Monday, 27 April 2009

100 movies to see before you die - part 2 (adventure and martial arts)

This is the second part of my 100 movies to see before you die series. Again, this isn't in any order, but just split into genre. You can read Part 1 (war) here.

RAIDERS is a timeless adventure classic. The first of the INDIANA JONES movies, it's never been beaten. The now standard action-filled opening was practically sired by this film. We see two great sides of Indiana Jones - the sophisticated professor and the flirtatious adventurer. The film is an adrenaline ride from the off and takes us through one of the most exciting adventures ever in cinema. It also hosts probably the best chase scene in Western cinema, as well as exploding Nazi heads! What more can you ask for from a movie. It's just a shame that none of the sequels could match up to the same excitement.

THE MUMMY films have always been viewed as the poor man's INDIANA JONES. I disagree entirely. While there are clear elements that are similar, the sagas are very different. The best thing about THE MUMMY RETURNS is that it does its job as a sequel - it's twice as big, twice as exciting and twice as entertaining. With great stunts, dialogue, direction and storytelling, THE MUMMY RETURNS is one of the best adventure movies out there. Take writer and director Stephen Sommers away from the helm however, you get the disgustingly terrible THE MUMMY 3 - everything that made the first two good were gone. The result - the worst film of 2008.

91. FEARLESS (2006)
Jet Li cunningly declared this his last martial arts epic. He lied. Nevertheless, FEARLESS is brilliant biopic of martial artist Huo Yuan Jia. From childhood through to adulthood, Jet Li is perfectly cast and the choreography is top notch. Much more than a martial arts epic, FEARLESS is a brilliantly told true story of revenge, trickery and honour. And the ending is the best I've ever seen in a Jet Li film.

90. HERO (2002)
HERO is the brilliant story of a band of assassins who are intent on bringing down the tyrant Qin. Shot through flashback, a Nameless warrior (Li) claims to have killed the assassins. As he tells stories of the battles (allowing for beautiful action), Nameless is able to move closer and closer to the paranoid ruler. The audience gradually begins to realise that Nameless is not all he seems. What better way to get close enough to the tyrant to kill him, than to kill his enemies. Upon realising the trick, ruler Qin is faced with a decision - let the assassin go or make an example. Keep in mind that Qin went on to become the first Emperor of China and united the provinces of his country. A Brilliantly crafted story with truly amazing realisation and action.

Bruce Lee's most famous film and easily the best martial arts epic ever made. It's the movie that really brought Chinese martial arts over to the west and made it popular. Tense fight scenes are littered throughout and while they may now seem basic, in their time, they were the best of the best. The film is of course haunted by the death of Bruce Lee just three weeks before it hit cinemas in America. This martial arts movie will definitely live on as one of the best action epics ever made.

This biopic of martial artist Bruce Lee is easily as good as the man himself. Starting off in China, we follow Lee as he sets out to make a name for himself in the USA. Jason Scott Lee is spot on as the famous fighter and does the legend justice. While the fight scenes aren't exactly amazing, the film is more than a martial arts movie. It's a great biopic that dives deep into the professional and personal life of Bruce Lee and never shies away from testing topics such as racism and oppression. It's a true inspiring tale of the dedication of the true martial arts master.

87. UNLEASHED (2005)
I was in two minds as to where to place this film. Yes, it's a martial arts film, but really it's simply a film with martial arts. Bob Hoskins plays a London gangster who is always safe with his bodyguard Danny the Dog. Danny was trained in martial arts from childhood and forced to fight for his life. He was conditioned so that when his dog collar is on, everything is fine. But take that collar off and the dog is loose - Jet Li instantly explodes into a brutal killing machine. Combining traditional kung fu with street fighting, the choreography is amazing and terrifying. Danny soon befriends blind pianist Sam, played by the amazing Morgan Freeman. The cast alone tells you what you need to know - so much more than a martial arts movie, this film tells the story of a man who is effectively a child and a danger to all those around him. Very emotional and touching, the acting is superb and at no point in Jet Li out-shinned by Freeman or Hoskins. If you thought Jet Li was just a fighter, think again.

The huge appeal of this film is the story. A blind outcast is being held prisoner when a warrior breaks in and rescues her. But things soon develop into a beautifully told love story. The film was nominated for a cinematography Oscar and for good reason. Truly spectacular visuals add to the depth of the plot and make the film a three course meal for the eyes. This seems to be one of those martial arts movies with glamorous moves and action, however, as the film progresses, the combat becomes more and more realistic and brutal. The film's finale is the most touching moment, with every emotion exposed and ripped to shreds. HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS is a great lesson in character storytelling and lets the world know that martial arts movies aren't just about the action.


Désirée said...

I see you are very fond of martial arts. Two classical adventures only.

Neil said...

Indeed I do. The thing is - I don't think many adventure films fit in the 'see before you die' area. It's sort of like a 'seen one, seen them all' kinda deal, but RAIDERS is the classic and THE MUMMY RETURNS is one of the very few that adds to the genre.

Désirée said...

I suppose that depend on what you are looking for. Adventure movies I think has the problem of easily appear as stupid and unrealistic. It is not easy to create a story about lost treasures, magic or curses that fits into this modern world.

Neil said...

That's one of the problems, yes. It often seems to be a case of "seen one, seen them all"