This is a guest post by Justin Wheeler. Make sure you chime in by leaving a comment to tell us about the martial arts movies you think are best!
Martial arts films are now a well established genre. The earliest martial arts films were mostly based on Chinese folklore but today Hollywood routinely uses martial arts as an important feature of a film. Picking the top 10 martial arts films of all time is not an easy task. Should the list focus on just kung-fu films? Are Japanese samurai allowed or western boxing? Yojimbo, Raging Bull and Blade all feature martial arts but are not considered martial arts films.
The 10 films here represent a broad selection of martial arts films. They are amongst the best of each type of film. It pains me to say it, but there is only 1 Bruce Lee film in this list. Notable absentees are Way of the Dragon and Fist of Fury.
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow
The list starts with a traditional Chinese kung-fu movie. Jackie Chan stars in the 1978 film which was choreographed by the great Yuen Wo-ping. It tells the story of how Jackie Chan learns Snake style kung-fu from the last surviving master of that art. It is classic kung-fu action and beautifully shot with excellently choreographed fight sequences.
Enter The Dragon
This is Bruce Lee’s Hollywood blockbuster which changed martial arts films forever. Bruce Lee plays the role of an agent sent to uncover a drug baron on a remote island in the seas off Hong Kong. It was one of the first martial arts films with a more developed plot and combined with Bruce Lee’s exceptional physique and fight sequences it will remain one of the finest martial arts films of all time.
Jackie Chan’s most successful modern day Kung-fu movie. He plays a police officer involved in an operation to take down a major crime lord in Hong Kong. This movie has the fight scenes and death defying stunts which have made Jackie Chan famous.
The first of the modern Hollywood films to use martial arts as a main feature of the plot. The fight sequences were choreographed by Yuen Wo-ping who’s first major work was Jackie Chan’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. He also worked on Drunken Master (1978).
The Matrix tells the story of how humans have been enslaved by machines and live in a virtual reality which is policed by the Matrix agents. Kueno Reeves plays Neo, the Matrix born. The only way to fight agents is using kung-fu, so Neo has to learn that to take on Agent Smith and his team. Neo turns out to be rather good at kung-fu and Yuen Wo-ping choreography soon gets into full flight. Fantastic film.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2
The Kill Bill stories are a simple story of revenge. Some classic Japanese sword play and kung-fu mixed. David Carradine plays Bill and Uma Thurman plays the Bride, who was left for dead by the Bill’s team of assassins at the start of the film. Some of the best sword action in cinematic history and a cracking sound track too.
The only Jet Li movie on this list and also the only British movie. This is a classic gritty, underground movie showing fighting as it really is – brutal, violent and bloody. No glamour here, no high kicking or showman ship, just bone crunching mayhem at the hands of a Danny The Dog, who is a placid servant until he is unleashed!
Kung Fu Hustle
Kung-fu Hustle is possible the best martial arts comedy. Unlike many other attempts at combining martial arts with comedy it uses a well written script, fantastic cinematography and excellent fight sequences rather than relying on some slap stick comedy. Pure genius.
Here is Jackie Chan’s second film on the list. Rush Hour sees Jackie Chan team up with Chris Tucker for some comedic fight sequences and action adventure.
House of Flying Daggers
House of Flying Daggers along with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are the best of the a modern Chinese kung-fu stories. The emphasis is more on character development and story telling, but the martial arts is still perfectly executed and relevant. It is a love story and action adventure all rolled into one. A great story.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The third film choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, for which he won the Best Action Choreography at the 20th Hong Kong Film Awards. It tells a fantastic story which combines martial arts, Chinese philosophy, mysticism and fantasy. With some excellent wire work it combines traditional Peking Opera with modern expectations and the result is a feast for the eyes. Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh take lead roles giving the film an air of respectability, while also telling a story of unspoken love and regret.
We hope that you like our top 10 martial arts films. There is something for everyone here, classic and modern, action and fantasy, revenge and love.