While Donnie Yen’s IP MAN is all the rage today, for my money Donnie Yen’s two best films are refugees from over 20 years ago. Wow I can’t believe 1990, was that long ago.
But yeah the films are:
I Love these two films because it’s the trinity of him and his friends, American actors Michael Woods and John Salvitti. And the magic of these guys going at it, just puts the shine on an already brilliant martial arts film.
TOM YUM GOONG/HONOR OF THE BEAST- Jumping ahead a bit , Tony Jaa who last time I looked gave up film to join the monastary, in this film catapults himself into the forefront of martial arts stars. Look past the at times horrendous story and acting, and the film has some phenomenal, breath taking action sequences. The long uncut tracking shot up the stairs being not just a martial arts highlight, but a cinematic one as well. Not a great film, not even a very good film, but it has moments of greatness that can’t be ignored.
FIST OF LEGEND- Jet Li has done tons of films since this 1994 film, he’s done UNLEASHED, CRADLE TO THE GRAVE, etc. FIST OF LEGEND remains not just the best martial arts film he’s done, it remains a great film.
And staying on the Jet Li kick for just a second, I’m going to commit sacrilege here and add two conventional, big budget Hollywood films (that are ostensibly just action films) to this list:
Yeah I said it. I think both of those movies are stunt and fight choreographed brilliantly. I mean, I am in no way a Matt Damon fan… personally I’m tired of seeing him in every movie that comes out, he’s overused and too often miscast, that said, he’s phenomenal in BOURNE ULTIMATUM. And I can re-watch that and EXPENDABLES endlessly. So definitely non-traditional choices, and I am taking great liberties with the Martial Arts label, but hey… I think they kick enough butt to sneak on the list.
THE TOURNAMENT- Has some great martial arts sequences by Sebastien Foucan, Kelly Hu, and Scott Adkins. Unfortunately the movie is completely gutted by a horrendously pathetic performance by Ving Rhames, badly written and directed and plodding sequences whenever the camera gets to Rhames’ storyline. But when not on him, the movie flies. Sebastien Foucan, the Free-running Frenchmen, co-creator of Free-Running (and also was the actor in the beginning of CASINO ROYALE) is criminally underused. He has only been given two bit parts in movies to date, and to my mind he should be up for roles in the same vein as a Statham or Damon. I would prefer him in roles over those two. He’s an amazing, exciting presence and the camera loves his free-running style. This one is more of an honorable mention, due to just how much I had to fast forward through Ving Rhames ‘acting’. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ving Rhames in some things, he was okay in DAWN OF THE DEAD… it just seems that with him less, is better. And again this is an honorable mention, and doesn’t get counted as one of the 10.
DISTRICT B13- speaking of free running. Just an adrenalin inducing, fun, mile a minute ride. it’s great. Honorable mention being LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD that also stars fellow free-runner David Belle.
And the last two spots goes to… no not IP MAN, no not MERANTU…
For me, by a wide, wide margin the two best, top of the list Martial Arts films of the last 25 years, both star a criminally neglected Martial Artist, and a fantastic actor. Unlike most Martial Artists.
I’m talking about the films…
and the number one film…
BLOOD AND BONE.
Both of these I was actually avoiding. I was like ‘uggg, cheesy martial arts ripoff film. How good could it be.’. No, effing no. These are two of the best Martial Arts Films, for a really surprising reason, it’s because first and foremost… they are great films. Period.
Solid story. Solid performances. Great direction. And on top of that you add, frenetic, kick ass Martial Arts.
UNDISPUTED II (aka ICEMAN)- Is better than the Walter Hill directed original. Much, much better. Directed by Martial artist Isacc Florentine, and starring martial artists Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins, the film first and foremost… looks great. Is compelling from beginning to end. It’s just fantastic. And… it has a great, not to be missed commentary. Do yourself a favor, get this film. You won’t be disappointed.
and the top of the heap goes to the not exactly confidence inspiring titled BLOOD AND BONE, I mean the box art and poster looks brain-dead stupid, but Mein Gott is this a good film!
It frigging earns the title of BLOOD AND BONE. Directed by, for me at least, virtual unknown Ben Ramsey, I’ve watched Martial Arts films longer than I care to reflect on, and I’ve rarely seen a more confidently directed and brilliantly shot Martial Arts film. I think a lot of the credit, and they are quick to point out in the commentary (which is a must listen), has to be shared with veteran cameraman Roy H. Wagner. But end of the day this is Michael Jai White’s day as he choreographs one of the most complete, entertaining and amazing fight films in years.
And it is packed from floor to rafters with real top notch MMA fighters. It is amazing, and I’d love to see a series of films with this character. The fact that a movie like this doesn’t make it in to theaters, and crap like Kevin Smith’s COP OUT can open on 2000 screens, I find deeply, deeply troubling.
So that’s it guys, my list of my 10 favorite martial arts films of the last 25 years. Thanks for viewing and if you are interested in purchasing please use the links below. As every penny helps keep this blog rolling. Thanks!
p.s. One more honorable mention, the genre defying film, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF.