Few things are as delectably enjoyable as martial arts films. You can turn most on half way through and still get glued to your couch. You coast along with the plot (as awful as it can be at times) eagerly anticipating the next fight scene. Hey, sometimes you want a popcorn movie. Great martial arts flicks, however, combine awesome combat with a story that actually makes it worth the down time between roundhouse kicks. Here are 14 every guys should see.
The fight scenes in Ip Man are so devastatingly awesome, you’ll want to start training in Wing Chun as soon as the credits roll. Bruce Lee’s mentor, as played by Donnie Yen, is soft-spoken, kind, and insanely badass when it comes to combat. Ip Man is not just a watch-worthy flick because of the great fight scenes, but it’s also an interesting historical look at the world Ip Man lived in and what life was like in 1930’s Southern China. Plus, any dude who trained Bruce Lee must be pretty decent, right?
For as awesome as Jet Li is, a lot of his films fall short for us. Hero is one major exception (along with Once Upon a Time in China). The first thing you’ll notice about Hero is the sheer beauty of it. Not just the choreographed fight scenes, but just the overall look. It’s stunning. In fact, it’s the only time we can recall watching a plethora of arrows fly towards someone’s cranium and thinking how beautiful it is.
Enter the Dragon
Not including any Bruce Lee movies on this list would be ridiculous. While some might argue that The Chinese Connection should be the choice, we just can’t not choose Enter the Dragon. Is it the greatest story ever told? No. Does it feature Bruce Lee destroying a substantial series of evil-doers? Yes. For that alone, it’s just awesome.
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, which mostly showcases Muay Thai, is the standout project from the incredible Tony Jaa, and definitetly worth a watch.
Brotherhood of the Wolf
When you think French movies, you think passionate romances, artsy flicks that go over your head, and plenty of baguettes. You don’t think martial arts. And while Brotherhood of the Wolf isn’t a straight-up martial arts movie (it isn’t a straight-up any kind of movie, actually), it is a serious piece of entertainment. It’s one of those movies you just put on and enjoy without letting your brain get to wrapped up in what’s going on. It’s like nothing you’ve seen before and it’s damn entertaining.
The scheming and strategy, the David vs. Goliath aspect, and the kickass battles make 13 Assassins a treat for samurai fans. Actually, it’s a treat for movie fans in general, because, unlike some martial arts films, there’s actually some grandiose scope aside from the standard action scenes.
The Man From Nowhere
It can be challenging at times to determine what is and what isn’t a true martial arts movie. Like, what do you do when lots of the action involves gun fights but there is still martial arts involved? While The Man from Nowhere walks that fine line, we put it on this list for two good reasons: 1) It’s unbelievably awesome, and 2) The fight scene with the eyeball in a jar. That’s all we’ll say.
Kung Fu Hustle
Martial arts movies don’t always have to be dead serious, in fact, they don’t always have to be serious at all. Kung Fu Hustle won’t be confused for a Bruce Lee epic, but it’s definitely a must watch. It’s so absurdly ridiculous that you almost miss how awesome the fighting is.
Once Upon a Time in China
The first in a trilogy, Once Upon a Time in China really introduced many to the skills of Jet Li. It also happens to combine incredible fight scenes with a large-scale story that will keep you interested for the 2+ hours.
Kill Bill Vol. 1
No subtitles! Okay, watching Kill Bill Vol 1 is not pleasurable just because you don’t have do any reading, it just happens to be a kickass martial arts flick from a dude who knows a thing or two about violence on film. It’s one of the few films with a female protagonist and the only film on this list that involves sick moves with a nonstick frying pan.
Think of Iron Monkey as Robin Hood without the goofy tights. An unknown hero steals from the rich, only he doesn’t challenge enemies to archery contests, he just beats the crap out of them. The fighting is choreographed by the same dude who worked on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix, plus, it’s got Donnie Yen in it, which is always a positive.
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. Oh, and there’s tree fighting.
The Legend of Drunken Master
Finally a Jackie Chan movie for the list. Not only that, but a Jackie Chan movie where he gains his fighting ability by drinking. The script writes itself! The film features some of the funniest/coolest fight scenes you’ll ever see. Just don’t pound Maker’s Mark and try to fight after watching it.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the movie many consider the greatest martial arts/samurai film of all time. It’s a movie that spawned so many remakes and offshoots, that you just know without watching it that it will be good. Well, it is good, and, in fact, far, far better than good. Don’t let the black and white and subtitles stop you from watching this masterpiece.