Top 10 Wuxia Movies
Wuxia is a Chinese genre of literature concerning fantasy swordplay, chivalry, and romance popularized by authors such as Jin Yong and Gu Long. It has since broadened into television shows, comics, video games, and of course, films. This list showcases 10 famous or interesting films, listed in no particular order, as an introduction to world of wuxia. There are many great movies out there, and I hope this will interest you to seek more.
This list starts out with a movie most of us are familiar with, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This movie was greatly praised in the West, but was mostly snubbed in China due to being too “westernized.” I actually like this movie a lot, and it was a good introduction to an audience who were unfamiliar with this genre. Directed by Ang Lee, the film is based on the novels by Wang Dulu and deals with the relationship between Li Mu Bai, his unrequited love Yu Shu Lien, and a rebellious nobleman’s daughter, Jen.
Quick Trivia : Cheng Pei-Pei who stars as the Jade Fox, Zhang Ziyi’s teacher, is also in another famous movie in this list.
Directed by Ronny Yu, this film is based on the novel Bai Fa Mo Nu Zhuan (Legend of the White Haired Maiden) by Liang Yusheng. The film, starring Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung, is a Romeo and Juliet love story between two characters and the struggle both must go through to be together. There’s a lot of fantasy elements and strange characters like the twin antagonist, who is half male-half female. The ending may seem like a cliff-hanger for the sequel, but I personally disagree. It feels right just the way it is, because it is pretty much what happens in the novel.
This film is a sequel to Swordsman, and is directed by Tsui Hark as an adaptation to the Jin Yong novel, Smiling Proud Wanderer. The sequel is listed because it is just as good as the first film, and it includes one of my favorite characters, Dong Fang Bu Bai. The movie is very different from the novel, which is one of its criticisms, but it’s still exciting and fun to watch.
Unlike other films that are based on novels, this one is actually based on a comic book. This movie is famous for its extensive use of CGI, although it may seem outdated now. Wind and Cloud, two young men stripped of their families and friends, are brought up to be killing machines for a tyrant. After finding the truth to their past, they must work together to defeat their enemy.
The House of Flying Daggers is slightly different from the average wuxia film in that it is not just a straight martial arts film but also a romantic tale. It was directed by Zhang Yimou and stars Andy Lau and Zhang Ziyi (one of the most successful Chinese actresses working at present). The film is set in 859 AD. The once great Tang Dynasty is now in decline. Numerous rebel groups have formed, the largest of which is the House of Flying Daggers, based in Feng Tian county. The Flying Daggers steal from the rich and give to the poor, gaining the support of the locals. When the film was released it received critical acclaim at Cannes and, in the authors opinion, is a must-see film for any fans of this genre.
Unlike most films, where the male character is the courageous hero able to handle combat on his own, the main character here is a scholar and starts out innocent and clumsy until he meets Yang, a woman forced to become a fugitive after her family was slaughtered by a cruel eunuch. Acclaimed for its cinematography and special effects, this is a beautiful film with a deeply haunting ending. The clip above is a scene of the bamboo fight in the movie that inspired the bamboo fight scene between Zhang Ziyi and Chow Yun Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Based on the book Meteor, Butterfly, Sword, this movie is filled with secrets-within-secrets-within-secrets. The film starts out with an assassin hired to kill the leader of a powerful clan, but the job turns out to be a little bit different than usual. People are not what they appear to be, each step is a trap, and too many important members are turning up dead. There’s a traitor amongst them, but who is it? This is a cat-and-mouse film that questions who really is the cat and who really is in control.
Cheng Pei-Pei stars as the resident female bad-ass, Golden Swallow. Sent to rescue her brother from evil bandits, she can totally hold her own against most of the men in the film. With the help of “Drunken Cat,” a beggar she meets along the way, she goes to confront the leader of the bandits and assure the safe return of her brother. This is one of the most famous films in wuxia, with many classic scenes such as “I’ll show you my skill, you show me yours” in the beginning. If you can only watch one film on this list, I totally recommend this one.
This is one of those “you either like it, or you don’t” movies, and rightly so. Scenes and characters come and go, and the plot just seems to meander into nowhere. So why is it on this list? Personally, I think this film is mostly misunderstood. Ashes of Time is a semi-prequel starring the character, Ou Yang Feng, who would later become the prime antagonist in the story “Legend of the Condor Heroes,” a television series so famous it is adapted numerous times and the actors always become household names. As a psychological film that questions the nature of good and evil, the motive of human beings, and destiny, this movie is an interesting, though bleak look into another side of wuxia.
By the way, it was re-released a few years ago as “Ashes of Time Redux.” I haven’t seen the that version of the movie, but I do know that a couple more scenes were added, the music was entirely redone, and the cinematography has changed. The trailer on this entry is of the original version.
You may think of Chu Liu Xiang as the James Bond of wuxia. He is a gentleman thief that could charm a any snake with his smile. Unfortunately, he has been accused of murdering the leaders of the biggest clans in the country and must find the real killer to clear his name. This is a fast-paced film complete with beautiful sets, awesome martial arts, and a whole lot of mystery. The trailer spoils a little bit, but it doesn’t deter from the excitement of the film.