宮本武蔵 (Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto), 1954
Dir: Hiroshi Inagaki
Often described as the Japanese Gone With the Wind (1939), this film surely meets that reputation. I did not know this before I got it, but it seemed pretty apparent after the film gets going. There's a battle at the beginning where two young men get to fulfill their dreams of becoming samaurai (or at least try to be), some huffing and puffing, and a lot of over acting, with head honcho Toshirō Mifune leading the gesticulating crowd. The films then splits into wild Mifune as a fugitive on the lam, and lame, bad Matahachi (Rentaro Mikuni) skulking about with a widow and her daughter in Kyoto, though he is betrothed to Otsu (Yachigusa Kaoru). This eventually gets to the point where Mifune goes into training mode to quell his wildness and become a true samurai, but luckily there are no montages. The end is a segway into the second film of the trilogy, but I can't honestly say that this did anything for me to make me want to go watch that. There are some pretty shots but that's about it.
大醉俠 (Come Drink With Me), 1967
Dir: King Hu
I'm not sure why I've never seen this, but I'm glad I have now. This "rebirth" of Wuxia is overblown, irreverent and awesome enough to make it the just the kind of "classic" kung fu that I was looking for. I might say that it is slightly dated as far as the action goes, but King Hu said he was far more interested in translating dance into the combat than in trying to make it be "realistic," which is pretty obvious. Characters with names like Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei, who is "Jade Fox" in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Drunken Cat and Jade-Faced Tiger only compliment the awesome score and ridiculous overacting in parts. But I mean this in the best way possible. It might not be as funny as I'd like (well, besides crazy faces and everyone screaming "I will send you to heaven!"), but to any martial arts/Asian action fan this is a must.