1. Kung Fu Hustle (2004) – Axe Gang
The “giant swarm of people” is fight is a time-honoured kung fu tradition, but having that swarm be composed entirely of axe-wielding guys in top hats elevates the scene to something special. Kung Fu Hustle is a great movie for a lot of reasons, but one of them is how well the visual comedy is blended with the action. This is a scene that simultaneously looks thrilling and goofy, and that’s a damn tough balance to strike.
2. Police Story – The Mall Fight
This scene would be famous even if it was just a rollicking action set-piece that trashes an entire mall. But on top of everything else it ends with one of the most amazing and dangerous stunts ever filmed. Jackie Chan leaps onto a pole and slides down four stories, bringing down strands of light bulbs the whole way down and finally crashing through a plate glass window. And then to top it all off he gets up and captures the bad guy IN THE SAME SHOT. You can tell how hard this shot was to get; they show it three times!
3. Ip Man (2008) – Ip Man vs. 10 Karate Black Belts
It has echoes of the famous Dojo fight from Fist of Fury, but the theatrical vibe of that scene is replaced with the gritty hardship of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and Bruce Lee’s elegant choreography transforms into a series of brutal bone-crunching moves. Wing Chun has never felt deadlier or more visceral on screen.
4. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) – Gordon Liu vs. A Whole Bunch of Guys
You know how sometimes when you see one guy fighting a whole bunch of guys, you’re thinking “hey how come they don’t all attack at once?” Well here’s a scene where they all attack at once, and the end result is they all get wrecked. At the climax of the fight Gordon Liu is dodging and parrying tons of spears all at once, all while keeping up with the main one-on-one fight. It’s a tremendous piece of choreography.
5. Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) – Yoga Master Fight
You know Dhalsim from Street Fighter? Well here’s the character that inspired him. And yes, his arms do actually stretch out like they do in the game. The practical effect looks a bit hokey — as Taiwanese films from the ’70s tend to do — but it’s used to great effect.
6. Tom-Yum-Goong (2005) – Staircase Scene
At four and a half minutes, this scene is one loooooong take. And what a take it is. This shot follows Tony Jaa up a huge staircase that snakes around the courtyard of a restaurant, and everything that could happen in that setting does. People are thrown down a few floors, people jump up a few floors, they get knocked with chairs, bowled over with barrels, and slammed into walls. Some of the best effects happen when Jaa ducks behind a latticework fences and you see people being smashed through it from the other side. Plus the soundtrack is really jumping.
7. Wheels on Meals (1984) – Jackie Chan vs. Benny the Jet
Jackie Chan has had so many awesome fight scenes over the years that it’s hard to pick a favourite. But this climactic fight with Benny Urquidez is a pretty strong contender. In one great moment, Jackie Chan actually just grabs a chair and then sits down to take a few seconds’ break, giving him just the amount of energy and focus he needs to come out on top. It’s an incredible dynamic fight.
8. Magnificent Butcher (1979) – Wong Fei Hung’s Kung Fu Calligraphy
Yuen Woo-ping’s inventiveness is on full display here as he frames an amazing fight between two masters within a discussion about calligraphy. One of the best moments comes when Master Ko is trying to destroy a long sheet of paper, and Wong Fei Hung is gracefully moving out of the way as he continues writing on it. Funny, quick and sharp.
9. The Raid: Redemption (2011) – Final Fight
Gareth Evans makes brutal films, and this is one of the most brutal fights in a very brutal oeuvre. The aim here is not to knock down or humiliate the enemy but to kill them, and the fighters do everything they can to achieve that goal. The fight stretches out in a very satisfying way, as all of the energy in the room goes into killing and surviving. The last blow especially is just vicious.
10. Fist of Fury (1972) – Dojo Scene
The crowd of dozens of black belts circling around Bruce Lee is one of the most iconic shots in movie history, and the fight that follows lives up to that image. This is one of those completely fun fights, and it just tears along as the karate kids charge in and get smoked one by one. Plus it gives Bruce Lee yet another chance to show off that totally ripped chest of his. Like, damn dude.