King Hu Films Ranked

Inspired by @Snarf Zagyg 's ranked threads, I wanted to rank Kung Hu movies. Not sure how many fans of King Hu we have here but I think he was an incredible director. If anyone hasn't seen him, I highly recommend checking out his films. I just watched Raining in the Mountain the other night and it prompted me to think of his other movies. Figured I would try my hand at ranking them here. Those I haven't seen, I will not include, so just consider them unranked until I have seen them. Overall this is really hard. I like each of his great movies for different reasons. And some are just so widely regarded as classics, that it is a challenge not to put those ahead of others automatically. I am going to try to base this more on how compelled I felt to rewatch each film after seeing it and how much I reflect on each movie after having seen it.

1. Dragon Inn: For me this is the definitive King Hu movie. It captures everything I like about king hu, from the beauty of the cinematography, to the way he builds tension through dialogue and employs fight scenes that have a graceful and dance like quality. Also the characters. Most of the action takes place at an inn. I find King Hu knows how to keep a movie captivating even in a confined location like this one (and this is an element that enhances the mood and tension). Also the angles.

2. Come Drink with Me: This one feels less like his later movies, as it was done at Shaw Brothers. But it stars Cheng Pei-Pei in an unforgettable role, and is one of the best Shaw Brothers films ever made in my opinion. In fact it stands out among Shaw Brothers movies for how it looks and feels. This is here because I found myself watching it over and over after seeing it. While regarded as part of his "Inn trilogy", this one, divides its attention between an Inn and temple for the most part

3. Fate of Lee Khan: Another of his Inn Movies, I like this one the most for its fight sequences, which employ a bit more hand to hand and are quite prevalent. It also features a number of female leads, including Hsu Feng and Angela Mao. As the title suggests the Fate of Lee Khan is about an assassination that takes place at an inn. The inn here is probably his most interesting in my opinion as we see the movie more from the point of view of the staff and it just has an unusual character to it.

4. A Touch of Zen: This is his masterpiece. By all rights it should be at number one. I really wanted to put it at rank 1 on the list. Even though I listed it as fourth, it remains a great movie in my mind. The primary reason I placed it lower than the inn trilogy films is I only feel the desire to watch it every so often. It is a long movie, so it requires patience to enjoy, and for a large section of it, there isn't much action. But this is a film where I think he bests handles the themes and it is probably his film I think of most. Also there are some iconic moments in this, like the beautiful fight sequence in a bamboo forest. Largely the film centers on the meeting and relationship between a scholar and heroine named Ku and Yang, played by Shih Chun and Hsu Feng.

6. Raining in the Mountain: This is also an outstanding film. It isn't quite a martial arts movie, though there are martial artists in it. It takes place in a temple as the abbot is going to retire and select a successor. The patrons he has invited to help him make his choice conspire to steel a precious sutra. What stands out to me about this film are the characters (who are mostly scoundrels) and the theme of atonement. It is very much focused on dialogue and intrigue. There are some actions scenes, but many of these are less about fighting and more about moving (as they are all occurring on temple grounds). There is a lot more to the film than that but it would take paragraphs to talk about. It is a companion piece to Legend on the Mountain and choosing between these two was difficult.

6. Legend of the Mountain: This is a film that could have been higher on the list for me were the competition not so good, though I think it is generally more lowly regarded by people. This isn't wuxia or action, it is more of a horror or supernatural movie (though the horror is very subtle). There is also a slow sense of transition into the supernatural as the movie goes on which I like. Unlike many of this other movies, which are set in the Ming Dynasty, this one draws off a Song Dynasty story. It was also written by his wife Chun Ling. I love the sense of place he creates (I feel like I am camping in the mountains when I watch it). And the story in really good in my opinion. This is a companion piece to Raining in the Mountain.

7. Painted Skin: I do like this movie but it has its flaws. It was made much later in his career. I believe his health was suffering at this point as well. Even though it is not as good as the earlier entries, it still manages to do some special things. This one is a full on horror movie, and the source material is quite well known (it is based on a Pu Songling story of the same name and has been made into a number of movies). It stars Joey Wong, and she is great in it, but that also invites comparisons with A Chinese Ghost Story (which is a better film in my opinion). What I like about it is the classic horror atmosphere it creates. I am a fan of universal and silent horror movies and this film reminds me of them.

8. The Swordsman: This movie is so eclipsed by Swordsman II and III, that I have to put it low on the list. It is also apparently the work of many directors as King Hu left the project and it was completed by a number of people, including Tsui Hark. It is based on The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, and is not terrible. It just feels pale when you watch in contrast to Swordsman II and Swordsman II (The East is Red).
 

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