In any story of good vs evil, a hero needs a strong, worthy villain to overcome. The best villains will always appear as good as (if not better than) the unlikely protagonist and only through sheer perseverance and battling the odds will our hero ultimately emerge triumphant. Throughout the decades, the martial arts genre has seen many villains transcend status as generic “bad guys” and become fan favourites and cult figures.
To celebrate the release of Life of Action, a new book packed full of insightful interviews with actors, filmmakers and stunt people from the immense world of action and martial arts movies, we pay homage to the best of the bad bunch.
Chuck Norris as Colt, Way of the Dragon (1972)
One of Bruce Lee’s most iconic, legendary fights took place in Rome’s Colosseum against martial arts legend and actor Chuck Norris. Representing a throwback to the simplicity and honour of gladiators in battle, Norris plays a tough opponent representing Mafia hoods muscling in on the Lee family restaurant. The pair engage in a violent battle during which Colt is systemically picked apart by Lee, but continues to the bitter end. Crucially, the fallen warrior is then treated with honour by Lee, symbolising respect in martial arts.
Shih Kien as Han, Enter the Dragon (1973)
Jim Kelly said it best with: “Man, you come right out of a comic book” as Han is undoubtedly the most flamboyant and widely quoted villain from Bruce Lee’s tragically short film career. Orchestrating fights to the death and other illegal activities on his private island, he even battles Lee in the legendary hall of mirrors fight and wields various clawed weapons, being the devious, scheming villain he is. “The battle with the guards was magnificent. Your skill is extraordinary!”
Bolo Yeung as Chong Li, Bloodsport (1988)
In one of his most prolific roles, the mighty Bolo Yeung played the ultimate nemesis in this Van Damme classic. When Frank Dux travels to Hong Kong to participate in a no-holds-barred fight tournament called the “Kumite”, he could never imagine the obstacles ahead. Chong Li has no problem mercilessly killing opponents to prove he is the best and represents a formidable foe for our hero. “You are next!”
Benny Urquidez as Hua’s Henchman, Dragons Forever (1989)
In this Hong Kong action classic, real-life Kickboxing champ Benny “The Jet” Urquidez plays the tough enforcer for Yuen Wah’s drug empire, meaning only one thing… a no-holds-barred showdown with Jackie Chan in one of the most popular, bruising battles of his illustrious career. Watch closely and you’ll see plenty of real hits, giving meaning to the phrase “suffering for your art”.
Michel Qissi as Tong Po, Kickboxer (1989)
Another legendary Van Damme villain is the notorious and brutish Tong Po who, during a Thai boxing match, paralyses American Kickboxing champ Eric Sloane, played by Dennis Alexio. It’s up to his brother Kurt, played by Van Damme, to serve up vengeance and convinces Xian, a famous local trainer, to help him prepare for the fight of his life. Tong Po is seen kicking concrete pillars and turns grown men into jelly with his powerful shins, knees and elbows. Tong Po remains one of the most fierce villains of the genre. “You bleed like Mylee!”
Dolph Lundgren as Sgt. Andrew Scott, Universal Soldier (1992)
In the 1992 original, Lundgren goes head-to-head with Jean-Claude Van Damme as a pair of regenerated dead soldiers, continuing their bitter rivalry from the Army when they are revived years later. The psychopathic Sgt Scott assembles an army of undead soldiers, taking civilian hostages and fighting to win a war he thinks is still waging. “Are we having fun yet?”
Richard Norton as Colonel MacDonald, City Hunter (1993)
The Aussie martial arts legend started out as a celebrity bodyguard, trained with Chuck Norris and became a pioneering figure for martial arts in Australia. Most recently he played one of the main henchman in Mad Max: Fury Road! In between all of this, he made a number of popular films in Hong Kong, City Hunter being one of his best. Taking hostages aboard a cruise ship, Norton’s evil and flamboyant Col. MacDonald goes head-to-head with Jackie Chan in this wild action-comedy caper.
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung, Mortal Kombat (1995)
Portraying the infamous villain from the hit video game, Tagawa embodied the complete look, grace and style of the character and made lines such as “Your soul is mine” a huge hit among fans, still quoted to this day. In fact, his popularity was such that he even returned to play a cameo in the second season of hit web series Mortal Kombat Legacy. “It has begun!”
Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, Kill Bill Vol.1 (2003)
In this homage to the martial arts films Quentin Tarantino grew up with, the film brings together many styles and influences in unique Tarantino fashion. O-Ren is a former child assassin-turned-Yakuza boss and puts her all-male cabinet in their place when she leaps across the boardroom table and beheads a disrespectful colleague. She also fights Uma Thurman’s Bride with a sword in clear throwback to classic Japanese cinema. “The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is… I collect your fucking head!”
Sammo Hung as Wong Po, S.P.L (2005)
Better known as Hong Kong’s larger-than-life, portly action star, Sammo went totally against his comedy type when he portrayed a ruthless mob boss opposite cops Donnie Yen and Simon Yam in Wilson Yip’s blend of martial arts action and gangland drama. Sammo commands a criminal empire, has prosecution witnesses killed and opposes the police head on. This leads to a brutal showdown with Donnie Yen in one of the most popular throw downs of both mens’ careers.
Scott Adkins as Yuri Boyka, Undisputed II (2006)
Playing a notorious Russian prison fighter, Brit action star Scott Adkins cuts a truly terrifying frame. The character became such a hit with fans that he returned after Undisputed II, switching from villain to anti-hero, for the hit sequel Undisputed III and even the recently wrapped Undisputed IV. “I am the most complete fighter in the world.”
Darren Shahlavi as Twister, Ip Man 2 (2010)
In this hit sequel, the late Darren Shahlavi (in perhaps his best role) played the bad guy audiences loved to hate in the form of an arrogant British boxer, bullying and beating the Chinese in 1950s Hong Kong. It’s up to teacher and Wing Chun master Ip Man, played by Donnie Yen, to stand up and fight for his countrymen. Shahlavi’s gruelling schedule saw him bookend long filming days with twice daily training routines to capture the physicality and boxing skill of Twister. A truly defining role. “Now that’s power!”
Joey Ansah as Akuma, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist (2014)
In the only faithful live-action adaptation of the Street Fighter video game, actor and filmmaker Ansah not only developed, co-wrote and directed this hit series (also edited into a feature film) but also played the terrifying demon Akuma and choreographed all the fights. He even underwent a major physical transformation, packing on serious muscle mass, to capture the larger-than-life proportions of the character.
Life of Action is out now in paperback and e-book formats.
For more info, visit http://mikefury.net/lifeofaction/