The fighting style of Sifu, Bak Mei (also known as Pak Mei), is integral to its gameplay. However, to the credit of the game’s developers, the history of this combat style itself is also reflected in the game’s story. Originating from the legend of the five elders of Shaolin, the Kung-fu sub-style is named after the elder Bak Mei. Akin to Sifu, the legend of the five elders is a tragic story of betrayal.
But revenge is as important to the story of Sifu as betrayal, and where the developers found inspiration for this seems to lie within the lens of cinema. In many ways, Sifu’s influences make up some of history’s most significant martial arts movies, making this watchlist both a guide for further understanding Sifu, and understanding the martial arts genre as a whole.
Now famously referred to as’ Gun fu’ the fighting style of the immensely popular action series John Wick is more similar to professionally accepted forms of grappling, such as Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. Throws and disarms feature plenty in Sifu, but what makes these two similar is the choice of environments.
There’s a host of subtle modernist touches which pass between the two, but the most blatant similarity is the backdrop of both ‘The Club’ and ‘The Museum’ being signature John Wick sequences as well as entire levels in Sifu. So, it’s no surprise that game director Chad Stahelski listed John Wick as one of his many inspirations for the game in an interview for MP1st back in 2021.
Picking between The Raid: Redemption and its sequel The Raid 2 is something no one should ever have to do, especially since The Raid 3 likely isn’t going to happen. But unfortunately, it only seemed fair for just one of these action films to occupy a space on this list, and in regard to Sifu, for its conflicts and weapon implementation, The Raid 2 is certainly the more appropriate choice.
The fighting style of both films is that of Pencak Silat, the umbrella term for a group of Indonesian martial arts that can also be used as a type of performative dance. But what makes it unique is its openness to forms – allowing users to use a variety of weapons and any appendage, leading to each of the Raid 2’s fight sequences appearing unique to one another.
It cannot be understated how significant Bruce Lee was to the implementation of Kung fu movies into the western zeitgeist. Lee’s acting abilities bridged the gap between Hollywood’s former mischaracterizations of Asian cultures and a newfound cinema that was though essentialized, far more respectful.
Enter The Dragon is the film remembered most in its depictions of Bruce Lee, giving audiences the topless, blood-spattered images of the martial artist which would be immortalized in posters and graphics for years to come. It is an elaborate revenge film, seemingly derivative of many James Bond plots, but thanks to Lee’s jaw-dropping fight choreography, it has forever been set in history.
As established, Bruce Lee is one of the most impactful and recognized masters of Kung Fu to exist. But even he once needed a teacher, a man who did not need Hollywood to give him a legendary tale, as he had one of his own – IP man.
Legends aside, certain liberties were certainly taken when it came to portraying IP man in a biographic film. Of course, the dutiful life of a master devoted to teaching and serving his community didn’t necessarily lend itself to filling out a feature-length film, so the fictionalized details that gave this film some of its most influential fight scenes can be forgiven.
Oldboy is one of the most brutal revenge movies out there. First and foremost a thriller, its martial arts details are crucial but sometimes secondary. That said, it’s also the case that the most memorable sequences from Oldboy are its fight scenes, most of all, one infamous sequence replicated in Sifu.
The scene is, of course, the corridor sequence, wherein the film’s lead character Dae-Su takes on an entire hallway of adversaries with a hammer. The scene is particularly famous for the camera positioning, which is orientated for a side-on tracking shot. Sifu deliberately shifts its camera to this position for an almost identical sequence in its first level, paying homage to the scene.
‘I know Kung Fu’ is the famous line spoken by Neo in The Matrix, and in many ways, it was prophetic for telling how the general population would also, unambiguously ‘know Kung fu’ after this sci-fi hit brought the fighting style into the Hollywood mainstream. One of the most influential films of all time, The Matrix’s exaggerated, floaty style of combat is legendary.
Blending cyberpunk with kung-fu was a move that would permanently alter western cinema, and the premise of The Matrix franchise marries the two logically. Part of the film’s heritage now is its style, and beyond the clothing, a type of composure the characters had in action sequences – certainly comparable to the calmness of Sifu’s protagonist.
It’s no secret that Tarantino has drawn on Martial arts movies as inspiration for a number of his works, but nowhere is it plainer than in his undisguised tribute to them, the Kill Bill series. An outlandish plot is thrust to the background in favor of brilliant character design and some of the most visually stunning fight scenes ever put on camera, often with the protagonist facing outlandish odds as in Sifu.
Though the subtlety of Sifu’s enlightening story is hidden in the background collectibles, it is still at its heart a violent revenge story just like Kill Bill. Another interesting way the two overlap is in the name of the martial arts master the bride studies under, ‘Pai Mei’, the western name for Sifu’s fighting style, and Shaolin legend, Bak Mei.
The finishers in Sifu make up some of the most immersive moments in combat, with a seemingly endless number of methods through which the protagonist disposes of his foes. And it certainly seems like some of the bone-breaking finishers from The Protector, made it into the game.
This 2005 film was the follow-up to the cult hit Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, from director Prachya Pinkaew. Though not a direct sequel, the Muay-Thai fighting style of the film was choreographed by the same duo. Muay-Thai is one of the world’s most popular sports, and though vastly different from Kung fu, its vicious use of impact points can be seen in Sifu.
Though Bruce Lee is considered the most famous Kung fu practitioner of all time, the most famous actor to perform Kung fu is undoubtedly the beloved Hong-Kong-born actor Jackie Chan. Starring in over 140 feature films in his career (largely unreleased in the United States) Police Story has remained a cult classic for its unbelievable set-pieces.
Another film listed as inspiration for Sifu, Police Story stood out from western action films for the jaw-dropping stunts that Jackie Chan could perform himself, without the need for a stunt double. What translated into Sifu though, was the methods in which the environment could be utilized to even the odds against innumerable adversaries.
Immortalized as the inspiration for Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, this Kung fu movie was one of the earliest to be imported over to Western shores. The response was significantly positive, and beyond inspiring a multitude of other Kung fu movies, it also received two sequels of its own.
Tracing Shaolin legend, the focus is a fictionalized version of San Te, a legendary monk disciple. Similar to the original tale, the film follows a disciple progressing rapidly through the Kung fu arts, only to leave the temple in a desire to spread his learnings. Many of the techniques the disciple learns, and the intensive training he endures, is the exact approach Sifu would use for its protagonist.
NEXT: 10 Best Martial Arts Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes