The humor, bizarre characters, and crazy choreographed action. Just a few reasons to love martial arts movies. Say what you want about the plots of most of these films, but for many men is so enjoyable to see a good fight scene.
Martial arts movies can be considered as a niche genre, with all the weird characters and insane, over-the-top actions, but sometimes this is all you want – a good entertainment, a noncomplicated popcorn movie.
Now, the main question is: What are the best martial arts (kung fu) movies of all time? It was hard to determine which movie should be on the list, but after a passionate discussion, we are presenting the best 25 martial arts movies of all time every man should see. We included movies based on their impact on martial arts cinema, as well as their choreography, but we list them in no particular order to avoid unnecessary discussions.
This movie will appeal to all, not just martial art movie fans. The action is jaw-dropping. The film is beautiful. It follows the life of Yip Man, a legendary Wing Chun kung fu master from Foshan, China. A town where are martial arts schools on every street corner and where various schools actively recruit disciples and compete against each other. Ip Man is there the undisputed martial arts champion, yet he has not devoted himself to teaching. Until the Japanese invasion of 1937, when he finally agrees to train others in the art of Wing Chun for self-defense. The plot is nothing new, but the movie itself is amazing. Yip Man is played by Donnie Yen in, without a doubt, his best performance on screen – Donnie Yen’s acting skills shine through this film. The kicks and punches are pummeling with an audio impact that sounds so real…
THE RAID: REDEMPTION
In Jakarta, Indonesia, a S.W.A.T. team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a mobster and his army of killers and thugs. Simple story, but one of the best fight scenes ever. Action, action, action. Yes, it’s pretty much just 90 minutes of non-stop action. Awesome, intense, real authentic action. You will not be watching this movie because of the characters or the story. NO! You will watch it because it is a simple, straight-forward, feast of totally immense and very well-made ACTION. The Raid and Raid 2 are by far one of the best action movies ever made and a definite must-see movie for anyone who is loving a martial arts films.
THE MAN FROM NOWHERE
This is personal. One of our favorite action movies of all time. Good story, a lot of action, the actors are great. Yes, an action film with an interesting plot and great acting. The story: A quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past takes on a drug-and-organ trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend. The hero is developing through the whole story and perfectly matches the title. The fight scenes are very well made. The movie is a clever combination of brutality and emotions. From self-defense, survival, and to pure rage.
ENTER THE DRAGON
First, yet not the last movie on this list with the legendary Bruce Lee. A nostalgy trip for many martial arts movie fans. A truly interesting action film that provides us with a worthy legacy from the master. The story is relatively simple (nothing surprising) but quite sufficient and sprinkled with humor. A martial artist agrees to spy on a reclusive crime lord using his invitation to a tournament there as cover. We said it, simple. Our advice: Don’t think! Feel!
THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Starring: Jackie Chan, Ho-Sung Pak, Lung Ti
Purchase: Amazon DVD
Jackie Chan´s best movie and one of the greatest martial arts films in history. To describe Legend of Drunken Master is almost impossible. To quote Jay Carr from Boston Globe … “Intoxicating fun“. That´s right, it is a film with a silly story, and it has been dubbed laughably into English, but it has so much, it does so much, and it delivers in so many ways, you can´t describe the experience.
A Hong Kong variation on Robin Hood. A man steals from the corrupt authorities as a masked thief to give to the poor while another man is forced to hunt him down. The story in Iron Monkey serves only as a device to allow for more fighting. This movie has beautiful scenery, atmosphere and it´s full of unique fighting sequences.
THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN
Released in 1978, this kung fu actioner by Hong Kong director Chia-Liang Liu remains a staple of the martial arts genre. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin has quickly established a new standard in martial arts cinema. The story: When the Manchu government brutally crushes a local uprising, a student escapes the carnage and finds refuge in the Shaolin temple. Determined to seek revenge, he begins training in the temple, soon becoming a kung fu master.
FIVE DEADLY VENOMS
A truly cult Hong Kong martial arts movie directed by Cheh Chang. With this type of movie, most people expect to see the fights with the silly dialogue and sound effects. Five Deadly Venoms actually excels in all departments. The plot is interesting and twisty, the characters are cool each with their own style. This is a must-see for kung fu fanatics. Good story, acting, and fights. A solid martial arts classic.
FIST OF FURY
For many, Fist of Fury was their introduction to Bruce Lee. He plays a martial arts expert out to avenge the death of his mentor. Originally released as Fist of Fury in 1972, it was also distributed as The Chinese Connection. While it has great fight scenes, the acting is poor and the story is very flimsy. Still, a true classic and one of Bruce Lee’s best films.
KUNG FU HUSTLE
Funny, charming and over-the-top action. If you like a realistic kung-fu action, you might be disappointed but if you want a good time and REALLY over-the-top action then Kung Fu Hustle film is a delight. It’s fun and if taken lightly, it will grab you and let you in. This is simply an excellent comedy. Just enjoy the ride.
A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurais to help them defend themselves. A masterpiece. Beautifully filmed, in black and white, with a fantastically written script of melodramatic elements. Akira Kurosawa gave us one of the most well conceived and well-executed films in the history of filmmaking. What´s more, Seven Samurai helped kick-started the Hollywood western – the Magnificent Seven is also a classic.
Probably Jackie Chan’s best film in the 1980s. Police Story has all the classic Jackie Chan elements that his fans love: action, humor, and heart. The movie starts off strong and ends with one of the most incredible action sequences ever filmed. Everything in between is… just stunning. A classic that deserves to be on the list.
A predictable storyline on one side, incredible fight scenes on other. Ong-Bak is awesome, violent, raw martial arts film. A feast for any action lovers. The story is about a young man in a remote village who has been sent to the city to retrieve Ong-Bak’s head. Ong-Bak is the village’s local Buddhist statue and is looked on by the village as it’s deity. But the story is not important. Ong-Bak is a hilarious movie filled with tons of action and cool martial arts fighting.
COME DRINK WITH ME
The story is simple. A group of bandits kidnaps the governor’s son and demands their imprisoned leader to be set free in exchange. Come Drink with Me is a fun, old-fashioned martial arts movie, which started a new wave of Hong Kong filmmaking. It isn´t the typical kung fu movie, the fight action scenes are not very well choreographed, but still looks impressive, almost like a dance. Come Drink With Me is a film that influenced the early work of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.
The Hero is an impressive film full of intrigue and action along with magnificent martial arts and breathtaking combats. In ancient China, before the reign of the first emperor, warring factions throughout the Six Kingdoms plot to assassinate the most powerful ruler, Qin. When a minor official defeats Qin’s three principal enemies, he is summoned to the palace to tell Qin the story of his surprising victory.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA
Epic, entirely engaging story, excellent camera, and some of the best martial arts sequences we ever have seen. A wonderful kung fu film with awesome Jet Li performance. Once Upon a time in China is entertainment that doesn´t make claims to realism. The film explores the graceful possibilities of the martial arts of a former age. As a film critic, Robert Roten, fittingly pointed out, “It is not believable, but it is fun to watch“.
KILL BILL VOL.1
Tarantino’s instant classic. Stunning visuals, over-the-top fight scenes, genial dialogs and interesting story that keeps you going into Vol. 2. Quentin Tarantino at finest – the transitions, the intercutting between dialogue, the flashbacks.. Just wait for the fantastic fight scene: Bride versus Crazy 88, where the level of awesomeness is so high we can’t explain.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
The movie that introduced Ang Lee to the American audience. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning magnum opus, a martial arts movie filmed with great visuals. A film that successfully combines beautiful cinematography, romance, and tons of great action sequences.
LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA
Legendary Weapons of China is a martial arts fantasy film that is little confusing in the beginning, but that passes with time. Be ready for amazing fight choreography paired with an absurd sense of humor. Every fight scene stands out – the attic, the staged street-fight, and the long 18-weapon showdown.
THE KARATE KID
A simple story about martial arts master that agrees to teach karate to a bullied teenager. A classic plot, good vs evil. Karate Kid is not a complicated movie, but it will still be remembered as one of the best karate movies of all time. The cinematography is sensational, the acting is awesome for martial arts film, the dialogue is great, the emotion is strong.
Solid direction by Takashi Miike, interesting characters, beautifully shot and simply some of the best and most intense action sequences put on film. The fights are exciting and bloody as hell. 13 Assassins is an enthralling, beautiful, violent, and disturbing movie. For us, one of the best samurai movies ever.
THE PRODIGAL SON
An excellent mix of fighting heroism and slapstick humor. Unlike most kung fu movies the story here makes sense, is powered with clever dialogue and surprisingly good acting. The Prodigal Son is an innovative and savage kung fu movie with outstanding fight scenes, and unusual dramatic structure.
SNAKE IN THE EAGLES SHADOW
Director: Woo-Ping Yuen
Starring: Jackie Chan, Siu Tin Yuen, Jang Lee Hwang
Purchase: Amazon DVD
Jackie Chan’s first big hit. At the time of release, nobody had ever seen comedy and kung fu mixed together before. The overall quality of the Snake In The Eagles Shadow is very high, perhaps that´s why many people regard this as one of best kung fu movie from the ’70s. We totally agree this is just one great fight scene after another.
Often cited as Hong Kong’s first real martial arts film, we aren’t sure. What we know is that One-Armed Swordsman is one of the most important kung fu movies ever. It earned $1 million at the local box office and made Cheng Cheh (Five Deadly Venoms) and Jimmy Wang famous. The film sets up its characters and plot in great detail, the focus on character development is outstanding for this genre. The heroes are heroic, the bad guys are terrifying. One-Armed Swordsman is a vicious, violent film, but also very tender.
Two martial arts schools prepare for an important tournament. The story is irrelevant. This is truly a kung fu classic, full of wonderful and violent fight sequences. If you compare this film to the rest of the genre, there is nothing new to find. But we shouldn’t forget that this was the film that began the martial arts craze. King Boxer was a trend-setting classic.
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