It seems, unlike previous years where Hollywood was in love with Martial Arts that 2005 turned out to be somewhat of a quiet year. In the past, directors seemed to stretch stories any way possible to get some Martial Arts aspect into the storyline. There were even recreations of the great ladder fight in Once Upon a Time in China within a story about the Three Musketeers. This year, however, Martial Arts moved into the background of many movies again Ė a pattern that is not unlike the big cartoon craze that swept the industry around the time of the release of Toy Story.
But thatís not to say there havenít been some impressive Martial Arts films during 2005. Off the top of my head, three immediately come to mind. And ironically all three were not released first in the US but actually overseas, some even a few years prior.
Ong-Bak Introducing newcomer, Tony Jaa, to the Martial Arts scene, this movie captures much of the brutal, hard-core fighting that made Bruce Lee a start. Much of the appeal of this movie was itís lack of wire-work and an exploration into a culture (Thailand) which doesnít always get covered when we think of Asia. Itís interplay of Muay Thai and powerful action scenes will make this a movie to watch over and over again.
Kung Fu Hustle Okay I profess to this day Iím still not thrilled with the slap-stick, Three Stooges routines of this movie. It made more fun of Martial Arts than actually portrayed any real talents. Unlike the masterful play of Jackie Chan, there was no real Martial Arts used here. But if we canít laugh at ourselves sometimes, what good is life? So for pure comedy sake and the ability to sit back and enjoy something nonsensical, this one sits near the top of my list.
Unleashed Jet Li continues to wow audiences around the world, even forty years after his first big ďperformanceĒ as part of the Wu Shu team in China. In this movie, he spent most of his time speechless, literally, and had to rely on his other acting abilities to convey his emotions, thoughts, and messages. This movie also may mark the last of the Jet Li Martial Arts movies weíll see, at least for the near future, as Jet Li vows to move onto serious acting. I for one am praying that he does find his way back to Martial Arts and his roots one day.
Unfortunately, what we see in the United States, is normally but a small sampling of all the great Martial Arts films out there. One that received very little attention but a lot of acclaim was Shaolin Soccer. This whimsical story pulls together sports and Martial Arts, bringing an element of fantasy, an element of renewed hope, and a good does of comedy.
Another one to keep an eye out for is The Promise (named Master of the Crimson Armor in the US), which opened in December in Hong Kong and became the biggest movie opening ever in China. It broke records all over the place. As we roll into 2006, I look forward to seeing this one in the theatres over here soon.