6. Iron Monkey (1993)
Iron Monkey might be the first film in this list that Tarantino didn’t pay an homage to in Kill Bill, even though the title is mentioned in the short documentary ‘The Making of Kill Bill’. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love this one, because he certainly does. There’s a 9-minute video on YouTube of him talking about it, but more importantly; he served as the producer for the US release of the movie, therefore it’s a worthy second slot on the list for director Yuen Woo-ping.
The film shares similarities with the popular Zorro character as well as Robin Hood, since Iron Monkey steals from the rich to help the poor. When one day Iron Monkey steals from the governor, the governor orders for his arrest. While Yu Rong-Guang plays the titular role, it’s arguably Donnie Yen that steals the show as Wong Kei-ying, a martial artist who’s arrested as he is suspected to be the Iron Monkey thanks to his similar level of skill in Kung Fu. When the governor realizes Wong is not the Iron Monkey, he holds Wong’s son hostage to force him to capture the real iron Monkey. The movie really turns into second gear when these two join forces to fight an even bigger thread than just the corrupt governor.
7. Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Stephen Chow gets high praise from Tarantino, whom called Chow “one of the funniest comedians in cinema” and “Hong Kong’s best actor.” With his most popular films Shaolin Soccer and later Kung Fu Hustle, Chow has made himself a household name in the 21st century martial arts game.
Shaolin Soccer is goofy, ridiculous, and over the top. All things that often come to mind with martial arts films, but Chow manages to show us something refreshing thanks to the film’s original premise. Besides directing, Chow stars as a Shaolin Kung Fu master dedicated to promote the art to the world. When Sing meets the legendary soccer player ‘Golden Foot’ Fung, he decides to use soccer as a way of promoting Kung Fu. Together with old friends, all skilled in martial arts, he forms a soccer team to join the Hong Kong ‘open cup’ competition, wherein they use Kung Fu to win their matches.
Thanks to the great comedic martial arts combined with the over the top visual effects, Shaolin Soccer is really something special. Together with the equally great Kung Fu Hustle it might be safe to say it’s one of the best Kung Fu films from this century.
8. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
Gordon Liu takes a slot in the list once more with the incredibly inventive Eight Diagram Pole Fighter. It’s not only Gordon Liu who deserves praise here, because with this, the earlier mentioned ‘The 36th Chamber of Shaolin’, and ‘The Legend of Drunken Master’, Liu Chia-Liang has immortalized himself as a legendary Kung Fu director.
When the evil Liao dynasty army traps Yeung Yip and his seven sons from the Song dynasty, Yeung Yip and five of his sons get killed. The fifth and the sixth son survive, but the sixth son ends up suffering from PTSD and the fifth son, Gordon Liu, seeks refuge in a monastery where he wants to become a monk. At the monastery the fifth son exchanges his spear for a pole, since blades are not allowed, and here het develops the eight-diagram pole fighting technique. Eventually his past catches up with him, causing him to go on a pursuit of revenge.
With, again, epic training montages and inventive martial arts choreography, Liu Chia-Liang makes another must-see Kung Fu film. Take it from Tarantino, whom used part of the score of Eight Diagram Pole Fighter in Kill Bill: Vol. 2.
9. Five Fingers of Death (1972)
The original Hong Kong title of this chopsocky film was King Boxer, which makes you think: Would this movie have started the Kung Fu craze in the States if they didn’t change the US title to Five Fingers of Death? It might not have, but we’re glad that’s not the case!
Lo Lieh makes a return in this list as he plays the young martial art student Chi-Hao. When his master gets beaten up by thugs Chi-Hao wants to take revenge, but his master sends him to a superior master to advance his skills. If he can win an upcoming Kung Fu tournament with his new learned skills, he would earn justice over an opposing school, which was responsible for the attack of his master. In addition to that, he will win the hand of his master’s daughter, of whom he’s in love with.
When watching Five Fingers of Death, you probably won’t be surprised how it started the Kung Fu craze, because it has everything that a good Kung Fu flick needs: An underdog story, revenge, enemies-turned-allies, and lots of great action choreography. Tarantino joined the craze by naming this in his top 10 movies of all time and he eternalized this by using the Iron Fist attack from this film in his second Kill Bill movie.
10. Fist of Legend (1994)
A movie that already made this list once in the form of Fist of Fury, but this remake is too good to not include as well. Instead of Bruce Lee we get to see Jet Li in action and although Bruce Lee might be unmatched, Jet Li knows well how to stand his ground.
Similar to Fist of Fury, the story is set around frictions between the Chinese and the Japanese. Jet Li plays a Chinese engineering student studying in Tokyo. When he reads about the death of his Kung Fu master he returns to his native Shanghai, which is under Japanese occupation. He learns his master was killed in a fight against a Japanese Martial Artist and that foul play might have been involved. To protect the honor of his master and of his home country the only thing he can do is fight.
Besides being a huge inspiration to ‘The Matrix,’ Fist of Legend was amongst the first four movies selected to be released in the US as part of Tarantino’s short-lived distribution company ‘Rolling Thunder Pictures.’ When Dimension Films were ahead with the release, it was dropped from the RTP schedule. Nonetheless, we recommend it now, knowing that Tarantino wanted to recommend it to the world 20 years ago.