Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

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#100. Police Story
(Jackie Chan, 1985)

"That's enough!"

The last line of the film comes on the heels of a solid 90 minutes of carnage playing out on the streets of Hong Kong as the police go to war with one particularly tenacious Triad. The generic title betrays just how much of a relentless parade of cop-movie clichés the plot itself provides with its story involving a particularly uncooperative witness (Brigitte Lin) and the obnoxious detective (Jackie Chan) who is charged with protecting her. However, this is but a pretense on which the film can hang all manner of setpieces and silliness, especially when it comes to seeing Chan's arrogant buffoon of a protagonist constantly get himself into hot water (especially with Maggie Cheung as his long-suffering girlfriend, whose shabby treatment is the only real strike against the film). I already listed Shanghai Noon on a previous Top 100, and while that did show what Chan could do in the context of a high-concept parody of the Western genre, his Hollywood output still demonstrated only a fraction of the talent that he was showing off during his Hong Kong peak. While you can certainly debate whether or not this is his true masterpiece (his Drunken Master and Project A films are certainly worthy contenders), this is my current pick for the best of what the clown prince of Chinese cinema could pull off as he starts the film by hanging off a speeding bus with an umbrella and finishes by breaking an entire shopping mall's worth of glass panes.

2005 ranking: N/A
2013 ranking: N/A

The mall fight is in the shortlist for my favourite action sequence.

I'll be reading.

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#99. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
(Liu Chia-Liang, 1978)

"We have only thirty-five chambers. There is no thirty-six."
"I know that...but I want to create a new chamber."

When a Shaw Brothers film begins with that Warner-aping shield logo over that colourfully-backlit frosted glass while triumphant fanfare blares on the soundtrack, it's usually a sign that you're in for one of the more enjoyable pieces of work to come out of Hong Kong during the studio's heyday. This is especially true of one of the jewels in the studio's crown, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Much like the previous film on this countdown, the plot isn't of much consequence - a young student (Gordon Liu) becomes a Shaolin monk in an attempt to fight back against the Manchurian overlords who have oppressed his hometown - as it instead focuses on the many trials required to master the secret Shaolin art of kung fu. I'm not sure how often you get films where watching the protagonist develop their skills ultimately proves more exciting than actually seeing them deploy said skills against their sworn enemies. Such a thing is to be treasured, especially when it's the bullet-headed Liu enduring physical trials that are humourous without undercutting the overall seriousness of his mission or the remarkable and painstaking physical prowess required to accomplish them. That's before he even gets around to having any classically hyper-stylised fights with exaggerated sound effects (every movement makes a whoosh or clang or thwack) and a camera that moves in such perfectly-choreographed tandem with fighters' heavily-staged but nevertheless fascinating moves.

2005 ranking: N/A
2013 ranking: #97

I'm not sure how often you get films where watching the protagonist develop their skills ultimately proves more exciting than actually seeing them deploy said skills against their sworn enemies.

For me, it's just this and Batman Begins.

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#98. Yojimbo
(Akira Kurosawa, 1961)

"I'll get paid for killing, and this town is full of people who deserve to die."

The plot of an individual who exists as a disdainful third party in the midst of a feud between two warring factions is such a classic plot that I've included it on previous countdowns through separate films - A Fistful of Dollars in 2005, Miller's Crossing in 2013 - and it makes enough sense to grant that courtesy to a third film, so why not the big one? Though the mercenary mentality of the eponymous wanderer prevents this from attaining quite the same richness and depth as many of Kurosawa's other classics, there's something to be said for him delivering so well on such a reliable setup. That reliability is matched by the legendary Toshiro Mifune making quite the meal of his role as the mysterious Sanjuro, once against showcasing his trademark intensity as he muses on how to turn this small-town turf war to his advantage or barks at anyone who tries to give him guff. A sturdy cast of supporting characters are there to either cynically observe or wantonly participate in the feud (Tatsuya Nakadai is an obvious plus as a revolver-wielding villain, but it's Eijiro Tono who perpetually steals scenes as the grouchy innkeeper) - however, it's Kurosawa himself who's able to stage one of his most action-oriented films in a way that seems just as built around inaction and guile, adding quite the edge to the moments where our roaming anti-hero takes his blades to those who are foolish enough to cross him.

2005 ranking: N/A
2013 ranking: N/A

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#97. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(Nicholas Meyer, 1982)

"He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I'll chase him 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and 'round perdition's flames before I give him up!"

I'll admit it, this film was a bad influence. A few too many of the Star Trek franchise's subsequent cinematic entries fell into the trap of giving their respective crews an antagonist who sought only vengeance against our spacefaring heroes (or, failing even that level of definition, a similar urge towards senseless carnage). And to what end? There's no way any of those attempts could have truly hoped to match Wrath of Khan, a Hail Mary intended to follow up the grandiose but inert The Motion Picture that actually served as a solid reckoning for the notably-aged crew - the cocky Kirk (William Shatner) is made to face the consequences of long-forgotten adventures as the psychotic superhuman Khan (Richard Montalban) re-emerges to engage him in a battle of wills that puts loved ones old and new at risk, to say nothing of the galaxy itself. Even with its more action-oriented plot, it is still able to conjure so much of what is enjoyable about Trek - fantastic ensemble cast sparring with each other, heady sci-fi concepts given colourful (if imperfect) visual renditions, and a true sense of the grandeur of outer space even though it does ultimately come down to the people with whom they (or is that we?) share it. That it manages to earn what could have been such a trite and terrible ending is reason enough to list it here.

2005 ranking: N/A
2013 ranking: N/A

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is great, and is probably the one I'd pick if I had to introduce somebody to Shaw Brothers or the kung fu genre as a whole, although there are others I prefer slightly. If you ever have the opportunity to see it in a theatre, I would strongly recommend doing so (assuming you feel safe/comfortable). I used to be fairly indifferent between seeing a movie at home versus seeing it in a theatre, but experiencing a Shaw Brothers retrospective with a properly enthused crowd is something you can't replicate at home.

I rewatched Yojimbo last year when I was doing the Criterion Challenge on Letterboxd (which was supposed to be focused on new viewings, but I was feeling lazy and also wanted an excuse to watch the pile of Criterions I'd acquired over the years). As you argue, it's a a great entertainment (love the way Kurosawa will have the action ricochet across the edges of the frame as the hero dispatches any number of baddies). But this time around I tuned in more to the way Kurosawa critiques the way society conflates institutions and authority with morality, when the former is shown to be corrupt and worthy of derision while the latter is demonstrated by the supposedly disreputable hero acting against his own self interest. It's a "lighter" movie than some of Kurosawa's other masterpieces, but there's more depth than I'd initially given it credit for.

I owe Wrath of Khan a rewatch at some point. I only saw it in high school and preferred a few of the other TOS movies at the time. Mainly my reference point for it is how badly Star Trek Into Darkness handled similar material (and I say this being a fan of the 2009 movie).

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I actually did get to attend a Hong Kong action retrospective many years ago - I can't exactly recall if I did manage to see The 36th Chamber of Shaolin on that run, but I imagine if I was going to the trouble of seeing comparative obscurities like The Prodigal Son or Full Contact then I surely must've made time for 36th Chamber (then again, you think I'd remember - too bad I didn't have Letterboxd or anything back then to keep track).

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#96. Thief
(Michael Mann, 1981)

"I wear $150 slacks, I wear silk shirts, I wear $800 suits, I wear a gold watch, I wear a perfect, D-flawless three carat ring. I change cars like other guys change their f*cking shoes. I'm a thief. I've been in prison, all right?"

There's a maxim I've seen attributed to Truffaut about how a director keeps making the same film over and over, presumably intended less as a disdainful accusation of repetition than observing an artist making variations on a theme. This kind of auteurist outlook definitely works well when it comes to Michael Mann, who's built a career on depicting various professionals and their struggles to balance the demands of their frequently dangerous occupations with their willingness to self-actualise as human beings - whether the answer is balance or entropy or synthesis, you're never quite getting the same result. The Mann urtext that boils this thesis down to its core components is his theatrical debut Thief and its tale of Frank (James Caan), a no-nonsense safe-cracker who eventually elects to take down one final score that'll set him up for the life he's been dreaming of. A well-worn set-up, of course, but Mann infuses the proceedings with a sense of tactical precision befitting its criminal protagonist and colours in the background with icy neo-noir textures (wet streets reflecting harsh teal streetlights, nighthawk locations where both jargon-filled shop talk and blunt romance can unfold, a suitably paranoid Tangerine Dream score that was somehow nominated for a Razzie). Mann would obviously go on to refine his cinematic approach in the years to come, but there's no denying the strength of the sharp and steely calling card he dropped here.

2005 ranking: N/A
2013 ranking: N/A

I owe Wrath of Khan a rewatch at some point. I only saw it in high school and preferred a few of the other TOS movies at the time.
You mean like... Undiscovered Country, maybe?

With the caveat that I haven't sen any of these in years and will make no attempt to explain the rankings:


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#95. The Wild Bunch
(Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

"If they move, kill 'em."

It seems almost appropriate that this film ascended the ranks in previous countdowns only to drop down hard as the years wore on, reflecting the film's own focus on ageing bandits whose best days are behind them. That it still makes the list means there's still something to distinguish it, much of it to do with it being one of the key turning points in a genre's history (I think of it having a similar effect on the Western that Psycho had on horror or 2001 had on science fiction). The sea change it heralds is reflected not only in the creased faces of its haggard cast but also in how Peckinpah pushed the boundaries for what violence could be accepted in mainstream Hollywood cinema, which makes sense given how hard it wants to deconstruct the romanticised image of outlaw cowboys by showing what havoc they and nominally lawful people can wreak upon one another for even the most seemingly noble of causes (though it does ultimately gesture towards reconstruction as it nears its notoriously bloody conclusion). While it seems all but likely that it won't make a hypothetical fourth countdown, at least it'll make like its grizzled anti-heroes and go down fighting.

2005 ranking: #65
2013 ranking: #38