The Most Memorable Villains in Martial Arts Film: Part I

Every film genre – action, science fiction, horror, comedy and even animated – has had a series of memorable villains that have stuck with us for most of our lives. Whether it be a sadistic teenager portrayed by James Spader; an emotionless cyborg represented by Arnold Schwarzenegger; a suave, humorous terrorist leader played by Alan Rickman; or even a scarred lion voiced by Jeremy Irons – it’s the bad guys who make the classics so great!

So what about villains in martial arts film?

Villains in martial arts film definitely don’t get enough attention, so we’re aiming to fix this right now. Remember: It’s not so much how they look or how many foes they’ve taken down, it’s more about their impact on modern pop culture.

In no particular order, we introduce The Most Memorable Villains in Martial Arts Film. This is only Part I, so if you don’t see your favorite villain listed here, chances are, he, she or it, will be featured in Part II. Enjoy!


Played by: Bolo Yeung (aka Yang Sze)
Trademark: Huge pectoral muscles
Weapon: His own super strength

Whether he’s playing Chong Li in Bloodsport (1988) or Moon in Double Impact (1991), most will refer to the Hulk-built actor as simply “Bolo,” the name of his most popular character in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973). The name “Bolo” would eventually became his stage name from that point forward. I mean, come on, you know you’re a badass when you’re legally referred to as a character you portrayed in a flick! Imagine if Sylvester Stallone changed his real name to Rambo?


Played by: Lo Lieh
Trademark: Long white eyebrows and beard
Weapon: Eagle Claw-style kung fu

There have been many renditions of this evil Shaolin priest character, but for the sake of this article, our obvious choice is Pai Mei from Executioners from Shaolin (1977) and Clan of the White Lotus (1980). He’s a villain that you can only defeat by use of extreme trial and error (if you’re lucky to even survive the trial period). If by chance you’re able to strike him, he’s protected by his “Iron Shirt” defensive form, which is an exercise that directs energy to reinforce parts of the body, so blows against them are useless! Even Quentin Tarantino dug Pai Mei so much that he resurrected the character in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), where he was played by Gordon Liu.


Played by: Very Tri Yulisman
Trademark: Black hoodie and a baseball bat
Weapon: Take a guess!

If you’ve seen The Raid 2, there’s a good chance “Baseball Bat Man” is embedded in your memory. “Baseball Bat Man” would have flopped as a pro baseball player, but as a cold-blooded assassin, he’s an all-star MVP. Any chance of seeing the character appear in another film would upset any oddsmakers. But then again, Bolo is still alive and breaking necks, despite his character’s demise in countless films. Maybe there’s room for a possible resurrection? Whatever the case, someone out there has a tattoo of this guy.


Played by: Hwang Jang Lee
Visual Trademark: Sideburns and a pornstache
Weapon: His deadly legs

Unlike most villains in old school kung fu movies, the character portrayed by Korean martial artist Hwang Jang Lee said very little and let his legs do the talking. It’s no wonder why the Taekwondo Grandmaster is dubbed “King of the Leg-fighters,” a term given to him because he annihilates his opponents using nothing but a series of deadly kicks. Although his most prominent roles are similar, Hwang is widely known for playing “Thunderfoot” in Drunken Master (1978), opposite Jackie Chan. Don’t let the pornstache fool you, this guy will mess you up!


Played by: Shih Kien
Trademark: Prosthetic hand and receding hairline
Weapon: Interchangeable prosthetic hand weapons

Not even the invincible Jim Kelly had a chance against Mr. Han, the James Bond-esque villain in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973). The fact that he had only one hand made him deadlier: in place of his missing hand was an interchangeable slot – on Monday, his left hand can be a cast iron fist; on Tuesday, it can be a series of sharp blades; on Wednesday, well, you get the idea. We’re pretty sure the inspiration for Wolverine’s claws came from Mr. Han’s detachable Ginsu knives. And yes, this guy really does come right out of a comic book.


Played by: Peter Kwong, James Pax, Carter Wong
Trademark: Handwoven straw hats
Weapon: Powers consist of flying, electricity currents and self-explosions

What would John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1985) be without “The Three Storms”? Well, it would be like The Terminator 2 (1991) without the presence of the T-1000. When these mystical kung fu fellas – Thunder, Lightning and Rain – appear on the screen for the first time, this Kurt Russell cult-classic goes from great to epic in a matter of seconds. Several years later, the immensely popular Mortal Kombat video game/film franchise would introduce Raiden, a character that’s not only a spitting image of “Lightning” of The Three Storms, but also hovers and shoots out electricity as well. No coincidence.


Played by: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Trademark: 7 feet 2 inches
Weapon: Power kick (while sitting down, nonetheless)

If the duel between Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game of Death (1972/1978) isn’t iconic, then I don’t know what is. Lee would only prove victorious to the basketball giant by using his own philosphical approach: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically yours” (i.e. stomp on his bare feet, go for his balls and expose sunlight to his sensitive eyes). The cartoony charm of this match can only be compared to something like James Bond vs. Jaws (Richard Kiel), Godzilla vs. Mothra or Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago.


Played by: Julie Estelle
Trademark: Sunglasses and a pair of hammers
Weapon: Two steel hammers

The line “Hammer Time” once belonged to M.C. Hammer, but now it officially belongs to a certain deaf-mute woman named “Hammer Girl,” who was introduced to the world when she displayed her act of barbaric violence in The Raid 2. Let’s put it this way: she uses the claw side of a hammer more frequently than the flat-head side. She’s cunning, adorable and menacing at the same time. If she doesn’t have her victim’s blood sprayed all over her own face, it was probably her day off (or she might have just wiped it off). There’s a teenager out there that has a poster of “Hammer Girl” on their bedroom wall, and she probably wasn’t old enough to see The Raid 2.

Stay tuned for The Most Memorable Villains in Martial Arts Film: Part II.

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9 Responses to The Most Memorable Villains in Martial Arts Film: Part I

  1. Paul Bramhall says:

    Great article! A hero is nothing without a formidable villain to face off against, and this list brings together the best of them! If only there was a movie that started with Bolo and ended with Hammer Girl, I’d be a happy guy….’The Raid 3′?

  2. AmericanNinja81 says:

    I would like to nominate Tong Po from Kickboxers 1,2 and 4. Just because he tormented an entire family, crippled one brother before gunning him down, rapes the girlfriend of the middle brother (Van Damme) got his ass kicked by the middle brother then killed him in the parking lot, goes after the youngest brother(Sasha Mitchell) kills his best friend has him framed for murder rapes and kidnaps the youngest brother’s wife.

    • Trust me, I didn’t forget about Tong Po (or that Michael Myers version in what, Part 4?). He’ll be covered in Part II.

      • American Ninja Man says:

        lol at the Michael Myers version. Neil’s review is absolutely spot on when he talks about the make up job. It’s more like Goro from Mortal Kombat meets The Crying Game. Love it though. Love The Kickboxer movies that have Tong Po in them.

        Another nod has to go to Cary Tagawa in Showdown In Little Tokyo. Simply for the part in which he videotapes himself stripping a crack whore, gets her high on meth, chops her head off, video tapes it, then shows her best friend. Tagawa always brings his A-game (Bridge Of Dragons, Mortal Kombat, Kickboxer 2 and Nemesis) but in sheer depravity nothing beats the Yakuza boss.

        Also Billy Blanks from King Of The Kickboxers… a guy so bad ass he blows up a golf cart with an M16 before killing the current kickboxing champ.

  3. DougWonnacott says:

    Fun article.

    AmericanNinja81beat me to suggesting Tong Po.

    To stop ‘why the hell did you missed out…..’ type responses you’ll need about 10 parts!

    possible entries for part II:
    Way of the Dragon: Chuck Norris as Colt
    The Big Boss: Yin-Chieh Han as Hsiao Mi ‘The Big Boss’
    Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Cheng Pei Pei (love her) as Jade Fox
    Undisputed II: Scott Adkins as Yuri Boyka
    Undisputed III: Marko Zaror as Dolor
    Project A: Dick Wei as San Po
    Wheels on Meals: Benny Urquidez as erm….Henchman 1?
    The Last Dragon: Julius Carey as Sho’Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem
    The Karate Kid parts I, II & III: Martin Kove as Sensei John Kreese
    Iron Angels: Yukari Oshima as Madam Yeung
    The Man From Hong Kong: George Lazenby as Jack Wilton
    The Scorpion King (no not that one, the other one): Kim Won Jin as Sonny
    SPL (A.K.A Kill Zone): Sammo Hung as Wong Po
    Kung Fu Hustle: Bruce Leung as The Beast
    Secret Rivals: Hwang Jang Lee as Silver Fox
    Eastern Condors: Yuen Wah as the General
    Fist of Legend: Billy Chow as General Fujita
    No Retreat, No Surrender: Jean Claude Van Damme as Ivan the Russian
    The Raid: Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog
    Tom Yum Goong/The Protector/Warrior King: Nathan Jones as TK
    Rocky/Rocky II: Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed (boxing counts right?)
    Shogun Assassin/Babycart at the River Stix: Minoru Ôki, Shôgen Nitta & Shin Kishida as the Masters of Death
    Enter the Dragon: Bob Wall as O’Hara
    The Duellists: Harvey Keitel as Feraud
    The Young Master: Whang In-Sik as Kam
    Road House: Marshall Teague as Jimmy (he has the best line)
    Best of the Best: Simon Rhee as Dae Han
    Police Story 2: Benny Lai as Gabby
    My Lucky Stars: Michiko Nishiwaki as beautiful japanese hot bodybuilding sexy henchwoman (I assume that’s how she was listed in the credits)

    Special mentions for the shear volume of memorable villians they’ve played: Al Leong, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Richard Norton, Ku Feng, Lu Feng, Wang Lung Wei, Lo Lieh, Dick Wei, Billy Chow, Bolo Yeung, Whang Jang Lee, Whang In-Sik, Sammo Hung, Lateef Crowder, Professer Toru Tanaka, James Lew, Matthies Hues, Lam Sai Kwoon.

  4. Hawktheslayer73 says:

    Fantastic article! Can’t wait for part 2 and beyond!!!!

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