After quite a lot of years of never really going out of my way to see martial arts films, I was lured in by the supernatural horror films made in the genre, which are some of the craziest films ever made, I even found a fascinating book called Spooky Encounters by Daniel O’ Brien all about this niche, while it taught me a lot about Hong Kong( particularly informing me of how alarmingly politically incorrect their films can be, a lot of racism, sexism and hatred for the Japanese in the earlier days), I sadly found out that I had already seen most of the best kung fu horror films and it was mostly downhill from there. I also learned that there is a Buddhist swastika with no relation to the Nazi sign. How do you wear a Buddhist swastika without creating trouble?
I started with the Chinese Ghost Story trilogy, which I think is consistently great with no clear better film of them all, the first probably is the best, but it doesn’t have Jacky Cheung, who is in the second and third, he’s probably the most instantly likable actor I’ve ever seen, he just makes me smile whenever he is on screen and he has a really great scene in the second film when he is frozen by magic and trying to warn Leslie Cheung of a monster behind him.
The third film is harder to find for reasons unknown to me, I had to buy a Chinese dvd version of it, a friend told me it is not considered part of the canon, but it has almost all the cast and crew of the previous films except for Leslie Cheung, but they had the even more famous Tony Leung Chiu-Wai ((there are 3 Tony Leungs in Hong Kong cinema, sometimes even acting together in the same film)) filling in for him.
The whole series of films has really beautiful and occasionally dazzling visual spectacles including a bad guy that enlarges his tongue to kill people with and shoots flying heads from his body, people flying on swords and great stop-motion zombies. At least see the first one.
Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain is my favourite of this type of film, there is just so much happening in it and fights go on for a pleasingly long time and loads of cool bizarre stuff happens in it and it can be hard to keep up with, which is the way I like it, rather than the modern style of slowing everything down and making it look boring. It was remade by the same director in a modern style and I’ve never wanted to see it, it probably never had anyone chasing after a laughing fish in it. Here is the trailer for the original...
Buddhas Palm is a similar film, with a bad guy that can enlarge his foot to giant sizes and a funny traveller who shouts his own name whenever he enters or leaves a scene. I once made the mistake of buying a modern tv remake instead of this original Shaw Brothers film...
For hopping corpse/vampire movies, people usually go for Mr Vampire, but Spooky Encounters is a superior film. Like a lot of people I first known Sammo Hung from the underwhelming tv show Martial Law, but when you see him in his hong kong films, especially the ones he directed himself, you will see why people love him so much. Spooky Encounters has the most fantastic hopping vampire I have ever seen, with a really fascinating fighting style you never see in the other hopping vampire movies, it also has the funniest movie ending I’ve ever seen.
Spooky Encounters 2 has a lot of good things in it and it is visually more pleasing, but it was lacking something. There is a great scene near the start when 2 hopping vampires attack Sammo and his girlfriend and they all end up hanging on a chandelier and all 4 biting each others necks. I really love Lam Ching Ying, since he is so stern and straight all the time, it is hilarious in this film when he does this exaggerated walk swaying his hips side to side. Lam Ching Ying could seem straight/normal to the point of boring, but he makes a strong impression on people, myself included, I really don’t know what it is about him that makes him so likable.
Heroic Trio is not that great, but it is worth seeing the trailer. If you like Maggie Cheung a lot you should see it, she looks incredible in it.
Iceman Cometh is sort of supernatural, but more of a time travel film, with the wonderful and handsome Yuen Biao as an ancient royal guard trying to understand the modern world, which is the source of all the comedy. It is usually not that funny when films have people from different eras misunderstanding the modern world, but this film is really hilarious.
A great deal of the 80s/90s supernatural Wuxia films usually based on Pu Songling stories are either directed or produced by Tsui Hark. Often when he is listed as producer he is still basically the director. If you really want loads of this supernatural wuxia stuff, just go look at his directing and producing credits lists. His newer films went into that glossy slow motion style I don’t really like.
I recently found out that along with America making movie quality tv dramas, Hong Kong has been doing this too with epic wuxia dramas, which look astonishingly picturesque and have so much more grandeur than I ever imagined could be on a tv show. They have not been made available to us yet, so I don’t know how good they are.
For straightforward martial arts, I think Knockabout is my favourite film, it is another Sammo Hung/Yuen Biao film. Really funny with lots of great complex fighting.
In Jackie Chan films I think Snake In The Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master 2 are the best ((although there is a lot I haven’t seen)), the original Drunken Master is made a bit redundant because the second film has more immensely complex fight scenes and Snake In The Eagles Shadow is almost the same film as Drunken Master 1 minus the drunken fighting but with same cast and crew with everything done better, most of all the story.
I cant watch too many of these films all the time, because although it is nice to jump into this world and see so many familiar faces cropping up all the time and getting to know all the actors better,, they can feel really samey and the sense of humor can get really tiresome eventually. Most of the films I mentioned are on Youtube, which somehow gets away with having a large percentage of any martial arts films you would ever want to see. I still have to see the crazier Yuen Woo Ping films like Miracle Fighters and Shaolin Drunkard; older horror kung fu like Seeding Ghost and Attack Of The God Of Joy.