a manner unparalleled on camera by anyone else (see also his Way Of The Dragon restaurant scene); we all know that he was a master of various forms of martial arts, and then to see him pick up different weapons is incredible, but this, as he takes out a whole club, one by one, with two sticks attached by a bit of chain is mesmerising. It is no wonder that he is hailed as the greatest martial artist that ever lived.