Today marks the anniversary of master martial artist Bruce Lee’s death, 41 years ago. One of the most influential artists of all time, Lee helped to transform the representation of Asians in American cinema and brought mainstream popularity to chopsocky films in the States. Lee remains the undisputed king of screen fighting, his prowess demonstrated in countless films. We’re honoring his memory today by revisiting some of cinema’s greatest martial arts movies — ten essential flicks that action aficionados and Kung Fu fans love.
An adaptation of Bruce Lee’s 1972 film of the same name (aka The Chinese Connection) — both films are widely regarded as Kung Fu masterpieces — Fist of Legend is a fitting tribute, but manages to improve on a couple of things (including that pesky xenophobia in the original film). The story is essentially the same: Jet Li’s Chen Zhen is a Chinese student abroad in Japan during the 1930s. He learns of his master’s death, slain by a rival at a Japanese martial arts school, and returns home to uncover what happened. The period setting and romantic subplot (star-crossed lovers) offers a little something extra between the ass-kicking. Fist of Legend doesn’t win points for storytelling (or acting for that matter — Kung Fu fans struggle with Li’s ultra reserved nature), but you won’t be watching it for that reason anyway. Li’s work is absolutely incredible, aided by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (The Matrix). Thankfully the wire fu is almost non-existent. Without the relentless CGI typical in Li’s later work, you can really gain a true appreciation for his agility.