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UPDATE: It seems as though some of our readers have addictions to martial arts movies that may require attending meetings. But, the comments and emails we’ve received about this article were excellent, so we’re going to be publishing a follow-up based on this feedback. Subscribe to our blog or check back later for the update!

We’ve scoured the internet. Reviews. Forums. Amazon. Postings. Bulletins. And this list is what we’ve come up with as the greatest Kung-Fu movies of all time and why you should watch each one. Pay attention to movies involving Yuen Wo-Ping as either director or action director, there’s a reason why half this list is movies where he was involved!

Hint: In case you’re interested in actually watching any of these…clicking on a movie’s title will show you that movie in Amazon.com.

Way of the DragonWay of the Dragon (1979) way of the dragon

This is the only finished film to be written and directed by Bruce Lee. (Game of Death is the other one but is unfinished) We could write a lot about the plot, characters or fight scenes…but all you really care about is watching Bruce Lee fight Chuck Norris in the final battle.

Martial Artists: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris
Director: Bruce Lee
Watch the Trailer

Shaolin TempleShaolin Temple (1982) way of the dragon

Depicts the amazing history of the Shaolin Temple, the focal point for Chinese Martial Arts. Think of the Shaolin Monks as Jedi Knights (an elite group of fighters) and the rest of China as the messed-up universe that Star Wars takes place in (people who are afraid of the elite fighters and want to take them out of power). Much work to do, you have, young Jet Li. *picture Yoda’s accent on that one* Define Irony: A movie shot at the site of the Shaolin Temple, telling a story about the fall of the Shaolin Temple, sparks so much public interest that the temple was re-opened shortly after the movie released.

Martial Artist: Jet Li (His debut movie)
Director: Chang Hsin-Yen
Watch the Trailer

Ong BakOng Bak (2003) way of the dragon

Raw action without wires, Tony Jaa brings a new martial arts style to the big screen and does so in style. Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is stronger and more direct than the Chinese styles you’re used to seeing with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, giving a new look to how a martial arts movie can be done. You’ll be seeing more of him…guaranteed.

Martial Artist: Tony Jaa
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Watch the Trailer

Iron MonkeyIron Monkey (1993) way of the dragon

Doctor by day, thief by night…Iron Monkey is your classic Robin-hood meets Kung Fu. It’s an action packed flick that can’t go 5 minutes without an excellent fight scene. It all comes down to a battle between Iron Monkey (ie Robin Hood) and an ex Shaolin Monk (remember, these guys are like the Jedi Knights of Chinese martial arts…they’re elite). Remember that guy Yuen Wo-Ping I mentioned? Well he’s the director in this one, so you know it’s good!

Martial Artists: Yu Rong-Guang, Donnie Yen
Director: Yuen Wo-Ping
Action Directors: Yuen Cheung-yan, Yuen Shun-yi
Watch the Trailer

5 Deadly Venoms5 Deadly Venoms (1978) way of the dragon

No room form “martial arts beauties” in this one, there’s so much blood and action that they only cast male actors. Exit the traditional elaborate costumes and enter the muscular, skin-bearing, bloody martial arts style that would become a trademark for director Chang Cheh. Each cast member is trained in an art resembling one of 5 venemous creatures (Scorpion, Snake, Centipede, Gecko, Toad) with the 6th cast member being trained in all 5. Six main martial arts actors = LOTS OF ACTION!

Martial Artists: 6 Martial Artists (yes, 6 main characters)
Director: Chang Cheh
Watch the Trailer

seven samuraiThe Seven Samurai (1954) way of the dragon

One of the greatest classic kung-fu movies of all time and arguable Kurosawa’s best work. Some Samurai of the time were down on their luck (homeless) and willing to do anything for a meal. A village under attack by bandits recruits a group of seven such Samurai warriors and asks them to help defend their village. The movie is about the Samurai teaching the village how to fight and culminates in a massive battle between a village and almost 50 attacking bandits. The acting is superb, the emotions run high and Kurosawa keeps you hooked from beginning to end.

Martial Artists: 7 Martial Artists (all names you won’t know since this movie is so old)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Watch the Trailer

Legend of Drunken MasterLegend of Drunken Master (1994) way of the dragon

Some will say this is the greatest martial arts movie of all time because of it’s balance between plot-line, comedy, drama and amazing kung fu sequences. Probably Jackie Chan’s best martial arts performance. You’re going to love the final scene where you learn what “Drunken Master” really means. We’re talking box-splitting, fire-spitting craziness!

Martial Artist: Jackie Chan
Director: Lau Kar-leung
Watch a Scene from the Movie

crouching tiger hidden dragonCrouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)way of the dragon

Based on a Pentalogy (yes, that’s 5 books) written by Wang Dulu, this movie covers mostly the 4th book. Critically acclaimed to cross international borders with it’s amazing character development, intricate plot, martial arts ideals, stunning special effects and quicker-than-the-eye fighting scenes, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon set a new standard for martial arts movies. Telling Zhang Ziyi (the lead female character and an amazing martial artist) to get back in the kitchen would likely cost you 50 punches to the “bags”. Be ready for subtitles, ‘cuz turning on the English track is like watching…uh…like watching a kung fu movie in English.

Main Martial Artist: Chow Yun-fat
Other Martial Artists: Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-pei
Director: Ang Lee
Action Director: Yuen Wo-Ping
Watch the Trailer

Kill BillKill Bill vol. 1 (2003) way of the dragon

You”re going to want your home theatre room for this one. It”s tough to beat beautiful women beating the crap out of each other in fast-paced, action-packed, make you cringe, bloody, gory, cut-’em-up (more buzz words go here) movie jam packed with as much martial arts death as possible. Tarantino expertly uses every camera angle and a plethora of special effects to deliver a better-than-real visual experience that gives this blood-and-guts thriller an artistic feel you’ll appreciate at the end. Did I mention is has Uma Thurman in it? (‘Kill bill vol. 2’ brings closure to the set, but hey…we had to choose one movie. Say “Five-Point-Palm Exploding Heart Technique” 5 times fast.

)Actors: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Action Director: Yuen Wo-ping
Watch the Trailer: Meduim | Large

Fist of LegendFist of Legend (1994) way of the dragon

A classic story of Chinese vs. Japanese martial arts, Fist of Legend is actually a remake of the original Bruce Lee movie, Fist of Fury. If Bruce Lee is like the original James Bond, Jet Li is the Pierce Brosnan. He’ll never be the original, but the modern film-making and larger budget bring the entertainment value just a hair above the original Fist of Fury. (The ghost of Bruce Lee is probably going to strike me down for writing that) The Yuen Brothers are known for amazing action choreography, and they totally deliver on this one. (Casting Jet Li may have helped them a little too.)

Martial Artist: Jet Li
Director: Gordon Chan
Action Directors: “The Yuen Brothers”
Watch a Scene from the movie

KnockaboutKnockabout (1979) way of the dragon

Yuen Biao’s kicks and acrobatics will make your jaw drop and the plot turnarounds will make it feel like a great episode of Mission Impossible. Almost every main character is either a con-artist or con-artist/criminal, creating deceit after deceit after deceit. One of the funnier movies of it’s time, this will keep you on the edge of your seat while laughing and trying to figure out what the hell each character is really up to.

Martial Artist: Yuen Biao
Director: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Watch a Scene from the Movie

the matrixThe Matrix (1999) way of the dragon

A revolutionary movie that mixed sci-fi and martial arts into a computer-generated world where rules don’t apply. This was a dream come true for Yuen Wo-Ping who was given the freedom to do anything he wanted to with martial arts…effectively creating one of the most visually stunning movies ever! Let go of reality on this one and enjoy the special effects for what they are. In fact, enjoy them so much that you don’t notice Keanu Reeves’ acting. The martial arts aren’t as technical as the other movies on this list, but give the actors credit for only learning martial arts after they were casted for the roles. The plot-line is sick and there are two more movies in the trilogy that will keep feeding you eye-candy all weekend. The Wachowski bros. are huge fans of Kung Fu films and use the same type of camera angels as the classics.

Actors: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburn, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Directors: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Action Director: Yuen Wo-Ping, Yuen Shun-yi
Watch the Trailer

pedicab driverPedicab Driver (1989) way of the dragon

Watch this one for the action scenes, not for the plot. While there is enough drama and character development to keep you interested, Sammo’s masterfully choreographed martial arts scenes are why you should watch this one. Plus he’s a bigger guy who can do moves like Jackie Chan, NO JOKE! (He had his own TV series for awhile.) For those of you who think you’re too big to be good at martial arts, Sammo will give you hope. Billy Chow made a name for himself in this movie with his unequaled kicking mastery and later went on to be Jet Li’s Japanese nemesis in Fists of Legend.

Martial Artist: Sammo Hung, Billy Chow
Director: Sammo Hung
Watch a Scene from the Movie

drunken masterDrunken Master (1978) way of the dragon

No stunt doubles. Jackie Chan’s breakout movie and the best Kung Fu comedy of its time, setting a new standard for entertainment value among kung fu movies in the late 70’s. With a small-budget feel and humor that was still perfecting itself, this film is obviously a classic kung fu film…but nonetheless a masterpiece. Want to be pummeled by mind-numbing kicks in rapid succession? Hang out with Hwang Jang-lee for an afternoon.

Martial Artist: Jackie Chan
Director: Yuen Wo-ping
Watch the Trailer

kung fu hustleKung Fu Hustle (2004) way of the dragon

You know how “Scary Movie” makes fun of anything and everything it can? Well, this is the Kung Fu version of it! Jokes, laughs, imitations mixed in with some awesome fighting sequences. Nothing is taken seriously in this movie, especially the violence. Dance routines are inspired by someone’s gruesome death (computer-enhanced of course!), random sound effects are tied in with pain like an old Batman re-run…the whole time you’re expecting people to keep fighting after having their head blown off. A great plot, good acting, violence and death are all rolled into a martial arts comedy that you’ll be laughing at the entire way through. A different type of martial arts movie done brilliantly! Action!

Director: Yuen Wo-Ping

Martial Artist: Stephen Chow

Watch the Trailer: Small | Large

akiraAkira (1988) way of the dragon

An animated film that’s not for children! The almost cult-like following of fans that this movie created will tell you Akira is the greatest animated film of all time. Originally released in Japan and adapted for U.S. theaters via some bad voice dubbing, this is like “The Matrix” of animated films. Set in the year 2019, “Akira” isn’t a character, but rather a government top secret project. You won’t find many animated films with the amount of violence and fighting that Akira will throw at you, but rest assured you’ll leave with a taste of respect for animated films when all is said and done.

Director: Katsuhiro ‘tomo
Actors: None Really…gotta love Japanimation!
Watch the Trailer

Whether you enjoyed this list or think we snuffed your favorite movie,
we’d love to hear what you think.
So by all means, comment away…