5 Must See Martial Arts Movies
Martial arts films first gained popularity in the U.S. during the 1970s with movies that featured stars like Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba. However, this action-driven genre can trace its history all the way to the days of silent cinema with classics like The Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery. While there are innumerable martial arts films that feature well-known action stars or entertaining fighting sequences, there are some films in this genre that also manage to present an enjoyable story with good character development, as well as exceptional martial arts action. In no particular order, here are the five martial arts movies that every fan should see.
Enter the Dragon
This 1973 martial arts classic is a must-see for any fan of the genre. The film stars Bruce Lee as a martial arts specialist who is recruited to investigate a mysterious island controlled by an evil character known as Han.
Although it was not Bruce Lee’s first film, it secured his legendary status and inspired legions of imitators. Enter the Dragon is also widely credited for establishing the mainstream popularity of martial arts films in the U.S. by merging elements from both Chinese and American cinema.
Loosely based on the life of Yip Man — Bruce Lee’s teacher and a famous Wing Chun grandmaster – Ip Man stars Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen as the title character. Ip Man takes place in China during the 1930s, when Japan invaded the region. In the film, Ip Man uses his formidable Wing Chun skills to defend his family and defeat various Japanese soldiers in a martial arts competition.
The film was a huge success and led to a sequel, Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster, which follows Yip Man’s life in Hong Kong and his eventual encounter with Bruce Lee.
Jackie Chan is renowned for performing all of his own film stunts and has appeared in well over 100 martial arts movies. However, Drunken Master is especially beloved by martial arts film fans for its unusual combination of kung fu and comedy. The film is considered Chan’s breakout role and helped to popularize the “drunken boxing” style of martial arts used by the title character.
As noted by IMDb, the film tells the story of a disobedient son played by Jackie Chan who is eventually molded into a martial arts expert by a “Drunken Master.” The film’s classic redemption story is made even better by Chan’s gravity-defying martial arts abilities and an epic final battle with the main villain. For fans that can’t get enough drunken boxing action, there is Drunken Master II, also known as The Legend of Drunken Master, a 1994 follow-up film in which Chan reprises the same role.
Also known as Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior or Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, this martial arts film stars Tony Jaa in what would become his breakout role. In the film, he plays “Ting,” a villager who volunteers to go to Bangkok in order to recover the stolen head of a Buddha statue known as Ong-Bak.
Tony Jaa uses a traditional Thai kickboxing martial art known as muay Thai as well as his natural acrobatic abilities to create an exciting martial arts film with a classic “fish-out-of-water” storyline. Some of the kicks in Ong-Bak will leave you checking your own jaw to see if it got shattered to pieces from some sort of weird osmosis. The film made Tony Jaa a world-famous martial arts movie star and it spawned two sequels: Ong Bak 2: The Beginning and Ong-Bak 3.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The fame of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is warranted. Ang Lee’s epic is visually stunning. It feels like you’re watching a kickass fairy tale meant for adults. It won many awards and it continues to be hailed as one of the greatest and most influential foreign language films in the United States, especially coming out of Taiwan.
It has been praised for its martial arts sequences, story, direction, musical score, and cinematography. Oh, and there’s tree fighting too.