Perhaps more than any other genre, making a good first impression in an action movie is paramount. Sure there can be some characterisation, plot setup etc. beforehand, but when that first action scene hits, it has to count. Because let’s face it, audiences are tuning into an action movie for action. If that first scene when things start to get physical is a damp squib of an excuse to get the adrenalin pumping, then all is lost. Don’t expect the audience to stick around.
Thankfully, when it comes to Asian action, the ratio is definitely more hit than miss. Perhaps what makes it so unique, is that Asian action relies on the physical talents of its stars, rather than large CGI explosions or caped superheroes performing equally superhuman feats of heroism. This is no more apparent than in the kung fu movie, after all, if you’re going to keep someone watching for the next 90 minutes based purely on what you can do with your body, than it better be something exceptional.
Throughout the years there’s been countless martial artists who have lit up the screens with their fists and kicks, and below we’ve picked out what we believe to be 5 of the greatest action entrances in Asian cinema. The criteria is simple – while the scene doesn’t necessarily have to be the first time they appear in the movie mentioned, it does have to be the first time they spring into action. Likewise, the scene in question also doesn’t have to be the first action scene in the movie, but it does need to be the first time we see the martial artist in question do their thing. That’s it. Listed in the order that they were made, we hope you enjoy, and feel free to weigh in with your own choices! –
Enter the Dragon (1973) – Bruce Lee makes his UFC debut, 20 years before UFC existed.
Look at any other production from either Hong Kong, USA, or anywhere else for that matter from 1973, and you’ll be unable to find anything that comes as close to being as far ahead of its time as when Bruce Lee takes on Sammo Hung in Enter the Dragon.
Wearing matching black kempo gloves and trunks, the quick efficient striking mixed with acrobatic flourishes was a world away from the basher style of choreography that dominated the era. While Lee taking the win from an arm bar tapout may have become a familiar sight in the 21st Century, it should take nothing away from a scene that provided a glimpse of the MMA style that would become so popular years later.
The Young Master (1980) – Whang In-sik demonstrates how to use humans as punching bags.
This entry is unique for 2 reasons – 1. being that it doesn’t feature the star of the movie, Jackie Chan, and 2. that it doesn’t take place until 35 minutes in. However in terms of making an impression, there can be no doubt that nobody leaves quite as lasting an impact, as when Whang In-sik’s villain breaks free en route to being transferred to a new prison.
After refreshing himself with a bucket of water, his intense stare from between his straggly locks is only matched by the kicking showcase he goes on to display. With some fantastic wire enhanced impacts which are painful to watch, In-sik kicks the hapless guard’s mid-air, in the back, in the face, mid-fall from another kick they’ve received, and any other scenario you can think of. Even countless kung fu movie viewings later, In-sik’s entrance in The Young Master continues to impress.
Police Story (1985) – Jackie Chan brings down the house… I mean village… to catch the bus.
Another unique entry involving a Jackie Chan movie, but this one thankfully does involve the man himself. What it doesn’t involve, is any kung fu. Instead, for Chan’s debut directing and starring in a modern day HK police movie, he kicks off proceedings with a surveillance operation taking place in a shanty town set on a hillside.
When Chan and his colleagues find themselves compromised, it results in one of the greatest action openings to be found in the action genre to this day, with Chan front and centre. After a car chase through the shanty town, and when I say through, I mean it literally, Chan takes off on foot to intercept the criminals who have taken the passengers on a double decker bus hostage. What follows is classic Chan, as he clings onto the 2nd floor of the bus with an umbrella, all the time while the criminals attempt to knock him to the road, and some of the most painful stunt work you’ll see on film.
Operation Scorpio (1992) – Won Jin proves never to mess with a man in a purple suit.
The mischievous son character is a familiar one in the kung fu genre, from Jackie Chan’s take on Wong Fei Hung in the Drunken Master movies, to Billy Chong in Kung Fu Zombie, but there’s perhaps no son more memorable in kung fu movie history as Sunny from Operation Scorpio.
Played by super kicker Won Jin (read our interview with him), when called upon to defend his villainous father at just over 10 minutes in, there’s no other sight quite like it. Seemingly able to defy both gravity, and the limits of what a normal human body can do, Won Jin’s ability to mix high impact kicking with acrobatics remains unmatched in terms of its uniqueness. By the time he drops down onto one knee while propping himself up with both hands, arching his other leg over his back to perfectly imitate a scorpion, the fact that the movies very title is a reference to his character is more than justified.
Tom Yum Goong (2005) – Tony Jaa flies into a restaurant.
While Tony Jaa captured the attention of just about everyone a couple of years before with Ong Bak, it’s his 2005 follow-up which takes the cake for the most impressive entrance.
Having had his prized elephant stolen, a scene opens in a river-side abode which has a Thai band playing a rather raucous melody, that is, until a body literally comes flying into the room, dislodging a wall mounted buffalo head in the process. While the obvious suspects behind the theft scramble to harness bottles and anything else they can get their hands on as weapons, Jaa flies into frame from the top left corner, planting a damaging knee into a group of 7 suited thugs on the other side of the screen. What follows is a masterclass in bodily damage, as Jaa wades through his opponents like they’re ragdolls, culminating in a flying knee through a glass door.