Thursday, July 31, 2014

Top 10 Asian Martial Artists in Fiction

Martial arts’ depiction in fiction, especially when on screen, is one of the most exciting pieces of action I’ve ever encountered.  There is something awesome with how the human body can perform close combat with such beautiful, fast, fluid, and masterful motions.  Of course, in real life, combat is actually brutal and messy, and not at all as elegant as a choreographed martial arts scene.  That’s why it is only in its romanticized depiction wherein we can best enjoy, appreciate, and gratify ourselves with displays of martial arts execution. 

Aside from mastery in close-combat, fictional martial artists also often share these common characteristics: determination, a sincere love for martial arts, confidence in their abilities, finding thrill or joy in sparing with other capable opponents, and a resolute desire to improve their skills.  Hence, despite ending up as clichéd sometimes, they still prove to be colorful and striking fictional characters due to these archetypal qualities.   

In this list are the fictional characters that I think have been made more interesting as characters because of their identities as martial arts practitioners.  As the title implies, I’ve limited this list to those characters that have explicit Asian racial origins and have been identified to practice an Asian martial arts discipline (real or fictional), regardless of citizenships, since the terms “martial arts” and “martial artist” are often typecast with “Asian” anyway.  So, non-Asian practitioners of some sort of Asian martial arts like Iron Fist, Beatrix Kiddo, and the “American Ninja” are not considered for this list (maybe they can be featured on another separate list someday).                     


Because he was trained in “Anything Goes Martial Arts” (just by the name alone of Ranma’s martial arts discipline is interesting already) since he was merely two years old, 16-year old Ranma is already a tough, versatile, and masterful martial artist.  Due to an accident while he was training with his father alongside some cursed springs (this plot device is the primary reason of Ranma ½’s uniqueness and charm as several characters are afflicted with different transformation curses from the springs), Ranma gained the peculiar but fascinating ability of transforming into a girl whenever he is soaked with water of cold or moderate temperature.  To return to his normal male self, he needs to be soaked in hot water.  Ranma is a stronger and more durable fighter with a longer reach when he is in male form, but is faster and more agile when in female form.           

9.) PO

Po is the main character of the delightful Kung Fu Panda movies.  At first, everyone found it hard to picture the fat, food-loving Po as the “Dragon Warrior” foretold by legend.   Though very enthusiastic about martial arts, Po was clumsy and inept.  Eventually, Po proved to possess a lot of heart, that he persevered, overcame his weaknesses and all the doubts, mastered Kung Fu, and turned out to be the hero that he was destined to be.      

8.) WONG FEI-HUNG (Once Upon a Time in China)

Wong Fei-Hung is a real-life folk hero in Chinese history (lived from 1847 to 1924), but his popularity allowed for many fictionally depiction of him in many films and TV shows.  One of these depictions, and my most favorite, is Jet Li’s character in the “Once Upon a Time in China” movies, which I adored when I was a kid (there was a period in the 90’s when I was so into Chinese martial arts flicks).  He was one of the early martial arts characters that charmed me with their Kung Fu awesomeness.          

7.) WONG FEI-HUNG (Drunken Master)

Many of the most entertaining martial arts sequences in film ever involve Jackie Chan (who choreographs them himself), so there are several interesting Jackie Chan-portrayed martial artist characters.  My most favorite, however, is his Drunken Master hero, Wong Fei-Hung (I’m not sure if it’s another depiction of the folk hero as the same with no. 8, or a spoof, or merely an incidental similarity).  What makes this character very interesting is that he requires to be intoxicated with alcohol to be highly proficient in combat.  With tipsy movements and form, he is able to fight – and win – in an extremely entertaining way.      

5.) & 6.) MIGHT GUY & ROCK LEE

Naruto has two enjoyable martial artists in Might Guy and his protégé, Rock Lee.  As ninjas, both have very low aptitude in ninjutsu (ninja techniques) and genjutsu (illusions) – though Might Guy has shown some mastery on some ninjutsu techniques (like dispelling genjutsu and summoning tortoises), while Rock Lee is currently still incapable of ninjutsu and genjutsu – hence, they have been primarily concentrating on taijutsu, or the ninja’s skills and strengths with regards to physical close-combat.  Since they are focused on taijutsu, they have become vastly adept in it that they have reached the point where their taijutsu prowess is adequate to allow them to comfortably do without ninjutsu and genjutsu in becoming successful and strong ninjas.   They have no trouble in standing on equal ground with talented ninjas that are capable in all three ninja skills. 


Son Goku is the hero of Dragon Ball Z, one of the most popular anime ever.  He is such an iconic character that there is no need to expound on who he is.  There is no need for any further explanation of his inclusion in this list. (Technically, Goku is an alien, so he does not have the “implied Asian racial origin” qualification.  But I have to make an exception for him.  Besides, he has already adopted an Asian characterization.)      

Shang-Chi is obviously conceived to exploit the popularity of Hong Kong martial arts films.  Nonetheless, he has remained a relevant Marvel Comics character ever since his creation.  He has been a secret agent, a crime fighter, and even become an Avenger. 

Shang-Chi has no superpowers, but being nicknamed “Master of Kung Fu”, it is presumed that he is one of the best, if not the best, martial artist in the Marvel Universe.  He has even been even able to best those that have superpowers in battle. Primarily using the discipline of Wushu, Shang-Chi is highly proficient in both empty-handed and armed aspects of close-combat.

2.) RYU

Ryu could be the most famous character, not only in the Street Fighter franchise, but in all “beat-‘em up” games.  Even at first glance, despite the simple character design, Ryu has a distinct intensity and coolness that make him a memorable and likable character.  The character’s trademark moves and “Hadouken” projectile (though similar with his buddy, Ken – an American, hence disqualified from this list) are the main reasons he is a formidable and notable fighter.  His back story also portrayed him as a dedicated and focused martial artist that continually desire to improve himself, giving more depth to the character.     
1.) KATO                           

There is a reasonable general consensus that considers Bruce Lee as the greatest martial arts actor ever.  Many fictional martial artists are patterned to him or the characters he portrayed on screen.  But my most favorite Bruce Lee character is Kato. 

Kato is supposedly the sidekick of the Green Hornet, but, seriously, with no exaggeration, it is clear to me that Kato is a better character than the Green Hornet.  Kato is smarter, more badass, and a deeper character than Green Hornet.  He is a very skillful driver, the more capable fighter, and the creator of the car and gadgets that the duo uses in their crime fighting adventures.  So, Kato is more awesome.  And I think I’m not alone with this perception that Kato is more interesting than the Green Hornet.  Anyone who have watched The Green Hornet TV show (and even the awful 2011 movie) has to agree with me.  

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