Top 10 Underrated Martial Arts Movies

Must have Kung Fu movies you probably haven't seen, but should be in any action junkie's film collection. WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Criminally Underrated Martial arts movies that that you have probably never seen. Fighter in the Wind, Chocolate, Flash Point! Never heard of them? For shame!
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Undervalued and – in some cases – even unknown, these exhilarating films deserve more respect. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 underrated martial arts movies.

For this list, we’re highlighting some top-notch martial arts flicks that may be known in certain countries, but don’t necessarily get all the love and respect they deserve worldwide.

#10: “Duel to the Death” (1983)


Marking the directorial debut prolific director Tony Ching, “Duel to the Death” pits the greatest swordsmen from China and Japan against each other in, well, a duel to the death. Their differing nationalities aren’t the only thing that separates these fighters: Ching Wan, the champion from China, is calm and cool-headed, whereas Hashimoto of Japan is a samurai who puts his honor above all else. Of course, these two must put their differences aside when conspirators show up and attempt to fix the fight. What follows is a slew of over-the-top and exciting action sequences, culminating with the final showdown between the two, which we won’t spoil here, but we will say that each man has met his match.

#9: “Wing Chun” (1994)


Starring a young Michelle Yeoh as the titular character, and balancing kung fu with a beautiful love story, this film has been a major influence on a number of films, including “The Matrix.” In fact, the Wachowski siblings hired director Yuen Woo-ping as their choreographer after viewing the extraordinary fight sequences of “Wing Chun,” paving the way for some of America’s most beloved action flicks of the 21st century. But you can’t beat the original “Wing Chun” features a touch of comedy, and the chemistry between Yeoh and the acclaimed Donnie Yen is palpable. But it’s the visual style that ultimately leaves its mark on the genre.

#8: “Brotherhood of the Wolf” (2001)


At its core, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” is a historical drama centered on the beast of Gévaudan. But with a mashing of multiple genres, including plenty of hard-hitting fight scenes, the film is most definitely steeped in the martial arts and severely underrated. Though it stars Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, the actual star – at least in terms of the fight sequences – is Mark Dacascos’ Mani, the Iroquois assistant of the film’s lead, Knight Gregoire de Fronsac. As a whole, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” builds on a variety of cinematic styles, but its fight scenes raise this film to its incredible heights.

#7: “Master of the Flying Guillotine” (1976)


Featuring a one-armed protagonist battling a blind assassin, this wuxia film is packed with thrills and some inventive kills. “The Master of the Flying Guillotine” does not disappoint with its unique contraptions and artistic flair. Of course, we’re talking about the makeshift decapitation machine, not to mention the iconic score and incredible lead performance from Jimmy Wang Yu - who also wrote and directed the film. Despite the fact that “Master of the Flying Guillotine” is relatively unknown in North America, Quentin Tarantino has called it one of his favorite films. What’s more, it’s also become one of the most influential films of the genre, often referred to as “the Holy Grail” of ‘70s Hong Kong martial arts movies.

#6: “Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart on the River Styx” (1972)


In this second chapter in a series of six films adapted from the manga series “Lone Wolf and Cub,” the deadly Ogami and his son Daigoro have a few problems on their hands. But as a former executioner with some creative kill tactics, the Wolf manages to efficiently customize the titular baby cart with blades in order to protect his son on their journey for vengeance. The relentless fighting and graphic sequences provide for a steady amount of heavy-duty entertainment. In fact, the lone wolf accumulates 37 kills, and like so many reputable martial arts films, there’s a certain poetry to the inherent madness of it all.

#5: “13 Assassins” (2010)


Directed by the prolific Takashi Miike, this film represents the antithesis of watered-down martial arts narratives. Focusing on the suicidal mission of 12 samurais and a wise hunter, “13 Assassins” transcends the genre through character development, visual style and, of course, the jaw-dropping action sequences. Amazingly, the epic was made for a mere 6 million dollars, and while it’s been well received by critics, the average movie fan probably missed this one, which is a shame considering its quality. In a world of effects-heavy blockbusters, “13 Assassins” is an example of pure filmmaking and storytelling.

#4: “5 Deadly Venoms” (1978)


If you’re familiar with the films of Quentin Tarantino, then you know all about the “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.” It was Chang Cheh’s cult classic that inspired the “Kill Bill” death crew, as the story focuses on the distinct fighting styles of five unique warriors, all of whom have their own animal-based names. While it’s entertaining to see in whom the protagonist of “5 Deadly Venoms” will place his trust, it’s the exceptional fighting techniques that keep the film moving along. A martial arts picture that will please the typical fan of such genre flicks, this one is also suited to genuine admirers of the martial arts.

#3: “Chocolate” (2008)

For many productions of the martial arts genre, the primary emphasis is largely on form and technique. And while there’s plenty of crazy fights in Prachya Pinkaew’s Thai film “Chocolate”, the script is loaded with narrative drama as well. Commencing with a gangland love triangle, the story eventually highlights the plight of young Zen, an autistic girl with a particular set of skills. Incidentally, “Chocolate” toes the line between the human element and high-level stunts and action, with each aspect working together to create a memorable film – albeit an underappreciated one.

#2: “Fighter in the Wind” (2004)


Loosely based on the life of Masutatsu Oyama – the creator of the Kyokushin style – this film examines solitude and the effects of xenophobia. In Korea, “Fighter in the Wind” was a massive success, but the concept of a Korean pilot turned Japanese legend hasn’t necessarily translated to North American audiences. Even so, the character conflict makes for an exceptional karate-based film, and the manner in which Choi Bae-dal gets down complements the poignant visuals. It’s a martial arts movie for outsiders, a film that touches on themes of both emotional and physical discipline that anyone can relate to.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- “Fong Sai-Yuk” (1993)
- “Undisputed III: Redemption” (2010)
- “The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi” (2003)
- “Flash Point” (2007)

#1: “Harakiri” (1962)


In the world of martial arts, honor is everything. And with “Harakiri,” director Masaki Kobayashi explores the false representations of so-called honorable men. When a samurai requests an honorable death via seppuku, or “hara kiri,” clan members don’t quite buy his story. That in itself makes for a unique martial arts plot. But as a whole, “Harakiri” operates on a higher level, as the implications of the characters’ actions reach far beyond the visuals depicted. The death scenes are undoubtedly shocking and the sword fights are beautifully choreographed, but more importantly, this is a film that will always be relevant, given the human element and the investigation of the whys and hows of martial arts tradition.

Do you agree with our list? What do you think is the most underrated martial arts movie? For more kick-ass Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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