7 ESSENTIAL MARTIAL ARTS FILMS ManScore's Must See Movies
There are few fan bases as virulent in their purism than martial arts film fanatics. As such, this isn’t an argument for the best martial arts films of all time per se (although these would all undoubtedly be in the conversation), these are the essential martial arts films that a man should know. The most culturally significant ones that have bled into our social vernacular or the most iconic of their specific sub-genre.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was many American’s first introduction to martial arts films, following hot on the heels of 1999’s The Matrix which is often credited with provoking the resurgent interest. Directed by Ang Lee and nominated for 10 Academy Awards, the movie is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most culturally influential foreign films of all time due to its stunning cinematography, heart-rending, yet comprehensible fight sequences, tragic love story, unique gender dynamics, and the fact that it’s brimming with action yet is imbued throughout with a spirit of tranquility. The action is choreographed by the incomparable Yuen Woo-Ping, a master filmmaker in his own right and the director of the Netflix sequel.
Written, directed by, and starring Jackie Chan, 1985’s Police Story was a massive box office hit that spawned five sequels and a spinoff. Fans consider it to be Chan’s best action film—and so does Jackie Chan. He created the film in Hong Kong after a disappointing Hollywood experience left him seeking creative control. The unforgettable action sequences did pay off, but at a price. The Guardian reported that Chan, “was hospitalized with [a] concussion, suffered severe burns, dislocated his pelvis and was almost paralyzed by a shattered vertebrae.”
I remember the first time I saw the stunning teaser trailer for this 2003 classic; the trailer culminates in the unexpected takedown of a massive fighter by a single kick from the diminutive but riveting, Tony Jaa. Not only did this spectacular martial arts film introduce the world to the Muay Thai fighting style involving knees and elbows, but it set a new standard by not using any special effects or CGI (a feat that was heavily promoted during the film’s marketing campaign). Every major move leaves you wanting to see it again in slow motion, and thankfully the film obliges.
Enter The Dragon
Widely regarded as Bruce Lee’s best film and the film that kickstarted the burgeoning martial arts sub-genre into a full-fledged genre in its own right, Enter The Dragon is an incredible classic you won’t want to miss. Tragically, Lee died six days before the film’s release to acclaimed box office success. Nevertheless, Lee cemented his place as the spiritual godfather of all the martial arts films to come with his physical grace, speed, and poise. The hall of mirrors showdown is one of the all-time greats.
If you’re into existential dread, then this one is for you. Built with a simple, video game style premise (We have to fight our way up this building, level by level to get to the boss on the top floor), this film never relents with its nonstop action and the completely overwhelming situation the main characters find themselves in: once they’re surrounded inside the building, their mission becomes a fight to survive.
The Legend of Drunken Master (Drunken Master 2)
This 1994 rebootquel to a 1978 film needs no introduction (as in you don’t need to see the first). Suffice it to say that the more drunk this master fighter gets, the better he fights. The film stars Jackie Chan in all his physical and comedic glory, running up walls and drunkenly fighting hundreds of men. Both playful and action-packed, this classic reboot was directed by Lau Kar-leung (who also costars) and features so many iconic fight sequences it defies an easy summary. Check it out.
This isn’t a martial arts movie per se, but it is the fundamental samurai film that every man should see. Directed, edited, and co-written by the Japanese master filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai not only serves as the literal basis for another classic film and its reboot (The Magnificent Seven), but has influenced countless excellent films over the years and is consistently ranked as one of the greatest films of all time.