One caveat- with the exception of Jackie, these aren’t really in any order.
As a side note, I’ve actually met two of these folks, Jackie and Donnie Yen. Very cool.
Other than that, on with the fun…
Say what you will about Jackie, for my money there’s no denying he’s the greatest screen fighter of all time. For me, it boils down to this- no one else has made my jaw hit the floor as many times as Jackie Chan. From his 1978 pair of Yuen Wo-Ping directed classics Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, through his unmatched brilliance in the 80s with films like Police Story, Dragons Forever, Project A and Wheels and Meals, through to his later Hong Kong work like Who Am I, Police Story III and IV and Rumble in the Bronx, he was unmatched in his ability to wow audiences worldwide with his incredible screen fights and stunts. Decade by decade he created films and scenes that rank amongst the best the genre has to offer, culminating with Drunken Master 2, a film that can easily lay claim to the mantle of “best fight film of all time.”
Here’s a great little drunken boxing scene (this is drunkenfist.com after all) from the aforementioned Drunken Master 2:
Here’s an awesome scene full of that old school flavor from Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow:
And finally, here’s the incredible “ladder fight” from Police Story IV/First Strike. I never get tired of this scene.
Interviewing Jackie was definitely one of the highlights of my time as a film writer.
Without a doubt my favorite screen fighter of all time. Jet Li may not be the same athlete he was when he was winning Wu Shu championships, but even now he still sells fights with more style than just about anyone and in his prime he possessed breathtaking athleticism. Li’s Wu Shu training, which really focused more on appearance than practical ass-kicking ability, perfectly primed him for martial arts movie greatness. Put plainly, his whole life has been about looking good and having appealing form while doing martial arts. Sounds like a recipe for cinematic success, doesn’t it?
Here’s a great scene from First of Legend, my favorite Jet Li film:
And a killer scene from Fearless, his latest (last?) martial arts epic
and finally the excellent “four seasons” training sequence scene from his debut film, Shaolin Temple
Donnie is definitely one of the better martial artists on this list. What’s funny about that is, he’s not even the best martial artist in his family- his mother being the inimitable Bow Sim Mark. Anyway, Donnie is a real favorite around these parts (and not just because I’ve met him a half dozen times and interviewed him on three separate occasions.) He was a key figure in both the Wuxia revival of the early-mid nineties and the frenetic action trend of the mid-late eighties. That goes a long way in my book since those two eras are personal favorites.
Here’s a brilliant fight from Tiger Cage 2- an excellent example of the kind of balls-out action prevalent in Hong Kong in the late 80s:
and here’s one of the better scenes from the classic Iron Monkey. Donnie only shows up 2:45 in, but the first half is all Yu Rong Guang kicking ass, so I figured I’d post it anyway. Yu Rong Guang is 100% cool.
Maybe the most surprising screen fighter in the world. Looking at him, I’m sure people don’t know what to expect, but he possesses startling speed and agility. He’s also the best “fake Bruce Lee” ever- ignoring the fact that he looks nothing like him. His “Bruce Lee” in Enter the Fat Dragon is a thing of (fat) beauty.
Check out a baby-faced Sammo in King Hu’s classic A Touch of Zen. Maybe not his best fight but it gives you some sense of how long he’s been at this:
And here’s a ridiculous scene from Enter the Fat Dragon with Yuen Biao as “Jim Kelly” (as well as Leung Kar Yan)
The underrated “little brother” of Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan is a brilliant screen fighter in his own right. Possessing incredible agility, flexibility and speed Yuen is one of the genre’s true giants.
Here’s some proof:
The classic final fight from 1981’s Prodigal Son
And a killer fight with Melvin Wong from the end of Righting Wrongs
She’s the best. A fine actress with screen presence who just happens to be beautiful, fearless, and physically gifted? What’s not to love?
Like I said- she’s the best.
Here’s a recent classic from the mega-hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
And here’s a crazy little fight versus a huge dude gigantic man from Project S:
And while we’re here, check out her famous motorcycle stunt from Supercop:
And if I didn’t include him, I’d have about a half dozen complaints in the comments 🙂
Seriously though, while the choreography in his fights can’t compare to a lot of what came after it’s hard to ignore the quality of his fight scenes. Bruce had true grace, power and an undeniable screen presence.
Evidence (for those of you might have forgotten?) Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris:
Remember that Dojo fight above from Fist of Legend? Here’s the original from Lee’s Fist of Fury (aka the Chinese Connection)
Lau Kar Fai (AKA Gordon Liu)
For my money- he’s the ultimate Shaw brothers star. If I were to choose a star to represent every decade covered on this list Lau Kar Fai would be the poster boy for the 70s. As the star of some of the genre’s greatest films, he provided precise, powerful movements as the focus of all that delicious Shaw era choreography.
An excellent “Iron Head Kung Fu” battle with his adopted brother Lau Kar Leung from the brilliant Legendary Weapons of China
Here’s the intro from 36th Chamber of Shaolin– one of the great genre classics.