10. The General (1927)
Buster Keaton’s “The General” may seem like an odd choice, but it IS in fact, an action movie, far more than it is a comedy or slapstick. It’s an incredibly suspenseful action thriller, and one of Keaton’s best films.
9. Seven Samurai (1954)
Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” raised the bar for action epics, creating a standard that would hardly be dented until Sergio Leone’s Westerns of the late 60’s.
8. Die Hard
“Die Hard” is the quintessential American action movie: a single tough guy against a legion of dangerous bad guys. “Die Hard” rises above the crop by making the tough guy so human and real, as played by Bruce Willis, and by making the bad guy so clever and resourceful, and well-played by Alan Rickman. It’s sharp, solid action filmmaking at its best.
Chow Yun-Fat stars in John Woo’s “Hard-Boiled”, which features more violence and a higher body count in its opening ten or fifteen minutes than most American action movies do in their full running time–and still manages to up the ante throughout, until its mind-blowing hospital shootout finale. It is absolutely the most beautifully-crafted gunplay film ever made.
6. Come Drink With Me
Cheng Pei-Pei in King Hu’s “Come Drink With Me” stands as an icon of 1960’s Hong Kong warrior women. She’s tough and cool and the movie itself is a beautiful adaptation of many of the concepts of Chinese martial arts novels and legends into rich, vibrant color. Setting a new standard for quality in martial arts and action films, “Come Drink With Me” changed Hong Kong moviemaking forever, and that influence would be felt for decades to come around the world.
5. Drunken Master
Yuen Wo-Ping directed Jackie Chan in “Drunken Master”, his second big success, which solidified his reputation as the successor for Bruce Lee and as one of Asia and the world’s biggest stars. It’s a perfect showcase for Jackie’s slapstick comedy martial arts style, influenced by Buster Keaton as much as by the Peking Opera training he had as a child.
4. Project A Part II
Jackie directed “Project A Part II”, his most sophisticated and well-crafted action picture yet, which again raised the standards of what could be done in Hong Kong moviemaking. By the time of “Project A Part II”, Jackie had moved from pure comedy martial arts to lush and beautiful period pieces featuring a manic combination of stunts and action. It’s one of his best movies and a landmark in action cinema.
3. Once Upon A Time in China
Tsui Hark’s “Once Upon A Time in China” is a more serious successor to the lush period style of “Project A Part II”. Jet Li plays traditional Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung with gravitas and focus, without losing sight of the comedic elements of the story. The action direction, by the master Yuen Wo-Ping, features some of the most spectacular aerial fight scenes that had ever been done, and the movie’s production values and musical score underline it all to create a truly epic action film of national pride and heroism.
2. Enter the 36th Chamber
“Enter the 36th Chamber”, directed by Liu Chia-Liang and starring his adopted brother Gordon Liu, is one of the most sparse and focused kung fu films ever made. The bulk of the story features the main character training at the Shaolin temple, showing the hardships he endures, and the rigors of the martial arts life he chooses when his family and town are brutalized by the Manchurian oppressors. It is the prototype for dozens (possibly hundreds) of copycat films and it stands as one of the all-time classics of the genre.
1. Fist of Fury
If you’re doing a list of action movies, Bruce Lee is gonna be at the top. Opinions vary as to which is the best of his few films, but “Fist of Fury” combines the high production values and cinematography of early Golden Harvest studios with a compelling story of Chinese nationalism (this time against Japanese oppressors in Shanghai during the 1930’s). It’s the most intense and tragic of Bruce’s films, the one where everything works together to create a beautiful, sublime vision of physical poetry.
James Cameron’s “Aliens”. It was on the list until I realized I hadn’t name-checked John Woo. I couldn’t really list “Aliens” AND “Die Hard”, since they both cover similar territory as the best American action movies. But “Aliens” has such a great, catchy script and fun performances I just think of it as one of the most perfectly-made movies ever.
“The Matrix”. Again it was hard to leave off, but there’s only so much space on the list and I wanted to include movies from past and present AND from around the world.
Peter Jackon’s “King Kong”. I really do think it will stand up there with the best of them, as it features absolutely the most intense action sequences put on film in years–but since it’s only been out a few days it might be a bit premature to list it with the Top Ten “Of All Time”.
Chang Cheh’s body of work, especially “Five Venoms”. A kung fu classic, but I just didn’t have room on the list.
Liu Chia-Liang’s “Mad Monkey Kung Fu”. It’s my favorite movie ever, but with such limited space, “Enter the 36th Chamber” was a more representative film, and far more revolutionary.
Jeff ColemanPowered by Sidelines