Put 'em up!
Welcome back to the TDF Film Podcast, we’ve been on a lengthy hiatus and during that time we came to a decision to shakeup the format of our pods for a few episodes and focus on some Top 10 shortlists. First up is Ten great Fights, and we’ve even written an article for those who don’t fancy spending 80mins listening to two film geeks drone on. So it’s podcast or article, or both! Pick yer poison, but only in the pod do we choose a winner!
CLICK ON THE IMAGE GALLERY TO READ OUR ENTRIES. PODCAST FOLLOWS BELOW
Gordon Lau Kar-Fei as Yang Wu-lang in Pole Madness Finale [The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter]
Throughout his career as action director for Chang Cheh and later as a filmmaker in his own right, the peerless Lau Kar-leung earned the nickname Kung Fu Lung for his knowledge and mastery of martial arts and the sheer breadth of his work within the Kung Fu genre. Settling on a solitary fight scene from his work was hard work, but we’ve singled out the frenzied conclusion to his 1984 masterpiece The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter. We call this the Pole Madness Finale because of the visceral carnage Gordon Lau Kar-Fei and his monk co-horts dole out on Johnny Wang and his band of villains. Just about every technical aspect of a fight scene is employed in this blistering free-for-all: Wirework, weapon work, doubling, back-breaking stunts, staccato editing; you name it & Kung Fu Lung incorporates it to create one of the most exhaustive & gruesome fights of his career.aaa
Jackie Chan as Jackie Lung, Sammo Hung as Wong Fei-Hung, and Yuen Biao as Tung Te-Biao in Drug Factory Brawl [Dragons Forever]
Jackie’s legacy as an action megastar is known far and wide, and at the heart of this legacy is a series of films which united him with his former Peking Opera classmates and fellow legends: Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Collectively they were known as “The Three Dragons” and while they made many movies together in some combination of star, stunt double, action director or director, they only ever co-starred as a threesome in four films: Project A, Wheels on Meals, My Lucky Stars, and their aptly titled final collaboration: Dragons Forever. Simply put, Dragons Forever is one of the best action films of the 80s with Jackie Chan and Sammo at the top of their game as action star and director respectively, so there are a number of great action sequences to choose from, but our vote goes to the all-out melee brawl in the Drug Factory that concludes the film. It’s a great example of the Battle Royale finales that typically concluded Martial Arts films in their 80s heydey, with various skirmishes on multiple fronts showing off the acrobatic skills of Yuen Biao and the all-round dexterity of Jackie Chan. The stuntwork is also wince-inducingly brone crunching, a Sammo trademark!
Maggie Cheung as Flying Snow vs Zhang Ziyi as Moon [Hero]
When Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon obliterated western box-office records for Asian-language films at the start of the millennium it ushered in a new era for the Wu xia pian (Chinese fantasy swordplay) genre. Chief amongst this new glut was a film from relatively low-key arthouse filmmaker Zhang Yimou that redefined the boundaries of “art” in the Martial Arts context. Hero is a dazzling kaleidoscopic explosion of colour that stands tall as one of the most beautiful productions this century; it’s also not a bad action film either! We’re singling out the duel between Flying Snow and Moon halfway through the film after Maggie Cheung’s character Flying Snow has supposedly murdered her former lover and Zhang Ziyi’s master. It may not be the best display of actual physicality in this list, but it’s a beautiful, graceful dance in glorious Autumnal shades that proves a screen fight doesn’t necessarily have to be about the dance itself, but the whole sensory experience!
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne vs Joey Ansah as Desh [The Bourne Ultimatum]
The Bourne Identity and Supremacy redefined spy-actioners to such an extent that even the Bond franchise was taking cues from them when it rebooted in 2006, so there was a sense of reciprocity when the supposedly “final” Borne film was produced. Chief to that was one-upping the fancy Parkour chase sequence that opened Casino Royale with a protracted chase sequence through the streets of Tangier that culminates with Jason Bourne leaping through 3rd floor window onto hitman Desh for a spot of not-so-gentlemanly fisticuffs. This might be the shortest fight in our list, but intensity and claustrophobia make up for brevity as the city-wide action sequence suddenly becomes focused entirely on two men in one apartment fighting to the death. This one coils around you like a python, ramping up the tension as proceedings get more and more intimate.
Rowdy Roddy Piper as Nada vs Keith David as Frank [They Live]
Our list was compiled shortly before Roddy Piper’s untimely passing last month so we didn’t really pay tribute to his finest hour (and half) in cinema during the podcast recording, but we’re glad we got to include the central fight scene in John Carpenter’s offbeat sci-fi satire They Live, which slams Roddy Piper and Keith David together in a fight that is so manly that it should be listed in most dictionaries as the very definition of the term. What starts off as a simple disagreement over Keith David wearing a pair of sunglasses becomes one of the greatest slugfests of the 80s, a fight that becomes more back-breaking and ludicrous as the minutes tick away. There’s no fancy choreography or editing in this one, just two awesome tough guys duking it out. Ask anyone about They Live and chances are the first thing they’ll recall from the film is this fight scene & Piper’s infamous “bubblegum” quote.
Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man vs Alfred Molina as Doc Ock [Spider-Man 2]
Sam Raimi has long been lauded for his hyper-kinetic visual style and his Spider-Man films pretty much set the standard for giddy action setpieces in the modern Superhero Film era. Spider-Man 2 might have its flaws when it comes to narrative and characterisation, but Raimi certainly brought his A-game to the action! This first proper confrontation between Alfred Molina’s demented Dr. Octavius and Maguire’s Spider-Man starts off on the side of a skyscraper, descends onto the top of a passing train, then the side of said hurtling train, then inside the train and out again as the villain starts flinging passengers here, there & everywhere as Spidey frantically tries to defend himself and save the bystanders all in one. It makes the list purely because of the staggering amount of imagination on display, the only drawback is that inevitably there’s heavy use of CGI human models, giving the fight a rather rubber-man, animated feel. One day CG artists will be able to render sequences like this with totally convincing detail, let’s just hope there are directors like Raimi around on such a day!
Toshirô Mifune as Toranosuke Shimada vs The Assassins [The Sword of Doom]
No list of great fights would be complete without a samurai action film or chanbara as they’re known in their native land. Traditional Japanese chanbara may not feature the intricate choreography and skilful physicality of their HK counterparts, but they more than make up for this with dramatic impact. The scene we’ve chosen, from the pitch black, nihilistic drama The Sword of Doom, really typifies this. Tatsuya Nakadai’s psychotic (and until this point in the film, seemingly unbeatable) swordsman Ryunosuke watches paralysed as his merry band of assassin’s are slaughtered by their mistaken target: Toshirô Mifune’s swordmaster Toranosuke. Aside from the fact that it features two of the greatest actors of all time (always a plus), this is an expertly crafted action sequence that puts us directly in the mindset of the warped protagonist who is finally confronted by someone with even greater skills than his own.
Tyrone Power as Don Diego Vega vs Basil Rathbone as capt. Esteban Pasquale [The Mark of Zorro]
Whether you rate The Mark of Zorro as the definitive Zorro film probably depends on your love for Douglas Fairbanks or funky modern action films, but there’s probably no argument that the 1940 Tyrone Power film gave us the definitive Zorro sword duel when Don Diego Vega finally clashes swords with Basil Rathbone’s duplicitous capt. Esteban Pasquale. In the 30s Swashbucklers started to evolve beyond the high-spirited sword-waggling of the Fairbanks era to take on a more tightly crafted realism, and as soon as the 40s came about the great fencing master Fred Cavens was finally given full reign to choreograph the fights in The Mark of Zorro. His goal was to craft a realistic, claustrophobic duel that would contrast the rambunctious fights in Adventures of Robin Hood, and boy did he deliver! This is easily one of the greatest swordfights to come out of Hollywood, helped by the superior technical ability of Rathbone and the enviable physical talents of the young Powers.
Uma Thurman as The Bride vs The Crazy 88 [Kill Bill: Volume 1]
The first volume of Quentin Tarantino’s genre-stroking epic Kill Bill is a love letter to Asian cinema that provides fans with a veritable smorgasbord of HK and Japanese cinematic references to gorge on, and as far as the TDF is concerned any film that features both Sonny Chiba and Gordon Lau Kar-Fei can do no wrong. The centrepiece of this volume is a truly inspired bit of cinematic butchery as The Bride takes on the full might of O-ren Ishii’s Crazy 88 (a number that’s not an exaggeration) in a sweaty, frenzied melee of carnage that harks back to the great bloody finales of Chang Cheh. We think this is one of the most gleefully sadistic fight sequences of the last 40yrs, and if you haven’t already then you should really check this out in its uncut form on the Japanese release. Black & White is for lightweights!
(Yuen Biao as Foon vs Lam Ching-Ying as Fan Guy) + (Wai Pak as Chat vs Yuen Mo as Pole Guy) [The Magnificent Butcher]
Magnificent Butcher has a special distinction as the only action film that both Yuen Woo Ping and Sammo Hung worked together on as joint action directors. Now, the films they worked on with their own teams are considered classics so you can imagine how good the action is with both teams collaborating together! Of the many great fight scenes to choose from is a wonderful little battle halfway through the film that may seem like one of the less obvious setpieces to single out, and that’s an action sequence that features two fights in unison: On the one side is Yuen Biao as Foon facing off against Lam Ching Ying’s laconic henchman (who we’ll call Fan Guy), on the other is Wai Pak as Chat taking on the underappreciated Yuen Mo as the animated “Pole Guy”. It may seem at first like a rather throwaway fight scene featuring mid-level combatants, but look closer and you see that the intricacy of the choreography and graceful physical skills of Biao, Ying, and Mo make this fight one of the highlights of a great Kung Fu film!
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Episode 46 contributors: John White (host) and Matt Shingleton
As always we hope you'll get in touch with us in the comments section if you feel like chiming in on the subject at hand!
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