The world of Hong Kong martial arts movies is a weird and wonderful place, full of heroes, villains, monsters and eunuchs. Among these films, the most entertaining ones are so-called wuxia movies – martial arts fantasies set in the ancient Chinese history. Many of these movies are minor cinematic classics. Others may not be as good but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to watch!
The strangest among these martial arts movies can be hard to comprehend and impossible to describe. They can only be experienced. With that in mind, we’re bringing you a list with some of the strangest martial arts movies out there, regardless of their quality, fully aware that this list is only the tip of the iceberg.
Here are The 12 Weirdest Kung Fu Movies Of All Time
12. Robo Vampire (1988)
Robo Vampire may not contain a robotic vampire per se, but it does include a cyborg as well as numerous vampires. And not just any kind of vampires, mind you, but Jiangshi – the hopping vampires from Chinese legend! Robo Vampire is an incomprehensible mess, combining footage from an older crime movie about drug trafficking with the new scenes of the bargain basement copy of RoboCop battling hopping vampires.
The movie was produced by Tomas Tang who, together with Joseph Lai, released a number of B-movies throughout the 1980s. What Lai and Tang did was to buy cheap exploitation movies from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines, re-cut them together with new scenes featuring Western actors playing ninjas and release them on VHS under a new title. By the late 1980s the audience lost interest in ninjas, so Lai and Tang went their separate ways. As with many other of their titles, Robo Vampire was directed – and we use that verb very loosely – by Godfrey Ho who already appeared in our list of worst action movies ever made.
11. The Crippled Masters (1979)
Whenever there’s a list of the weirdest martial arts movies, someone always brings up The Crippled Masters by the director Kei Law. The movie’s premise is as inane as it is exploitative, as its heroic martial arts protagonists are played by actors with real disabilities.
Li Ho (Frankie Shum) is a lowly peasant who gets his arms cut off by the evil warlord Lin Chang Cao (Li Chung Chien) for an unspecified minor transgression. Soon afterwards, his torturer Tang (Jackie Conn) gets punished himself by the aforementioned evil warlord, who burns his legs away with acid. Putting aside the obvious question of why would anyone want to work for such an obvious psychopath, Crippled Masters follows the fate of these two crippled fighters who first meet as enemies, then join forces to become an unstoppable Voltron-like single martial artist, with Li Ho carrying Tang around like a backpack. The mind boggles.
10. The Dragon Lives Again (1977)
The Dragon Lives Again may just be the strangest (and most tasteless) case of fan fiction in cinematic history. Released some four years after the tragic death of Bruce Lee, this wacky comedy follows his soul (played by Bruce Leung Siu-lung) into the afterlife. Lee runs afoul of the underworld – literally – led by, among others, by Dracula (Hsi Chang), James Bond (Alexander Grand) and the Man With No Name (Bobby Canavarro). Luckily, Bruce Lee has some allies of his own, such as Popeye the Sailor (Eric Tsang).
The Dragon Lives Again manages to be simultaneously both absurd and cringe-worthy. Also released under the title Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, this film is just one of many so-called “Bruceploitation” movies. A whole subgenre of martial arts movies made to cash in on the fame of Bruce Lee, Bruceploitation movies featured actors such as Bruce Li, Bruce Lai, Bruce Le, Bruce Ly, Brute Lee and Lee Bruce.
9. Future Cops (1993)
Future Cops is a movie adaptation of the Street Fighter game franchise with the serial numbers filed off. Sure, the characters have names like General, Toyoda and Kent instead of M. Bison, E. Honda and Ken, but their appearance and powers are remarkably similar to those in the video game.
Future Cops begins in the not-too-distant future of 2043 with M. Bison (Ken Lo) being sentenced to a life in prison, but not before he sends his henchmen back to 1993 to prevent his future capture. However, Future Cops such as Ti Man (Andy Lau), Guile (Jacky Cheung) and Dhalsim (Simon Yam) also travel to 1993 to stop Bison’s evil plan… by engaging in romantic high school shenanigans. As more and more video game characters gets introduced in Future Cops, even Super Mario gets to make a cameo appearance. With all this quality at display, it’s a shame we didn’t add Future Cops to our list of the best video game movies.
8. God Of Cookery (1996)
God of Cookery is a martial arts parody set in a highly competitive world of Hong Kong cooking. A vain celebrity chef (Stephen Chow) gets exposed as a fraud by his enemies and ends up living as a beggar. He meets a street vendor, Turkey (Karen Mok), and helps her resolve her conflict with competitors. Over time, the former God of Cookery learns humility, as well as some wicked Shaolin cooking moves, and decides to retake his former title.
Stephen Chow began his career as an actor in the early 1980s. A decade later, he started directing his own movies. Good of Cookery is an early example of Chow’s comedic style that takes the over-the-top quality of Hong Kong martial arts movies and exaggerates them up to the Looney Tunes proportions. Chow used the same approach to great effect in follow-up movies such as Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004) that brought him international recognition.
7. The Sword of Many Lovers (1993)
At first glance, The Sword of Many Lovers seems to be a romantic story about a love triangle between a humble bricklayer (Leon Lai) and two beautiful warrior women – a flirty martial artist (Sharla Cheung) and an insane poison master (Michelle Reis). However, this is also a movie featuring dwarves with exploding skeletons, ninja spiders, deadly fruits, a clan of obese kung fu fighters and a hilarious seduction scene involving a jar of honey and some rice cookies.
The Sword of Many Lovers was based on the 1960 wuxia novel The Young Flying Fox by Jin Yong that was previously adapted into movies as Legend of the Fox in 1980 and New Tales of the Flying Fox in 1984. Leon Lai, the lead in The Sword of Many Loves, began his career as a pop singer and only later branched out into movies, appearing in over 50 movies since 1987.
6. The New Legend of Shaolin (1994)
Action superstar Jet Li (Hero, Once Upon a Time in China, Expendables, Lethal Weapon 4). is Hung Hei-Kwun, martial artist whose loved ones – family, friends, neighbors, servants and pretty much everyone else – get slaughtered by the repressive imperial government. The only one to survive is Li’s infant son who grows up into a pint-sized martial menace (Mo Tse). Together, father and son battle this evil regime as well as bizarre deformed villain (Chun Hua Ji) who rides around in a tiny chrome-plated car. There’s also a pair of female con artists (Chingmy Yau and Deannie Yip) who fight by using the cloth, sewing needles and scissors.
The New Legend of Shaolin is the first – but not the last – title on this list starring Hong Kong superstar Jet Li. Li began as a martial artist, competing until the age of 19. He made an acting debut in 1982 in the movie Shaolin Temple. Since then, Li has had a prolific movie career, appearing in over 40 movie titles, including a number of Hollywood-produced action movies.
5. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is widely considered to be one of the bloodiest, goriest, most over-the-top martial arts movies ever made. The story follows invincible, super powered martial artist Ricky-Oh (Fan Siu-Wong) who gets convicted after murdering a local crime lord indirectly responsible for the death of his girlfriend. Once he gets in the prison, Ricky gets repeatedly attacked by the other convicts who simply refuse to accept they’re fighting a super being, thus providing Ricky with a flimsy excuse to kill them as well as the corrupt prison guards, in the most grotesque ways possible.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky was based on a Japanese manga by Masahiko Takajo and Saruwatari Tetsuya that was originally published from 1987 until 1990 and adapted into two anime TV shows. The first one, Riki-oh: The Wall of Hell (1989) was released in 1989, while The Riki-oh: Child of Destruction came out in 1990.
4. Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)
If a movie is only as good as its villain, then Master of the Flying Guillotine ranks among the best. The villainous Master (Kang Chin) is so awesome that. even though he’s blind, he remains a formidable enemy in battle while wielding a strange contraption that can chomp the people’s heads off. Master is hunting down One-Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu), a legendary martial artist who previously defeated the Master’s evil pupils. Also, there’s a martial arts tournament in which one of the participants is a Yogi Tro Le Soung (Wong Wing-sang) who can stretch his arms to impossible lengths and use throwing owls as a weapon.
Jimmy Wang Yu became famous with his early movies like the One-Armed Swordsman (1967) and The Chinese Boxer (1970). After breaking his contract with the Shaw Brothers film studio, Wang moved to Taiwan where he wrote, produced and starred in Master of the Flying Guillotine – allegedly one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies. However, controversies surrounded Wang throughout his career, including a murder charge brought up in 1981.
3. Duel to the Death (1982)
Are you ready for some crazy ninja action? Because Duel to the Death delivers it in spades! There are flying ninjas, giant ninjas, exploding ninjas, sand-burrowing ninjas and sexy naked female ninjas. Also, ninjas. Once every decade, the greatest swordsman from China faces the greatest swordsman from Japan in a duel for their nation’s honor. Chinese champion Ching Wan (Damian Lau) and Japanese samurai Hashimoto (Norman Chu) are ready to cross their blades in battle, but they’re forced to put their difference aside to unmask the conspiracy led by the ninjas.
Duel to the Death was the cinematic debut of the Hong Kong filmmaker Ching Siu-tung, who later went on to direct a number of Hong Kong martial arts classics, including the three Swordsman movies – one of which is on this very list – as well as the Chinese Ghost Story trilogy.
2. The Battle Wizard (1977)
Judging by its plot, The Battle Wizard may be either the best or the worst movie ever made. Two decades ago, prince (Si Wai) used his magical ability of shooting laser beams from his finger to cut off the legs of Yellow Robe Man (Shut Chung-Tin). Now, Yellow Robe Man sports a new pair of extendable metal chicken legs and sends out his lobster-clawed minion (Kong Do) to kidnap prince’s son Tuan Yu (Danny Lee), a lowly scholar with no martial arts knowledge. As Tuan desperately tries to survive, he meets a lady that can shoot snakes as a weapon (Chen Chi Lin) and another lady that uses a bone sword (Tanny Tien). Also, there’s a magical frog and a kung fu gorilla.
For a long time, Shaw Brothers film studio was by far the most successful film company in Hong Kong. Established in mid-1920s, the studio made over one thousand movies before its movie production got suspended in the late 1980s. Based on the 1963 wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils by Jin Yong, The Battle Wizard is a great example of a Shaw Brothers movie: an enjoyable, violent and colorful kung fu fantasy.
1. Swordsman II (1992)
Jet Li stars as a martial artist caught in the battle between a gender-bending eunuch (Brigitte Lin) and Ren Woxing (Yen Shi-kwan), a former leader of the eunuch’s cult who went insane after being tortured in a dungeon. As these two villains fight for the possession of The Sacred Volume, all kinds of berserk awesomeness ensues, including a tribe of “Japanese Gypsies”(aka ninjas) and a horse cut in half – lengthwise, mind you, not across!
Widely considered to be one of the best wuxia martial arts movies ever made, Swordsman II can be easily enjoyed without ever seeing the first Swordsman. The movie was directed by Siu-Tung Ching (best-known for his 1987 movie A Chinese Ghost Story) and produced by the movie veteran Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China; Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame). All in all, Swordsman II is a great introduction to the magnificent craziness of the wuxia genre.
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