Discover the comedy-action talent of Stephen Chow and Edgar Wright, the martial arts mastery of Jet Li and Jackie Chan, and South Korean writers Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon.
Subscription streaming services require digging to discover their full value. For example, as I prepared for IndieWire’s best 21st century action movies (coming later this week), I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many quality action movies were available on Netflix. – including works by a number of non-American authors. From martial arts and gangster shoot’em ups to action and comedy movies, here are eight very original, well-designed, director-led entertainments that could be a welcome alternative this summer when your local cineplex feels like a boring replay.
“Shaolin Football” (2001)
Stephen Chow’s films (“Kung Fu Hustle”) are a wonderful and wacky mix of comedy and action that has an infectious spirit. For this movie, the actor / writer / director adds a sports movie to the mix, which might sound weird, but once you see it you’ll wonder why no one has made a martial arts movie on the football before. Chow plays a Shaolin warrior who has become a street cleaner because there isn’t much use for his services. In an effort to show society the benefits of martial arts, he forms a soccer team where they use the skills to kick the ball so hard that it turns into flames and jumps so high that the movie becomes more “Crouching Tiger “than ESPN.
Director Zhang Yimou literally elevates the movie wuxia, as martial arts stars Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Zhang Ziyi are virtually weightless in some of the most beautiful fight scenes engaged in the film. Yimou’s leadership is inspired. The action is crisp and allows a pure appreciation of the art. The stunning, natural-setting films, filmed in incredibly vivid color by War Kong-wai’s regular DP Christopher Doyle only add to this appreciation. While the film lacks a bit of the courage and immediacy of its other films, it does offer an understanding of the motivations of these warriors, as well as their sacrifice, which emotionally resonates with the viewer.
READ MORE: 7 Original Netflix Movies Worth Searching For
It’s time to get acquainted with the work of Johnnie To. The Hong Kong producer and director has made more than 50 films during this century, including 36 himself since his career began in 1980. Nor are they fast-paced B-series movies, but skillfully crafted genre films with a distinct and original voice. His sense of movement and staging has a Spielberg exactitude with a lyrical flair all of his own. âThreeâ is considered a minor Johnnie To film, in the sense that it is a bedroom play set in a hospital and not on the scale of âVengeanceâ or âExiledâ. Still, it’s a great introduction to the filmmaker as ‘Three’ becomes a formal exercise in tension building as he heads for a climax not to be missed.
READ MORE: Review – âThreeâ is another dazzling formal exercise from action master Johnnie at
“The legend of the drunken master” (1994)
The Kobal collection
What’s so fun about this movie and the original 1978 âDrunken Masterâ is how they reveal Jackie Chan’s lineup. His incredible body control isn’t just for stunts and fights, but for comedic expression in the vein of Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd. In his first martial arts film in over 15 years, Chan returns to the character who needs to get drunk to unleash his unique fighting powers. This film’s special blend of slapstick and incredible acrobatic fights and stunts is one of the greatest joys in all of cinema.
“The Good, the Bad, the Strange” (2008)
South Korean director Kim Jee-woon is a visual stylist with an incredible sense of how to pop action scenes, while imbuing every frame with his eccentric sensibility. Based on Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, the story tells the story of three characters in search of treasure in 1930s Manchuria. The film is at full speed nonstop, with fantastic action scenes involving a train, motorbike, horses, burglary and more.
READ MORE: ‘The Age of Shadows’ Trailer: Kim Jee-woon’s Korean Action Thriller Shows The Dark Side of War
The unique fighting ability of “The Raid” star Iko Uwais is the main attraction here, but his brutal style is not for the faint of heart. This Indonesian bloodbath features longer plays with high body counts that are a showcase for an artist many believe to be the next big martial arts movie star.
“Hot Fuzz” (2007)
As we count down the days until Edgar Wright’s next film, âBaby Driver,â this might be a good time to revisit the action-comedy goodness of âHot Fuzzâ. Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is the best cop in London, so good he makes the other cops look bad and they send him to a post in a sleepy English village. While the action in âHot Fuzzâ hinges on the comedic premise of an overly intense cop in a very laid-back town, that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious movie. Wright isn’t here for a laugh or a cheap thrill. Dedicated film buff, the world of comedy is a playground for him to put his own unique twist on his favorite conventions and is a total celebration of what makes movies both fun and cool. There is some sincerity in Wright’s films as well, and “Hot Fuzz” is a totally engaging buddy flick between the characters of Pegg and Nick Frost.
READ MORE: ‘Baby Driver’ review – Edgar Wright’s Brilliant Car Chase musical features Ansel Elgort as an outlaw Fred Astaire
“Old Boy” (2003)
Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) had 15 years of her life stolen in a mysterious way; now that he has made his way to freedom, his only goal is to find the truth and get revenge. Park Chan-wook’s great movie (“The Handmaiden”) is more of a neo-noir thriller than an action flick, but in the scenes where Choi Min-sik’s character takes revenge, the results are among the most daring and exciting action scenes filmed in recent memory. âOld Boyâ won the Grand Prix when it premiered in competition at Cannes and since then the South Korean director has been delivering some of the most beautiful, unique and, let’s be honest, fun films of the century. If you haven’t discovered this must-read author, “Old Boy” is a great place to start.
READ MORE: Park Chan-wook’s ‘The Handmaiden’ Deserves Oscar Nominations In All Technical Categories
Another great action on Netflix: “Escape From New York”, “Bad Boys II”, “Big Trouble in Little China”, “Hellboy”, “IP Man”, “Turbo Kid”, “Red Cliff” and “The Assassin”.