B-Movie Martial Artists
Chris: If you saw any of the Cannon ninja movies of the early 1980's, you've seen Sho Kosugi. It's doubtful there's any martial artist that's more recognizable for donning a ninja mask than Sho was. From Revenge of the Ninja, to Ninja III: The Domination, 9 Deaths of the Ninja, and his awesome showdown with Rutger Hauer in the vastly underrated Blind Fury, Kosugi has delivered the ass-kicking goods, even if his acting has always been pretty lousy - a trend which effects almost everyone on this list.
Josh: When it comes to 80's martial arts movies, true action fans all know that Sho was the man. Kosugi introduced a whole generation to the mystical ninja and many of us wished we could kick ass like this dude. His peak was probably Revenge of the Ninja which combined 80's cheese with lethal assassins, throwing stars, and was watched over and over again by all males who had not quite hit puberty. Unfortunately, after the ninja craze died down, so did Sho's career but this does not take away the fact that he made a huge impression and made me want to learn martial arts.
Chris: In a world dominated by males, Rothrock broke through into the low-budget action scene of the home video boom and proved she could smack down baddies just as good, if not better, than her manly counterparts. It also helped that she looked pretty good doing so and she proved her worth in such films as Lady Dragon, Rage and Honor, and Tiger Claws before focusing mostly on running her martial arts school in California.
Josh: There is nothing like a hot chick kicking the shit out of everyone in sight. Rothrock was one of the few women who was a martial arts master and also a sex symbol and she had quite a run in the early 90's. Back in those days, it seemed like there was a new Rothrock movie every week and there was always something to enjoy. She also dominated the pages of the great Femme Fatales magazine and has a special place in my memory of the glory days of direct-to-video action movies. Fans of the video game "Mortal Kombat" may be surprised to know that she was the inspiration for the Sonya Blade character. How cool is that?
Chris: Probably the least proficient martial artist here, Dudikoff still captured my imagination when I first saw American Ninja on a neighbourhood friend's cable box back in 1985. He kept busy through most of the 80's and 90's starring in various low-budget action flicks (mostly for Cannon, of course) including the second, and last entertaining, American Ninja movie as well as Avenging Force, a movie I'd love to see come out on DVD sooner rather than later. Pretty good for a guy who started out with side roles in Bachelor Party, Tron, and Bloody Birthday.
Josh: I first saw Dudikoff in the classic Tom Hanks comedy Bachelor Party but I would not have expected that he would become one of the more recognizable faces in 80's action movies. This was mainly due to the fact that he starred in three-quarters of the popular American Ninja series. Along with those flicks, he appeared in a variety of other movies such as Platoon Leader and Avenging Force but as the 90's wore on, his career dried up and his martial arts prowess faded. Still, it is hard to deny his place in action movie history.
Chris: If there was ever a karate dude who could rock a 'fro, it's Jim Kelly. Springing to mild fame as one of the competitors in Han's tournament in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, Kelly soon starred in such awesome blaxploitation chop socky flicks like Hot Potato and Black Belt Jones. I still trot out his line, "Bullshit, Mr. Han man!" from EtD anytime I want to impress (not really) people with my obscure film knowledge. Kelly was one cool cat and BBJ is sadly still out-of-print. Sure, The Tattoo Connection is being passed off as a sequel on DVD, and is a great campy movie, but it's just not the same.
Josh: Nobody rocked an afro and sideburns like Jim Kelly and after appearing as Bruce Lee's doomed friend Williams in Enter The Dragon, he had a brief run as one of the few black action stars who knew martial arts. I was tossed up between Kelly and Fred Williamson but when I think of classic blaxploitation films, the one that always comes to mind is Black Belt Jones which steps things up a notch thanks to Kelly's screen presence and martial arts moves.
Chris: The obvious choice here. Chuck can just as easily kill you with his hands as he can with a ridiculous amount of guns and he can look good doing it. Before becoming a pop culture Internet punch line, Norris was cranking out efficient action flicks for Cannon bringing us the Missing in Action and Delta Force movies as well as entertaining stuff like Forced Vengeance and the "chuck vs. ninjas" throw down of The Octagon. He wasn't the greatest of actors but when he started mowing down Russian terrorists in Invasion U.S.A. you damn well cheered for him.
Josh: This list would not be complete without the mighty Mr. Norris. People still talk about this guy today and he is the only person on this list who is still a household name even for people who are not fans of b-movies. Norris always played a likeable character who was able to get out of every situation looking cool and coming up with a clever one-liner that gave Sly and Arnold a run for their money. I lost interest when he starred as Walker, Texas Ranger on TV but movies like Forced Vengeance and An Eye for an Eye are classic 80's action movies that I still enjoy after many repeat viewings. Plus he made beards cool.