Essential Kung Fu Movie List (1960s-1970s)

Posted by | on November 26, 2007

The best and most influential films, plus the horrible and unintentionally funny examples of the Kung Fu genre.

So you’ve got a quiet Sunday night off… yeaaah okay, that’ll never happen. Okay, you’ve got a few hours to play with and your getting the itch for Ichiban and good ‘ol Kung Fu. Slide on down to the local movie hutch and pillage the foreign and cult film sections for some badass flicks.

This is by no means a definitive list to Hong Kong Cinema, just a collection of some of the best and most influential (Essential Viewing) and most horrible and unintentionally funny (So Bad They’re Awesome !!!) examples of the Kung Fu genre. I have a special, demented place in my heart for the later group, a motley crew of cinematic chopsocky abortions filled with bad English dubbing, outrageous costumes, screwy plots, and… cross dressers…?

Lists are in chronological order. Most come from the 70s Golden Age, with a few from the preceding Wuxia-crazed 60s. So grab a couple rentals, or buy up some of the ridiculously-cheap multi-movie packs (you’ll find them in mega-marts at the bottom of the bargain bins), crack open a TsingTao or two, and call up Chan’s Chop Shop for a BBQ Duck delivery. Tonight is all about you, some brew, and a fistfull ‘o Kung Fu .

Essential Viewing

Way of the DragonWay Of The Dragon (1972) – Revered by some as better than his next big-budget breakthrough role, Bruce Lee’s Way Of… features sooooo many memorable scenes (double nunchuks, Campbell Soup, The fight in the Colosseum, etc.) and sets the pace for what is to come…

And yeah, Chuck Norris IS your daddy.

Enter the DragonEnter The Dragon (1973) – Perhaps the single most influential martial arts movie of all time.

The plot is simple and universal for the genre : Bruce Lee’s character (named “Lee”) is a Shaolin Monk chasing down the evil Kung Fu druglord Han, whom he follows to his remote island lair to compete in (you guessed it) a Martial Arts Tournament !!! Vengeance-fueled Jeet Kune Do madness ensues. Pure Saturday afternoon gold.

Invisible ArmourInvincible Armour (1977) – An excellent cross-examination of 70s Hong Kong fighting talent crowd into this one, bent on unleashing bizarrely-named Kung Fu techniques on each other.

No story to speak of, but the fight scenes are worth it !!! Besides, you’ll be too busy staring at Chiang Wang’s ridiculous wig to notice any of the silly dialogue.

5 Deadly VenomsFive Deadly Venoms (1978) – The definition of a cult classic !!! The entire Shaw Bros. stable of Kung Fu masters (who came to be known as the “Venom Mob” for their parts in this flick) hit the screen as secret members of a Kung Fu school of deadly animal techniques.

The last student (Chiang Sheng) of the dying master sets out to stop the remaining members from looting a secret treasure. Each guy’s got a different style of fighting, and a specific weakness. Great fights, great acting (for once), and Lucha Libre masks, let the mayhem begin !!!

Drunken MasterDrunken Master / Jui Kuen (1978) – Jackie Chan comes into his own era of stardom playing Wong Fei Hung, a troublesome boy who enlists the help of a crazy old drunken master (Yuen Si Tien) to train him into a lean, mean, heavily inebriated machine.

Showcasing the famous Drunken Kung Fu style, which meshes perfectly with Chan’s wild, comedic style, this one may just be his perfect role.

7 Grand Masters7 Grand Masters (1978) – Jack Lung straps a basket to his head and travels across the panoramic Chinese landscape to battle seven guys in succession and answer the burning question deep in his soul… why is he wearing a basket on his head…?

Seriously though, it’s based on the exploits of an actual 19th century Kung Fu master. Studded with stylistic elements influenced by Japanese Samurai epics, this one’s flawless sense of aesthetics makes it a champ.

36 ChambersThe 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) – Another historically-based action-extravaganza, this time featuring the hardest working man in Hong Kong; Gordon Lui.

A beggar-turned monk, Lui’s character (who is Cantonese) fight against the brutish henchman of the Manchu regime (a current of underlying tension in some Shaw Bros. movies). One of the first movies to popularize the “Training montage” used in pretty much every action movie that came after.

World of Drunken MasterWorld of Drunken Master (1979) – A knockoff movie made in the wake of Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master film. Carbon-copy story and all !

What saves this flick from being total schlock is the great two-man fight scenes, and the documentary-style display of Drunken Kung Fu that kicks off the piece. I just can’t get enough of hard-drinking old men laying wastes to hordes of bad guys.

FearlessFearless Hyena (1979) – Speaking of good ‘ol Jackie Chan, this one features him displaying his creativity for using nearby objects to fight enemies (a gag he’d incorporate into most of his later movies).

More of a handful of long fights than an actual story, it’s still worth renting to see a young, aggressive Jackie giving everything he’s got on screen.

Mystery ChessMystery Of Chess Boxing / Ninja Checkmate (1979) – “You killed my father, prepare to die !” Yeah… nothing new in terms of plot on this sucker, but great fight sequences always save the day.

This film’s packed full of talent, and memorable characters, the most famous of which is the evil (and rapper inspiring) Kung Fu assassin Ghost Face Killer…. oh sorry… Killah !!!

So Bad, They’re Awesome !!!

Shaolin Drunken FightShaolin Drunken Fight (1969) – Due to a little ‘ol thing like annexing their country and killing their women and children, Chinese people kinda had a little hate-on for the Japanese back in the day.

This flick aims to right those wrongs by pitting screaming Shaolin monks against evil, mascara-wearing ninjas. The result ? Whoa baby is this one a riot to watch !!! A plot so convoluted you won’t know what’s happening, and dialogue and special effects so bad you won’t care.

Master of Flying
Master Of The Flying Guillotine
– A one-armed boxer fights a blind guy that throws his razor-tipped hat as a weapon.

Why haven’t you left the computer to go rent this yet…?

Return of Kung Fu MastersReturn of The Kung Fu Dragon (1976) – Imagine bad 70s Kung Fu meets the Lord of The Rings… kind of… This one is actually a Kung Fu Fantasy movie (another sub-genre), that deals with magical princesses and evil long-white-bearded sorcerers.

The effects are horrendously bad (no CGI back in the 70s) , the costumes appear to be made out of cardboard and felt, and there is this kid with pig-tails and a red nose running around like some demented Kung Fu Christmas leprechaun. Oh, and when the sorcerer plays with his rod in the opening scene, you’d better have a bed-pan handy…

The Last Fist of Fury (1977) - A Korean “Bruceploitation” flick that once again pits Chinese and Japanese martial arts against each other. An unintentionally funny piece of cinema, it’s fascinating to watch the fake “Dragon Lee” try so hard to be serious and intense while the entire rest of the cast seem to realize how hilariously doomed the movie is. Watch out for Samurai pretending to be trees !!!

Crazy GuyCrazy Guy With Super Kung Fu (1979) – Universally hailed as one of the worst ever made, this one lives up to all the hilariously bad press… It’s unbelievable to think that these were the guys that did 7 Grandmasters and Mystery Of Chess Boxing.

Three guys called the “Three Donkeys” learn Super Kung Fu to bring down a local crimeboss called… brace yourself… Scarface. Strap yourself to the plot, and prepare to dive !!!

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3 Responses to “Essential Kung Fu Movie List (1960s-1970s)”

  1. pingback pingback:
    So you wanna learn Kung Fu? : Nostalgiaholic Blog

    [...] Essential Kung Fu Movie List (1960s-1970s) [...]

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  2. AvatarHolly

    I’m trying to find a 70′s martial arts has an awesome ‘family dinner’ scene, where the mother serves a nice meal, which she worked hard to prepare, to her husband and kid, who start throwing the food at each other, getting her so pissed off that she eventually karate chops the table in half. The parents each knew different styles of martial arts, and thats all i remember! Help?

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  3. Avatardan

    check out thundering mantis, it is a must see.
    might go under the name of “the madness of thundering mantis”

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