One of the most action packed genres in the cinema is Martial Arts movies. They have an avid following, whether they are big budget Hollywood features or low budget cult films. The Hong Kong produced films are well known and they inspired American and European enthusiasts to make their own films. Some actors have got into Martial Arts and used it for their career and some Martial Arts experts have become involved in the movie industry.
The major stars of the genre are heroes to the fans. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li each bring their own personality and fighting techniques to the story. Western stars Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal further popularized the films. What started as a cult, crossed over to the mainstream and spin off merchandise, such as posters is big business. Disciplines such as Karate and Kung Fu gained lots of recruits who had been turned on by what they saw in Martial Arts movies.
The most influential exponent of Kung Fu and martial arts in general was undoubtedly Bruce Lee. Born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong, he was handsome and had charisma in addition to perfecting an explosive fighting style. He put great emphasis on fitness. Sadly he died at the young age of 32 and became a legend. His most popular film was Enter the Dragon in 1973 in which he plays a man called Lee, a Martial Arts practitioner who investigates a drug gang. John Saxon co-starred.
The same year brought the release of Way of the Dragon. This Martial Arts movie was unusual in that Bruce Lee was the director and writer. It was also unusual because it was an action comedy. Lee stars as Tang Lung, who visits relatives in Rome and becomes involved in fighting a criminal gang. They need to hire someone to defeat him so they call on Colt, played by Chuck Norris. Norris, a professional Karate champion, and Lee delight the fans with a fight scene against the backdrop of Rome’s Coliseum.
In 1994, Jet Li made a remake of one of Bruce Lee’s films called The Chinese Connection. The new version was titled Fist of Legend and Li played a character called Chen Zen. The story is set in Shanghai under Japanese military occupation in 1937 and involves Chen Zen trying to prove that his old Kung Fu master, Hou was murdered.
Taiwan born director Ang Lee has made many different kinds of films, including Hulk and Brokeback Mountain. In 1999, the release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made a huge impact. This was a Martial Arts movie that incorporated fantasy fight sequences and a love story. It won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. It showed that this genre could have brilliant cinematography and special effects. The scenery was stunning. Chow Yun Fat stars as Li and Michelle Yeoh co-stars as Yu. Two warriors hunt for a sword with magic properties that has been stolen. Zen warriors are seen to bend the physical world to their will as they float through the air and walk on water.