Chinese New Year has arrived, and this year, the world finds itself in the astrological sign of the Horse! To help ring in the New Year, Kung Fu Kingdom would like to take you through just a few of the memorable martial arts flicks to have debuted in the Year of the Horse, along with some notable martial artists born under the Horse’s equestrian sign!
Tiger Cage II
Back in 1990, Donnie Yen hadn’t quite risen to the King of Hong Kong action cinema that he is today, but he was still putting out some of the best martial arts flicks to come from the Far East. One of them was “Tiger Cage II”, which showed Donnie to be at the top of his game even in his early days. Fans of “In the Line of Duty IV” will delight at seeing Donnie’s onscreen rematches with John Salvitti and Michael Woods, along with his match-up with the future Liu Kang, Robin Shou!
Island of Fire
Released in 1990, you’re probably more likely to know this film by the title of “The Prisoner”, but it’s definitely among Jackie Chan’s grittier films, as you might expect from its prison setting. In addition to featuring appearances from Sammo Hung and Tony Leung, Shaw Brothers’ alumnus Jimmy Wang Yu produced the film. As an added bonus, Phillip Rhee of the “Best of the Best” provides an audio commentary for the American DVD!
Jet Li made a return to Chinese language films in 2002 with this wuxia historical drama about an assassin recounting his supposed victories over the emperor’s enemies during the Warring States Period. Like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” before it, the film weaves a parable of the true power of martial arts with is wire-enhanced sword battles, which includes the second onscreen battle between Jet Li and Donnie Yen!
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master
In 1978, Jackie Chan shot to the top of action stars of the Far East with the one-two punch of “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master”. What set them apart from other period martial arts films of the era was Jackie’s steadfast determination to position himself as everything that Bruce Lee was not – a bumbling underdog who spends most of the film getting his butt kicked while honing himself into a fighting machine. Thirty-six years of uninterrupted glory say that Jackie had the right idea.
Don “The Dragon” Wilson
Born on September 10th, 1954, one of the greatest kickboxers in history is also one of the giants of B-movies fueled by kickboxing action. The Pai lum kung fu exponent saw one of the longest career in kickboxing history, achieving 72 victories with 48 by knockout. Wilson also was one of the major stars of kickboxing action films that were popular throughout the 90’s, including the “Bloodfist” and “Ring of Fire” series. Wilson also had a brief professional boxing career where his biggest win was against Muhammad Ali’s former sparring partner John L. Johnson!
Born on April 7th, 1954, this man, of course, needs no introduction. Jackie has spent the majority of his days being more or less beaten within an inch of his life. From his days of arduous training at the Peking Opera Academy alongside Corey Yuen, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, to his stunt and injury filled career in Hong Kong action films, Jackie knows pain better than most of us would ever care to. Yet whether it’s falling into flaming coals in “Drunken Master 2” or being belted in the face with a nunchuk by Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon“, Jackie always shakes it off and comes back for more.
Ku Yu Cheung
Born in 1894, he is a legendary Chinese folk hero in the vein of Wong Fei-hung, Hou Yuanjia, or Ip Man. Cheung disseminated the Northern Shaolin boxing style across Southern China and was renowned for his mastery of hard body conditioning and training techniques such as Iron Palm. He was also said to have defeated many foreign fighters along with performing numerous other impressive feats with his Northern Shaolin and Iron Palm skills, becoming one of the great folk heroes of Chinese martial arts master. Why Hong Kong filmmakers haven’t given him the kind of cinematic treatment accorded to Wong or Ip is anyone’s guess!
Shi Yan Neng
Born on December 27th, 1978, he embodies something almost too good to be true for martial arts fans – a former Shaolin disciple turned Hong Kong action star! From the late 80’s to the late 90’s, Yan Neng lived and trained at China’s famed Shaolin Temple, before departing to establish his own Shaolin school in Shenzhen. In 2004, he was handpicked by Stephen Chow to appear in “Kung Fu Hustle”, and later gained further attention with appearances in “Fatal Contact”, “Flash Point”, “Ip Man”, and 2011’s “Shaolin”. Yan neng landed his first lead in 2013’s “The Wrath of Vajra” and remains one of the rising stars of Hong Kong martial arts films!
That wraps up KFK’s tribute to the Year of the Horse. Keep your eyes peeled throughout the rest of the year for all the significant events in the world of martial arts – we might very well see something on par with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez being Voted Competitor of the Year by Black Belt Magazine in 1978! And sure to mark your calendar for the final day of next Year of the Horse, February 5, 2027 – when Tony Jaa will celebrate his 51st birthday!