It’s debate day on Trope and Dagger! Today, Andy and I are debating the best all-time one-on-one fight scene from a movie! To read Andy’s pick, go here: Incorrect Things. Now, let me tell you why I’m right!
There are many things to consider when picking the best mano a mano fight in movie history. Should I choose based on choreography? The brutality of it? The emotional impact the fight represents? Perhaps the significance to the story? If there are comedic elements, is that a negative or a positive? Should I exclude fights with weapons in favor of only fisticuffs? What about a jaeger vs. a kaiju, should that be included? Oh man, so much to think about.
In the end, I decided that no one single factor can determine what makes a good one-on-one fight, and that as long as there are only two combatants, that anything’s fair game. This includes characters who don’t actually exist. So, for instance, I could choose the Yoda vs. Palpatine fight from Revenge of the Sith (Fuck no). Or I could include the Sharptooth vs. Littlefoot’s Mom fight from The Land Before Time (Oh God, my tears). Or, more realistically, the Po vs. Tai Lung fight from Kung Fu Panda (it was a real contender for me, it’s tremendously entertaining).
There were many that I considered for the greatest mano a mano fight in film history, including Rocky vs. Apollo Creed from Rocky, Indiana Jones vs. the German Mechanic from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Neo vs. Smith from the Matrix, and Dalton vs. Jimmy from Road House, but ultimately I decided on none of these, though they all are excellent in their own way. No, the fight that I selected as the greatest one-on-one fight scene in a movie was Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie Chan) vs. John (Ken Lo) from The Legend of Drunken Master.
Spoiler Alert for The Legend of Drunken Master!
Note: This is part 2, because part 1 of the fight included another combatant.
I mean, just watching the scene should be enough to tell you why it’s the greatest one-on-one fight scene in film history, but if you need an explanation, I’m happy to oblige!
1. The combat. The combat is, in my mind, the most important factor, and in this fight it is just top notch. This is Jackie Chan at the peak of his form, still in top shape and reveling in his slapsticky style. He fights with such a ridiculous speed that it seems like the camera has a hard time keeping up with him. The flexibility and brutality that both he and Ken Lo exhibit is remarkable as they fly at each other, trading blows and just beating the hell out of one another. Additionally, I love this scene because it showcases a style of martial arts that generally does not get much show, that of drunken boxing. It’s an incredibly fun style to watch on screen, and Jackie Chan clearly has fun with it.
2. The use of space. One thing I like about this scene is that it’s basically a cage match. These two are in a small space, claustrophobic and contained, and it’s just the two of them going at it. Some fights use vast areas and have the characters leap and bound from one spot to another (see: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon/Kung Fu Panda/The Man of Steel), but here it’s just two men savaging each other in a small area. Thus, the fighting is the focus and where the scene excels. Though, they still use the space masterfully. You watch them move around the entire area and implement things around them as makeshift weapons. This scene is of note, as well, because it’s one of the few times that another character uses the makeshift weapons and Jackie doesn’t use any. The chair comes at him and he simply shatters it. Not something you’d expect Jackie Chan to do.
3. The comedy. Speaking of fun, this scene starts off with some laughs, Jackie having just ingested an insane amount of alcohol to fuel his fighting. Burping and puking is all a sign of him being ready to kick some ass in this scene, and it’s pretty hilarious to watch him do so. From its very first moments the fight is funny, as you expect them to immediately trade blows but instead Jackie runs face first into Ken, surprising him and forcing him backwards. Then, even during the fight there are small moments like Jackie rolling Ken Lo’s head around in his arms, Jackie disorienting Ken with his footwork, and punching up through Ken’s vest, popping all the buttons off. He even throws some three stooges style eye-poking fake out in there for good measure. All at lightning quick speed and it’s spectacular to watch. It’s hard to make a fight both brutal and silly, which is why Jackie Chan is a master of his craft.
I love this scene. I love this movie. If you haven’t had to chance to watch it (and for some reason read this article anyways), I suggest you go do so now. You will be blown away by the action and kung-fu in this film, all culminating in the greatest mano a mano fight in film history. And if you’ve already seen it, go watch it again! All the action in this movie is amazing and it’s a good reminder of how incredible Jackie Chan is and will always be. Be sure to have a few drinks while you do, too, it’s only appropriate.