Get limber, because New York’s Old School Kung Fu Fest is back in action and more bruising than ever. Overseen by Subway Cinema (the NYC genre gurus who mastermind the city’s indispensable New York Asian Film Festival), the series is a portal to a glorious past where every fight scene was choreographed with the grace of a hyper-violent ballet and every kick crackled on the soundtrack like a bolt of lightning. And the sixth edition of OSKFF promises to be the best yet, as Subway Cinema has partnered with the recently opened Metrograph theater so that all of these wild treasures can be screened in 35mm.
This year’s fest celebrates Golden Harvest, the legendary Hong Kong studio that rivaled the Shaw brothers and ruled Kung Fu cinema from the ’70s until the ’90s. In addition to producing many of the genre’s most beloved films, Golden Harvest also helped launch the careers of its brightest stars, introducing the world to everyone from Sammo Hung to Jackie Chan. Eight of the studio’s bone-breaking masterpieces are screening at the Metrograph this weekend, but here are the five that you can’t afford to miss.
The 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest runs from Friday, April 8 through Sunday, April 10. Visit The Metrograph for tickets and a full overview of the lineup.
“The Blade” (Tsui Hark, 1995)
Tsui Hark has always been the most outlandish of his contemporaries, less interested in finesse than he is in delirium, and 1995’s “The Blade” is kung fu cinema at its maximalist extreme. On the surface, it might appear to be relatively typical genre fare: The story follows a young blacksmith as he fights to avenge the tattooed karate master who killed his father. But Hark only floats such familiar tropes so that viewers have something to hold on to when he unleashes a veritable tornado of dutch angles, jump cuts, color gels, and other wild flourishes. Part martial arts movie and part structuralist freakout, “The Blade” anticipated the unhinged special-effects extravaganzas with which Hark has busied himself since (e.g. “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame”).
“Enter the Dragon” (Robert Clouse & Bruce Lee, 1973)
The first Chinese martial arts movie produced by a major Hollywood studio and still the most iconic of its kind, this endlessly imitated (and parodied) 1973 masterpiece follows a fighter who travels to a secret island in order to compete in a tournament run by the one-handed Mr. Han (Shih Kien). You know the rest: Jim Kelly’s afro, Lee’s yellow tracksuit, and a climactic fight to the death that cemented the ill-fated star’s legend. Lee died a few months after “Enter the Dragon” came out, but this movie is the reason why he’ll never be forgotten.
“Pedicab Driver” (Sammo Hung, 1989)
Sammo Hung has any number of kung fu classics to his name (including OSKFF selection “The Prodigal Son”), but “Pedicab Driver” alone would be enough to earn him a place among the genre’s greatest masters. The famously plump but surprisingly nimble Hung plays a lovestruck rickshaw driver in 1930s Macau, directing himself through some of the most astonishing fight scenes ever committed to film — it’s hard to care that the plot is a silly patchwork of nonsense when two angry men in a noodle shop are using fluorescent lights to stage a lightsaber battle that tops anything in an actual “Star Wars” movie.
“Rumble in the Bronx” (Stanley Tong, 1995)
Jackie Chan, already a mammoth star in his native China, completed his bid for global domination with this North American action comedy. The story of a cop who travels to New York for his uncle’s wedding and gets himself involved in the fight against a homicidal diamond syndicate, “Rumble in the Bronx” was a Hong Kong production that milked its Western setting for every cent that it was worth. Unconvincingly using Vancouver as a stand-in for the Big Apple, the movie nevertheless sold audiences on the idea that Chan was the real deal.
“A Terra-Cotta Warrior” (Ching Siu-tung, 1990)
“Raise the Red Lantern” director Zhang Yimou was already on his way to becoming one of China’s most prominent auteurs when he stepped in front of the camera for this fantastical 1990 epic. Starring opposite Gong Li, his muse and romantic partner at the time, Zhang plays a medieval warrior who drinks the elixir of eternal life in the moments before he’s sentenced to death as punishment for sleeping with one of the emperor’s concubines. When the immortal hero is resuscitated in the early 20th Century, he falls in love with a film actress who looks uncannily similar to his ancient love. You know the “Unchained Melody” scene in “Ghost?” Imagine that with sharp steel instead of wet clay and you’ll have the right idea.