[Welcome to Peter’s Kung Fu Corner: a bi-weekly column dedicated to retrospectives on the martial arts films I grew up watching. We’ll be covering all kinds of Hong Kong action films from Bruce Lee all the way to Joseph Kuo. Get ready to be introduced to some weird, wacky, and utterly badass films.]
As we come up to nearly one year of me doing bi-weekly columns on Kung Fu films, I’ve started to get a little burnt out by the whole experience. Despite my love of HK cinema and how my horizons have expanded greatly thanks to all of these Boutique labels putting out excellent Blu-Ray releases, I just need a break. I don’t want to half-ass my coverage of films or potentially gloss over certain aspects of a movie just because I need to hit a deadline.
So, for this month, I wanted to try something a little different. This may even become the pattern going forward, but I wanted to start doing listicles. Yeah, I know that’s some SEO garbage and is pretty brain-dead stuff, but let me assure you that I’m not making anything off of these pieces. I do it purely for my own satisfaction and to potentially introduce others to amazing movies.
That out of the way, why don’t we start my first listicle with one of the most popular and well-known Kung Fu actors in the business: Jackie Chan. I’ve covered quite a few of his films on Kung Fu Corner, but now I’m going to be ranking his top five best movies. For the sake of not muddying the waters with crossover films, I will not be including any of his movies with Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. I’m talking pure Chan where he has total control. Let’s get started.
Armour of God 2: Operation Condor
Not to be confused with the ridiculous US titles given by Miramax, Armour of God 2: Operation Condor is the follow-up to Armour of God that sees Chan return to his “Asian Hawk” character (who is basically Chinese Indiana Jones) and up the ante when it comes to stunts. While this doesn’t feature the relatively tame stunt that nearly killed him, we do get a ridiculous finale in a wind turbine that sees people getting tossed across the room and stuck to the wall under intense fan pressure.
What elevates this film above its predecessor is that it drops the stupid side-kick (Sorry, Alan Tam) and even copies Raiders of the Lost Ark by having Jackie Chan go after Nazi gold. With more forward momentum in the plot and an actual bad guy that doesn’t come off like a comic book character, Operation Condor soars high.
Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (aka Miracles)
One of Chan’s personal favorite films from his storied history, Mr. Canton and Lady Rose is Jackie Chan taking his more experimental formula seen in movies like Police Story 2 and Project A Part 2 and perfecting it. There isn’t a tremendous amount of action in here, but Chan’s love letter to the silent film era feels more fleshed out and has jokes that actually hit their target instead of feeling like extended improv sequences. There’s also quite a nice story of a man getting sucked into a life of crime by simply being too nice and how he uses his newly acquired wealth to help one woman make her dreams come true.
All of that and there is the kick-ass final fight. Since this was still a Hong Kong film and most people expected fight sequences at the time, there are a couple peppered throughout Mr. Canton and Lady Rose that show off Chan and his stunt team in top form. The finale in a rope factory is a masterclass of how to balance multiple micro-brawls into one gigantic fight that continues to surprise you every few minutes. It must have taken ages to choreograph, but it’s probably the best scene Chan has ever done.
The Young Master
This film I’ve actually covered on Kung Fu Corner, so I’ll keep things brief. The Young Master was Chan’s second directorial effort and he took all of the feedback he learned from Fearless Hyena to create what could reasonably be called one of the best classic Kung Fu comedies of all time. This is right before the stunt-focused era Chan would shift into, so there aren’t many eye-popping feats of gravity defiance, but you do get a ton of old-school fights.
The pacing is great, the comedy doesn’t veer into esoteric territory, and the finale is one of the most ludicrous examples of Chan’s endurance ever put onto film. It’s no wonder Chan wanted to follow-up this up with a sequel, even if Dragon Lord winds up going in its own direction.
This might come as a surprise considering that Police Story 3: Supercop is considered one of the greatest films of all time, but I stated something at the very beginning. I wanted this list to be pure Chan movies, not films where he shared screen time with someone or followed another director. So even though Supercop is probably a better film, I’m giving the nod to the original Police Story on this list.
Again, I’ve covered this film for Kung Fu Corner, so I don’t need to say much more. Police Story will make you afraid of glass and will also have you questioning how Jackie Chan is still alive and kicking. This is such a thoroughly enjoyable and wild film that anyone with even a passing interest in Hong Kong films should make it required viewing.
Drunken Master 2
I guess I’ll have to bend the rules here a little as Drunken Master 2 is technically a Lau Kar-Leung-directed film. He and Chan collaborated in the mid-90s to produce one of the best pure action films around but then had a falling out over creative differences in the end. While Chan has a co-director credit, it’s not entirely clear how much he directed apart from the outstanding finale battle.
What truly makes this Chan’s crowning achievement is the display of pure physicality he puts on. Released in early 1994, Chan was nearly 40 years old when the film hit screens. For someone that was approaching mid-life, he was moving faster than most youngsters. There’s also the wonderful supporting cast, which features Shaw Brothers legends Ti Lung and Lau Kar-Leung, and the legendary Anita Mui.
I do plan to eventually cover this (because I would be out of my mind to not talk about it), but let me lay it out simply for you. If you’re unsure if Hong Kong cinema is for you or don’t know where to start with Chan’s filmography, Drunken Master 2 is the best entry point. It’s not only phenomenal, but it includes everything that Jackie Chan had been perfecting over the years in one mega-film. If this can’t get you to smile, wince, laugh, and cheer, then maybe you’re just dead inside.
If you’d like to read more of Peter’s Kung Fu Corner, you can do so by clicking here.