In 1997, the sovereignty of Hong Kong reverted from the U.K. to the People's Republic of China. In those days, several Hong Kong stars and filmmakers fled for the United States, fearful of their creative freedom under the new Communist government. Many people consider the years between 1986 and roughly 1992 the golden age of Hong Kong, martial arts cinema, though many interesting things have certainly happened since then, as well as some unfortunate things. Following is my assessment.

Best: Jet Li
Worst: Jackie Chan

Don't get me wrong. I love Jackie Chan. Meeting him was an honor I'll never forget, but no one can argue that his Hollywood period, beginning in 1996 with the edited, dubbed version of Rumble in the Bronx, is anywhere near as good as his peak in Hong Kong, from the mid-1980s to 1994. We could start with the dumb, annoying, but extremely popular Rush Hour films, and then throw in things like The Medallion and The Tuxedo, not to mention the butchering of some of his HK classics and the non-distribution of his newer, Hong Kong-based works. (I can forgive him the two likeable Shanghai movies and Kung Fu Panda.)

Jet Li on the other hand has blossomed as a performer, especially in three movies (no matter that two of them were not made in English). He was the powerfully stoic centerpiece of Hero (2004), mesmerizing while hardly moving a muscle. He gave a more complex performance and unexpectedly moving as the mistreated fighter in Unleashed (2005). And finally, he starred in a full-fledged biopic with an honest-to-goodness character arc, Fearless (2006). Sadly he had to go and appear in the wretched The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, but nobody's perfect.
categories Cinematical