The five greatest Martial Arts movies

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon

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The recent specialty run of The Raid: Redemption, a remake of an Indonesian language martial arts film, calls to mind all the great, hyper-gory kung fu movies that have come before. After viewing, over the years, hundreds of martial arts films – The Boxer from Shantung, which didn’t quite make the list, especially comes to mind – I’ve narrowed The List down to a stone cold five. Agree or disagree in the comments section with these, my Five Greatest Martial Arts Movies:

5. “Hero” (2002)

Set roughly two centuries before the birth of Christ, in Mandarin with English subtitles and color-coded sequences, Hero is not your typical martial arts film. There are, of course, many types of martial arts movies – comedies, revenge stories, Hong Kong chop sockey, straight-up dramas and, among others, Epics. Hero is an epics epic of a martial arts movie, set to glorious cinematography in pre-unified China during the period of the Warring States. Drenched in sanguinary reds and powerful, vibrating golds, the fighting scenes — mostly aerial — defy gravity and even narrative logic. Not that that matters.

So — what about the fighting? Anyone who doubts that a martial arts fight can be a beautiful experienced would be hard pressed to continue in that mode of thinking after seeing this film. Directed by Yimou Zhang, the fight scenes – particularly the one between Nameless (played by Jet Li) and Sky (played by Donnie Yen) – are masterful dances of death set against stunning scenery and weather to unique camera angles. Jet Li – one of the three great martial arts film legends along with Bruce and Jackie Chan –steals all of his scenes as a nameless protagonist in a fugue to kicking serious ass.

4. “The Legend of Drunken Master” (2000)

The fact that Jackie Chan – the second of the Big Three martial arts film stars — does almost all of the choreography in his films only adds to his legitimacy as the real deal; the fact that this movie is a comedy as well as the best part of a legendary franchise makes it a classic. As Elvis Mitchell wrote in The Times of the film’s climactic final battle scene, “(This sequence is better than anything in ‘The Matrix’ because there are no digital effects and Mr. Chan is seen in almost every frame.) It is fitting that the punch-outs bring dance numbers to mind, since Mr. Chan’s wind-it-up version of drunken boxing looks like a lethal version of the Cabbage Patch.”

Jackie Chan’s low center of gravity is in full effect in Legend of Drunken Master. This is one of the few cases – Godfather II, in another genre, comes to mind – when a sequel (LODM tag line: “Old wine in a new bottle”) actually surpasses a classic original story. Jackie Chan is here in his most elaborately choreographed of Hong Kong chopsockeys. Legend of Drunken Master is also as funny as it is brutal, a rarity.

3. “Ip Man” (2008)

Ip Man is arguably the best choreographed martial arts film of all time, also the one with the most fully realized narrative. Set in the 1930s, Ip Man is based on the true story of real life martial arts Grand Master Yip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee, arguably the greatest martial artist of all time, in the deadly art of Wing Chun. This film neatly falls into the category of revenge story, one of the most enduring within the martial arts genre, but is also a sweeping epic not unlike Hero. In short, against oppression and injustice coming out of the Japanese invasion of 1947, Ip founds the school of Karate that will eventually beget Bruce Lee – the greatest martial arts film star of all time. The final fight sequence between Ip (played by Donnie Yen, who starred in that other martial arts epic Hero) and the Japanese General Miura is the stuff of legend.

Available on DVD and BluRay, this forgotten classic is highly recommended. From the story of Bruce Lee’s mentor to, appropriately …

2. “Enter the Dragon” (1973)

As elegant as Hero is, Enter the Dragon – the opposite end of the martial arts film spectrum — is as gritty and brutal and awesome. “Life,” Hobbes reminds us in his cynical masterpiece Leviathan, “is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” No more so than in this cynical classic. Enter the Dragon’s opening Shaolin Monastery fight sequence.

With a despicable air of Bond villainy – excommunication from the Shaolin order, prostitution, an underground fight club on a private island — a musky-seedy 70s testosteronal vibe that permeates the entire film. Where in Hero the martial arts are almost a well-choreographed dance, in Enter the Dragon, perhaps the first fully realized film of the 1970s, is cynical – the perfect negative antidote to the over idealistic 60s. This, incidentally, was Bruce Lee’s last (and best) film, released six days after his death. Which leads us to, finally …

1. “Five Deadly Venoms” (1978)

Pop-culturally influencing everyone from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill to the Wu Tang Clan (The Mystery of Chessboxin; Shaolin Finger Jab), the Five Deadly Venoms is a symphony of astonishing violence wrapped in what can only be properly construed as the most intriguingly graphic novel-ish sort of narrative ever to be put across in a kung fu movie. There is a thin line indeed between a martial arts movie and a graphic novel, but nowhere more so than in this classic, amazing film.

Here’s the lowdown: Five great martial arts assassins, nicknamed after their fighting styles, based on animals – Toad (impenetrable skin; massive defense skills), Centipede (fast strikes), Lizard (scales walls), Snake (fingers that bit like fangs) and Scorpion (Can paralyze through pressure points) – are sought out by the mysterious Yang, the final student of a noble dying master of “The School of Venoms.” It is, as in all great martial arts films, a matter of honor.

Saying anything else about this film would spoil the fun. But the fight scenes are as elaborate and cartoonish – in the best possible way – as the plot. Toad, in particular, is my favorite of the venoms, because his impenetrable skin allows him to display something very rare in martial arts films – a masterful defensive (not offensive) style. But it is Chiang Sheng’s Yang who steals the show, crafting complex styles on the fly to fight the School of Venoms, who may or may not be the villains of the movie. Two snake fingers up!

What is your favorite martial arts movie? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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