Thursday, December 31, 2015

B.W.'s Top Twenty Favorite Kung Fu Actors : The Top Ten

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We're back, like a former 98 lb martial weakling, fully trained in secret combat techniques and prepared to avenge our father's/brother's/sister's/mother's/sifu's untimely death at the hands of a villainous bastard who's rubbing his mustache and laughing cockily, thoroughly unfazed by this latest challenge; unaware that we've mastered the ancient counter-style, thought lost for years, and he's in for some serious foot-eating, in grueling slo-mo. Movement eight'een, Peacock displays his fancy ass-feathers to Buddha! Here's my top 10.

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  10) Liu Chia Hui  The youngest of the Liu's behind Chia-Yung and eldest Chia-Liang, Gordon "Master Killer" Liu's instantly recognizable even to those beyond the HK fight club, appearing in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill series, after having a long and rich career in the Shaw Brothers productions of his older brothers and others; some of his best appearances coming in movies like Martial Club (1981), Heroes of the East (1978), Legendary Weapons of China (1982) and, of course,  The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978).

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  9) Ti Lung  One of Shaw Brothers' early stars, the ever noble Ti Lung lends his unmistakable air of class to productions like The Deadly Duo (1971), Five Shaolin Masters (1974), and The Kung Fu Instructor (1979), as well as modern works such as John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986) and Liu Chia Liang's Drunken Master II (1994) opposite Jacky Chan.

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   8) Kuo Chui   Number Four, the Lizard. My favorite Venom, Kuo usually plays a drunk or a wanderer or a beggar...or a drunken wandering beggar... in iconic Shaw Brothers productions for Chang Cheh like Daredevils of Kung Fu (1979), The Flag of Iron (1980), Five Element Ninjas (1982), as well as the aforementioned Five Venoms.

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 7) Liang Chia Jen  We've come to "Beardy" himself! Though he's always been technically excellent, dating back to early Shaw flicks like Five Shaolin Masters (1974) and Marco Polo (1975), I prefer repeat viewings of his work in later films like Warriors Two (1978), Sleeping Fist (1979), The Victim (1980), Thundering Mantis (1980),  and Knockabout (1979) these days. All of his stuff is worth checking out, really.

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  6) Billy Chong The Indonesian Willy Dozan was often billed as "Bruce Lee of the 80's" and was number one on my list for a long time, too,  often sparking arguments among us before and after many a kung fu class back then, but I stood firm on my choice, using movies like Super Power (1980), Kung Fu Executioner (1981), and Crystal Fist (1979) as visual evidence. Still a favorite.

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  5) Liu Chia Liang The mere screen presence of this fight choreographer-turned-director, the elder statesman of the genre bar none,  uplifts any production to a must-see status. Though those appearances numbered ninety-three at the time of his death in 2013, with many glorious fights that instantly spring to mind, one only need bear witness to the spectacle that is the final fight in his own Legendary Weapons of China (1982) vs. his brother, Liu Chia Yung, to see a perfect jaw-dropping illustration.

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  4) Fu Sheng  My favorite Chang Cheh regular has to be "Alexander" Fu Sheng, hands down. His comedic abilities, mischievous spirit, and general likability are top notch, and only matched by his prowess as a pugilist, having long trained under the tutelage of none other than Liu Chia Liang. Were it not for a tragic car accident in 1983, his international star would have surely rose to more dizzying heights, transcending the martial arts genre into mainstream comedy, as evidenced by the success of Hong Kong Playboys (1983).

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  3) Bruce Lee Undoubtedly the King of the Kung Fu movie, and the Gold Standard by which all cinematic martial artists will forever be compared to. The four movies completed at the time of the iconic little tough guy's death in 1973, are all required viewing, for sure: Big Boss (1971), Fists of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), and Enter the Dragon (1973).

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  2) Jacky Chan In one instant, this former Peking Opera performer-turned-stunt man rose to the top by single-handedly revolutionizing the kung fu film with his own unique brand of physical kung fu comedy, performing all legendarily inhuman stunts himself along the way. Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978), Drunken Master (1978), Project A (1983), Police Story (1985), Armor of God (1986)...his list of excellent action movies is lengthy. If you've never seen his early classics, you're really selling yourself short as a film fan.

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  1) Wang Lung Wei  Johnny Wang, who is without a doubt, the epitome of villainy in Asian action movies, naturally tops my list of favorites. "Who else... coooooooooould be", to quote Hwang Jang Lee. To Kill a Mastermind (1979), Martial Club (1981), Shaolin Temple (1976), and This Man is Dangerous (1985) contain some of my favorite vintage Wang assholery.

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