I was recently asked to post a list of kung fu films I’d recommend for newcomers to the genre. A “Where to start” if you will. Well, I can do you one better and map out an entire kung fu journey…
The easiest and most accessible starting point is Jackie Chan. You can’t really go wrong with Jackie Chan. Start off with his classics. “Police Story”, “Project A”, “Wheels on Meals”, “Dragons Forever”… However, stick to his 80′s stuff for the time being. Get familiar with his brand of kung fu comedy. Get familiar with his co-stars. Particularly Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Dabble in his later stuff if you like: “New Police Story”, “Rush Hour”, “Who Am I?” Definitely watch “Drunken Master 2″.
Once you’ve delved into Jackie’s back catalog, you can make another step on your journey. Watch “Drunken Master”. This will be your first foray into old school kung fu cinema. Watch it, absorb it, enjoy it. Start to understand the quirks of old school kung fu cinema. Just how fucking WEIRD it is. Watch “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow”. Take note of the villain in both films. You’re going to want to come back to him. At this point you’re primed to dip your toe a little deeper into old school films. Stick with what you know: Yuen Woo Ping. Watch some of his classics: “The Buddhist Fist”, “The Secret Rivals” etc. Start watching films you might have heard of. You know, stuff like “Mystery of Chess Boxing” and “Shaolin vs Lama”.
Now is the time to check out Shaw Brothers. Because you’ve gotten to grips with old school stuff, you’re going to want to watch the cream of the crop of old school stuff. Pick up “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”, “Heroes of the East”. Take note of both star and director. You’ll soon discover that everything Lau Kar Leung touches is gold. He is an AMAZING person to seek out. Look for the films he directed and you’ll open yourself up to a brand new world of kung fu cinema and some of the finest choreography you’ll ever see. Watch “Shaolin vs Wu Tang” just for a change of pace. Get to know Gordon Liu, David Chiang and Ti Lung. Look for their Shaw Brothers films. Next, pick up “Five Deadly Venoms”. Welcome to the world of the Venoms crew. Pick up ALL THEIR SHIT. “Crippled Avengers”, “Ten Tigers from Kwangtung”, “Five Element Ninjas”, “Invincible Shaolin”. Learn their names and explore their lore. The Venoms are a sub-genre all by themselves. They starred in a bunch of films together and ninety percent of them are worth picking up.
Once you’re done with the Venoms, we’re going to fast forward a little. Remember Jackie Chan? Remember his friend, Sammo Hung? Well, it’s time to introduce yourself to a legend. Fast forward to the late 70′s/early 80′s. Start watching Sammo’s classics. “The Magnificent Butcher”, “Odd Couple”, “Warriors Two”, “Encounters of the Spooky Kind”. Note hoe he bridges the gap between old school and a more ferocious style of choreography that bled into the 80′s. Sammo’s late 70′s/early 80′s run is the peak of kung fu cinema. You’re now free to go wherever you want,
Perhaps you want to go old, old, OLD school. Perhaps you want to visit Bruce Lee because it feels like you should. Maybe you want to introduce yourself to a guy called Donnie Yen. Dig deep with Donnie. “ip Man” isn’t his only film. Check out his 80′s stuff with Woo Ping. It’s golden. Start going back to a few of the names you heard but didn’t quite explore: HWang Jang Lee, Lau Kar Wing, Adam Cheng, Yuen Biao, Cynthia Khan, Moon Lee, Lee Yi Min, Jack Long. The kung fu world is your oyster.
Jackie is the perfect starting point for fledgling kung fu fans (NOT Bruce Lee). He’s spanned decades and has six-degrees-of-kevin-bacon links with the entire who’s who of kung fu cinema. Also, don’t rush. Take your time. Learn to like what you like. Maybe you hate Gordon Liu. Maybe the Venoms are perfection for you. Hell, maybe you prefer the ‘Girls with Guns” sub-genre. Maybe you think Bruce Lee is shit. Kung fu cinema is all about taste. Not everyone likes the same thing. The good thing is, however, you will like a Jackie Chan film. Everyone does. Even my mum likes “Shanghai Noon”. Shaw Brothers is a treasure trove. A gift that keeps on giving. The good thing is that many Shaw Brothers films are rare and it’s actually fun to look for them. That’s what makes collecting so great for me; that is never gets boring. There’s always some obscure kung fu film out there i haven’t seen.
Last note of worth? Look for people like me online. Ask us questions. Ask us for suggestions. Ask us where to buy kung fu films from. Find message boards and fansites. Kung fu cinema is a DEEP As FUCK genre. I think it’s only mirrored by horror films and westerns for how obscure it can get.