Dirty Basterds and Master Killers: 20 Classic Grindhouse Kung Fu Films

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

Dirty Basterds and Master Killers: 20 Classic Grindhouse Kung Fu Films

In the 1970s and 80s, martial arts movies became a massive sensation for moviegoers. If you lived in New York City, The Deuce (42nd Street) was the mecca for viewing these exciting, exotic, action packed films. Asian action stars such as Jimmy Wang Yu, Bruce Lee, Lo Lieh, Angela Mao, Sonny Chiba, Sue Shiomi, Gordon Liu, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and others suddenly became the new heroes for audiences both young and old. The cultural impact of Kung fu films clearly filled a gap and provided a positive outlet for many minorities as well. Coming from violent urban backgrounds, these kinds of movies gave kids of all colors and creeds the inspiration to stay strong in mind, body and spirit. They also helped inspire the openings of martial arts schools worldwide. Yes, kung fu films were a true phenomenon the likes of which we have rarely seen in pop culture. The GCDb is now proud to present a list of some of the most hard hitting, high flying, bone crunching, ball busting kung fu classics that will take you right back to their heyday playing in the grindhouses on 42nd Street and elsewhere. So get ready for some Film-Fu with our Dirty Basterds and Master Killers: 20 Classic Grindhouse Kung Fu Films list!

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The Hammer of God (1970)

When his school is massacred by some Japanese assassins, Lei Ming (Jimmy Wang Yu) is the only one left alive. He then melds his hands into lethal Iron Fists to get revenge on his foes including the deadly karate master Kita (Lo Lieh). This movie features some of the greatest kung fu fights ever put on film. With The Chinese Boxer aka The Hammer of God we get to witness the first true open hand kung fu film that was made in Hong Kong. Before it, the action films were almost entirely about sword/weapon fighting. We also get the first 'student avenges master' storyline that became heavily redone over and over throughout the 70s and 80s. Jimmy Wang Yu uses a unique mix of different martial arts styles: kung fu, wuxia, samurai, karate all sort of mixed together into one big explosive blend. In addition it has roots in the Italian Spaghetti Westerns, which you can see in the different stand offs and in the quirkiness of the film's style. Yet another interesting note is that Chinese Boxer actually came out BEFORE Bruce Lee made his debut in The Big Boss a year later. Actor-Director Jimmy Wang Yu was the biggest star in Hong Kong at the time but he seemed to get overlooked in the shadow of Bruce's large presence and personality. (GCDb)

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Five Fingers of Death (1972)

King Boxer aka Five Fingers of Death was directed by Chang Chang Ho and starred Lo Lieh. It is one of many kung fu-themed movies with Lieh in the lead. He appeared in many similar efforts from the 1960s, pre-dating the more internationally successful Bruce Lee. Released in the USA by Warner Bros. in March 1973, the film was responsible for beginning the North American kung fu film craze of the 1970s, though it was overshadowed by Enter The Dragon released later that same year. Five Fingers of Death is a very special film that was one of the biggest international hits. It has everything you want in a great kung fu film: lots of excellent kung fu fighting, colorful characters, supercool sound FX (that awesome Ironside theme!) and great direction. Every serious kung fu film fan should have a copy of this classic. (Wikipedia/GCDb)


The Chinese Connection (1972)

Fist of Fury (also known as The Chinese Connection in the United States) was directed by Lo Wei and starred a young Bruce Lee in his second major role after The Big Boss (1971). Lee plays Chen Zhen, a student of Huo Yuanjia, who fights to defend the honor of the Chinese in the face of foreign aggression by the Japanese, and to bring to justice those responsible for his master's death. Fist of Fury was accidentally released in the U.S. under the title The Chinese Connection. That title was a means of tapping the popularity of another film, The French Connection, released earlier in the U.S. for another Bruce Lee film, The Big Boss, which also involved drug smuggling. However, the U.S. titles for Fist of Fury and The Big Boss were accidentally switched, resulting in the former being released in the U.S. under the title The Chinese Connection until 2005, while the latter was released as Fists of Fury. TRIVIA: In the film, Bruce Lee's character sets out to avenge the death of his teacher Huo Yuanjia (Fok Yuen Gap) and at one point during the film, the Chinese Wushu students are called "sick men of Asia" by their rivals. In real life, Huo Yuanjia was a legendary Wushu martial artist and in 1901, accepted the challenge of a Russian fighter who called all Chinese people "sick men of Asia". (Wikipedia)

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Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

The Five Venoms are: The Toad, The Lizard, The Scorpion, The Snake and The Centipede. They have trained for several years under the teachings of the Poison Clan leader. In that time, they have become some of the most extraordinary kung fu artists ever to walk the Earth. After the Venoms leave, they hear that their old trainer is going to die, and so, the group want to find where his secret treasure is hidden. The master tells his youngest student who isn't quite finished training to go track down all the Venoms, instructing him that several of the Venoms are to be trusted, but to also find the ones who aren't. Each of the characters in the film (played by Chiang Seng, Lu Feng, Philip Kwok, Sun Chien, Wei Pai and Lo Meng) came from different countries, a few were from Taiwan, one from Korea and two from China. This gives you an idea of their different backgrounds in martial arts and acrobatics. By watching the movie, you can easily notice that these men have great martial abilities and also good acting skills. No wonder Chang Cheh used them in many more productions. To this day, some of the actors are still active in the movie industry as film company heads or action directors. (GCDb)


Master of The Flying Guillotine (1976)

Jimmy Wang Yu is the One Armed Boxer and he's being tracked down by the Master of The Flying Guillotine aka Fung Sheng Wu Chi (Kam Kang). The film begins as we are introduced to the blind, white haired Fung as he receives a message (by way of carrier pigeon) that his students Chow Fu and Chow Lung have been killed by a mysterious one armed man. Fung then swears to get revenge by any means necessary. He grabs his weapon (the fatal flying guillotine) and begins taking out all one armed men he encounters. Fung's intended target, The One Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu) is a teacher at a school of martial arts where he's showing students the mysterious ways of kung fu. His skill is second to none as he performs supernatural feats that only a veteran can know, like walking up walls and around the edge of a wicker basket. The direction by Wang Yu and creative fight choreography done by the brothers Leung in 'Master' is really wonderful stuff. There are all kinds of martial arts fighters represented as well. From a Yoga Master with retracting arms to a Monkey Style Kung Fu fighter. It remains one of the greatest films in the kung fu genre. (GCDb)

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The Streetfighter (1974)

Sonny Chiba is the Anti Bruce Lee. In this cult classic, he plays the infamous Terry Tsurugi, Assassin for hire. Produced by Toei Studios, It was released in the US by New Line Cinema and became one of the first films to be a commercial success for the distributor. It is notable as the first film to receive an X-rating in the United States solely for violence. In the UK it was originally released as Kung Fu Streetfighter, presumably to avoid confusion with the Charles Bronson movie Hard Times which was initially released as The Streetfighter in the USA. The fight sequences in the film are very exploitative. AWESOME! You'll see bones snapping, skulls crushed (one in X Ray vision), throats ripped out, balls ripped off, teeth punched out and lots of BLOOD squirting all over. If you want brutal Grindhouse Japanese karate fighting, The Streetfighter series is for you. This film was followed by two sequels: Return of the Streetfighter and The Streetfighters Last Revenge. TRIVIA: Grindhouse audiences were so enamored with this film they coined the slang term "Cheeba" aka marijuana as a tribute.


Master Killer (1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (originaly called Shao Lin san shih liu fang) is one of the most entertaining movies ever made by the Shaw Brothers. There isn't as much blood like in Vengeance and it is not a classic group film like Five Deadly Venoms, but it opened a new subgenre in Martial Arts movies: The Kung Fu Training film. There are some real cool fight scenes and classic Shaw Brothers dialogue in the movie, but the main theme of this film is the training sequences in the Shaolin temple. And they are great! The atmosphere, the trademark Shaw-zooms, the cool music and the sympathetic acting of Gordon Liu will be a good time for Exploitation fans. The scenes in the temple are funny (for example the first chamber, where San Te is doing everything wrong), and they are sometimes very serious also (the carrying of water with the knives under the arms). 36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely considered to be one of the greatest kung fu films and a turning point in its director's and star's careers. It was followed by Return to The 36th Chamber, which was more comedic in presentation and featured Gordon Liu as the new main character with another actor in the smaller role of San Te, and Disciples of the 36th Chamber. (GCDb/Wikipedia)

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Enter The Dragon (1973)

This was Bruce Lee's final film appearance (footage was shot and used in what became Game of Death) before his death on 20 July 1973, at the age of 32. It was released on 26 July 1973, six days after Lee's death, in Hong Kong. He was also one of the film's writers. Often considered one of the greatest martial arts films of all time, in 2004, Enter the Dragon was deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" in the United States and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. It was the first Chinese martial arts film to have been produced by a major Hollywood studio, Warner Bros., and was produced in association with Lee's Concord Production Inc. The film is largely set in Hong Kong. Among the stuntmen for the film were members of the Seven Little Fortunes, including Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. This was arguably instrumental in the trio's further association with Golden Harvest studios, which later launched their careers. The portly Hung is shown fighting Lee in the opening sequence of the movie and Chan shows up as a henchman when Lee is discovered inside Han's underground lair. Enter The Dragon was a grindhouse staple for several years after its release and featured on double bills with Five Fingers of Death, Hot Potato and other kung fu films. (Wikipedia/GCDb)

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Sister Streetfighter (1974)

Sister Street Fighter was a female led spin-off of The Streetfighter. The plot revolves around Tina Long (Etsuko "Sue" Shihomi) the martial artist of the title. When her brother Lee Long is kidnapped by drug lords, she seeks revenge. The drug lord's colorful collection of "killers" includes a toga-clad group of Thai Boxers called the "Amazons Seven", along with representatives of almost every martial art. Tina breaks into the drug lord's compound with the help of Seiichi Hibiki (Sonny Chiba) and other members of the Shorinji Kempo dojo. After all of his minions are defeated, the drug lord himself battles Tina, wearing a steel claw in imitation of Han, the villain from Enter The Dragon. Sister Streetfighter is is a really well made, fun Japanese karate film. While the main storyline/plot isn't particularly all that original, the action and characters are what it's all about. Of course, the fight sequences (of which there are plenty) are exciting and entertaining to watch. It's also got even more of a comic book-esque quality than The Streetfighter films with Sonny Chiba, especially in regards to the villains. Similar to its predecessors, Sister Street Fighter was initially rated X when first presented to the MPAA. New Line then cut 6 minutes of graphic footage, removing all shots with considerable amounts of blood and gore. (Wikipedia)


Fists of the White Lotus (1981)

As a sequel to Executioners From Shaolin, this classic kung-fu actioner features Gordon Liu as the fighter Hong Wen-ding whose friends have been killed by the seditious White Lotus Society. He wants revenge. In order to prepare himself for the great confrontation with the head of the White Lotus fighters, White Eyebrow Priest (Lo Lieh)--who has two remarkable skills: He can achieve weightlessness and he can draw his reproductive organs up into his stomach in order to protect them. Wen-ding is trained by a woman (Hui Yinghong) in how to use her more flexible style of combat. From his boss, he also learns the secret of acupuncture points that are connected with specific parts of the body. Armed with needles placed in his braided hair, he is ready to shut down his opponent like a toy whose batteries are disabled. TRIVIA: In Executioners From Shaolin the white-haired leader Pai Mei was killed, so when the studio was going to make a sequel, it decided to create the character of a twin brother, a classmate of the slain Pai Mei, who enacts revenge for his death. (Rovi/IMDB)

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Snake in The Monkey's Shadow (1979)

Widely regarded as one of the greatest kung fu films of its time, Snake in the Monkey's Shadow is a prime example of the "animal style" martial arts film. In a small town, Lung (John Cheung) is an poor fishmonger's son. When he hears some men training in the town martial arts school nearby, he climbs up an alley wall where he watches Teacher Ho (Hau Chiu Sing). There are very cool training sequences in the film where Lung dodges rotating beams and balances on some earthenware pots, sharpening his skills. Lung meets the legendary fighters of the Snake and Monkey Styles in an exciting showdown. Lung combines his kung fu mentors Drunken and Monkey styles together to be twice as deadly! The action in this movie is choreographed really well. If you are a fan of animal style martial arts (Snake, Monkey, Tiger, Praying Mantis etc) you will love how the techniques are displayed. (GCDb)


A Fist Full of Talons (1983)

After the successful early kung fu films of Jackie Chan like Snake in The Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, several Asian martial artists began to try to copy Chan's style of humor mixed with action. Billy Chong who stars in this film is essentially the best of this group. Chong creates his own entertaining character portrayal and becomes a real kung fu dynamo as the film's story unfolds. Director Chung Sun brings a masterful visual style to the film through his camerawork. The many colorful and interesting set designs add another layer to the film and give it a unique spaghetti western meets martial arts look. At the opening of the film, we meet the head of the Manchu lobbyists, Ni Sin who is waiting for a Ching representative named Ding Wei Chung, who never shows up to his "peace meeting". Ni Sin becomes enraged and vows he will find Ding and kill him for breaking his promise. A young farmhand named Yi Min (Billy Chong) becomes involved in the battle between the Ching and Manchus and the kung fu action soarsinto high gear. TRIVIA: A Fist Full of Talons is a true Grindhouse classic that played at The Empire theater on The Deuce during its run. (GCDb)


Chinese Super Ninjas (1982)

A mind-blowing mixture of cartoonish violence and dizzying acrobatics, Chang Cheh's final feature for the Shaw Brothers takes on a surreal quality, depicting a world of almost supernatural powers and a limitless ability to bend gravity. During this feature's bevy of wildly exciting fight sequences, we're treated to colorful set pieces, impressive weaponry, and a singular, almost child-like vision; an alternate reality where men can fly and the good guy prevails in the end, despite the odds. he wire work and choreography is spectacularly done in the wood segment, with the ninjas effortlessly flying through the air and striking with a startling precision. The weapons of choice are also a kung-fu flick fanatic's dream, ranging from deadly climbing claws to knife-cloaked fingertips (which were reminiscent of Freddy Krueger's glove). Cheh's color spectrum is also quite attractive, featuring bright blues in the water element and neon reds in the fire segment. This candy-colored visual palette also benefits from the glorious and nearly endless streams of blood, which drip from chests, spray from heads, and drain from removed organs. This may be one of the more violent efforts from Cheh, but it is also one of his most exuberant and exciting, feeling like an intense comic book that bursts right off of the page. (GCDb)

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Dirty Ho (1979)

Prior to making this film, director Lau Kar Leung was mostly known for serious, ethical martial arts films such as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Challenge Of The Masters. After having success with the often comical, Spiritual Boxer, Lau wanted to start having some fun. Joining his vision was family-member and leading co-star, Gordon Liu, who momentarily ditched the Shaolin Monk-character that kung fu fans were always accustomed to seeing him as. Here, he transforms himself into more of a dapper character complete with a fancy little moustache to go along with some affection for the ladies! Also joining the fray (and what one could argue for being Dirty Ho's main attraction) was this new brand of fight-choreography. Long-time martial arts aficionados could be fooled into thinking that Yuen Woo Ping was involved with the choreography for this film since it seems to have his recognizable stamp of acrobatic, fast-paced, trickery action. Aside from the finale where grand-villain extraordinaire Lo Lieh has his showdown with the two heroes, the rest of the other fight scenes build and build from a simple gesture of drink-offering to a dazzling display of flips and deadly kicks. It's the reason why this film is still so highly regarded as a refreshing classic. (GCDb)

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Born Invincible (1978)

The ancient Tai Chi style is one of the most deadliest in martial arts and it is the main focus of this classic. Chia (Carter Wong) is one of the two Chin Yin Chiefs who is a Tai Chi Master. The other is Chin Pah (Lo Lieh). The Chin Yin chiefs send two evil thugs out to find an old man named Lu Chin. Lu Chin is an old enemy of Chiefs and they want to kill him and his young daughter. While the two thugs confront Lu Chin, a local group of kung fu students see it taking place and one of the head students named Ming Chu defends the old man. The two killers battle Ming Chu and he isnt able to defeat them on his own. His uncle, one of the head teachers at the Lei Ping school shows up and fights the two killers. They are defeated for the moment, but they swear to come back and kill the Lei Ping school. Ming Chu realizes that to defeat The Chin Yin Chiefs the entire school must train in the mountains where they can hide out for awhile. This leads to several intense face offs and the action and acrobatics are simply top notch. Yuen Woo Ping (Iron Monkey, The Matrix, Kill Bill) was the fight choreographer and his setups are as good as it gets. Born Invincible has a great mix of wushu sword fighting, hand to hand combat and ancient kung fu mythology. (GCDb)


Black Belt Jones (1974)

If you've seen Enter The Dragon, you'll know that Jim Kelly has his own brand of humor which he mixes with his blazing martial arts talent. Well, Black Belt Jones basically expands on that and injects it into every scene. None of the characters in this film are overly serious, even the villains are sort of goofy. The dialogue is very funny/witty and its one of the main strengths in the movie besides the over the top action. One of the most exciting characters in the film is Gloria Hendry's Sydney who you wouldnt expect to be such a tough badass. She really has a lot of energy and makes a nice foil for Kelly's Black Belt Jones. Its got to be noted that the score and sound effects by Luchi DeJesus and Dennis Coffey is one of the most funky from the Blaxploitation era. The movie is filled with intense brass horns mixed with Kelly's kung fu "Ki-ays" and laid over the sound of piercing bone crunches and snaps during the fight scenes. This was also the first blaxploitation-kung fu crossover and who better to kick it off than the legendary Jim "Dragon" Kelly? For those viewers new to the 70s Blaxploitation/Grindhouse film craze, this is one of the essentials that you should check out. (GCDb)


Broken Oath (1977)

Broken Oath is a 1977 Hong Kong kung fu film from South Korean director Chang Chang Ho (Five Fingers of Death), with action choreography by Tyrone Hsu Hsia and Yuen Woo-ping. The Golden Harvest production stars Angela Mao. A woman lies dying in a women's prison after giving birth and recounts to a pickpocket how she ended up there after her husband was murdered by thugs, one of whom also raped her. The pickpocket agrees to raise her daughter to seek revenge, but in hopes of breaking the cycle of violence she hands the infant girl over to a Shaolin monastery for women. 'Pure Lotus' Liu (Mao) grows up to be a troubled young woman who skips out on Buddhist lessons, but excels at kung fu. She's kicked out after killing several thugs and rejoins the pickpocket, where she discovers the truth about her parents. Using her kung fu and deadly scorpions, Lotus begins a systematic hunt for each of the men who assaulted her family and ends up joining forces with government agents to uproot rebels, two of whom are her targets. (Wikipedia)


Drunken Master (1978)

Drunken Master is a 1978 Hong Kong martial arts film directed by Yuen Woo-ping, and starring Jackie Chan, Yuen Siu-tien, and Hwang Jang Lee. The film was a big success at the Hong Kong box office, earning two and a half times the amount of Chan's previous film, Snake in The Eagle's Shadow, which was also considered a successful film. It is an early example of the comedic kung fu genre for which Jackie Chan became famous. The film popularised the Zui Quan ("drunken fist") fighting style. The film's protagonist Wong Fei-hung was a Chinese martial artist, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and a revolutionary who lived towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. He became a Chinese folk hero and the subject of several Hong Kong television programmes and films. Beggar So, who plays a supporting role in the film, is also another character from Chinese folklore and one of the Ten Tigers of Canton. (Wikipedia)


The Magnificent Butcher (1979)

In this tale, Wong Fei Hung's most famous and mischievous student, Butcher Wing (Sammo Hung) gets in a predicament with a rival school called the "Five Dragons" which is led by Master Ko (Lee Hoi San), an expert in the cosmic palm technique. After a lie is made up by one of Ko's friends saying that Wing ambushed him and badmouthed the Five Dragons school, Ko gets ticked off and pays Wong Fei Hung (Kawn Tak Hing) a visit. Ko and Wong Fei Hung battle it out in a kung fu caligraphy(!) match with Wong Fei Hung emerging as the victor. But Ko warns Fei Hung about the trouble Wing has caused to the school and warns him that if Wing messes up once more, there will be hell to pay. TRIVIA: This film was produced as Hung's attempt to duplicate the success of Jackie Chan's 1978 martial arts action comedy film Drunken Master, in which Chan plays Wong Fei-hung. Drunken Master heavily features the Beggar So character, who is also in Magnificent Butcher. Yuen Woo-ping's father Yuen Siu Tien was set to reprise his role as Beggar So. Later, Yuen died of heart attack before production began and was replaced by Fan Mei Sheng. (GCDb)


Fist of Fury II (1977)

Fist of Fury II (aka Chinese Connection 2 and Fist of Fury Part II), is a 1977 Hong Kong kung fu film directed by Iksan Lahardi and Tso-nam Lee, and starring Bruce Li and Lo Lieh. It is the sequel to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury. The lead role of Chen Shan is played by Bruce Li, who goes to Shanghai to mourn his brother's death who was killed at the hands of the Japanese. Chen Shan then avenges his brother by killing the Japanese. This film is generally regarded as one of Bruce Li's better films. It wasn't as well received as its predecessor but was thought to be much better than Jackie Chan’s New Fist of Fury. Another sequel was released in 1979, titled Fist of Fury III (aka Chinese Connection 3). (Wikipedia)

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