Martial arts hits

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Sony Pictures Classics
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Picking a favorite martial arts movie, notes Paul Mollica, is “like asking for a favorite Western. So many choices, and endless debates about what counts as ‘martial arts.’ ” Nonetheless, most would agree that films like “The Searchers” (1956), “The Wild Bunch” (1969), and “Unforgiven” (1992) would rank tops in their genre. So what would be the equivalent among martial arts movies? Here are some candidates for the pantheon.

Police Story (1985)

If forced to choose, Mollica says he would pick this Jackie Chan classic. As a beleaguered Hong Kong cop, Chan demonstrates why he has been compared to Buster Keaton and Fred Astaire, performing stunts like the former with the grace of the latter. Featuring the best shopping mall scene since “Dawn of the Dead” (1978).

Come Drink With Me (1966)

A pioneering kung fu movie, King Hu’s period wuxia (the Chinese term for the genre) helped establish the equal opportunity butt-kicking tradition of women in leading roles. Here Cheng Pei Pei plays a female agent (disguised as a man) who takes on a gang of kidnappers. A balletic donnybrook in a tavern beats anything done these days with CGI.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)


More than three decades after “Come Drink With Me,” Cheng Pei Pei joins the all-star cast of Ang Lee’s exhilarating, Oscar-winning, female-empowering epic, along with Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi. The battle in the bamboo forest is one of the wonders of cinema.

“Enter the Dragon.”

The Bride With White Hair (1995)

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Sean Gallagher asks, “Does ‘The Bride With White Hair’ count as a martial arts movie?” A topic to discuss with Paul Mollica, as this fantastical film relates a grisly, high-flying version of Romeo and Juliet. A warrior for a ruling clan falls for the heroine of a rebel cult, resulting in a climactic clash involving telekinesis, lopped-off body parts, and lethal hair.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

You can’t have a list like this without a Bruce Lee film. Says Boston critic Brett Michel about this groundbreaking movie, “It should have been his career-changing crossover hit, were it not for his death a few weeks before the US premiere. Plus he wears his iconic, yellow-and-black track suit, a look borrowed by Quentin Tarantino for the bride in ‘Kill Bill.’”

COMING UP: Labor Day is Sept. 2; what films about work do you think best celebrate the holiday? And, looking ahead to Sept. 8, the documentary “One Direction: This Is Us” (opens
Aug. 30) should pack in fans of the boy band. It joins a tradition of concert movies — which are your favorites? Send me an e-mail or cast your votes at

Peter Keough can be reached at