It's nice to sit back for a moment and take stock of the many Asian martial artists working in film today. Some have been around a while. Others are quite new to the game. And many have been in films so obscure that many Westerners have yet to see them. With the theatrical release of Keanu Reeve's Man of Tai Chi (also currently available on VOD) and the introduction it provides for star Tiger Chen, here are some Asian ass kickers you should be looking out for in the immediate future.
Man of Tai Chi might be Keanu Reeve's directorial debut, but it's really Tiger Chen's film. Because Chen holds back his true talents for much of the movie's running time, it takes a while to really see what the big deal is with this tiny guy and his big hair. Once you get to the incredible strobe fight, however, there's no more doubting Chen's abilities.
Star of Merantau, The Raid: Redemption and its upcoming sequel Berandal, Iko Uwais is the world's most baby-faced badass. This Indonesian heartthrob may look like a nice guy, but he can kill you 10 times before you're even done asking him to babysit your children. Watch out for a quick appearance from Uwais in Man of Tai Chi.
Also featured in Marantau, The Raid: Redemption, and (somehow) its upcoming sequel Berandal, Yayan Ruhian kind of represents the Ying to Iko Uwais' Yang. While Uwais looks sweet and altruistic, Ruhian is all grubby menace. Ruhian was also a professional martial arts instructor who taught a cool inner-breathing technique, which allows you to take as many hits as you want, so don't bother messing with him.
Look at any Chinese martial arts film coming out in the next year, and chances are Donnie Yen will be there. As kind of a classic entry, Yen's a bit older now, but age hasn't slowed him down at all. In fact, he seems to get more charming and watchable the older he gets. At a recent Fantastic Fest Q&A, Scott Adkins outed Donnie Yen as the one fighter he'd love to work with most, and it's probably not because he thinks he'd be the easiest knockout.
Another obvious choice, Tony Jaa has become the new face for totally outlandish and irresponsible martial arts stunt work. He also might be just a little bit crazy. And while he may be an obvious inclusion for some, many Americans will see him for the first time with his appearance in next summer's Fast & Furious 7. Hopefully, he gets enough screentime to really make an impression. On something other than Vin Diesel's face, that is.
Also known as Yanin Vismitananda, JeeJa is the star of the great Thai martial arts film Chocolate, where she plays an autistic lady who has a preternatural knack for inflicting bodily harm on people. Yanin isn't playing just for the camera, either; she is a real life Taekwando specialist, who needs to be in more films as soon as possible.
Not many people saw 2013's The King of the Streets, Song's acting, writing and directorial debut. Maybe that's not such a crime as the film itself is not all that exciting. But as a martial artist, Yue Song definitely makes his mark as a fighter to keep an eye on. Given the right film, he has talent enough to jump ahead of the pack.
This list may be a bit too Raid: Redemption-heavy, but it's one of the best martial arts films to come out in the last 10 years, so we're all just kind of stuck with it. Taslim used to be a Judo athlete, and while not quite as memorable as Iko Uwais or Yayan Ruhian, he certainly made an impression enough to briefly show up in last year's Fast & Furious 6, where he beat up Han and Roman both at the same time.
Though Lee Byung-huh studies Taekwando, he's more an actor than an actual martial artist, especially compared to the other people on this list. Nevertheless, you can't go far without seeing him kicking somebody's ass lately. From RED 2, to G.I. Joe, to his Korean films like I Saw the Devil, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, he's one of the bigger Asian action stars out there.
If you haven't seen BKO: Bangkok Knockout, you definitely should. The plot finds a group of martial artists who must fight to save themselves and a kidnapped pal while rich jerks watch their progress and make bets on their battles. The plot also doesn't really matter, as it's all just an excuse to watch these people beat each other senseless and do lots of crazy stunts. Chatchapol Kulsiriwoottichai is the film's star, but it's almost a draw across the board.
Read our interview with Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen right here.
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