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best martial arts movies | PINKVILLA

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Discovering the world of martial arts cinema may seem daunting, even for the most devoted film fans. While classics like Enter the Dragon, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Kill Bill are well-known starting points, delving deeper can be intimidating. The Hong Kong film industry, from the 1970s onwards, churned out countless mind-bending action-packed movies with mesmerizing fight sequences. Navigating through this vast array can be tough, especially as martial arts films rely heavily on the stars’ physical skills and visual details, rather than just plotlines. But fear not, we’ve curated 15 ultimate must-sees for the kung-fu curious. These hidden gems go beyond the obvious choices and take you on an exhilarating journey through the history of action cinema, with a strong focus on Asia’s mighty fight contributions. So get ready to witness some of the most kick-ass martial-arts movies ever made!

 

1. Dragon Inn (1967)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Polly Ling-Feng Shang-Kuan, Chun Shih, Ying Bai, Feng Hsu, Chien Tsao.
  • Director: King Hu
  • Writer: King Hu
  • Run time: 1h 51m
  • Year of release: 1967
  • OTT Platform: NA
  • IMDb rating: 7.4/10

King Hu, a groundbreaking Chinese director, revolutionized the martial arts genre with his early classics in the 1960s and 1970s. Although Dragon Inn wasn’t his first film, it stands out as an enduring masterpiece that continues to captivate audiences even after fifty years. This timeless gem seamlessly blends thrilling action with a straightforward plot set in the Inn Of Dragon’s Gate, where a relentless horde of assassins targets the two surviving children of a betrayed army commander. With its elegance, unpretentious storytelling, breathtaking visuals, and an unforgettable ambiance, Dragon Inn remains an iconic martial arts film that has stood the test of time.

 

2. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Lily Li, Wong Yue, Lau Kar-Wing, Mak Tak-law, Hsiao Ho, Gordon Liu, Alexander Fu, Ku Ming.
  • Director: Lau Kar-leung
  • Writer: Lau Kar-leung
  • Run time: 1h 38m
  • Year of release: 1984
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 7.4/10

Experience the epic tale of The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, set in historical China, where a powerful family faces near annihilation. Follow Yang Wu-lang, one of the two survivors, as he seeks refuge in a monastery, becoming a Buddhist monk. But fate has other plans, pushing him back into the path of a brutal warrior.

Get ready for jaw-dropping action, as each sequence surpasses the last, leading to an unforgettable and brutal showdown – one of the greatest fight scenes in film history. Produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers, renowned for financing martial arts classics, and starring the iconic Gordon Liu, hailed as one of the all-time best martial arts actors.

 

3. A Touch of Zen (1971)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Feng Hsu, Chun Shih, Ying Bai, Peng Tien, Tien Miao.
  • Director: King Hu
  • Writer: King Hu
  • Run time: 3h 20m
  • Year of release: 1971
  • OTT Platform: NA
  • IMDb rating: 7.5/10

Dragon Inn established King Hu as a masterful director of martial arts films, but it was A Touch of Zen that solidified his greatness. This true epic unfolds over three hours, following a young woman fleeing corrupt government officials who seek refuge in a small village.

While the film eventually escalates into a gripping fight for survival, its first half is a serene, introspective journey that touches upon spirituality. Yet, it expertly builds momentum, leading to a breathtaking climax filled with one awe-inspiring fight after another. A masterpiece that seamlessly blends epic drama and exceptional martial arts action.

 

4. The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)

  • Genre: Action/Comedy
  • Star Cast: Jackie Chan, Ho-Sung Pak, Lung Ti, Anita Mui, Felix Wong
  • Director: Jackie Chan, Lau Kar-leung
  • Writer: NA
  • Run time: 1h 42m
  • Year of release: 1994
  • OTT Platform: NA
  • IMDb rating: 7.5/10

Jackie Chan, the legendary martial artist and actor, has graced the silver screen for almost half a century. Before venturing into Hollywood during the late 1990s, he created a plethora of outstanding martial arts films that continue to captivate audiences. These movies showcased a perfect blend of martial arts and contemporary action sequences, featuring exhilarating car chases and intense shootouts. However, some of Jackie Chan’s films solely focused on awe-inspiring hand-to-hand combat.

One such remarkable martial arts movie is “The Legend of Drunken Master.” It not only serves as a testament to Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong era but also as a masterpiece in its own right. This film revolves around themes of family drama, the theft of priceless artifacts, and the art of drunken martial arts. It boasts some of the most extraordinary action scenes ever filmed, making it a must-watch for all action movie enthusiasts, regardless of their usual preferences.

 

5. Enter the Dragon (1973)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ahna Capri, Kien Shih, Robert Wall, Angela Mao, Betty Chung
  • Director: Robert Clouse
  • Writer: Michael Allin
  • Run time: 1h 42m
  • Year of release: 1973
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 7.6/10

Bruce Lee’s career as a martial arts legend was tragically cut short by his untimely passing in 1973. However, his final complete film, Enter the Dragon, released just days after his death, solidified his status as an iconic figure in the action genre. This unfortunate circumstance makes the film even more poignant, as it showcases Lee’s charisma as an actor and his unparalleled skills as a fighter.

Enter the Dragon takes place on a mysterious island, where an elaborate martial arts tournament unfolds. Packed with thrilling action sequences, the film captivates audiences from start to finish. Lee’s on-screen presence is magnetic, drawing viewers in with his charm and delivering convincing performances during intense fight scenes.

Although 1978’s Game of Death attempted to incorporate some of Lee’s fight sequences, the film pales in comparison to Enter the Dragon. Lee’s absence in certain parts of Game of Death makes it difficult to watch, further emphasizing the significance of Enter the Dragon as his final cinematic masterpiece. Even years after his passing, his legacy continues to inspire and amaze audiences worldwide.

 

6. The Raid (2011)

  • Genre: Action/Crime
  • Star Cast: Iko Uwais,  Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy, Donny Alamsyah, Joe Taslim
  • Director: Gareth Evans
  • Writer: Gareth Evans
  • Run time: 1h 41m
  • Year of release: 2011
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 7.6/10

The Raid is an action-packed Indonesian film that stands out for its simplicity, satisfaction, and intense fight scenes. In the movie, a skilled S.W.A.T. team finds itself trapped in a high-rise building controlled by a dangerous crime lord, who puts a bounty on their heads. The story quickly turns into a thrilling fight for survival, with the police battling their way out of the building.

The movie offers an abundance of violent martial arts action, making it a must-watch for fans of the genre. The straightforward and exciting nature of The Raid sets it apart from many other martial arts films, making it a thrilling and enjoyable experience for viewers.

 

7. Hero (2002)

  • Genre: Action/Drama
  • Star Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen, Zhongyuan Liu, Tianyong Zheng.
  • Director: Yi-Mou Zhang
  • Writer: Feng Li, Bin Wang, Zhang Yimou
  • Run time: 1h 39m
  • Year of release: 2002
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 7.9/10

Hero, directed by the legendary Chinese filmmaker Yimou Zhang, stands out as one of his top martial arts movies. In under two hours, it weaves a stunning tale of a lone warrior’s mission to thwart three deadly assassins planning to harm China’s king.

The film’s action sequences are truly breathtaking, and the masterful use of color sets it apart. With captivating sword fights, Hero showcases some of the best martial arts combat scenes in recent times.

 

8. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Sihung Lung, Pei-Pei Cheng, Fazeng Li, Xian Gao.
  • Director: Ang Lee
  • Writer: Wang Hui-ling
  • Run time: 2 hours
  • Year of release: 2000
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 7.9/10

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an iconic movie that many don’t know started as a novel. Directed by Ang Lee, this martial arts film has a touch of fantasy, with various characters seeking a mythical sword that grants extraordinary fighting skills.

The movie stands out with its captivating storyline and breathtaking action sequences, offering a unique and beautiful experience. Even if you’re not a martial arts enthusiast, you can still enjoy its wide-reaching appeal.

 

9. The Raid 2 (2014)

  • Genre: Action/Crime
  • Star Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo
  • Director: Gareth Evans
  • Writer: Gareth Evans
  • Run time: 2h 30m
  • Year of release: 2014
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 7.9/10

The Raid 2 surpasses its predecessor on IMDb with a slightly higher rating of 7.6/10 compared to 7.9/10. With a more intricate plot featuring rival criminal factions, betrayals, and a diverse range of locations, it expands far beyond the confines of a single apartment building.

While some viewers may long for the directness of the first film, The Raid 2 emerges as a sequel that outshines its predecessor. Its action sequences are more ambitious, shot in a captivating cinematic style, and the one-on-one fights are simply exceptional. Regrettably, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever witness a third installment of The Raid series.

 

10. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

  • Genre: Action/Crime
  • Star Cast: Uma Thurman,  Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama.
  • Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Writer: Quentin Tarantino
  • Run time: 1h 51m
  • Year of release: 2003
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 8.2/10

In the realm of Quentin Tarantino’s films, the revenge epic Kill Bill shines as a potential masterpiece. While Vol. 2 takes on a Western vibe and tones down the action, Kill Bill Vol. 1 bursts with homage-filled martial arts thrills.

Critics may question whether a homage deserves its impressive 8.2/10 IMDb rating, surpassing timeless classics. Yet, Tarantino’s brilliance lies in crafting a uniquely thrilling and unmatched experience, blending influences from countless films.

In Kill Bill Vol. 1, he masterfully combines the essence of martial arts homage and an exceptional action-packed movie. A cinematic marvel that excites and stands apart from the rest.

 

11. Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Biao Yuen, Jacky Cheung, Kent Cheng
  • Director: Tsui Hark
  • Writer: NA
  • Run time: 2h 14m
  • Year of release: 1991
  • OTT Platform: Amazon Prime
  • IMDb rating: 7.2/10

If a movie has “Once Upon a Time” in its title, you know it’s going to be something grand. Director Tsui Hark’s masterpiece is no exception, starring Jet Li as Wong Fei-hung, a legendary hero from 19th century Cantonese folklore. Wong Fei-hung trains an army to protect his province from Westerners who are encroaching upon it. This martial arts film is filled with breathtaking visuals and is considered one of the best of the ’90s. Jet Li would go on to star in two sequels before gaining recognition in English-language cinema with his role in Lethal Weapon 4 towards the end of the decade.

 

12. BKO: Bangkok Knockout (2010)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Sorapong Chatree, Kerttisak Udomnak, Krittiya Lardphanna, Supakson Chaimongkol, Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul
  • Director: Panna Rittikrai
  • Writer: NA
  • Run time: 1h 45m
  • Year of release: 2010
  • OTT Platform: NA
  • IMDb rating: 5.4/10

One of the remarkable accomplishments of the late and esteemed Panna Rittikrai from Thailand is a thrilling tale. It revolves around a group of martial artists who find themselves trapped within a warehouse and must fight their way to freedom. The ensuing action is filled with intense encounters involving shovels, cars, cinder blocks, fiery encounters, and perilous falls from buildings.

 

13. Sister Street Fighter (1974)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Etsuko Shihomi, Shin’ichi Chiba, Asao Uchida, Sanae Ôhori, Bin Amatsu.
  • Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
  • Writer: NA
  • Run time: 1h 25m
  • Year of release: 1974
  • OTT Platform: Mx Player
  • IMDb rating: 6.4/10

In this action-packed movie Street Fighter, Etsuko Shihomi takes on an underground drug ring to save her cop brother. With a Warriors-like group of villains to defeat and an iron-clawed final boss to confront, this female-led spin-off delivers a thrilling experience. Forget the misleading title – this movie captures the raw ’70s exploitation vibe and packs enough ultraviolence to earn an initial X-rating in the US. But the real star here is Shihomi herself, a formidable force who isn’t objectified or portrayed as a feminist symbol. She’s simply someone you don’t want to mess with.

 

14. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Tony Jaa, Phetthai Vongkumlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Suchao Pongwilai, Chatthapong Phantana-Angkul, Wannakit Sirioput, Cheathavuth Watcharakhun.
  • Director: Prachya Pinkaew
  • Writer: NA
  • Run time: 1h 45m
  • Year of release: 2003
  • OTT Platform: NA
  • IMDb rating: 7.1/10

Tony Jaa, a talented Muay Thai fighter, gained worldwide recognition with his thrilling story of a fighter who delves into the Bangkok underworld to recover a stolen sacred Buddhist statue. The film showcases breathtaking real-action scenes against stunning backdrops, captured through impressive location photography. This movie positions Jaa as the upcoming martial arts sensation in the global arena. However, he is also well-known for his remarkable performance in Ong-Bak 2, commonly referred to as “the one where he runs up and backflips off an elephant.”

 

15. Come Drink with Me (1966)

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Star Cast: Pei-Pei Cheng, Hua Yueh, Chih-Ching Yang, Hung-Lieh Chen, Ying-Chieh Han
  • Director: King Hu
  • Writer: King Hu
  • Run time: 1h 31m
  • Year of release: 1966
  • OTT Platform: NA
  • IMDb rating: 6.9/10

Come Drink with Me, one of the early Shaw Brothers productions, played a crucial role in establishing the visual and thematic elements of the wuxia sword fighting genre. In the film, the son of a Chinese general gets kidnapped, prompting the general’s daughter, Golden Swallow (played by Cheng Pei-Pei), to embark on a rescue mission. Along the way, she joins forces with Drunken Cat (portrayed by Yueh Hua), a formidable fighter. Despite ongoing rumors of a Quentin Tarantino remake, it seems unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, the influence of Come Drink with Me on Tarantino’s Kill Bill is significant enough to be considered a noteworthy connection between the two films.

Also read: 20 best enemies to lovers movies you should watch once: The Proposal to Sweet Home Alabama



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