I’m back! Before getting into this post, I want to state outright that this isn’t about Netflix’s current business moves or what I think of the thankfully dead Qwikster idea or any of that other garbage. This is about the movies on Netflix, so let’s stick to those.
Many years ago, I was introduced to Jackie Chan in my friend Ian, who had a then-rare copy of Armour of God. While not the greatest movie, it blew the doors off anything from Hollywood. Since then, I’ve fostered a strong love for Asian action movies, especially the kung fu movies that followed Chan’s breakthrough in the early eighties.
Thanks to Netflix, I’ve spent the last year discovering new films not just from Hong Kong but also from mainland China, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. While making my way through these recent releases, I’ve also been able to go back and see some of the films I’d missed from the eighties. Though the selection on Netflix streaming falls short in many categories, there is a lot to be found in this one.
So here is my guide to “kick ass Asian action films streaming on Netflix now”:
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars
This is the third of Sammo Hung’s Lucky Stars films. Though these movies are billed as starring the three dragons (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao), Sammo is the only one who is a major character. So what’s the plot? It’s something about The Lucky Stars, old friends who get together to act goofy and solve crimes, having to take in an actress to protect her from blah, blah, and blah. The Lucky Stars movies are proof that what is funny to an Asian audience is excruciating to a US one. So you can skip seventy-five percent of this and get to the fights, which are excellent. Here’s your minute mark guide to them:
27:30 – Sammo fights a bunch of hitmen in drag
32:00 – Jackie, Yuen Biao, and Andy Lau take on a bunch of hoods in a Pepsi wharehouse
1:22:00 – Climactic battles, including Sammo’s impressive use of tennis rackets
Though not as unwatchable asa Lucky Stars films, Dragons Forever is still not a great film. That said, the set pieces are among the best you’ll ever find. This one really does star the three dragons and it’s again directed by Sammo Hung, which means you’ll see fast, intricate fights with great stunt work. The most off-putting part of the film is how Jackie’s character is a serious scumbag through most of it, redeeming himself by the end. The finale in the drug processing plant is a masterpiece. Action guide:
3:30 – Jackie versus thugs in an outdoor cafe
36:00 – Bar fight!
41:00 – Jackie’s battle on a yacht
1:20:00 – Grand finale
Project A 2
One of Jackie Chan’s top three movies and unlike the previous two, one that can be enjoyed all the way through. Unfortunately, Netflix is only streaming the dubbed version of the film, killing a lot of the scenes between fights. It’s still worth seeing but check out a subtitled version on DVD if you can.
There’s only one part of this film, featuring Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh in her first starring role, worth seeing and that’s the finale. It starts at 1:21:00. Enjoy!
Ip Man and Ip Man 2
We now move into more current films with these two recent hits, starring the always cool Donnie Yen. He plays Ip Man, a real life master famous for having trained Bruce Lee. Safe to say it doesn’t follow real history with any accuracy. Like many of Yen’s recent films, it has a heavy Chinese nationalist streak but don’t let that throw you off if you’re a westerner. Ip Man was a master of Wing Chun and its fast strikes make for some impressive moments. I think the finale of Ip Man is anti-climactic but part two is a definite improvement.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
Though this is a sequel to Bruce Lee’s The Chinese Connection and its remake Fist of Legend (starring Jet Li), you don’t need to have seen those to follow this. Featuring bone cracking fights and some great Bruce Lee homages, it’s a great overall movie. The only negative is its China=good and Japan=evil mindset. You can see there are still a lot of open wounds between the two cultures.
The Man from Nowhere
If you haven’t seen a Korean action/crime film, I should warn you up front that they are bloody. When I say bloody, I mean it. The end of this movie features one guy with a knife taking on multiple hoods. By the time it’s all over, the room looks like the kill floor of a slaughterhouse.
They also don’t feature wall to wall ass kicking the way Hong Kong films do. Instead, they build steadily to the climax. In this film, a former special forces agent is living as a hermit when he becomes caught up in the kidnapping of a girl who lives in his building. I found the character scenes between him and the girl moving, which balances out the blood spilled as he tries to get her back. The movie also features the greatest knife fight I’ve ever seen.
I love a good samurai movie and this is definitely that. Set in the final days of the Japanese feudal period, it’s the story of a Caligula-level psycho nobleman and the samurai hired to kill him. It’s a great portrayal of the samurai code and how it could conflict with the greater good. The last forty minutes of the film are an impressive battle between the thirteen samurai and the nobleman’s bodyguards, numbering over one hundred.
I was going to put Ong Bak on this list but it’s no longer streaming. It’s good too, so check it out if you can. At the very least, this is a good primer. Have I missed anything essential?