You are a lifelong action cinema fan. You’ve seen all the Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies there are to see.
You stay current with all the new releases from the world over and yet all this isn’t enough to satisfy your ravenous appetite for action.
You want something different. So what do you do? The answer is simple: go deeper.
Following the same guidelines as my previous article 15 Weird & Wild Horror Movies From The VHS Era Every Adventurous Fan Should See, this article features 15 unique action films from the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s that bold seekers of the lethal cinematic arts would have come across in one form or another during their journeys into the world of VHS.
The films listed are all highly entertaining, some in different ways that others, and are in chronological order by release year.
1. The Street Fighter (Shigehiro Ozawa, 1974, Japan)
Screenplay by Koji Takada & Motohiro Torii
After refusing a job, a lethal mercenary is targeted by the Yakuza.
Every great screen martial artist brings a unique quality to their individual fighting style. Bruce Lee gives us power and intensity, Jackie Chan gives us stunning acrobatic athleticism, Chuck Norris gives us incredibly smooth execution.
What unique element does Sonny Chiba bring? Unparalleled viciousness.
The VHS version of The Street Fighter was a heavily edited affair but the DVD era delivered the uncut film in all its bone-crunching glory including such amazing moments as Chiba driving his fingers deep into the eyes of an opponent, manual throat surgery and a brutal groin strike that takes a body part with it.
During one of the film’s fight sequences, the film cuts to a quick X-ray shot of one of Chiba’s blows crushing an enemy’s skull, a moment later echoed in Ngai Choi Lam’s Hong Kong cult favorite Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991).
The Street Fighter was a huge success, spawning sequels and the spin-off Sister Street Fighter films.
2. Lion Man (Natuk Baytan, 1975, Turkey)
Screenplay by Baytan & Duygu Sagiroglu
Hidden in the wilderness after a deadly coup, the son of slain king is raised by lions and becomes part of a rebellion.
This film is a bizarre but incredibly entertaining combination of Alexandre Dumas, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan character and a touch of the amazing Japanese Lone Wolf & Cub films from the early 1970s.
The story builds to a bloody, action-packed climax as the Lion Man dons a pair of metal claw gloves and leads a band of rebels into a bloody confrontation with the evil king and his army.
Also known as Kilic Aslan, Lion Man stars prolific Turkish actor Cuneyt Arkin, a performer often credited as Steve Arkin or George Arkin for the international releases of his films.
Arkin, who bears a slight resemblance to French film actor Alain Delon, also stars in Cetin Inanc’s notorious 1982 science fiction film The Man Who Saves the World (aka Dunyayi Kurtara Adam), better known in cult film circles as “The Turkish Star Wars”.
3. Master of the Flying Guillotine (Jimmy Wang Yu, 1976, Hong Kong/Taiwan)
Screenplay by Wang Yu
A blind assassin who employs a gruesome and deadly weapon hunts a one-armed adversary.
Veteran martial arts film star Jimmy Wang Yu revived his popular one-armed warrior character he originated in the late 1960s for a series of films in the mid-1970s.
The film rises above the many cinematic competitors of its day with outrageous action sequences including a battle with a man who can extend his arms to superhuman lengths and a climax inside a booby-trapped coffin shop.
Viewers expecting a run-of-the-mill Hong Kong kung-fu film will be very pleasantly surprised by the demented fight scenes in Master of the Flying Guillotine.
The unique weapon of the film’s title had previously been featured in Meng Hua Ho’s Flying Guillotine (1975) and can be seen in a number of subsequent films.
4. Bionic Boy (Leody M. Diaz, 1977, Philippines)
Screenplay by Romeo N. Galang & Bobby A. Suarez
The Return of the Bionic Boy (Bobby A. Suarez, 1979, Philippines)
Screenplay by Suarez & Romeo N. Galang
Severely injured in an attack that killed his parents, a young martial arts champion is mechanically enhanced and joins a group of Interpol agents in his quest for vengeance.
These 2 films are listed as one entry because the Bionic Boy films are best enjoyed as a double feature.
Inspired by the massive popularity of the American television series The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Boy films are very enjoyable romps highlighted by multiple scenes of the child martial arts prodigy Johnson Yap thrashing countless villainous adults.
The climax of both films features the Bionic Boy and his heavily armed companions attacking isolated enemy strongholds with highly entertaining results. The second film features a confrontation with a mechanical fire-spouting dragon.
Screenwriter of the first film and co-screenwriter/director of the second film Bobby A. Suarez was a major figure in the Filipino genre scene of the 1970s and 1980s. He directed the action pictures Cleopatra Wong (1978), The One Armed Executioner (1983), Warriors of the Apocalypse (1985) and American Commandos (1986) among others.
The Cleopatra Wong character played by Marrie Lee appears in The Return of the Bionic Boy (a film sometimes referred to as Dynamite Johnson), making the movie a sequel to two films.
Taken as a whole, the Bionic Boy films are more enjoyable entries in the “diminutive destroyer” action subgenre than more sought out movies like the Weng Weng films For Y’ur Height Only (1981) and The Impossible Kid of Kung Fu (1982) and helped lay the groundwork for later action films centered around protagonists of short stature such as Yuichi Fukuda’s Kids Police (2013).
5. The Octagon (Eric Karson, 1980, USA)
Screenplay by Paul Aaron & Lee Chapman
A martial artist pits himself against a small army of terrorists being trained in an isolated stronghold by his estranged brother.
Chuck Norris famously fought Bruce Lee in Lee’s Way of the Dragon (1972) and starred in a couple of films before hitting it big with Ted Post’s very successful Good Guys Wear Black (1978). This was followed by Paul Aaron’s hit A Force of One (1979) and led to Norris’ masterpiece The Octagon.
The film is highlighted by one of the great action sequences of its day as his character launches a one-man assault on the terrorist training camp. This attack culminates in an amazing two-part fight sequence. The first fight is between Norris’ character and a deadly masked warrior played by Richard Norton before a final confrontation between Norris’ character and his lethal brother played by Tadashi Yamashita.
The Octagon’s narrative is not exactly cohesive as the Lee Van Cleef mercenary character and his heavily armed posse exit the film for no other reason than the filmmakers wanted Norris to launch a solo assault on the enemy stronghold but, make no mistake, this is the greatest of all the Chuck Norris films.
Norris’ cinematic legacy may be primarily based on the Missing in Action and Delta Force military action films but it is his earlier pictures A Force of One, Steve Carver’s An Eye for an Eye (1981) and the amazing The Octagon that are by far his finest achievements in the action genre.
6. Cannibal Mercenary (Hong Lu Wong, 1983, Thailand)
Screenplay by George Lam
A war veteran in need of money for his daughter’s life-saving medical procedure takes a job leading a group of mercenaries into the Vietnamese jungle to assassinate the head of a drug-dealing empire.
Also known as The Jaguar Project, Jungle Killers and The Mercenary, this notorious and highly sought-after cult film was very difficult to find uncut until a composite version surfaced a few years ago.
A very violent, grim and memorable “men on a mission” movie with touches of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), the film mixes cannibal horror and action far more effectively than Antonio Margheriti’s more frequently discussed Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and features some very well-executed action sequences the film simply doesn’t get enough credit for.
The film’s soundtrack contains music stolen from George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1979).
Cannibal Mercenary spawned a little-seen and very hard to find sequel.
7. Golgo 13: The Professional (Osamu Dezaki, 1983, Japan)
Screenplay by Shukei Nagasaka based on the Takao Saito graphic novel series
A professional assassin is targeted by a wealthy industrialist after he fulfills a contract to kill the powerful man’s son.
Some readers may find it unusual to see an animated film in this article but this feature film incarnation of the Golgo 13 character is far superior to the live-action versions directed by Jun’ya Sato in 1973 and Yukio Noda in 1977.
The animation may be crude by today’s standards but the film benefits from a great screenplay that builds to a spectacular climax that sees Golgo 13 go on the offensive and attack his industrialist enemy’s headquarters, confronting some truly bizarre mercenaries who miss out on being widely considered as some of the great villains of 1980s cinema because they are not live-action characters.
Director Dezaki returned to the character in 1998 with the disappointing animated feature Golgo 13: Queen Bee.