Announcing My 2022 Movie Retrospective: The Fight Choreography of Yuen Woo-ping

A central figure in the history of Hong Kong action films, Yuen Woo-ping has enjoyed a fifty-year career putting together some of the most enthusiastically kinetic cinema in existence. Carrying on the legacy of his father, Yuen Siu-tien, himself an actor in the nascent wuxia and kung fu genres, Yuen the younger has since played an important role in the careers of superstars Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li. All the while, he has crafted martial arts choreography that combines elegance, humor, spiritual traditions and political salience.

To kick off the year 2022, I’ll be watching 51 movies that Yuen Woo-ping coordinated and/or directed between the years 1972 and 2019. As always with my big retrospectives, completism is the (only sometimes attained) goal, but it must be said that Yuen has contributed in some capacity to a great many more movies besides these. Part of the difficulty in nailing down a definitive list is the sheer range of terminology involved. What I want is to see all the movies on which Yuen acted as choreographer/stunt coordinator/action director, so I’ve been tracking down all the official credits on IMDB and HKMDB that match those descriptions. However, I’m still a novice on this subject, so the fine distinctions among these categories are lost on me. The resulting collection undoubtedly represents various kinds of individual and collaborative work, and any attempt at an auteurist reading will be tentative at best. Still, I’m excited to look at these movies through the lens of someone other than the director (though Yuen did also direct 16 of them himself).

Another hallmark of my retrospectives is that, while most of the films will be new to me, a handful are cherished favorites that I’m excited to contextualize in a new way. If the name Yuen Woo-ping rings a bell, you’ll know that this lineup is no different. Just look at the films below that were released in the years 1999 to 2004. My hope is to walk away from this experience with a more nuanced view of the man’s output than simply assuming that those movies are the pinnacle. Regardless, I’ll be spending several weeks immersed in the cinema of the Eastern world before I bring Hollywood into it, with a brief trip to the Tamil-language film industry of India being especially intriguing.

Here are the movies in chronological order. The most frequently appearing stars are as follows: Donnie Yen (10 films), Jet Li (9), Michelle Yeoh (5), Jackie Chan, Keanu Reeves, Zhang Ziyi (4), Andy On, Carrie-Anne Moss and Sammo Hung (3).

The Lizard (Chor Yuen, 1972)
Bloody Fists (Ng See-Yuen, 1972)
Kung Fu Massacre (Wong Tin-Lam, 1974)
From China with Death (Wu Ma, 1974)
Brotherhood (Hua Shan, 1976)
The Instant Kung Fu Man (Richard Tung Chin-Hu, 1977)
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (Yuen Woo-ping, 1978)
Born Invincible (Joseph Kuo, 1978)
Drunken Master (Yuen Woo-ping, 1978)
The Magnificent Butcher (Yuen Woo-ping, 1979)
Legend of a Fighter (Yuen Woo-ping, 1982)
The Miracle Fighters (Yuen Woo-ping, 1982)
Drunken Tai Chi (Yuen Woo-ping, 1984)
Mismatched Couples (Yuen Woo-ping, 1985)
In the Line of Duty IV (Yuen Woo-ping, 1989)
Once Upon a Time in China (Tsui Hark, 1991)
Twin Dragons (Tsui Hark & Ringo Lam, 1992)
Once Upon a Time in China II (Tsui Hark, 1992)
Last Hero in China (Wong Jing, 1993)
Iron Monkey (Yuen Woo-ping, 1993)
Tai-Chi Master (Yuen Woo-ping, 1993)
Wing Chun (Yuen Woo-ping, 1994)
Fist of Legend (Gordon Chan, 1994)
The Red Wolf (Yuen Woo-ping, 1995)
Tai Chi II (Yuen Woo-ping & Zhang Xinyan, 1996)
Iron Monkey 2 (Chao Lu-jiang, 1996)
Black Mask (Daniel Lee, 1996)
The Matrix (Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski, 1999)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
Zu Warriors (Tsui Hark, 2001)
Black Mask 2: City of Masks (Tsui Hark, 2002)
The Matrix Reloaded (Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski, 2003)
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
The Matrix Revolutions (Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski, 2003)
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)
Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, 2004)
Unleashed (Louis Leterrier, 2005)
House of Fury (Stephen Fung, 2005)
Fearless (Ronny Yu, 2006)
The Banquet (Feng Xiaogang, 2006)
The Forbidden Kingdom (Rob Minkoff, 2008)
True Legend (Yuen Woo-ping, 2010)
Enthiran (S. Shankar, 2010)
The Grandmaster (Wong Kar-Wai, 2013)
Man of Tai Chi (Keanu Reeves, 2013)
Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (Wong Ching-Po, 2014)
I (S. Shankar, 2015)
Ip Man 3 (Wilson Yip, 2015)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (Yuen Woo-ping, 2016)
The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (Yuen Woo-ping, 2017)
Ip Man 4: The Finale (Wilson Yip, 2019)

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