8. Wing Chun (1994, Woo-Ping Yuen)
“Wing Chun” is an inventive little chop sockey, kung-fu film from the 90s. For starters, it’s directed by one of the best living stunt choreographers, so the action sequences are creative and exciting. But Woo-Ping is also one to convey story and character in the action, using the fights to have protagonist Yim Wing Chun (Michelle Yeoh) emasculate the film’s many male antagonist. All she wishes to do is sell and serve some delicious tofu to her people and these guys are making it difficult.
The action is not physically brutal or hard-hitting, but it’s choreographed and performed so well that it’s hard not to enjoy the creativity and talent. The film also features a baby-faced Donnie Yen in a supporting role, who gets a scene or two in showcasing his skills. The film is similar to “Yes, Madam” in tone, more fun that something dour or serious. There’s something about the story and setting “Wing Chun” that’s fascinatingly timeless, especially when dealing with the gender politics.
7. Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarentino)
Despite which version of the film you’ve seen, there’s no denying that Tarantino’s second-half of “Grindhouse” takes a while to get going. While Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” was a playing with the style of 70s exploitation films, Tarantino went on ahead made an actual exploitation film — faults and all. When stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) finally begins to terrorize and murder his victims, the film begins to take off.
When “Death Proof” shifts focus to the second set of ladies, it pretty much becomes a showcase for Zoë Bell and Tarantino’s abilities. Acting as both director and DP of the film, Tarantino follows and shoots the car chase/battle with absolute clarity, even so far as holding on certain shots to really sell the danger that Bell’s facing.
Bell herself is strapped to the hood of the car the whole time, reminding audiences that she’s still one of today’s best stunt performers. Not sure if action fans are familiar with films like “Convoy” or “White Lightning,” but despite all that, “Death Proof” is still pretty enjoyable when it gears into action.
6. Supercop / Police Story 3 (1992, Stanley Tong)
While “Supercop” is a Jackie Chan vehicle, Michelle Yeoh co-stars and also does most of her own stunts in the film as well. As the third installment of Chan’s “Police Story” series, “Supercop” takes the characters from Hong-Kong to the jungles of Malaysia for some of the most insane martial-arts and stuntwork to ever be put on film.
Anyone who’s seen Chan in previous entires know how committed he his in delivering his form of action — inspired heavily by the creative fearlessness of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. For “Supercop,” it’s reported that Chan — usually wary about letting women perform similarly — allowed Yeoh do most of the stunts seen onscreen.
While some of her stunts aren’t as crazy compared to Chan, Yeoh definitely puts her life on the line more than once. The outtakes of this film not only remind audiences of the dangers of Chan’s earlier productions, but it also reveals how game Yeoh is being a part of the mayhem. She misses the motorbike jump onto a train several times, but rides straight into my heart as a result.
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee)
Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a fantastic film. It’s got a great story, beautiful visuals, as well as some of the breathlessly choreographed action sequences — courtesy of master Woo-Ping Yuen. It not only made an impact worldwide, but brought the wuxia genre to mainstream America. As for female leads, it’s got three amazingly talented women. There’s Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien, a warrior who fights to honor and protect her longtime friend and love.
Then there’s Zhang Ziyi’s Jen Yu and her coming-of-age story that finds her struggling between her “master’s” nefarious influences, but also her own personal desires. And finally, there’s Cheng Pei-Pei, who plays the villain and Jen’s manipulator, Jade Fox. Fans of classic Kung-fu films will remember her from many films from decades ago. The one worth checking out is Shaw Brother’s classic “Come Drink with Me.”
Lately, I’ve come to find that this film might not pack the punch it did when it first arrived, as other filmmakers have succeeded Ang Lee’s film in the following years. I also consider it partly an action film. Instead, it’s an epic drama and romance that happens to have some solid action sequences. A Netflix-exclusive sequel is currently in the works, with Yuen stepping up as the director.
4. Kill Bill Vol 1. & Vol. 2 (2003 & 2004, Quentin Tarantino)
Both “Kill Bill” films are not only great homages to the genre films of the past, but are fantastic action films about a woman seeking vengeance. It’s simple premise in which Tarantino injects his trademark storytelling, style and his many influences in creating this unique two-part experience.
The action scenes themselves are especially fantastic in both films. Tarantino reaches a good balance between the action styles of the past, while pacing of each sequence fitting for modern audiences. The Bride’s fight against O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Lui) and her gang is masterfully built up.
The blood and gore recall Japan’s violent samurai films in the 70s, but the choreography and movement match a speed and grace of Woo-Ping Yuen’s work decades later (Yuen also did the stunts for both these films as well). Zoë Bell performs the actual stunts, and she makes it look easy. I can go on about what I love about the action in each film, but suffice to say that each action sequence does something slightly unique in either the style, form, or choreography.
3. Aliens (1986, James Cameron)
Continuing after Ridley Scott’s first film, the sequel brings Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) back to the planet in which she and her crew had encountered the deadly alien — also referred to as xenomorph.
While Scott’s films was a slow burn, horror science-fiction film, Cameron changes the tone that’s more of an action film. There are macho space marines, weaponry and plenty more xenomorphs for the characters to essentially engage in a firefight set in space.
The scale is much larger and the tone is less serious, even to the point in which the characters aren’t afraid to make quips and joke about their deadly situation. But despite all of that, the audience is purely with Weaver’s character, as we’re the only ones understand the dangers that these trigger-happy soldiers are facing. She is the heart of the film, and what ultimately keeps us invested.
People may complain about the character Newt, but her presence makes sense (albeit heavy-handedly) after Ripley loses her own daughter in the time between both films. Seeing “Aliens” today will reveal some of the seams, especially in the effects. Yet, the pacing and storytelling still work, that by the time Ripley goes up against the alien Queen in the film’s finale, the audience is completely invested.
2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron)
For the longest time, when most moviegoing audiences were to think of a strong female action hero, the character Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) — and Ellen Ripley — would probably come up. While the first film had her struggle to survive in order to give birth to the leader of the resistance, “Judgement Day” is the film in which she’s responsible for herself and her son.
It also helps that she has a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) on her side, since she’s going to need all the help against the unrelenting and iconic T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Of all the characters in “Judgement Day,” Sarah Conner is ultimately who we latch onto on her quest to save the future.
While the Terminator gets the bulk of the action sequences, Sarah’s determination is what drives the story forward. We get how important the mission is to humanity, but also as a mother trying to protect her son, especially after being absent for so long.
It may be one note and pretty simplistic, but Cameron directs the hell out of the action that it gives her mission some weight. “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” is an action-classic, that two (maybe three) later sequels still struggle to capture what works well about “Judgement Day.”
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)
“Who destroyed the world?” is one of the central questions/themes behind George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” As the film goes on, it makes a pretty clear case that it was the men who’s responsible. For Imperator Furiousa (Charlize Theron), it’s an understanding that drives her quest and the film forward.
In her rescue of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Bryne) wives, she wishes to provide them a life in which they aren’t forced to provide life for an insane psychopath. Her quest to find her old female colony is to ensure survival that’s less destructive than her longtime captors. It’s taken the character her entire life to plan it, before finally pushing her into action. And the action in “Mad Max: Fury Road” is absolutely glorious.
At 70, George Miller takes a crew to a desert in Namibia to shoot some the wildest, most inventive action sequences to grace the screen. While I love “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” Miller tops Cameron’s biggest set-pieces in that film several times in “Fury Road.”
The film itself is purely dedicated to action, even outside the violence and setpieces, in which movement and mannerisms are favored over dialogue to provide the audiences with the information about these characters. Furiosa has the potential to rank with some of the best female action characters in the history of cinema and Theron absolutely kills it in the role.
Tom Hardy does an awesome job as Max Rockatansky, but the film is all about Furiosa. So far, it’s actually been a pretty sweet year for action films in general, but fans of the genre should not miss “Mad Max: Fury Road,” easily of the best in recent years.
Author Bio: Hanajun Chung is a geek and struggling writer. Once he got his degree, he found work mainly in post-production. But after studying journalism, he gained a newfound appreciation in writing about the things he loves, such as action flicks and South Korean cinema.