2.03.2015

A '100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time' list that does not suck

 
Frequently across our fair "internets", a questionable source will post a Top 25, Top 50, or Top 100 list that attempts to rank movies, albums, etc. Although most of 'em are lame, a small number of these show that some serious consideration went into producing them. The one that no one ever seems to get right, though, are the martial arts movies lists.
 
A few short days ago, for example, a supposed list of "The 100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time", compiled by Paste Magazine, was shared with friends on Facebook by a justifiably annoyed Ron Wimberly (Prince of Cats). He and essentially everyone else who saw the share and left comments on it agreed that Paste's list sucked Chinese stress balls.
 
Seriously. American Ninja included on a '100 best martial arts movies' list but not Shaolin and Wu-tang, one of the most magnificent martial arts spectacles ever preserved on 35mm film,  VHS and DVD? Holy Robe of the Shaolin Temple, Batman! Where were the Paste folks when they put together some of those selections on that list (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), an opium den?
 
Mr. Wimberly 'sez that folks who put such lists together usually don't know $#%&, which all too often does seem to be quite the case. And the folks who do know what they're talking about often have little interest in spending numerous hours listing and ranking 100 of the best martial arts films, which can be somewhat subjective to begin with.
 
Unfortunately, you also can't help but find yourself thinking sometimes that some people who put together such lists, especially those pertaining to the subject at hand, have never even watched many great martial arts films––including some of the ones that they've listed, a similar viewpoint expressed in a particularly heated comment by my buddy Mike (MeccaGodZilla).
 
More than anything, what these lists often tend to show is that the folks who made them were unqualified to even take on such a task. How can someone assemble a 'best of' list if they haven't actually seen the best that the genre has to offer? To them I say, "Stay in your lane, Grasshopper, and leave lists like these to the experts–––and to the hardcore fans.

As a hardcore fan and a self-professed Martial Arts Movie Watching Grandmaster™(who has actually viewed upwards of 200 martial arts flicks in between readings of Plato and comic books), I feel a pressing need to weigh in on this very controversial subject. Someone with at least half a clue should, right?

Admittedly, I've been wanting to do one of these since publishing the "One-Hundred Fingers of Death Martial Arts Movie Watching Master List" in an 8-page mini-zine four or five years ago. Fortunately, due to all the work done on that list, the time required to make another list with "rankings" was cut down considerably...to about three days.

I should take a moment now to say, before anyone who sees my personal list has a conniption upon seeing films like Ip Man ranked higher (meaning lower), puhleeze get down into the top 50 before you do. The flicks listed there will shed some light on the semi-discerning rationale involved in the placement of some higher (meaning lower) ranked films.*

Big fans of samurai films should be warned, too, since none are represented in this list. Even though I love the genre (Zatoichi movies especially), this list compiles 100 of the all time best martial arts flicks. And the fight choreography in most samurai films is extremely light, as compared to kung-fu and karate flicks. Sorry, just my heavily weighted criterion.

And now, without further ado...


A '100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time' list...that does not suck

100. Game of Death (Don't have a cow. All but 15 minutes sucked and you know it.)
99. Tattoo Connection
98. Wheels on Meals
97. Ninja Death III
96. Soul Brothers of Kung Fu 
95. Ip Man: The Final Fight 
94. Heroes of Shaolin I
93. Heroes of Shaolin II
92. Ip Man (Five movies based on Ip Man's life have come out since 2008, so relax already.)
91. The Snake, The Tiger, The Crane
90. The Screaming Tiger 
89. Police Story I
88. Shaolin Temple (1978)
87. Police Story III
86. Killer of Snakes, Fox of Shaolin
85. Shaolin Deadly Kicks
84. Snake Crane Secret
83. New Dragon Gate Inn 
82. The Mystery of Chess Boxing 
81. Deadly China Doll
80. Black Belt Jones 
79. Ten Fingers of Death
78. Crippled Avengers
77. Once Upon A Time in China III
76. Armour of God
75. The Inspector Wears Skirts
74. The Forbidden Kingdom
73. Man With the Iron Fists
72. Rush Hour
71. Chandni Chowk to China (Bollywood comedy with Gordon Liu that many have slept on.) 
70. Tony Ja's The Protector 
69. Tai Chi Master
68. Buddha's Palm
67. The Shaolin Temple (1982)
66. Ashes of Time 
65. Yat Do King Sing aka Blade of Fury
64. Ninja Death II
63. Police Story II
62. Butterfly and Sword
61. Shaolin Drunken Monk 
60. Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heavenly Mountains
59. Shadow Ninja
58. The Shaolin Invincibles
57. Kid With the Golden Arm 
56. Invincible Shaolin
55. Hapkido aka Lady Kung Fu
54. Golden Swallow
53. Tai Chi Hero
52. Martial Arts of Shaolin
51. Shaolin vs. Lama 
50. The Karate Kid (2010) (Down to the top fifty. Things are heating up now.)
49. The White Dragon
48. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons 
47. Tai Chi Zero
46. The Tongfather aka Hands of Death
45. Once Upon A Time in China II 
44. Two Great Cavaliers aka Deadly Duo
43. The Octagon
42. The Last Dragon
41. Rumble in the Bronx
40. Ninja Death I (Question: Why are the baddest ninjas in films from China, not Japan?) 
39. The Street Fighter 
38. Rush Hour 2
37. Kung Fu Hustle
36. The Magnificent Butcher 
35. Master of the Flying Guillotine 
34. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow
33. Sister Street Fighter (Sue Shiomi is a goddess. Just saying.)
32. The Avenging Eagle
31. The Raid Redemption
30. Ip Man: The Legend is Born
29. Mad Monkey Kung Fu
28. Chinese Connection
27. Holy Robe of the Shaolin Temple
26. The Street Fighter's Last Revenge 
25. Come Drink With Me
24. Millionaire's Express (The Sammo Hung & Cythia Rothrock fight is as beast.)
23. Once Upon A Time in China
22. Last Hurrah for Chivalry
21. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
20. Fearless
19. Shaolin Soccer
18. Return of the Dragon
17. Five Fingers of Death
16. Iron Monkey
15. The Five Deadly Venoms
14. Executioners From Shaolin 
13. Return to the 36th Chamber
12. Shaolin Prince
11. Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster
10. Drunken Master
09. Enter the Dragon
08. 36th Chamber of Shaolin
07. Clan of the White Lotus
06. The Grandmaster
05. Shaolin & Wu-Tang 
04. Hero 
03. Fist of Fury (Bruce Lee gets the 'Bad Mother----er wallet' for this one. The final scene breaks me up every time.)
02. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 
01. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter 


*Some films that comprise parts of trilogies can be weighted higher to allow room in the bottom 50 (meaning top) for single entry films, whenever one installment is represented in the top 50. Ninja Death I, II and III appears at #97, #64 and #30, for example. Films with the same lead actor (s), or director(s) could be ranked similarly, unless it has Bruce Lee or Gordon Liu in it. Those are just too bad ass to be bound by any rules.

1.14.2015

In Search Of...Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5

 
The Quest for No. 5

After nearly four years, I had finally managed to hold in my hands a copy of the first issue of the English edition of Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5. Of equal importance, the book was acquired for a price that I was willing to pay. But the long process of finding it has caused me wonder about the post-Ebay approach to supply and demand, and how online retailers set their prices when product supplies are low but there is no legitimate demand.

Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5 was released in the American graphic novel market by Viz Comics  in the year 2000. I didn't learn of its existence until a few years later. Perusing the manga section on Amazon a few weeks before Christmas of 2006, I happened across the cover of the second issue. The whimsical-looking style of it all piqued my interest.

Also intriguing to me was the odd fact that the illustration wasn't the traditional look of manga. It appeared to have a European or American children's book illustration vibe. Pushing it over the edge was the afro-coiffed man dressed in a black uniform of some sort, partially obscured by the trunk of a tree. Who was he, and what part did he play in this curious-looking tale?

The synopsis that appeared with the listing on Amazon made me even more interested in the book: "A science-fiction thriller set in a powerfully imagined multi-cultural future landscape that resembles the current Middle East. No. 5 is the latest work from the critically-acclaimed creator of Black & White, Taiyo Matsumoto."

I've always found it interesting when manga makers craft tales that reflect the complex cultural make-up of the world outside Japan. The works of Masamune Shirow (Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell: Man Machine Interface) are great examples of that kind of worldly approach to manga making. And so I was especially curious to see how No. 5 would take on the theme.

At the time that I first learned of No. 5, I hadn't read any of Taiyo Matsumoto's other works. I knew of Black & White (aka Tekkonkinkreet), and had decided that at some point I would check out that much-lauded book. But I didn't see that particular point on any immediate horizon. No. 5 was the Matsumoto book that I wanted. Problem was, I couldn't find it.

Okay, with relative ease I'd found copies of the second issue, which three associate vendors on Amazon had in stock. (Shown above) But I couldn't bring myself to order it without knowing if I'd find a copy of the first. What's more, I didn't know how many issues there were in the series. At the very least, I wanted to get the two issues that I knew for certain that Viz had translated into English.

Frustratingly, after more than a year I still hadn't found a copy of the first issue of No. 5. Correction: I hadn't found one that was in a price range that I was willing to pay. $40+ dollars was not a price that I could even consider paying for a Viz Comics graphic novel released in 2000.

In the post-online auction world of commerce, there appears to be algorithm-based programs that artificially inflate the value of out-of-print products when shoppers run searches or add them to their want lists.The prices seem to be inflated based on some whacked out take on the capitalist principle of supply and demand––despite the still very relevant fact that there's often no actual demand upon which to justify jacking the price up in the very real way that online auction bidding can.

In consequence of this brave new world of greedy business models, many artificially priced items sit collecting dust until the system determines that no one is willing to pay whatever outlandish price at which the merchandise is listed. So, unless you have money to waste primarily on principle, you just have to wait for the prices to fall. Luckily I'm patient, holding fast to the adage that 'good things come to those who wait.'

So, during my wait, during Christmas of '08 my mum had asked what she could get for me as a gift and I mentioned the Tekkonkinkreet / Black and White) graphic novel. The holiday came and I got the book and very slowly devoured it over the next week. (Considering the amount of time I'd been waiting to read No. 5, I figured that I should savor Tekkonkinkreet.)


After enjoying every morsel of that masterpiece of a book, I purchased the animated adaptation and enjoyed the heck out of that one too. Maybe not as much as the actual book, but you know how that goes. To even do that is somewhat like comparing apples to pineapples.

Anyway, during the summer of 2009 I'm in San Diego attending the con and visiting with some of my best buds. After two days of the con we decide to forego the third day to make a trip up to Los Angeles. On the way there, we stop at Mitsuwa Market (a super ill Japanese megastore) for lunch and then head across town to a Japanese bookstore called Book One, to browse around and take in even more J-flavor.


Now here I'm really just casually eyeing the manga, with absolutely no intention of buying anything. I had already bought so much at the convention in the two days before. After several minutes of desultory browsing, the spine of one manga catches my eye. I slide it from the shelf and take a look. It's the first issue of No. 5, but I don't realize this because the title is in kanji and I'd never seen how the cover of the first issue looked since it wasn't shown on Amazon.

After thumbing through the first issue, I decide that it's illustrated with a very intriguing style and reach out to pull down second issue from the shelf. Looking at that particular cover, I begin to get very dim light bulb over my head. I think that I've seen the cover somewhere...but where? (It had been ages since I'd seen the small icon in my Amazon want list.)


Seconds later, as I'm getting the third issue from the shelf, it has fully dawned on me that I've somehow happened upon the series that had been looking for! It was utterly uncanny how it all occurred. I'm barely looking at anything on the shelves at the store and when I do, what I get my hands on are books that I had been wanting for years; albeit not English translated editions.


Needless to say, I bought 'em. Well, maybe not needless to say. But yeah, I bee lined straight for the checkout counter with my treasure, thrilled that my search was partially over. And to make a great thing greater, Book One was actually having dollar sale on all of the manga that weekend. So I walked out of the store with the three 140-plus page manga graphic novels for $1 dollar each. What a super cool moment of serendipity.

About a week after I had pored over every page and studied the story of No. 5 pictorially, I signed onto Amazon and placed an order for the second issue of the English edition, so that I could actually read some. Later on in the the year I found a reasonably priced copy of the first issue on Ebay when a book seller offered a brand new copy for 20% off for the $15.95 retail cost.


Shout out to Hardeep for the recent inspiration to blog this.


12.31.2014

Post #300 - St. Paco's Top Ten All-Time Top Ranking Blog Posts

I seldom check my blog's statistics. For me it's simply enough to arrange a few words in TextEdit® (okay, several words), paste 'em into Blogger™, scan and upload photos, plop in some relevant tags, and then post it all to the "Internets." And when the post is done, that's it. Rarely does it occur to me to see if my offerings have ever caused a ripple in The Force™.

But it did occur to me to check into that today.

Becoming hyper-aware, after mentioning in an email to a fellow writer/blogger on Saturday that my blog was just two posts shy of 300, I thought that I should take a moment to survey how things have been going with YKFS. Traffic wise, I mean. I started wondering if anything that I'd posted to the blog since the last time I thought to check the stats *cough* maybetwoyearsago *cough* had generated a significant number of page views.

After keying in my username and password into the sign in screen at Blogger™, I logged in, opened up the control panel, slid the pointed cursor over to the statistics button on the left side of the screen and clicked the mouse. Top 20 reasons why Nicki Minaj is a geek goddess... 3,659 page views. Holy craaaaaaaaaaap!!!

Okay, a funny story about that piece. Not funny like 'haha' funny, but a semi-amusing anecdote. That post was actually written for The Smoking Section. At the time it was written, TSS was looking for new bloggers for their site and I drafted two original pieces for their sage consideration. Two pieces that I thought were perfect for a finger-on-the-pulse pop culture website.

The short Sprite Voltron piece that I also wrote for TSS was pretty good too. But I was really excited about the Minaj joint. So much so that I also made a bootleg 'click bait' teaser thingamabob, just like the ones on TSS. The teaser featured a nerdy-looking snapshot of Nicki that was spot-on for the piece. I then loaded everything into a nicely formatted e-mail, clicked 'send' and waited patiently for TSS to welcome the kid into the fold.

I never heard a word from 'em.

After about three weeks of waiting in vain, I said 'to heck' with TSS. I was actually beside myself with the thrill of posting the pieces written for them on my own blog. And here, now in major retrospect, seeing how one of those pieces attracted over 3600 hits for a back alley blog like YKFS, by my calculations they prolly should've taken a chance on yours truly. Who knows what kinda traffic I could've generated over there. Oh well, their total loss.

And, hey! This must be kinda how it feels for artists like Eminem and Kanye after they finally get a record deal and then go...sextuple platinum (yes, that's a real word). The big fat sense of validation it must bring, when juxtaposed against the maddening fact that so many fat cat execs passed on their music. Execs who later wanted to murder themselves for that critical lapse in judgment.

Okay, okay. I know that I am really, reeeeeeaaallly reaching here, but it's my blog post and I fantasize if I want to. And with that mini moment of megalomania out of the way...

In honor of my 300th pulse-pounding blog post (dis one), St. Paco (dat's me) would like to cast the full beam of the spotlight on my Top Ten All-Time Top Ranking Blog Posts. And I'm pretty jazzed at the number of views that every single one of my posts have generated. Especially when considering how I thought it'd be an accomplishment just to get a few dozen hits per post.

Oh, and I also wanna take a quick moment before closing this 300th posting to say that if I ever do get scouted to write for one of those ├╝berpopular pop culture blogs, whoever okays that move – to quote Eminem – should prolly "get a finder's fee out this world! Ain't no one 'out their mind' as me!" [Maniacal laughter]

Here's to the next 300. Thanks for reading me.

SP


The YKFS Top Ten All-Time Top Ranking Blog Posts

01. Top 20 reasons why Nicki Minaj is a geek goddess – 3,659 views
02. Another 'Great Day in Harlem – 2,057 views
03. Fall into the Gap – 1,546 views
04. The Secret Santa – 1,270 views
05. Jay-Z on Jean-Michel Basquiat – 1,069 views
06. The Deadly Art of Black Dynamite – 920 views
07. Shaolin Break Dancing – 846 views
08. Georges Marciano's Guess Girl – 764 views
09. Breaking and the New York City Breakers – 644 views
10. Crisis in Electric Ladyland – 535 views

12.30.2014

"Headhuntaz"

Classic curry goat-flavored illustration by Mode 2. The Source Magazine Issue 53, February 1994.

10.06.2014

[Destroy All Headphones™] Survival 101 Mixtape: Introduction to Pacific Island Reggae


Your Kung Fu Sucks!® brings you... the Survival 101 mixtape! This blazin' bootleg compilation collects 20 of the best dancehall, roots, and lovers rock reggae hits to rise up from the inviting isles of the South Pacific! That's right, approximately 85 minutes of rock steady riddems that will transport you instantly from your stressed out existence to a tranquil island beach on the other side of the world. We guarantee it! So order your copy of Survival 101 for the low price of free-ninety-nine today, and let the irie vibes of the South Pacific islands whisk you away!

 Survival 101 Mixtape: Introduction to Pacific Island Reggae

01 Freedom – Vanessa Quai  
02 So Much Trouble ft. Mino (Bob Marley Interpolation) – Koran
03 West Papua ft. Ngaiire Joseph – George Telek
 
04 Dou Mada Mai  – 1STRIBE
05 Papuan Pride  – Robby T & Metere Crew
06 Ino'mae – Onetox
07 My Island Home  – DMP
08 Island Diver – Pagasa
09 Perfect ft. Jah Boy – Dezine
10 Bolo Visi – Cloud [Trevor]
11 Crying Youths – Syco Don 
12 Sobo Audau Diva ft. Young Davie – Nasio Domoni 
13 Dina Lewa ft. Da Melanezianz – Young Davie 
14 I Won't Give Up (Jason Mraz Cover) – Paddock 
15 Nice Bola ft. Kairi – Teha 
16 Mon Coeur (Kaneka Remix) – Aryelle 
17 PNG Queen ft. Robby T, Sean Rii, Tee, Rini & Ugly BOFour
18 Shefarian Lady – Shanty Town
19 Hutusa Jazz Lewa ft. Mandre & Livilzman Baka – Sean Rii
20 Vuvusele – Small Jam 
21 Secret Bonus Track 



All songs posted to the Your Kung Fu Sucks! blog are the property of their respective copyright holders. Their use here is strictly intended for promotional and informational purposes only. NOT FOR SALE. Please support the artists featured on the YKFS blog by buying their original CDs and mp3s where and whenever applicable. Any artist who would like to have their music removed from this promotional project may do so by contacting the administrator at stpaco@gmail.com.

10.05.2014

Survival 102: The art of a mixape cover 'remix' (Sampling Bob Marley & The Wailers)



"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." 
                       – Bob Marley

It was indeed a bit of...overkill to make both a front and wholly impractical back cover for the Survival 101 mixtape that was arranged and assembled by yours truly. But once the inspiration had taken hold to make a pop art-style 'remix' cover based on Neville Garrick's design for the classic Bob Marley and the Wailer's album Survival (1979), I couldn't stop until the idea was fully exhausted.

Neville Garrick's cover, which brilliantly illustrated the visionary message of "Africa Unite", the lead track on side two of the Wailer's album, featured the flags of the 41 nations that made up the African continent at that time. But it also united with those nations the flag of Papua New Guinea, one of several distant island sisters to the African continent in the South Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away.

As a teen, when I got my first copy of the Survival LP on 12" vinyl, I knew virtually nothing at all about "PNG", beyond the very eerie fact that its inhabitants – who live on an immense landmass a few thousand nautical miles away from the continental home of my own ancestors –  somehow looked a helluva' lot like me and my 'bredren'.

As an adult, around the time that I had somehow acquired a second copy of Survival on CD, I felt both genetically and intellectually compelled to become more informed about those distant cousins who inhabit the second largest island on our planet. The process taught me much about them, but also much about the people living on neighboring islands in the region. And, in the years since, I've written a little bit about what I've learned. Someday those writings will see the light of day. But, for now, back to the making of this mixtape's front and back covers.

After deciding to make what would be an abridged remix of Garrick's inspirational piece, I began a brief study of the original Survival album. It was at this point that I learned (or became reminded) that the flag of Papua had been included in the original design, and that surprising fact only doused gasoline on the idea that burned within to make a modern remix version of the cover. But one that would have not only the flag of PNG but the other flags of Melanesia as well.

And so, along with the flag of Papua, the flag of its struggling conjoined twin sister West Papua was added. Following those, the flags of the other Melanesian islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia (Kanaky), Fiji and the Solomon Islands were promptly applied. And with the mixtape cover quickly beginning to take proper shape, it seemed only fitting to then include the flags of the nearby Torres Strait Islands and that of the aboriginal peoples of Australia and Tasmania. For similar reasons, the flags of the neighboring Timor-Leste and Maluku Islands were added.

After the flags of the Melanesian and related nations, the flags of 16 African countries were chosen due to either historical or aesthetic reasons. These include those of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau (the West African region after which PNG was named), Ethiopia, Zaire, Kenya, Liberia, and others. The last to be added were the "red, black and green" Pan-African flag of African descendants in North America, and the flag of Jamaica, the Caribbean island birthplace of reggae music and Bob Marley.

Pleased with how the front turned out, I wasn't ready to stop. Nostalgia reminded me of how the back cover of the original Survival album had always made me feel when I looked at it;  the sense of unknown history that it hinted at and the sense of connection I somehow felt to the people in the grainy black and white photographs displayed there. And so I tried to convey a similar sense of mystery -- and history -- with old photographs showing people from Papua New Guinea (top & bottom), Fiji (left) and the Solomon Islands (right).

I hope that some of what I was trying to convey with it all somehow comes across.

From start to finish, this mixtape project was a long and gratifying labor of love. But I also had tons of help from various 'surrogates' who didn't know that they were involved. These include the previously mentioned Mr. Garrick, and the small number of bloggers and DJs whose active promotion of Pacific Island music in recent years has exposed me to several artists whose music I now treasure. So massive "big ups" specifically to Street-vibez MozikkSolomon Vibz, FreeSolomonMusic, Massive Entertainment, and the Reggae Revolution Radio Show.

I also want to say 'nuff respect and many thanks to all of the artists whose music has been featured on the Survival 101 mixtape. The intention behind this compilation is only to further promote and bring awareness to folks in America and elsewhere about this too-little-discussed part of our planet (Melanesia) and the fantastic branch of reggae that emanates from its breathtaking isles.

If you download and find yourself enjoying the tunes on this mixtape, please support those few fortunate artists whose music is available through Amazon and iTunes. In the meantime, have fun with this small sampling of what Pacific Island reggae has to offer.

Bless.

"Riddem Selekta St. Paco"

10.02.2014

This Day in History – Bob Marley's 1979 album "Survival" was released 35 years ago today

Bob Marley signing autographs at Tower Records in Los Angeles, CA 1979

There are no coincidences.

Trying always to be mindful of that, I'll will admit now that I still find myself completely amazed at times at the way things can come together.

In relation to the 'fun fact' posted in the header, I had absolutely no intention of timing the release of my forthcoming Survival 101 mixtape with the October 1979 release of the Bob Marley and the Wailers album that was its inspiration. But, amazingly, it still worked out that way.

What is also fairly amazing to me is the fact that I didn't seek out this bit of October-related trivia. It just came to me (showed up in my mailbox) by way of Google Plus as a "suggested read." You should have seen my eyes when I realized the significance of the date.

When the universe is speaking, you'd better listen
, goes the saying. Well, the universe has been whispering to yours truly quite a bit recently. And I'm doing my best to hear what she is suggesting...and to act accordingly.