20 Martial Arts Movies Every Guy Should See

20 Martial Arts Movies Every Guy Should See

Few things are as enjoyable and adrenalizing as martial arts films, whatever their make and model. Sometimes, plot is a necessity for stringing together cool fights. Sometimes, its as much of a pleasure as the cool fights. Theres nothing wrong with coasting along in anticipation of the next round of beatings, but the best martial arts movies each fall under the second category, where story and suspense meet sterling choreography. Need an idea of what that looks like? Here are our picks for the 20 best martial arts movies every guy should see.

The fight scenes inIp Manare so devastatingly awesome, youll want to start training in Wing Chun as soon as the credits roll. Bruce Lees mentor, as played by martial arts great Donnie Yen, is kind and soft-spoken. Hes also fully capable of dismantling a man with his bare hands if hes given a reason. What makesIp Manespecially interesting as a martial arts movie is the combination of top-tier fight scenes and an historical lens that shows us what life was like in 1930s Southern China. Plus, you figure the dude who trained Bruce Lee must be decent, right?

The first thing youll notice about the martial arts movieHerois the sheer beauty of Zhang Yimous direction not just in the fight scenes, choreographed by Cai Li, Wei Tung, and Jack Wai-Leung, but the painterly aesthetic. Its a stunning movie. In fact, its the only time we can recall watching a hailstorm of arrows loosed at someones cranium and thinking, Gosh, that sure is pretty! instead of Welp, that guys a goner. Yimou is a master as demonstrated through his whole career, butHerois a standout among even classics likeRaise the Red Lantern.

Apart fromGame of Death, technically completed but only through the use of actual cardboard cutouts and footage of Bruce Lees actual funeral, theres no movie in his filmography thatcouldntbe justified for inclusion here. ButEnter the Dragon, Bruce Lees last complete martial arts movie movie prior to his death in 1973, is easily argued as the best chapter in a life cut too short. The film embodies Lees life philosophy better than the rest, and the fight sequences remain the stuff of legend coming up on 50 years after its release.

Some of the kicks inOng-Bakland so hard that youll check your own jaw to make sure its still intact. Tony Jaa has a way of using his whole body like a fulcrum and striking with enough force to shatter his audiences jaws. The film, which on release gave Muay Thai a showcase on an international stage, remains one of Jaas standout projects, and in 2003 marked him as a bright new star in martial arts movies.

French film tends to conjure thoughts of passionate romance and avant garde pictures that fiddle with our expectations of what film can be. (Also: Baguettes.) Martial arts likely doesnt come immediately to mind.Brotherhood of the Wolfisnt a straight-up martial arts movie, but it isnt a straight-upanykind of movie, so who cares? If youve yet to see it, trust us: Its like nothing youve seen before, combining weird French history, cool practical FX, Mark Dacascos finest hour, and the one-twopunchof Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, a pair of unreasonably attractive actors anchoring Christophe Gans genre elements with their hotness.

The scheming and strategy, the David versus Goliath theme, and the kickass battles make13 Assassinsa treat for samurai fans, for Takashi Miike fans, and hell, for movie fans in general. Theres a grand scope here buttressing the films action scenes, plus enough of Miikes personality as a provocateur to distinguish his take on the material from Eiichi Kudos original 1963 interpretation of Japanese history.13 Assassinsis loosely very, very loosely based on real events, but this isnt all that important given the extraordinary payoff to Miikes buildup in what has to be considered one of the best martial arts movies around.

At times, its challenging to determine what is and what isnt a real martial arts movie. What do you do when most of the action involves gun fights, but complements them with martial arts?The Man from Nowherewalks that fine line, but we put it on this list for two good reasons: 1) Its ridiculously awesome, and 2) The fight scene with the eyeball in a jar. Thats all well say.

The best martial arts movies dont always have to be dead serious. Frankly, they dont have to be serious at all. (See: Jackie Chan. More later.) Rather than a Bruce Lee biopic,Kung Fu Hustleis Stephen Chows personal wish fulfillment project, an opportunity to play his version of a Lee character through his own filmmaking lens. Its absurd. Its hilarious. At times its violence is shocking. Ultimately, though, its touching.Kung Fu Hustles combination of emotion, sharp action, and love of martial arts cinema is irresistible, to say nothing of Chows charms as a star.

The first entry in Tsui HarksOnce Upon a Time in Chinaseries served, in 1991, as Jet Lis introduction to the world, and still serves that purpose today. Theres a reason the martial arts movie and Li endure. Clocking in at about 134 minutes,Once Upon a Time in Chinarequires not only exemplary skill from its star, but dramatic chops to hold the story together between bouts. Li more than manages. He shines.

How much you likeKill Bill Vol. 1versus other films on this list depends on whether you like fatty steaks more than cheeseburgers. If you prefer your beef on a bun,Kill Bill Vol. 1is your movie. Quentin Tarantinos filmmaking and granular attention to details is always impressive, even when he isnt at his best, and his knack for casting rivals his skills as a screenwriter. The film may be more memorable for Uma Thurman than for Tarantino, or even David Carradine as the charismatic, smooth-talking, avuncular Bill. Either way, it goes down as one of the best martial arts movies.

Think ofIron MonkeyasRobin Hoodwithout the tights. An unknown hero steals from the rich, except when thugs get in his way, he beats their asses with his fists instead of his bow and arrows. This is a bit reductive, but that basic dynamic suppliesIron Monkeywith its narrative framework.Iron Monkeyis directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, the man whos responsible for the fights inCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonas well asThe Matrix, and once again stars Donnie Yen, who frankly appears in so many of the best martial arts movies that you could probably knock out a whole list made up entirely of Yen movies.

Speaking of Yuen andCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: HeresCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a martial arts movie whos prestige is well-warranted. Ang Lee doesnt bother making movies that are anything less than visually stunning, and the fairy tale element here lets him reach peaks most of his other movies cant by virtue of their genre. Case in point: Tree fighting.

Like Bruce Lee, virtually anything Jackie Chan has done in his life qualifies for inclusion on this list (assuming you add a proscription against a swath of the movies hes made in the U.S.). ThePolice Storyfilms work; they show him in peak form as the combination of martial artist and silent film comedian that he strives to be. ButThe Legend of Drunken Masterhouses some of the most audacious and entertaining fights known to martial arts movies, and watching Chan act blotto is always a good time.

Among the Lees and Chans and Yens, its easy to overlook the Yeohs, the Cheungs, and the Rothrocks. So heres Corey YuensYes, Madam, where Michelle Yeoh (pre-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Cynthia Rothrock team up to track down a microfilm loaded with evidence of a criminal outfits many ill deeds. The final fight scene here should be considered the same stuff of legend as any of the best martial arts movies featuring the Lees, or the Chains, or the Yens.

From the country that brought us Matthew Rhys, rarebit, and an orthography written in too many digraphs comes Gareth Evans, an unfailingly gentlemanly type whose latent bloodlust inspired a niche of ultra-violent martial artistry through the 2010s. It is, and we dont say this lightly, a miracle that no ones died shooting an Evans picture. (Yet.) This applies more so toThe Raid: Redemptions sequel, but the sheer savagery of the fights in this movie still pack shock value almost 10 years since the worst distributor on Earth, Sony Pictures Classic unceremoniously dumped it in theaters in late March.

Well, hey, why not drink with King Hu, Cheng Pei-pei, and Yueh Hua, if the invitations on the table? Theres an argument to be made forDragon InnandA Touch of Zen, two of the great big-screenwuxiaepics, but for our moneyCome Drink With Medoesnt get enough love and rips just as hard. (It also measures out to half the latters running time and 20 minutes of the formers. This isnt a good approach to ranking or prioritizing movies, but not everyone can instantly carve out 3 hours even for a film as good asA Touch of Zen.)Come Drink With Meis the movie where Hu solidified his fight scene aesthetic as similar to that of dance. Each move hits hard, but theres a grace and anti-realism to them thats stuck around as a martial art standard for decades.

Another movie where we must ask: Does this count as a martial arts movie, or is it something else? Whatever it is, it reallyissomething else. You knowThe Matrix. If you grew up in the 1990s, its one of the most significant pop cultural moments of its era, a watershed moment for blockbuster tentpoles thats been copied and never replicated since hitting theaters and changing the movies as we know them.

If you happen to like Apple TV+s post-apocalyptic seriesSee, where the blind fight the blind, then do yourself a favor and check out the manyZatoichimovies streaming on the Criterion Channel. You wont be disappointed. Youespeciallywont be disappointed if you start off with this one, which not only shows off Japanese icon Shintaro Katsus star power (the mans comic timing is impeccable), but also features achambaraall-timer: A martial arts fight scene shot in the dark and lit by a candle balanced on Katsusshikomizue.

Dont come between a mother and her kid. Especially dont come between a mother and her kid if the mother was, at one point in her life, a merciless gangster, and if she can, atthispoint in her life, still turn your bones to powder with a flick of her wrist. Vietnamese director L Văn KiệtsFuriedropped in 2019 and was immediately overlooked by all but its core audience; this is a shame, but also a crime, because movies likeFurie(read: martial arts movies starring women) dont come along often even today, and Kiệts lead, Veronica Ngo, is genuinely tougher than many of her contemporaries to boot. Not only is a modern classic in the genre, it might just be one of the best martial arts movies around.

Remember Gareth Evans?The Night Comes For Usisnt his movie; its the work of Timo Tjahjanto, an Indonesian filmmaker and utter madman who has collaborated with Evans here and there throughout his career (most famously on Safe Haven, their contribution to the 2013 horror omnibusV/H/S/2). ButThe Night Comes For Usbelongs to the same family as theRaidfilms, and even features two of that films stars Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim, whoseMortal Kombat 21co-stars uniformly cited as too fast for the camera in lead roles. Tjahjanto ups the ante on Evans in terms of brutality; the martial arts fights are stellar, but theyre gory on a grindhouse slasher level, too. This is a feature, not a bug.

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