By now, Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans has well-established his penchants and proclivities as a director and a storyteller; his work is characterized by precisely executed choreography and colored with graphic violence. Evans' new movie, The Raid 2: Berandal (read our review), proves no exception to either of these traits, and expands on the formula that made his 2012 smash, The Raid: Redemption, such a hit.
Whether you've seen the film already, the red band teaser and green band trailers, or kept yourself pure of all preview footage, using only the original movie as a barometer, one thing is for certain: The Raid 2: Berandal brings the pain. You'll see a veritable smorgasbord of physical punishment judiciously doled out in unsparing doses just by watching the promo clips, and that still only scratches the surface.
That got us thinking: what other martial arts films have gone the distance with painful-looking and occasionally gruesome fight scenes? The Raid films certainly aren't the first to embrace brutality, after all, as the genre has a storied history of broken bones, beatings, and maimings. So here are ten of our favorite cringe-worthy injuries in martial arts canon (in no particular order).
12 Thundering Mantis/Mantis Fist Fighter
Full disclosure: Thundering Mantis is a hokey cheese-fest. If that tickles your fancy, you'll probably consider it a ninety minute treasure trove of hamfisted delight, but even if not, the film is worth sticking with thanks to its totally unhinged climactic brawl.
Thundering Mantis follows Ah Chi, a martial arts devotee with a knack for butting heads with local tong thugs. He's instructed in the ways of the Insane Mantis style by a crotchety old man, and bonds with his new master's nephew. But disaster strikes when those aforementioned gangsters, led by their boss Hsia, kill the old man, kidnap Ah Chi and the kid, and torture them both.
The kid, sadly, doesn't make it, and Ah Chi does what any good martial arts hero would do: he breaks free of his bonds, dismantles all of Hsia's cronies, and makes a literal meal of Hsia himself. The allusion is obvious - praying mantis' cannibalize their own kind - but that doesn't make the zeal with which Ah Chi chows down on chunks of his enemy's flesh any less disturbing.
Tony Jaa hasn't quite had the sustained, lasting impact on martial arts cinema everyone thought he would after 2003's Ong Bak, and it's no surprise why; while the film isn't terrible, it's mostly memorable for a handful of fight scenes. But man, those fight scenes sure are worthy of remembrance.
As Ting, Jaa is tasked with retrieving the head of the eponymous statue, navigating the dangerous streets of Bangkok and taking on the minions of crime kingpin Komtuan as part of his quest. Eventually, Ting and his trusty sidekick, Humlae, end up in a fracas at the foot of a humongous Buddha statue, desperately fighting to make Ong Bak whole again.
Ting eventually gets into it with Komtuan's right hand man, Saming, who enters a drug-induced berserker rage and starts wailing on Ting with every implement available to him. Ting stoically fights on, deflecting the onslaught as best he can, but then Saming gets the bright idea to attack with a two-man band saw. The woodcutting tool proves effective: Ting can only do so much before he's forced to block, grimacing in agony as the saw's teeth gorily cut into his forearms. Ouch.
Speaking of ouch, how about that final scrap between Colin Chou and martial arts legend Donnie Yen in Wilson Yip's 2007 film, Flash Point? When you put talents like Yen and Chou together and let a helmsman like Yip direct them, you should naturally expect greatness, and here that's best observed in the fireworks display that is the film's climax.
The fight itself is stupendous, so much so that the brutality at its core almost sounds banal on paper. But sometimes, a vicious strike to the face is brutal enough, and Flash Point demonstrates as much quite handily when gangster Tony (Chou) and supercop Ma (Yen) come to blows in a remote village following an hour and change of backstabbing in China's criminal underworld.
By the time the film nears its ending, both men are soaked in sweat and stained with blood; it's a merciless battle for sure, but the piece de resistance comes in the form of a one-two punch Yen aims perfectly at Chou's mug, practically taking his head off in the process. Chou looks like he's been hit by a sledgehammer before Yen chokes him out - and he probably felt like it at the time, too.
9 The Bodyguard
The first thing everyone should learn about Sonny Chiba: don't ever mess with Sonny Chiba. Or maybe that's the only thing. Basically, tangling with Chiba means you're going to be in a world of hurt, so you're better off just leaving him alone and not bothering him to begin with.
If he comes after you, though, that's a different kettle of fish entirely. The Bodyguard takes that idea and runs with it on a slightly meta level; Chiba's playing, well, Chiba, a karate instructor in New York who foils a hijacking plot on a flight to Japan. Arriving in Tokyo, he announces his intention to fight crime and cleanse the streets of drugs for the good of society.
It's an inexplicable movie, but it's full of some pretty impressive grue - and just about any Chiba is good Chiba. What happens when you try to get the drop on Chiba in the middle of the night? He punches through a door, grabs your arm, and wrenches it so hard the bone pokes through the skin.
8 Five Element Ninjas
Revenge is a common theme in martial arts fare, particularly when it concerns a character's students or mentors running into untimely demises. (In fact, there are a couple of entries on this very list that deal with that exact trope.) Five Element Ninjas is no exception; the film's plot kicks off with the destruction of protagonist Tsiau Chin Hau's school and the deaths of his friends.
Grisly stuff, but Chin is a resilient guy, and he bounces back quickly, falling into the company of his three new sworn brothers and undergoing training to defeat the quintet of ninjas responsible for massacring his colleagues. The ninjas are as lethal as they are crafty, though, each representing one of the five elements - gold, wood, water, fire, and earth.
So Chin and his comrades use methods of combat devised to beat them, each as lethal and crafty as the ninjas themselves. Most notable is their technique for fighting the wood ninjas, which involves sickles and chains; after dispatching all but one ninja, the four avenging warriors work together, drawing and quartering their remaining enemy in gruesome fashion.
7 The Legend of Drunken Master/Drunken Master II
Today, Jackie Chan isn't really associated with graphic violence; it's not part of his brand, or at least it hasn't been since he made the trip to Hollywood in the mid-90's. Even before then, Chan tended to participate in more forgiving (but no less awesome) genre fare, which makes The Legend of Drunken Master something of a rarity in his work - since it's actually kind of bloody.
Most of that viscera comes up during a tea house melee, as Wong Fei-hung (Chan) and Master Fu Wen-chi (Lau Kar-leung) discuss the crisis facing precious, ancient Chinese artifacts, which are being stolen and sold by foreigners. Partway through their talk, they realize the entire restaurant has emptied, and suddenly, they're beset upon by legions of the Axe Gang.
When you hire the Axe Gang, you're sure to get the job done, but Fei-hung and Wen-chi give them a run for their money. Fei-hung starts swinging away with a bamboo pole, and that improvised beat-stick becomes even deadlier when the ends split, turning it into a non-stop splinter machine as he leaves nasty-looking gashes on scores of anguished enemies.
6 Ip Man
Another Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip joint? Well, they clearly work well with one another, so why not? Besides, Ip Man is an arguable modern classic, not just a great martial arts film but a great film period (and a better example of the biopic genre than most of its peers) - and it has some truly gnarly fights to give it weight.
Here, Yen plays Ip Man, grandmaster of Wing Chun and the man responsible for training none other than Bruce Lee; the film's plot revolves a great deal around Japan's invasion of China in 1937, and it just so happens that the conflict between the Japanese interlopers and Chinese locals sets the stage for one of Ip-Man's most iconic fight scenes.
Challenging ten people to a fight sounds like a one-sided prospect, but when Ip Man pits himself against the Japanese general's karateka, it's actually one-sided for them. Ip Man tears them apart like a kid opening birthday presents; one poor sap in particular winds up on the receiving end of a nearly endless barrage of rapid-fire blows to the chest, crumpling to the floor as Ip Man batters him mercilessly.
5 Five Fingers of Death
You may recognize Five Fingers of Death (aka King Boxer) for the musical cue that plays when its leading man, Chi-Hao (Lieh Lo), powers up his Iron Fist technique - Quentin Tarantino used it quite liberally in Kill Bill. But the film has more then just referential value; it's a genre classic, through and through.
It's also super-violent. Chi-Hao has great promise as a martial artist, and his aspirations to greatness end up putting him at odds the evil Ming Dung-Shun, a nefarious martial arts master with a mean streak in him a mile wide; he conspires with Han Lung, Chi-Hao's competitor, to cripple Chi-Hao, and even hires a trio of Japanese thugs to kill Chi-Hao's master.
But he's never more duplicitous and wicked than when he punishes Han Lung for delivering him bad news by having his son gouge out the poor man's eyes. Talk about shooting the messenger.
4 The Street Fighter
Putting The Bodyguard on this list and neglecting The Street Fighter would be a travesty, mostly because The Street Fighter is a superior movie. So we're double-dipping on our Chiba, but it's a well-deserved double-dipping; Chiba is, after all, one of the greats.
And The Street Fighter remains his best movie, or at least his best known and most successful. It's a two-pronged story that sees his character, mercenary for hire Takuma Tsurugi, lock horns with Yakuza as well as with condemned murderer Junjo, who wants to avenge his siblings following an altercation with Takuma at the start of the film.
The Yakuza plot takes up a great deal of The Street Fighter's running time, but it ends with Takuma going mano-a-mano with Junjo; just when it seems like Takuma's on the ropes, he tears out Junjo's throat with his bare hands in a moment that's jaw-dropping in terms of sheer bloodiness.
3 Master of the Flying Guillotine
We're maybe taking some liberties here - describing decapitation as an injury is sort of like describing Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier's 14-round Thrilla in Manila as harmless play fighting. But Jimmy Wang's follow-up to his 1971 classic, One Armed Boxer, has one of the most infamous pieces of weaponry in martial arts history.
Vengeance is the name of the game here, as the titular master goes looking for that single-amputee hero, bent on getting even for the deaths of his two students in the previous film. The master's trump card is a wicked little armament that slides comfortably over a target's head before slicing it clean off in one smooth movement. Harsh, but inventive.
The master uses his deadly cap on a number of targets, like chickens and statues, before running across a bum in a restaurant trying to bluff his way out of paying the bill by pretending he's the one-armed boxer. Big mistake. Without hesitation, the master winds up his toy and kills the poor beggar, leaving patrons to scatter in horror. Dining and dashing really doesn't pay, it seems.
Of course, the martial arts genre is so deep and so varied that you could probably make an entirely different top ten without breaking a sweat - though including either The Raid: Redemption or Merantau, the first martial arts outing Evans and star Iko Uwais enjoyed together, would be cheating.
Still, this selection ought to prep your palettes for the unbridled mayhem of The Raid 2: Berandal once it arrives in your area. In the meantime, share your own favorite (brutal) moments in martial arts movies below.
1 More: The Raid 2: Berandal Review
The Raid 2: Berandal is in theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and opens wide today.