Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
Five warriors of the Poison Clan secretly train to learn special Kung Fu skills while masked so that they can hide their identities from each other. But when one betrays the others, it’s a hunt to solve who is who. Chang Cheh directs this Shaw Brothers classic which launched the Venoms Mob, a group of martial actors that dominated the genre in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
The original Five Venoms are Scorpion (Sun Chien), Lizard (Phillip Kwok), Toad (Lo Meng), Snake (Wei Pai) and Centipede (Lu Feng), plus there is their junior Kung Fu brother Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng). The plot is complicated, yet well-told. There are some strangely disturbing torture scenes – early waterboarding, a prickly iron maiden, and a “throat hook” are particularly harsh. It also poaches the Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘s soundtrack. But when all these pieces are put together, it all just works, turning Five Deadly Venoms into one of the best Kung Fu flicks ever. It’s epic intrigue with dazzling Kung Fu.
Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
Jet Li teams with Director Tsui Hark for a visionary epic loosely based on real life folk hero Wong Fei Hung. Credited with revitalizing the Kung Fu genre in the ’90s, Li’s acrobatic fighting style blends with Tsui’s extravagant cinematic sensibilities for a grandiose game changer of martial arts films. Like each of these recommendations, it spearheaded a franchise of sequels.
The film begins with a ridiculous tightrope lion dancing sequence that clues us in right away that we must trade in our understanding of physics for this wire-fu extravaganza. No one moves like Jet in his prime. He makes insanely high kicks look easy. He gives umbrella Kung Fu new meaning. Jet’s combos are just unreal despite the undercranking, moving with such effortless speed and awe-inspiring flexibility.
The film has some goofy humor, copious drool, and blood spitting, as well as some captivating cinematic compositions with bars, shadows, wind, and rain. The final fight balancing on ladders is as outrageous as it is gorgeous – and the wire-fu is spectacular. Remember this was way before CGI, so the stunts are real.
Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
The third of Jackie Chan’s modern-day cop actioners marks the return of Michelle Yeoh after she quit moviemaking in 1987. Yeoh plays a strict mainland Chinese cop opposite Chan’s risky hero. The finale fight atop a moving train is packed with truly death-defying stunts for both actors, including Yeoh’s legendary motorcycle jump onto a moving train.