Best Fight Scenes With No Guns
As a sister-entry to our previous list on shootout sequences, today the writers at TFS bring you their favorite on-screen examples of fight sequences in film that are entirely predicated on hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, or using unique tools as a means of defense. Check out our picks below, and be sure to sound off in the comments with any others you think should be on this list!
Oldboy is a highly stylized over-the-top revenge tale full of memorable moments, but by far its most exciting scene is the classic hallway fight. Halfway through the movie, Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) returns to the hellish apartment building where he was held captive for fifteen years looking for answers. To find whoever he believes to be in charge he first has to fight through a cramped hallway filled with guards. Armed with only a hammer, our tortured hero somehow pushes through the onslaught of goons to reach the other side. Done in one glorious take, the infamous scene is unlike many fight scenes in that it feels real. The odds are completely stacked against him, but the way Dae-su beats down his enemies is not one of precision, it's actually rather bumbling. He hits one and the others flinch, they gang up on him on the ground and he feigns injury only to bounce back and get a few more hits in to get distance, everybody even regularly takes breaks from exhaustion. It's impressive in its restraint (Dae-su doesn't even kill any of them, they just yell in tired pain from the ground), and it's a joy to watch.
- Marcus Irving
They Live (1988)
Rowdy Roddy Piper, may he rest in peace, is simply trying to get Keith David to put on some damn shades. He is quite adamant about it too. Why the intensity about a pair of sunglasses you wonder? Well, Rowdy put them on and saw the real world. Aliens are walking amongst us and are straight up running things! Rowdy desperately tries to show rather than tell but Keith is having none it and gives Rowdy a jab to the face. The two dudes begin to throw down in an alleyway creating one of the greatest moments in the film and one of the greatest one-on-one fights in cinema history. The bare knuckle brawl between two pretty huge dudes lasts for about 5 minutes and 20 seconds and never fails to impress. Imagine the prep on that fight! Both men are exchanging blows in stunning fashion and they even sneak in a few suplexes getting the most out of their wrestling star no doubt. It is a fight that feels quite real even though it is smack dab in the middle of a sci-fi film. Bloodied and friends by the end of it, Rowdy and Keith put in a ton of work for that scene and it is never going to be forgotten anytime soon. A Brutal and hilarious scrap indeed.
Fist of Legend (1994)
In this loose but fantastic remake of The Chinese Connection, Jet Li plays the Bruce Lee role and is on the hunt for the scum that murdered his teacher. Jet goes around town kicking all kinds of ass and trust me it was hard to pick one scene in this film to write about but the moment when Jet Li and Chin Siu-Hou go at one another in the middle of the film is a real showstopper. The two students have beef and even though the come from the same school, a fight must take place to settle the brewing tension. The multiple techniques fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping displays in this fight will knock you flat with both actors bringing the physicality to back it. Traditional martial arts mixed with boxing and a dash of wirework make this a beautiful fight. Every punch and cartwheel kick feels like it deserves to be there, a fight where even the flash has purpose. A few times in this exchange, Jet Li has Chin Siu-Hou dead to rights but he holds back not wanting to fully destroy his opponent. The respect and storytelling involved within the fight adds crazy amounts of layers to an already beautiful thing. A huge inspiration for The Wachowski’s visual language for The Matrix fight scenes (Hell, they just ahead and hired Yuen Woo-Ping), Fist of Legend has the goods.
- Rockie Juarez
The Bride With White Hair (1993)
Swords and sorcery are a beautiful marriage that isn't uncommon to wuxia cinema, but we could benefit to see more of it. Ronny Yu’s masterpiece The Bride with White Hair is the gold standard for mystical swordplay movies; the baroque style of storytelling retains the grandeur of Shakespearian proportions, like Romeo & Juliet but with pagan cults, martial arts, and witchcraft. There’s a playful notion around the genre of wuxia movies, but Ronny Yu, and leading stars Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung play this dark fable straight-laced, and the action sequences are balletic, hazy, bloody and beautiful. All of the action sequences have the woozy, step processed slow motion (think about the style of Wong Kar-wai) that heightens every sense of this sumptuous tale. The showdown features Lian Nichang (Lin) transforming into a merciless witch and deciding to wipe out the Wudang martial arts school; leaving her ex-lover Zhuo Yihang (Cheung) an outcast for the destruction of Wudang while he still struggles with his emotions for Yihang. Using a traditional love story for a backbone with no shortage of decapitations, flying bodies, and fountains of bloodshed, it’s so rapturous and energized you can’t peel your eyes away from what’s on screen.
Dragons Forever (1988)
In the many kung-fu/wuxia movies, there’s fans of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, so on and so forth; you can like them all, but there’s one you lean toward the most. One of the best parts of martial arts cinema isn’t just Jackie Chan, but Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, and Jackie Chan; also known as the three brothers. A friendship/collaboration forged in their childhood in the Peking Opera, weaving through one another's careers, their biggest screen credits begin with Project A and Wheels on Meals, and end with Dragons Forever. Jackie, Yuen, and Sammo have an epic showdown with a drug kingpin and his various henchmen in a factory, with Yuen Biao doing some death defying acrobatics leaping through windows, and doing flips on a catwalk while clobbering his attackers. One highlight includes Jackie rematching with kickboxing champion Benny “The Jet” Urquidez whose first bout in Wheels on Meals ended with Jackie allegedly losing his cool with Urquidez yelling that he’d never work in Hong Kong again. As a performer, Chan was taught to pull his punches, as a kickboxer Urquidez was taught to hit people; ergo the tension between the two. Jackie was wrong about him working in Hong Kong again (he also turned up in Grosse Pointe Blank as the henchmen who gets a pen in the neck) and here they have a score to settle, which really shows in this electrifying film.
Drunken Master II (1994)
Drunken Master was rightfully a huge success and a lot of fun, but Drunken Master II, or Legend of Drunken Master is without contest the better film. Collaborating with premier director and choreographer Lau Kar-leung, Jackie Chan was almost too good to be true, and luckily for us it made for one of the best of the genre. Lau Kar-leung (who comes from a lineage of serious minded kung fu) took the film's fight sequences seriously, which might sound counter-intuitive to Jackie’s emphasis on stunts and spectacular set pieces, especially at this point in his career. The rattling of sabers both metaphorical and literal aside (Lau was fired while keeping his directing credit), the film is a beautiful marriage of explosively entertaining fight sequences. In a movie like Drunken Master II with many great scenes, what do you choose from? The fight underneath a train, the epic axe battle where Lau and Jackie fend off a veritable army with a broken stick of bamboo, or is it that final factory showdown? While there’s not a slow minute in Drunken Master II, Jackie Chan’s playful Wong-Fei-hung interpretation dominates a legion of adversaries, dishing out fluidly shot long takes of his drunken boxing and carrying out a series of faster-than-thou ass kicking to everyone in sight. Ever devoted to self-endangerment, Jackie also throws himself on a bed of hot coals (doing two takes mind you) and in the Chan tradition drinking wood grain alcohol to boost his uniquely balletic fighting style. You have to love someone who is (literally) willing to kill themselves to make a good movie.
- Alex Miller
Ip Man (2008)
If, like me, you saw Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One last December and thought, “Holy shit, Donnie Yen is the man,” you likely started going back through his previous movies for other kickass action scenes. Netflix is our friend, in this instance. Yen’s titular Ip Man is at once a gentle, forgiving and adaptable man, caring only to look after his family as peacefully as possible. That peace is broken when his friend Lin is brought back from an underground fight organized by Japanese invaders, bloodied, beaten and shot. In his anger, Master Ip volunteers for the fighting arena, witnessing a talented fellow master first face one karateka, and fall to three in a second fight. Master Ip pushes his way to the front of the line, insisting on fighting ten, against protests from the translator. What transpires is a masterfully orchestrated fist fight in which Master Ip actively blocks shots while mercilessly attacking several karateka at once. The forms he practices early on in the film are shown off in action here, and put to use to frankly embarrass the occupying Japanese black belts. Master Ip walks off with the win and the prize: food for his family.