Top 10 Best Kung Fu Movies of All Time
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
WRITTEN BY: Thomas O'Connor
This iconic film genre is jam-packed with awesome flicks! For this list, we're looking at the very best movies in the Kung Fu genre, new and old. Our countdown includes “Kung Fu Hustle”, “The Legend of Drunken Master”, “Enter the Dragon”, and more!
Script Written by Thomas O'Connor
Top 10 Kung Fu Movies
We’re not gonna reference -that- song, we promise! Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down the Top 10 Kung Fu Movies.
For this list, we’re looking at the very best movies in the Kung Fu genre, new and old. We’re strictly looking at Chinese Martial Arts films, so films from other countries like Thailand’s “The Protector” won’t qualify. We’re also drawing a distinction between Kung Fu and Wuxia films, which is a distinct enough genre to warrant its own list. So sorry, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, we’ll get to you next time.
#10: “Ip Man” (2008)
Few films or franchises have defined Kung Fu cinema in the modern era like Donnie Yen’s series of films chronicling the life of martial arts master Ip Man. The series follows the legendary martial artist’s life through the Japanese occupation during World War II and into his later life, when he trained future martial arts legend Bruce Lee. But rather than dry historical films, this series is absolutely no slouch when it comes to action. The first film in particular contains some incredible fight scenes that show off Yen’s own mastery of Wing Chun, like the sequence where he takes down 10 blackbelts single handedly. History was never this badass.
#9: “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004)
Kung Fu comedies have a long and proud history, and one of the true titans of the sub-genre is writer, director and star Stephen Chow. Combining some serious martial arts ability with brilliant physical comedy and a deadpan meets screwball sensibility, Chow’s films should be among your go-to movies for mixing martial arts with laughs. A great place to start is this 2004 film, in which Chow plays a bumbling petty crook caught in between a war between the villainous Axe Gang and the residents of a run-down apartment block. The film plays out as much like a live-action Looney Tunes movie as a martial arts film, with over the top visuals and ridiculously awesome fight scenes to spare.
#8: “Tai Chi Master” (1993)
While the glory days of the '70s may have ended, period martial arts films continued to go strong in the modern era thanks to new stars and studios continuing the traditions of the legendary Shaw Studios. This 1993 film is definitely a great example of this, with Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in the lead and Yuen Woo-ping behind the camera. Li stars as one of two former Shaolin Monks who, when his brother falls to greed and ambition, masters a new martial art which places an emphasis on deflection and grace rather than speed and power. Tai Chi may not be a martial art often associated with combat, but this movie might just change your mind on that.
#7: “Police Story” (1985)
Very few films act as a better showreel of Jackie Chan’s skill-set at a martial arts leading man than this 1985 action comedy, which casts the legendary action star as a Hong Kong police detective on the trail of a nefarious crime lord. The film puts heavy emphasis on stunt work and large-scale set pieces, like a destructive car chase through a shantytown, a perilous hang from a speeding bus and Chan’s death-defying leap through electrical lights and a glass ceiling in the film’s climax. Jackie’s dedication to physical comedy and infectious charm are on full display here, making this one of the essential entries in his filmography.
#6: “Iron Monkey” (1993)
Part martial arts epic, part period superhero flick, this entry co-stars the inimitable Donnie Yen and follows a physician who moonlights as a masked, Robin Hood-style heroic thief. While rife with themes of class warfare and inequality, the film is absolutely no slouch in the action department, featuring incredible fight scenes thanks to Yen and star Ringo Yu. This was one of Yen’s earliest roles, and looking back it’s not hard to see why he became a massive star not long after. The film’s finale, which sees the two engage in a two-on-one duel atop elevated poles, is some of the finest action the early '90s has to offer.
#5 “Fist of Legend” (1994)
This mid '90s Jet Li vehicle is actually a remake of Bruce Lee's iconic “Fist of Fury”, with Li filling the role once played by the Dragon himself. The film follows Chen Zhen, a martial arts student who returns to Hong Kong from overseas to find his master dead and a Japanese dojo threatening to destroy his school. So obviously, there’s some vengeance to be done. The film’s fight scenes are some of the best that 1990s kung fu movies had to offer thanks to choreography by industry legend Yuen Woo-Ping, who deftly mixes spectacle and exaggeration with the real-world techniques and styles of the film’s eminently talented cast.
#4: “Fist of Fury” (1972)
One of the most beloved films of a true martial arts icon, Bruce Lee’s seminal film follows the same basic premise as its '90s remake, but naturally doubles down on intensity and bone-crushing brutality thanks to its star. Bruce Lee’s performance is one of pure, simmering rage, with the character’s anger and thirst for revenge on display in every sidelong glance and punishing blow. Kung-fu movies just don’t get much angrier than this. After all, it is in the title. This isn’t quite the film that put Bruce Lee on the map, but it definitely helped secure his place as one of the most vital and vibrant voices in contemporary martial arts cinema.
#3: “The Legend of Drunken Master” [aka “Drunken Master II”[ (1994)
Kung-fu comedy has a long and proud tradition that began well before Jackie Chan hit the scene, but the seemingly indestructible star’s infectious charm and commitment to his craft has definitely helped him make an impact on the genre. Arguably his most impressive addition to the canon of kung fu movies is this spiritual sequel to 1978’s “Drunken Master”. In the film, Chan portrays folk hero Wong Fei-hung, here re-imagined as a practitioner of a martial art that mimics the movements of a drunk. This unique fighting style, and Chan’s utter commitment to the demanding physical requirements easily puts this at the top of his many works. See those hot coals? Yeah...those are real.
#2: “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” (1978)
It’s hard to pick just one film from the legendary Shaw Bros studio, whose prolific output in the '60s, '70s and '80s is one of the pillars of the martial arts genre. But in the end, we have to give it up to this all-time great. Directed by Lau Kar-leung and starring the inimitable Gordon Liu, the film sees a young initiate learn the ways of Shaolin as he works his way through the temple’s 35 chambers, each of which teaches a particular strength or skill. The film is synonymous with classic kung-fu cinema, and has helped enshrine its star and director as true gods of the genre.
Before our number one pick “enters” the video, here are some honorable mentions.
“The Five Deadly Venoms” (1978)
“Heroes of the East” (1978)
“Five Element Ninjas” (1982)
“The Prodigal Son” (1981)
“The Shaolin Temple” (1982)
#1: “Enter the Dragon” (1973)
The film released just one month after Bruce Lee’s untimely death is also his most iconic, and posthumously cemented the star as one of the dominant faces of martial arts cinema. Mixing classic martial arts action with an almost Bond-style spy caper, the film sees Lee enter a martial arts tournament in order to bring down a nefarious crime lord. Whether it’s the incredible performance by Lee, the bucketloads of '70s cool-factor, the co-stars in Jim Kelly and John Saxon or the blink and you’ll miss it appearance by a young Jackie Chan, this icon of the genre has anything you could ask for. Well, everything except Chuck Norris's fight from “Way of the Dragon”, but still!