Time Out Melbourne

A challenger appears! Much hyped Indonesian actioner weighs in against ten of the most spectacular movie smackdowns

One of the most talked about martial arts films in recent years, breakthrough Indonesian flick The Raid, arrives in Australian Cinemas on March 22 in a buzz of critical and audience acclaim. Directed by Jakarta-based Welshman Gareth Evans, the film follows an elite SWAT team trapped in a 30-storey tenement overrun by violent criminals after their mission to take down a ruthless drug lord goes wrong.

A clever advertising campaign inviting people to “choose your weapon”, alongside the handful of bone-crunching clips that have popped up on the internet have got hardcore action fans drooling over the explosive combination of gunplay and the traditional Indonesian martial art Silat, a style of fighting which emphasises the use of knives and other bladed weapons. The Raid has sucker-punched audiences at Sundance and SXSW, won the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness award and has critics gushing over what are being touted as the best action scenes in the history of cinema. That’s quite a claim, and the film will need to have some serious chops if it intends to snatch the heavyweight belt from the following memorable movie scraps:

10. Old Boy (2003)

Corridor Brawl

After being released from a decade-and-a-half of inexplicable solitary confinement, Old Boy’s wild haired, live squid eating anti-hero Oh Dae-su asks himself if 15 years of shadow boxing in his cell can be put to use. He soon gets an emphatic answer when he finds his quest for revenge blocked by a corridor full of hired goons intent on wiping the crazy grin off his face. The ensuing dust-up, filmed in a single, wide take is exhausting stuff as Dae-su throws himself into the melee with his trusty claw hammer and fights for his life with dervish-like ferocity. Despite the odds and the minor inconvenience of spending most of the fight with a knife stuck between his shoulder blades, it’s a rather bruised Oh Dae-su who’s the last man standing. One would hope for sake of the actors involved that the scene didn’t require too many takes.



9. Yojimbo (1961)

Sanjuro vs Unosuke

Most people would think that there could only be one winner in a high noon stand-off between a guy packing a handgun and guy with a couple of knives and a katana. Not so Sanjuro, the stoic hero of Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai flick: the cool-headed ronin briefly weighs up the situation and decides that the smug little guy with the new-fangled boomstick is going down. It’s all over in a few tense seconds but each one is brimming with fierce style as Sanjuro takes down his adversary and his entire gang of cronies in a few deft slashes of his sword. Kurosawa’s reciprocated love of Hollywood Westerns is evident here, and is underlined in the similarity of this scene to one in The Magnificent Seven (itself a remake of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai) where a knife-throwing James Coburn outdraws a mouthy gunslinger.



8. Flash Point (2007)

Ma Jun vs Tony

This seven-minute corker, starring and choreographed by the legendary Donnie Yen, capitalised on the surge in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts to deliver a wince-inducing brawl that combines Yen’s trademark Wushu acrobatics with the technical grappling style of Brazilian Ju-jitsu. It seems incredible that neither actor was hurt as they smash each other against steel rails, through walls and off roofs, and the viewer is made to really appreciate that Hong Kong action stars are one breed of thespian that definitely earn their wages. The grappling and choke holds are skilfully inserted amongst the high kicks to give the fight an exciting internal narrative, whilst undoubtedly winning over a few new fans for the UFC steamroller. Easily the most savage scene on the list.



7. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

Ricky Ho vs Oscar

To watch Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is to spend 90 minutes in open mouthed disbelief, wondering what the filmmakers are going dredge up from their barrel of grubby, exploitative mayhem next. It’s an experience not unlike watching back to back episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians, just with a few more popped eyeballs, severed limbs and exploding heads. This scene, Ricky’s first showdown with a member of “the Gang of Four” who control the prison in which he is incarcerated, makes the list not for any notable display of martial artistry, but rather because it’s possibly the only fight in cinematic history to feature a man tying the severed tendons in his arm back together using his teeth and another committing hara-kiri before trying to strangle his opponent with his own intestines. Not exactly Citizen Kane then, but weirdly essential viewing nonetheless.



6. They Live (1988)

Nada vs Frank

Fresh from gunning down a bunch of apparently human-looking aliens, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s Nada really wants his buddy Frank to put on a special pair of sunglasses that allow their wearers to see the true forms of the extra-terrestrials who have covertly infiltrated earth. For his part, Frank really doesn’t want to put on anything given to him by his seemingly deranged former friend who has just gone a killing spree and is jabbering about aliens. The fine arts of persuasion and rational argument are ditched as the two big men try to get their respective points across by knocking ten shades of crap out of each other in a brutal alley fight so ridiculously long-winded that even the participants can’t help but laugh at one point. Piper uses a few tricks learnt during his time as professional wrestler in the WWF to decisively settle things with a painful looking suplex and thankfully – for the audience as well as for Nada - Frank finally puts on the goddamn shades.



5. Ong-Bak (2003)

Bangkok Street Chase

Ong-Bak marked its star Tony Jaa’s breakthrough in martial arts cinema and served as a spectacular showcase of his skill and gravity defying athleticism. This scene, which sees Jaa cartwheel and somersault his way through the back alleys of Bangkok whilst being pursued by a gang of thugs is a perfect example of why people were getting so excited about his potential as one of the genre’s foremost physical actors. You name it, the guy leaps over it – tables, food carts, garden implements, bicycles, young children, cars – and he usually throws in a flip or two whilst he’s at it. The sequence has a similar combination of thrilling stunt work and slapstick comedy as Jackie Chan’s best films whilst the tendency to replay Jaa’s particularly impressive feats a couple of times, often in slow motion, adds a charming bravado.



4. Once Upon a Time in China 2 (1992)

Wong Fei-hung vs General Nap-lan

Whilst it may be possible to question the historical accuracy of Hark Tsui’s epic trilogy there’s no doubting that the middle instalment’s end fight is one of the most beautifully executed showcases of martial arts choreography seen on film. Featuring two martial artists at the top of their game, Jet Li and Donnie Yen, the sequence makes great use of its environment – a grain storeroom – as the combatants swing from scaffolding and trade blows at a distance with lengths of bamboo before bringing the action down to ground level for a lightning fast stick-fight. Things really go off the hook when Yen’s villainous Nap-lan whips out a weapon more commonly associated with locker room bullies than 19th Century Chinese Generals – a rolled up towel – and proceeds to smash the hell out of the place. 

 



3. Hard Boiled (1992)

Hospital Shootout

Hong Kong director John Woo’s final film before he decamped to Hollywood caused a bit of an outcry when it was released in the West due to its ultra-violent excess and apocalyptic body count. Its final act, a relentless 40-minute shootout set in a hospital overrun by gangsters still has the power to make even the most rabid of action fans wonder if a line has been crossed. Scores of Innocent patients are mown down as they hobble to safety, everything that can conceivably be blown up is blown up, and what one can only assume is hundreds of thousands of squibs are popped in a bloody ballet of two-handed gunplay. Woo keeps a tight grip on the carnage, however, and gets to show off his skills as an action director in a couple of particularly outstanding set-pieces: a one-take gunfight that follows the protagonists across a heavily guarded basement level, and a stand-off which sees Chow Yun Fat’s Officer “Tequila” Yuen face off against a bunch of criminals whilst lugging around a cute baby rescued from the maternity ward.



2. Way of the Dragon (1972)

Tang Long vs Colt

A predictable choice? Probably. But then it would be sacrilege to leave Bruce lee off any list of martial art films, and this seminal showdown with Chuck Norris, the man who spawned a thousand memes, is a true classic. The Colosseum of Rome provides an appropriately epic backdrop to a battle of styles that pits the fluidity of Lee’s Jeet Kune Do against the rigid power of Norris’s Karate, and the back and forth exchange of blows remains a dazzling display of their skills. His tears may allegedly cure cancer, but things go downhill for Norris shortly after having a handful of his lush chest hair ripped out by the sneaky Lee, and then it’s all but over bar the obligatory neck snap and dramatic close up.



1. Drunken Master 2 (1994)

Wong Fei Hung vs Jon

The climatic fight scene of Drunken Master 2 does not get off to a good start for Jackie Chan’s boozehound brawler: he gets crushed between mine carts, kicked silly by a bespectacled Taekwondo master and set alight on a bed of hot coals. The tide turns however when he discovers a cache of industrial alcohol and knocks back enough of the stuff to floor an English rugby team. Much like a video game power-up, alcohol enhances his abilities, and the completely shitfaced Chan is soon puking, hiccupping and spinning headbutting his way to victory in a virtuoso display of martial arts and comedic timing. There are a lot of great fight scenes out there that leave the viewer flinching at their bone crunching brutality; this is one of the few that will leave you breathless and grinning at its sheer showmanship and imagination. Some may have come close, but no one does it quite like Jackie.

First published on . Updated on .

By Matt Smith   |  

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