When Chinese cinema comes to mind, often the first thought is “kung fu”.
And rightly so.
Some of the Orient’s greatest exports have been martial artists who have made the transition to the big screen, both in domestic and foreign markets.
But forget about the Chans, Lis/Lees, and Hungs. Here are some lesser known action stars that deserve your attention.
Just like Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die) before him, Wu Jing was a member of the Beijing Wushu Team—immediately adding legitimacy to his kung fu street cred.
His breakout role was undoubtedly his performance as Jack in SPL: Sha Po Lang, a ruthless knife wielding madman, indiscriminately slicing and dicing his way to an epic battle with Donnie Yen (Flash Point, Ip Man).
Mostly other people’s blood [Baidu Tieba]
Notable Films: This year saw the release of SPL II: A Time For Consequences, an unrelated sequel to the original that sees Wu as the lead alongside Tony “Elbows and Knees” Jaa (Ong Bak). Wu has also directed two features, Legendary Assassin and Wolf Warriors, which are worth a watch. Be warned, Wolf Warriors has Wu playing a Chinese special forces sniper and includes lines like “不要小看中国。但你遇到他的时候，你就知道你面对的是什么。(Don’t underestimate China. Once you meet them, you’ll know what you’re in for.)”
At the age of twelve Shi Xingyu was sent to the Shaolin Temple to learn the art of physical punishment and stayed for ten years. After starring in a couple of small time roles, Xing was cast in modern kung fu masterpiece Kung Fu Hustle.
You remember him now, right? [Sogou]
Though he has yet to play a leading man, his services are often sought after due to his understanding of a more authentic and traditional form of Chinese martial arts. Shi maintains links to his education by running a Shaolin school in Shenzhen.
Come learn the quarterstaff [Sogou]
Notable Films: Shi has had his bones shattered in Kung Fu Jungle, his head sliced off in Kung Fu Hustle, and suplexed by Donnie Yen in Flash Point. Take your pick.
He doesn’t look so tough [张晋max]
A relative newcomer to the silver screen, Zhang is probably more famous for being married to Hong Kong actress Ada Choi. With a skinny physique, one would be forgiven for discarding Zhang’s martial resume, but this former wushu athlete is perfect as the scrawny, well-dressed individual that enemies underestimate.
I stand corrected [张晋max]
Notable Films: Like Wu, Zhang starred in SPL II. Unlike Wu, he is the main antagonist and fights both Wu and Jaa at the same time. He also had a small role in The Grandmaster, one of the many many films that revolve around Ip Man. Going back even further, you can find Zhang in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—as Zhang Ziyi’s stunt double.
Mandatory pectoral tattoo [67.com]
Speaking of antagonists, it seems that Andy On is the go-to actor for any young, good looking bad guy with kung fu skills, a six pack, and English speaking skills. Despite being born in the US, On’s education history includes the Shaolin Temple and former Jackie Chan Stunt Team leader, Nicky Li.
Unlike many, he still looks menacing bald [tvsou.com]
Notable Films: Having been in a few smaller film productions, On had himself cast alongside his idol Jackie Chan in New Police Story. Since then he has found himself up against Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse in The Viral Factor, Donnie Yen in Special ID, and…
Peng has no real history in martial arts or any kind of combat sport. In fact, up until a few years ago, he was simply one of those pretty boys that were typecast into teen dramas and movies. Then Unbeatable came along and the audience got to see the fruits of Peng’s rigorous training in fitness and mixed martial arts. Since then he was cast as Huang Feihong—legendary wushu master who has been played by Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Sammo Hung (Martial Law)—in Rise of the Legend.
Mate, you’re looking the wrong way [zjol.com.cn]
Notable Films: Unfortunately, in terms of action martial art films, Unbeatable and Rise of the Legend are Peng’s only two—though he was in Tai Chi Zero and its sequel, but it’s best that we forget these. You can, however, find him in many romantic comedies and a few crime/thriller movies.
Think you can do better? Here are some roles for budding foreign actors.
Cover image from duitang.com