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List of Kung Fu Movies
By Robert Vaux
Source: Internet Movie Database
Kung fu movies have a long and rich history, and like many genres they defy any notions at a limited list. Every aficionado has his favorites, and discussion of the "best" will produce more debate than consensus. To prepare a basic list, it pays to focus on the biggest stars of kung fu, as well as those films that helped secure artistic legitimacy for the genre.
Enter the DragonIn many ways the kung fu genre begins and ends with Bruce Lee. The legendary master not only helped defy Western stereotypes about Asians, but opened the genre to an international audience. His uncontested masterpiece arrived in 1973, shortly after his tragic and untimely death. It tells the story of a secret agent who infiltrates a kung fu tournament held by an evil mastermind, though the plot serves mainly as a showcase for Lee's unparalleled fighting skills.
Drunken MasterIf Lee was the king of the kung fu genre, then Jackie Chan was its anointed court jester, mixing physical skills with slapstick comedy that owed as much to Buster Keaton as any martial arts masters. This effort from 1978 ranks among his very best: the story of a young man trained in a unique form of martial arts which resembles the unpredictable stumbles of a drunk.
Shaolin TempleMartial artist Jet Li made his film debut in 1982 with this story of the legendary temple that helped cement the development of kung fu. It follows the same path as other movies about Shaolin: A young man in search of vengeance comes to the temple to learn the skills he needs. The monks instruct him in their ways while teaching him wisdom and discipline, which allows him to defeat the forces of evil.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonThough often popular, kung fu movies were never considered high art. Director Ang Lee changed that with a beautiful, thematically complex homage to the films he grew up on. It tells the story of two martial arts masters (played by Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat) in search of an ancient sword who grapple with their unrealized love for each other in the process. It's notable for winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for 2000, along with three other Academy Awards--an unprecedented honor for this genre.
HeroThe immense success of "Crouching Tiger" helped director Zhang Yimou develop his own kung fu epic in 2002. Jet Li plays a hero of ancient China who defeats three mystical assassins trying to kill the man who may become emperor. Though its visuals sometimes overwhelm the story, "Hero" enhanced the genre's pedigree among critics and proved that "Crouching Tiger" was no fluke.