There has been a long and interesting relationship between martial arts movies and music. From the famous “On the General’s Orders” theme song associated with the popular Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung, to the influence of kung fu styling on hip hop artists such as the Wu Tang Clan, there are not many movie genres that can claim such a widespread impact.
During the kung fu craze of the 1970’s there weren’t actually that many original scores. In order to keep budgets down, Hong Kong film makers would often “borrow” music from the West. Bits of the soundtrack from the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” would turn up in Jackie Chan’s “Drunken Master”, the theme from the sixties television show “Ironside” was used in “King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death” (and subsequently “Kill Bill“), and who can forget Jackie Chan training to Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene Part 2” in “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow“?
As is common in the Hong Kong entertainment industry, many singers act in films and many film stars release songs. Jackie Chan has had a very successful music career and his frequent co-star Anita Mui was known as the “Madonna of Asia”. Indeed, Jackie Chan often sings the themes for his own movies.
In recent years, many martial arts movies have become more sophisticated and the accompanying film scores have followed suit. “On the General’s Orders” was reworked by Wong Jim and George Lam as the rousing “A Man of Determination” for Jet Li’s successful “Once Upon a Time in China” series of films. Modern movies such as John Woo’s “Red Cliff”, Teddy Chen’s “Bodyguards and Assassins“, Ronny Yu’s “Fearless” and Zhang Yimou’s “Hero“, use their film’s orchestral soundtracks to heighten the emotion and drama of events on the screen.
Some kung fu tunes can instantly make a fan recall a particular movie or scene, inspiring them to start training, train with more intensity or set a new personal best when they hear it on their headphones or blasting through their home entertainment system.
So without further ado pop-pickers, here are our Top 10 Kung Fu Movie Theme Songs! (in descending order…)
- “The Eagle Lands” – Paul Hertzog (Kickboxer)
- “Kung Fu” – Ash (Rumble in the Bronx)
- “Drug Lab” – Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese (The Raid: Redemption)
- “Hero Story” – Jackie Chan (Police Story)
- “I Still Carry On” – Kada (Kill Zone 2/SPL 2: A Time for Consequences)
- “Will This Be the Song I’ll Be Singing Tomorrow” – Colleen Camp/John Barry (Game of Death)
- “A Man of Determination” – Wong Jim and George Lam (Once Upon a Time in China)
- “You’re the Best” – Joe Esposito (The Karate Kid)
- Theme from Enter the Dragon – Lalo Shifrin
- “Kung Fu Fighting” – Carl Douglas (Kung Fu Panda, Police Story 3: Supercop, Beverly Hills Ninja, Shaolin Soccer)
Back in the early days of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career he was the king of the training montage. “The Eagle Lands” captures the era so perfectly that you can almost feel the stretch into box splits!
The song was written by lead singer Tim Wheeler in five minutes on Boxing Day 1994 at Belfast International Airport and recorded in one take the following day. The lyrics reference martial arts movie star Jackie Chan. It proved the perfect choice to be used during the fun and energetic outtakes at the end of the American release of Chan’s box office hit “Rumble in the Bronx”. The intro features a sample of Sammo Hung from “Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind“.
Gareth Evans international smash hit “The Raid: Redemption” already had a score recorded for the Indonesian market. Whilst still in production, the distributors at Sony acquired the worldwide rights and commissioned a new soundtrack for the Western market. Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Joseph Trapanese were given the task and they did not disappoint. The score was tense, pulsating and thrilling, epitomised by the music for the “Drug Lab” scene. The song was so effective it was also used to accompany the action in the official trailer. Two singles were released from the soundtrack; “Suicide Music” performed by Get Busy Committee, and the end theme, “Razors Out” performed by Deftones frontman Chino Moreno.
Jackie Chan LOVES to sing! During his tough Peking Opera training as a youngster, he would look forward to the relatively pain-free singing practice. When he got to make his own movies it was a chance for him to express himself musically by singing the theme tune to “The Young Master”. He has since sung on dozens of films and continues to do so today, with songs contributed to his most recent releases “Kung Fu Yoga“, “Railroad Tigers” and “Skiptrace“. He has had some catchy songs such as the theme to “Who Am I?“, and the heartfelt “Endless Love” from “The Myth“. One of his personal favourites is the song “Canola Flower” that he performed for “Little Big Soldier“. But if one song stands out in Jackie Chan’s discography, it has to be the theme from his 1985 ground-breaking action smash “Police Story”. It instantly conveys images of the incredible stunt work, lightning-paced fight scenes and the heroism of Jackie himself!
Kayla Dawn aka Kada is a young, Hong Kong-born singer based in Boston, who recorded the haunting yet soaring “I Still Carry On” for “Kill Zone 2/SPL 2: A Time for Consequences”. Written and produced by her uncle Ken Chan, who co-wrote the film’s score with Kwong Wing Chan, much like the end theme to Bruce Lee’s “Game of Death”, it resonates with the emotional content of the movie. With Kada’s heartfelt vocals building to an orchestral crescendo, it’s one of the best mainstream songs written for any action film.
The Oscar-winning composer of dozens of film scores, including many of the James Bond movies, John Barry provided an original soundtrack for Bruce Lee’s posthumously completed “Game of Death”. Part of the plot revolved around Lee’s character’s girlfriend Anne, who is a singer in the film being harassed by gangsters. Anne was played by American actress Colleen Camp, who sings the featured song during the film. As the end credits roll, the song takes on a new emotional core as we see highlights of Bruce Lee’s career and wonder what could have been if he hadn’t sadly passed away at the age of 32.
When Tsui Hark decided to update the legend of Wong Fei-hung, Wong Jim and George Lam also updated the Ming Dynasty folk song “On the General’s Orders”. The song has long been associated with the Wong Fei-hung legend, appearing in the many early Kwan Tak-hing films about him. It was also used in the 1978 film “Drunken Master”, starring Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-hung. The nobility of its lyrics perfectly complement Jet Li’s patriotic portrayal of the martial arts legend. The Cantonese version of the theme song is sung by George Lam and the Mandarin version is performed by Jackie Chan.
Originally intended for the “Rocky III” soundtrack but replaced by “Eye of the Tiger”, “You’re the Best” has become almost as iconic an ingredient to the original “The Karate Kid” as the quote “Wax on, wax off”! It was also submitted to be featured in the movie “Flashdance” but was replaced by “Maniac” instead. How many of you have this sunny, infectious song on your training playlist?
Famous for his work on other iconic theme tunes such as “Mission: Impossible”, “Bullitt” and “Dirty Harry”, Lalo Shifrin delivered perhaps his most recognisable theme for Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. It’s mix of funky 1970’s guitar, oriental motifs and of course, Bruce Lee’s battle cries, result in a rousing, dramatic and action-inspiring tune, perfectly reflecting the movie it represents.
And in at #1 is…
There couldn’t be anything else at number one now could there? Released in 1974 at the height of both the kung fu and disco crazes, “Kung Fu Fighting” went to number one on both the U.K. Singles Chart and the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The single sold 11 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. There have even been cover versions from stars such as Tom Jones, CeeLo Green and Jack Black. Who can resist singing along to this catchy chorus?
Do you have a favourite kung fu song or tune? Which ones inspire you to get the most out of your training? There are so many more to choose from that we’d love to revisit this theme. Let us know which themes you think belong in the list by commenting below or @kungfukingdom !