A Girl's Favourite Martial Arts Action Directors
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by Grace Leong

Kung-fu (Martial Arts in Cantonese) films from Hong Kong are a transnational franchise with a 30-year history of appealing to viewers around the world (Peter Hitchcock, 2007). They have changed the way Hollywood makes action films and some of Hong Kong's most talented action stars and directors including Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan have successfully crossed over to Hollywood.

Everyone must already know Yuen Wo Ping, the acclaimed action choreographer of The Matrix and Kill Bill Series. Yuen was also responsible for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He had attended the same Chinese Opera school as Jackie Chan and is the son of Yuen Siu Tien who starred as Jackie Chan’s ‘master’ in Drunken Master (1978) and Snake in Eagle’s Shadow (1978) and is a veteran in Peking opera. 

Yuen Wo Ping whose career has spanned nearly 40 years has created so many masterpieces his name is a sure-sign of quality. These are my personal favourite works of Yuen but not for the reason Jet Li stars in all of them. For the uninitiated, Jet Li’s martial arts are the real thing. He trained at the Beijing Wushu (Martial Arts) Academy since age 8 and won Chinese national championships five times before he became an actor.

Best of Yuen Wo Ping:  


Fearless (Huo Yuan Jia, 2006)

Part fictional tale of Chinese Martial Arts Master Huo Yuanjia (1869-1910). Get it here on amazon.







Fist of Legend

Fist of Legend (Jing Wu Ying Xiong 1994)

Set in Huo Yuanjia’s 'Jing Wu' martial arts club in 1930s Japanese-occupied Shanghai, the story is about Huo's disciples trying to bring his killer to justice. Fist of Legend is a remake of Bruce Lee's Fist of Legend (1972) with Jet Li reprising the role of Chen Zhen. Get it here on amazon.





Once upon a time in China

Once Upon A Time In China I & II (Wong Fei Hung I ,1991 & Wong Fei Hung II, 1992)

Story of legendary martial arts exponent Wong Fei Hung set in 19th century Canton. Get them here on amazon.







In these titles, watch Jet Li execute Yuen’s style of action with swift kicks and no-holds-barred hard punching of the baddies. While the strong Chinese nationalistic themes against Western imperialism in Once Upon A Time In China I and II as well as Fearless and against Japanese rule in Fist of Legend may not be easy to relate to, viewers can indulge in some martial arts fantasy fun where Jet Li shows he can do more than dodge bullets with his bare hands. Fist of Legend also features a rare battle between Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

Less familiar to Western audiences but I hope becomes an equally well-known figure by 2010 is Donnie Yen. Donnie Yen is a martial artist, Hong Kong action star and action director in his own right. Yen had an early start and has been in the business for nearly 25 years. He was born to a newspaper editor and martial arts master. He lived in Boston from age 11 to 16 until his parents sent him to Beijing Wushu Academy for three years where he trained under Jet Li’s coach.

Yen was talent-spotted by Yuen Wo Ping when he made a detour to Hong Kong on his way back to the States from China. He worked in a series of productions with Yuen and was cast as Jet Li’s nemesis in Once Upon A Time In China II. Some Western audiences may realise who Yen is when I mention he was the assassin, in Zhang Yi Mou’s Hero (Ying Xiong, 2002) who fought Jet Li using a sword-ended spear with the accompaniment of an old man’s Qin-playing and the sound of dripping water. He was also cast in a number of Hollywood roles in Highlander: Endgame (2000) and Shanghai Knights (2003).  

Yen’s mind-blowing works as actor and/or action director include both period and contemporary.


Best of Donnie Yen:   

Ip Man

Ip Man (2008)

Yen stars in this Martial Arts biopic based on the true story of Bruce Lee’s real-life martial arts teacher Yip Man under the action direction of Sammo Hung (star of Martial Law TV Series). *The DVD is scheduled for release on 28 September 2009. Pre-order on amazon here.







Flashpoint (Dou Fo Sin, 2007)

Yen is the lead and action director in this power-packed cop and robber action movie. Get it here on amazon.  







Kill Zone

Kill Zone (Saat Po Long, 2005)

Yen is the lead and action director in this modern-day visceral, hard-hitting crime drama. Watch Yen pit his skills against Sammo Hung who plays the baddie. *US-imported Region 1 DVD available on amazon here.





I highly-recommend Ip Man, Yen's latest work. Ip Man received critical acclaim and was a huge success in Hong Kong. The real Yip Man is the master of 'Wing Chun', a Martial Arts style specialising in close-range combat practised by 2,000,000 people around the world today. Skilled in Taichi, Wushu, Taekwondo, Kickboxing, Boxing and known for creating his own daring and refreshing action style, Yen spent 9 months practising Wing Chun before he took on this role and decided to let the more experienced Sammo Hung (who also attended Opera School with Jackie Chan) direct the action.

There are two more compelling reasons for you to get your hands on Ip Man. Firstly, a sequel is already in production for release in 2010. Secondly, it will be truly interesting to compare this version of Yip Man's story with art-house director Wong Kar-wai's. Wong is currently making another film about Yip Man also scheduled for release in 2010. Surprise or no surprise, Wong's long-time collaborator Tony Leung plays the character of Yip Man.  

About The Author

Grace Leong is a MA in Cultural and Creative Industries student at King's College, London and an intern at Raindance. She has experience in Media Relations, events organising and volunteer management. She loves films in all kinds of languages though she can only watch those in English and Chinese (hopefully Japanese someday) without the aid of subtitles. She is also proud to be the first Singaporean to make it to Raindance.

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