Martial Arts Movies of Hong Kong: The Golden Age

Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s was an interesting place and time in the world of cinema, particularly in the realm of martial arts movies. Chances are, you may have seen clips of them on Youtube upon searching something along the lines of “Worst Fight Scene Ever”.

Possibly inspired by spaghetti westerns (see A Fistful of Dollars), Hong Kong filmmakers were making ridiculously violent movies on, more often than not, shoestring budgets. As the films cost so little to make, producers were releasing movies at a clip far faster than anyone can possibly watch them. A pretty common tactic was to take footage from an existing movie and re-editing them to tell a slightly different narrative. Oftentimes, they need new footage with the same character, but are unable to get a hold of the original actor, so doubles that often looked nothing like the actor stood in.

One such movie I have seen is Fantasy Mission Force (1982). In that movie, Jimmy Wang Yu (famous for movies like Master of the Flying Guillotine) is charged with rescuing four Allied generals (including American Major General Abraham Lincoln) from Japanese Nazis. When I say Japanese Nazis, I mean exactly that: Japanese members of the National Socialist German Workers Party. Among other things, JWY’s team encounter amazons, a haunted house, and 1970s junkers ghost-ridden by samurai and gladiators.

When the movie was released in the US (direct-to-video), it was marketed as a Jackie Chan film. While he was in the movie, he was only on-screen as a petty criminal for about 20 out of the 90 minutes this movie was. In a nutshell, Jackie Chan ran afoul the Triads after attempting to break a contractual bond with a director until Jimmy Wang Yu bailed him out. Chan then promised to star in five movies with JWY, Fantasy Mission Force being one of them. Here are two clips from the movie:

In case you are wondering, yes. Both of these clips are in fact from the same movie. Furthermore, I have read this movie was later re-edited and released as another movie later on.

Another great example is Undefeatable. This movie was at the tail end of the era as it was released in the early 90s. While having a cast of largely unknown American actors (the  most famous being martial arts star Cynthia Rothrock), Undefeatable was directed by Godfrey Ho under the pseudonym of Godfrey Hall.

Undefeatable follows Kristi Jones (Rothrock) as she, with the help of Sgt. Nick DiMarco (John Miller), avenges the death of her sister at the hands of martial artist Stingray (Don Niam), who had gone crazy after his wife left him. Undefeatable featured amazingly inept writing, but what was most hilarious was the all-round lack of acting ability on the part of the cast. Don Niam was easily the best part of the movie with the faces he made and a mullet that appears to grow larger as the movie progresses. Oh yeah, and Stingray had a thing for gouging his victims’ eyes out and storing them in his fishtank.

This is the movie that shows up when you search “Best Fight Scene Of All Time”:

This scene featured what is meant to look like slow motion, but is in reality the actors just punching really slowly. Undefeatable’s climactic fight is a classic with the unintentionally homoerotic imagery, Stingray (ironically) getting defeated by having a hook jammed into his eye, and a resolution with what are possibly the two worst puns in the history of movies.

Godfrey Ho’s repertoire also includes American Commando. I only saw a couple scenes of this movie through clips on Youtube, but I do want to see it in its entirety based on those. American Commando:

Finally, I have to end with my latest discovery of fight scenes from that era: A fight where a man attempts to strangle his opponent using his own intestines:

While I have only seen two such movies in their entirety, I have to admit there is a certain charm to low-budget martial arts movies. I think part of it is the English dubbing of these movies, but somehow the generally misguided attempt at these movies make for a fun watch.

This genre was most likely inspired by Italian movies. And likewise, this genre inspired low-budget Turkish cinema, often cheap remakes of popular American films, but after I’ve seen more of that, that belongs in a post all on its own.