Brandon Lee’s career path converged with mid 80s Hong Kong cinema’s trend toward emphasizing gunplay over kung fu. Filmmakers like John Woo and Tsui Hark, perhaps as a way to separate themselves from the post – Bruce Lee wave of cheap, quick and generally bad cash – ins, insisted on breaking from the assembly line style of action films to experiment with both more grounded and more fantastic concepts, the former incorporating a “realistic” firearms presence.
Unfortunately, Lee would die at the young age of 28 before the gun – fu fad ran its course and allowed him to properly display his own significant fight skills. It also left a sad paucity of films from which to draw for this edition of THC.
Versus Michael Wong in Legacy of Rage:
The legendary Bolo Yeung turns up as a low – level thug, just long enough for a quick scuffle with Brandon. Bolo always performs balls – out so this had the potential of being a brilliant fight. For whatever reason, likely the aforementioned gun fight emphasis, the fight is barely a footnote in the film. In the end it’s still great Hong Kong action though, and the breathlessly – paced plot leads us to a final showdown with 80’s HK stalwart Michael Wong.
Choreographer Hoi Mang works with Wong’s martial arts limitations and the requisite gun trope to craft a decent showcase of Brandon’s Jeet Kune Do principals in a satisfying, anything – goes war between righteous hothead and honorless gangster.
Versus Al Leong in Rapid Fire:
Lee’s first solo lead in a Hollywood studio film makes it a standout from typical 90s actioners by strength of his performance alone. Yet the fights overall might have been dismissed as no better or worse than those of any direct – to -video schlockbuster if not for two scenes in particular, choreographed by Lee’s friend Jeff Imada (Big Trouble in Little China) The first features veteran martial arts and stunt performer Leong (also from Big Trouble in Little China) who was versatile enough to match Lee’s unusual style of JKD trapping and catch wrestling moves for a surprisingly complex and quick series of exchanges.
Lee’s best and best – known film The Crow, while action packed was entirely kung fu-free. Given the overall atmosphere, this is entirely appropriate. For the third of his top three fights, we have to go back to Rapid Fire.
Versus Three Assassins in Rapid Fire:
Lee as Jake Lo is a witness under police protection holed up in an upper level apartment. One of his protectors is on the take, and opens the door for a pair of assassins. What follows is an ingenious three-on-one that has Brandon making maximum use of his environment to outsmart and outfight his gun-wielding assailants while trying to escape through the barred windows and to the ground below. A lot of time and planning clearly went into this film’s fights which would explain why there are only a handful, and this fight in particular.
Before becoming an ascendant star on his own, Lee worked with a few notable action stars in higher profile films; David Carradine in Kung Fu: The Next Generation and Dolph Lundgren in Showdown in Little Tokyo. But the true showcases of his talent as both actor and martial arts will always be Rapid Fire and The Crow. Then, we lost him, and something more than a dynamic film star. Brandon Lee was intelligent, thoughtful and openly loving to his family, friends and fans. There will never be another.
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Every action star worth his (ahem) assault should have at least three great fight scenes under his belt, am I right? I thought it’d be fun to list the top three of action cinema’s hard working men women, and even children. But a great film fight is not just about some athletic performers doing interesting techniques. Editing, build-up based on story line, camera angles and setting play a part.
With that in mind, you won’t see clips of these great fights posted here. Of course you can easily locate them yourself, but a great fight depends on context — and a youtube clip cannot provide that. If you’re a fan of screen/stage combat you owe it to yourself to seek out the full film — unless otherwise noted, of course; for a good fight scene can also save a mediocre film.
This will be an ongoing series, written and posted as the mood strikes. Recommendations are always welcome.
The latest Hong Kong superstar to cross over into Hollywood, Yen was acting in action films for nearly four decades before landing his best known Hollywood role in Star Wars: Rogue One. Always heavily involved in his won choreography, Yen’s films are among the best of the genre. His fight style has come to include a good deal of MMA, including submissions and wrestling takedowns.
Yen played legendary Wing Chun instructor IP MAN in the film of that name, turning in some of his best work across the trilogy.
3. Master Ip Man versus ten black belts, IP MAN: Set during the Japanese occupation, IP MAN plays on a popular theme in kung fu films; that of a good man, put upon by cruel oppressors, pushed to the breaking point. The scene comes about mid way. The Japanese general in charge pays locals to come and fight his soldiers, to keep their skills sharp. When he takes it too far and someone is crippled, Ip Man takes the challenge. The scene is a master work of camera work, sound effects, and Yen’s unbelievable speed, which Michelle Yeoh one commented is the fastest of anyone she ever worked with.
2. Inspector Ma versus Tony, FLASH POINT. Paired with innovative director Wilson Yip once more, Yen is a hot headed police inspector in a labyrinthine crime story that ends at an abandoned shack out in the country. Collin Chou of The Matrix series is his opponent. They use the environment to brilliant effect, giving the audience a couple of breathers in just the right spots to create a feeling of exhaustion -and satisfaction- when we reach the conclusion. Yen breaks out a lot of great leg locks, as well as his famous wind-up punch.
1. SPL Killzone: Ma Kwan versus Mob Boss Wong Po: I truly doubt Sammo Hung Kambao is capable of performing in or choreographing a bad fight, and this great battle has him doing both. Wilson Yip directing yet again in another gritty police drama. It’s just after Ma has battled Po’s best fighter, played by Wu Jing, in a fight nearly as bad ass as this one. The setting is a multi-level bar with lots of glass to break. Boss Po’s cellphone plays into the fight as well, giving this fight the emotional resonance Hollywood has either never mastered or never bothered with.
Runners up: Vs Mike Tyson in IP MAN 3, Vs Jason Scott Lee in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON 2, VS Jet Li in HERO.