10 Martial Arts Actors Who Deserve More Recognition

Call me crazy, but I find nothing more exhilarating than watching a character who is really quite unlikeable copping a highly stylized fly kick to the face. Yes, I am a martial arts fanatic and I believe that there is an inherent and palpable satisfaction associated with witnessing a hand to hand exchange and flying feet delivered with precise technique.

The Kung Fu Revolution began around the early 70s, long before I was born, and the genre has certainly developed and evolved greatly over the course of the last four decades. Following the release of the unparalleled Bruce Lee classic Enter The Dragon in 1973, a legion of kung fu flicks soon after flooded the market to keep up with the new craze that had swept over the movie going public. The likes of veteran superstars with incredible talent such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cynthia Rothrock, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren and so many more have won success and acclaim due to their flabbergasting physical abilities.

Then there are the “newbies” who are rising in the ranks as talent to watch out for. Those such as Tony Jaa, who re-defined martial arts cinema with 2003’s Ong Bak and now finally getting his big Hollywood break with Fast & Furious 7, and Iko Uwais, who wowed everyone with his brutal physical performance in 2011’s sleeper hit The Raid: Redemption, are being entrusted with the prestigious honor of carrying the torch from the veterans.

To celebrate the recent release of Jackie Chan’s reportedly final big action spectacular CZ12 (aka Chinese Zodiac), let’s take a look at who believe are still the unsung heroes of the genre, those who have done amazing work but still just haven’t cracked that nutshell of worldwide recognition.

Comments (106)

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  1. Glensays:

    Mark Dacascos is a no talent, charmless hack. He shouldn’t even be a background host on a cooking show, never mind ruining action movies.

    1. Fatih Uzunersays:

      no talent? just go watch

      Drive
      (1997) you stupid asshole

      1. Fabyen Robinsonsays:

        He was awesome in Drive! Go Toby, Go Toby go!!

      2. Steve Croftsays:

        Also his role in Brotherhood of the Wolf was quite spectacular.

    2. NeoConSmashersays:

      Did he break your heart in high school?

    3. Bopnrumblesays:

      Congratulations. You won the “Internet Numbskull Of The Day”-Award.

    4. Zdeneksays:

      Stupid.. He is one of the very few true martial artist in showbiz. I would rank him on the same level with Donnie Yen..

      1. DooK_Freshsays:

        Totally agree. If there’s one American/non-Hong Kong martial artist-turned-actor who is ranks up there with Donnie Yen and Jet Li in terms of sheer performance skills and onscreen charisma, it’s Mark Dacascos. I’ve long been waiting for a Yen/Dacascos match-up as I think the latter would absolutely look fantastic under Yen’s action direction!

  2. Ryan Deadpoolnsays:

    I wish Michael Jai White got more work. He is fantastic. Especially in Black Dynamite which was really cool and absolutely hilarious. And he was just in last weeks episode of Arrow which was pretty good. He would make an awesome Blade

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      For sure, Michael Jai White I think would be awesome as a villain in Blade even. I always imagined him and Wesley Snipes going up against each other, that would be epic!! I’ll have to check out his appearance in Arrow, thanks for reminding me

      1. Jaysoonsays:

        That’d be really cool since they’re both protagonists in their respective Undisputed movies.

  3. Vincenzo Frascatisays:

    I want MJW in Black Panter Marvel if it will produced.

    1. EmmanuelKShannonsays:

      He’s the only logical choice

  4. Fabyen Robinsonsays:

    I can’t think of his name, but he played Johnny Cage in the first season of MK: Legacy!! Seriously needs more screen time. He also was in the final fight scene with MJW’s Blood and Bone. Talented martial artist and can act.

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      You’re thinking of Matt Mullins, and yes he is quite an amazing talent

      1. Fabyen Robinsonsays:

        Thanks!!

  5. Qinlongsays:

    Great feature, some of these martial artists indeed deserve a lot better than what they’re offeredn and a lot more notoriety.
    I would add Collin Chou and Andy On to that list.

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      Thank you, and I definitely agree with you about Collin Chou and Andy On. The great thing about Andy On is that he isn’t even a traditionally trained martial artist, he only learned how to fight on screen, but he’s damn good at it!

  6. Zaksays:

    Really? No women at all?

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      I know, I honestly couldn’t think of too many, aside from maybe Gina Carano and maybe Kelly Hu. I always think of more to add once the list is finished, ironic really

      1. Rebekah Dirnfeldsays:

        Cynthia Rothrock? Michelle Yeoh? Zhang Ziyi?

    2. willsays:

      the biggest problem with female martial artisits is that it doesn’t seem real cuz usually it isn’t. you put a 60 kg person up against a 100kg person and the outcome is pretty obvious. the kicks and punches will bounce and as far a close quarters go, they generally wont stand a chance. it takes a very special king of person to pull it off. a classic example is jet li vs dolph lundgren in expendables. they tried to keep the fight real and it was only because jet li had the speed and training that he was able to survive.

  7. Anuj Keharsays:

    you forgot billy blanks!!!! or Jeff speakman!!! Iko Uwais (yes the guy from the raid has a name).

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      Billy Blanks and Jeff Speakman were awesome back in the day, I really do need two lists (maybe three) to get more in. And I did mention Iko Uwais in the intro

  8. chris vsays:

    how bout phillip rhee he was so bad ass in thoses best of the best films then gone of the face of the world but now comig back with a movie called underdogs oh one one other actor that needs to be known jeff speakman he is beyond fantasic street knight , the expert, the perfect weapon these two guys need to be looked at and need to come back

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      Phillip Rhee!!!! Now he would definitely be number one if I had a second list, he was the king!! And he’s got a new movie coming out soon too

  9. Guestsays:

    WHAT ABOUT JIM KELLY?

    1. Guestsays:

      OR SONNY CHIBA?

      1. Matt Schembarisays:

        Ah Hattori Hanzo!!! He still is awesome, even at 75 years old

    2. Matt Schembarisays:

      Jim was too cool wasn’t he, he definitely deserved a place on this list. May he rest in peace

  10. Anuj Keharsays:

    my top ten (not in order)
    1. scott adkins 6. sonny chiba
    2. michael jai white 7. jim kelly
    3. iko uwais 8. bolo yeung
    4.billy blanks 9. dan chupong
    5.jeff speakman 10. jija yanin

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      That’s a great list, some awesome contenders there. I miss seeing Jeff Speakman and Bolo Yeung, ah the good old days

      1. Anuj Keharsays:

        thanks brother. ah me too I miss the good old days, just watched shootfighter: fight to the death and man was it awesome!

  11. Zodsays:

    Jeff Speakman was on fire after “Perfect Weapon.” I heard the bumped heads with one of the studio moguls. It was obvious in his next movie that all his projects were defunded to low production value. Not sure of the accuracy of the story but something was amiss.

    1. Matt Schembarisays:

      I had no idea about that, The Perfect Weapon was always a favourite of mine. He was diagnosed with throat cancer earlier this year but it’s now in remission after treatment so that’s fantastic news, I hope he makes another movie at some point

      1. Zodsays:

        I hope Jeff the best. He is true student of the art and a gift to all his students and fans. I believe Jeff walks to his own drumbeat in regards to Hollywood. I love his style and presence on the screen.
        “No knife, No gun, No Equal.” “The Perfect Weapon.” Godspeed Jeff Speakman.

  12. Matt Schembarisays:

    Thank you all for your awesome feedback and thoughts, it’s criminal some of the talents that I have failed to mention, I’d need another list to fit them all

  13. Jassays:

    Anthony De Longis, Anthony De Longis and Anthony De Longis. There’s a whole section in the special Kevin Smith audio track to the “Roadhouse” DVD re-release about what a badass A De L is, and all the work he’s done. (BTW, in “Roadhouse”, he was the guy with the knife in his boot. Yeah – that guy.)

  14. flavorsays:

    Jeeja Yanin. I was shocked to find out she is 29. For those wondering, she did the 2008 Thai action film Chocolate. It was awesome. Collin Chou is definitely one of my favorites. Seeing him fight Donnie Yen at the end of Flashpoint wasorgasmic to say the least.

  15. Spenzersays:

    Sorry… but where is Ray Park ?

    1. Marcel Moreausays:

      Ray Park is high profile enough that he doesn’t belong on a list of people deserving recognition. Known far and wide for his talent, portraying some of best screen fights and characters in last 10-13 years since he burst into the scene and became known as the man behind Darth Maul.

    2. Andhairasays:

      Oh fuck yes. Ray Park needs to return in the role he was born for: Darth Maul on the big screen in ‘The’ Sequels.

      Hopefully Scott Adkins can play a new Jedi Master and take on Parks Maulster.

  16. Eduardo Garciasays:

    Scott is definitely the one to pump the new millennium, and along with Michael white I remembered in the 80s and 90s when Mr. White and myself we use to compete in the Martial arts circuit we always finished first or second it was just funny everyone knew we on fire, but I will say something he never forgot where he came from as a long friend and rival from different schools I can say he is a great gentleman, I’m happy to be his friend and a collaborator for some of his movies, thank you for posting this my friend there is so much Martial arts actors that really need to be recognized but thats Hollywood for you. Well thanks for the post and keep the good work.

  17. carlitosays:

    There are some amazing martial artist who deserve to be better known BUT what separates them is charisma and bona fide acting ability. Is this respect this top 10 is spot on Matt, I would say Cyril Raffaelli and MJW are excellent actors who have crossed over into films that do not showcase their skills – that is testament to them as actors not martial artists

  18. Zach Piersonsays:

    Ok, I may be showing my ass here… But what about Bin Won from “The Man from Nowhere”… Is he a big star??? I don’t know, I’ve only seen him in that movie and that last fight/shootout scene with all of the gang’s (or whatever) henchmen and then the knife fight with the #2 badguy is un-fucking-real!!!

    1. Chandler Mooresays:

      Dude! The fighting in that movie is insanely good. I’ve watched it four times already.

  19. Johnnysays:

    Could be worth mentioning that he was in a small little film called the Dark Knight. Not mentioning this sort of reinforces the whole point of this article..

  20. DeVaughn MinisterofMusic Saltesays:

    One of MJW’s first movies (possibly the first action movie he did) was the HBO movie Tyson where he played “Iron Mike”. Awesome actor and martial artist.

    1. EmmanuelKShannonsays:

      He was in Tmnt 2 revenge of the ooze as a teen, small role but he was there

    2. Lionheartsays:

      He was really good in that movie! He portrayed Mike so good!

  21. sean gibbssays:

    did I miss…..Jason Statham….. on any list.. he was acting ( Lock, Stock and Barrel) long before he demonstrated any martials arts skill and is without a doubt, the best at drawing $$$$ to any film in which he participates. Great timing, competent tongue in cheek acting and charmingly funny to boot.

    1. Yeah, but the title is
      10 Martial Arts Actors Who Deserve More Recognition
      Statham has quite a bit or recognition 🙂

    2. Carlitosays:

      Statham was an athlete (football and diving), and a model before breaking into films. It was his film roles that got him into martial arts (Wing Chun, Karate, and kickboxing).

      1. Marcel Moreausays:

        Starting with an often overlooked film, ‘THE ONE’ with Jet Li. Originally designed for Dwayne Johnson(the Rock), who backed out and Jet Li took the role. It was Li who introduced and inspired Statham to learn to fight, not just movie fight, but to put in the work to become a true artist in the field.

  22. Kajasays:

    Scott Adkins is definitely the one that will reinvigorate ACTION movies. Because of all CGI-laden stuff Hollywood’s been doing, I often times miss the days where it’s mostly practical action and no VFX.

    1. Jariessays:

      Agreed. The first time I saw Adkins was Universal Soldier:DOR. I grew up in the 90’s so I loooved the first 2 UniSol movies. I thought DOR was the best behind the original, and I had such low hopes when I rented it. That made me look up some of his other movies and wooow this guy is legit. Ninja 1 & 2 are [email protected]$$ also.

  23. Cyril Raffaelli is a machine – District 13 and its sequel are so much fun

    1. Marcel Moreausays:

      Cyrill should have shared the spot with his costar who played Leto in D13. One of hte men often credited with creating Parkour as an art form and not just a scourge of public perception.

  24. geusays:

    How about iko uwais from the raid.

  25. EmmanuelKShannonsays:

    I demand that you add that Michael Jai White was also in TMNT 2 Revenge of the ooze you must let people know this!

  26. Mike Garciasays:

    Michael Jai White deserves more recognition as martial artist and actor ,you just have to watch “Tyson” to know that…Scott I think he has an amazing skill as martial artist but not charisma enough to be a star, the rest of the guys of the list most of them are good martial artists but they don t have enough charisma to be movie stars..people as bruce lee, jcvd,jackie chan they are not just great martial artists they also have a great charisma

  27. Jaysoonsays:

    Where’s Tony Jaa? He deserves a shared #1 with Scott Adkins, and the guy is not even on the list… The shame I feel for the author.

    1. Steve Croftsays:

      He’s off freeing an elephant from a zoo…

    2. tomsays:

      tony jaa is just a young jackie chan.

  28. Mad Patsays:

    Keith Cooke

  29. Romisays:

    Mark Dacascos is my favorite martial arts actor. I agree–he always gives 100% in his work.

  30. RizqiRedssays:

    You forgot Yayan Ruhian a.k.a MAD DOG from The Raid Redemption!

  31. The Walking Cubansays:

    MJW for Luke Cage.

  32. superturbosays:

    Hmm, this list is seriously missing out on mentioning; Ray Park, Collin Chou, Dan Southworth, Luke Goss and Billy Blanks! But well done for adding Jon Foo that guy’s on the rise and deserved to be mentioned in high regards.

    And a fair nod to Michael Jai White as well as one of the best martial artists in the business, he ought to be in more Hollywood blockbuster martial arts themed genre movies, but alas the studios are quite prejudiced and colour blind it seems which is most probably why he hasn’t broken through to the mainstream just yet.

  33. Vixensays:

    He would make an awesome Black Panther. I just wish they make another Spawn movie, he did good.

    1. Vixensays:

      Mr. MJW

  34. Maickael Jai White was in “Dark Knight” ; “remember our little Gambol” ?

  35. boykasays:

    superturbo says luke goss really the guy has no fighting skills i think matts list is dead on i personally dont like the way iko uwais fights its not flashy enough for me but that dont mean i dont think hes a beast alot of you guys are talking about washed up martial artists matts list is the new school and jaa and chou and ruhianan are all popular in the home countrys matt got it right especially having adkins numero uno just what til ninja 2 shadow of a tear comes out that movie alone is getting undisputed 4 made but support adkins go buy the movie matt mullins and darren shahlavi are also great martial artist but the genre is not how it used to be its all staham now and i like the stath but i hate him for being the only guy they turn too for martial art movies when hes not even a real fighter

  36. Great List!! I am personally a fan of all these guys esepcially, White, Adkins, Daniels, Foo, Ansah (Cannot wait for SF: Assassin’s Fist), Dacascos, and Rafielli, Zaror. But they are all awesome.
    Ansah has said if Assassin’s Fist does well he wants to get Adkins in as Guile! That would rock.
    White needs more work. HE should’ve been the lead in “Man with the Iron Fists” !!!!

  37. Ericsays:

    I agreed with most of your choices, I didn’t see French actor Olivier Gruner, about the same age as Daniels and equally talented, but never made the big leap to a super-star role.

    1. phreezerburnsays:

      +1 here. Nemesis is still and epic B movie.

  38. bluboysays:

    Mark Dacascos should have been in the number one spot.

  39. joesays:

    Marrese Crump is about to take over the world

  40. Allen Portissays:

    How can anyone put another above MJW, especially Scott A. M.J.W. has the style and the moves that cannot be duplicated. Only reason one would do this is to once again try try to place some white guy at the the top. Total bullshit. M.J.W. is number one and the only reason he has not been given his respect is his color. Look at weak ass Chuck Norris, that phoney had roles coming out his ass and looked like crap. If M.J.W. WERE WHITE HE’D HAVE TOO MANY ROLES, HE’D HAVE TO TURN THEM DOWN.

    1. BlackBelt28says:

      Chuck Norris is no phoney… but I do agree MJW should be number one on this list, MJW has like 7 black belts

  41. bilb onosays:

    was expecting to see joe taslim from fast 6 here.

  42. Marcel Moreausays:

    Scott Adkins? Seriously? What the h###? He’s barely got the talent to be a Bmovie level action star, let alone the superstar you make him out to be. He’s mediocre and average at best. He’s the 2010+ version of Michael Dudikoff or John Barett from American Dudikoff. With half their talent. Adkins might be able to win a tournament on points, but his screen fihting and acting are terrible.

  43. M4C8 .says:

    I know his movies since the mid-nineties have been terrible but I genuinely believe that Steven Seagal should get more recognition for his martial arts background. There was a time during his late twenties through to his mid thirties where he was, without doubt, one of the most talented and skilled martial artists on the planet and the fight scenes in his earlier movies were closer to what he could actually do than any other action star (Including greats like Jackie Chan who ‘s films I adored when growing up)

  44. Gussays:

    Marko is the real deal… I’ve seen him walking around downtown and all I could say is that besides he’s a real down to earth / humble human being he’s a real martial artist, I dare you to watch Kiltro, his first “all Chilean” (not spanish) movie

  45. shellysays:

    now that’s what I call kickin some ass,and and action at the same time would like to see more of him

  46. Iya Ekosays:

    Wu Jing has a SMALL part in The Mummy: Legend of the Emperor Tomb as one of the assassins trying to kill Jet Li

  47. Iya Ekosays:

    Where’s Luxia Jiang????? Pretty much one of the most awesome female martial artists there is right now… Please watch King of Triads and Ninja Masters and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

  48. Gigashrubbzsays:

    Deserve more recognition? Maybe if they could act better…. great martial artists. Absolutely. Their fight scenes are fantastic to watch. Their acting between the fight scenes? Meh.

  49. Artist-TGDsays:

    You have Jon Foo from Tekken but another cast member of the same movie the guy who play Marshall Law Cung Le that guy is a beast. He really shines in the sci-fi horror flick Pandorum. I want to see more of that guy.

    1. Geemansays:

      I wish Yoshimitsu had more screen time on that Tekken movie, he was also a bad fother-mucker!

  50. Geemansays:

    Kane Kosugi son of Sho, he and Scott had a mad brawl on ninja 2.

  51. Rebekah Dirnfeldsays:

    I would have added at least one or two women into the list — Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh.

    1. Darrensays:

      They’re both too old at this point and Yeoh’s not a real martial artist. never has been

  52. boomboomsays:

    I really enjoyed Erie Reyes jr…thought he would’ve got more work too.

  53. And though Zaror is Chilean he’d make an AWESOME Sagat!!!

  54. alexsays:

    im faser than bruce lee…ive been stayed hidden cause some people want me to stay that way…afraid of ruined the legacy o bruce lee..movie proucers need me..look me up on facebook alexander lunborg in jacksoville florida….

    1. BlackBelt28says:

      Please… I’m faster than you

  55. BlackBelt28says:

    Yeah Wu Jing is ridiculous in Fatal Contact. Amazing fight scenes

  56. BlackBelt28says:

    Why not Jon Foo??? He is awesome

  57. John Pisusays:

    Scott adkins was my choice for Batman in the new Superman movie. but NOOOO Hollywood wanted Batfleck

  58. Mark Goodrumsays:

    I really like the Thai fighters out there. My favorite is JeeJa Yanin, and of course Tony Jaa.

  59. anonymous5555says:

    Scott Adkins was also the black ninja in the first G.I. Joe movie.

  60. Babaganooshsays:

    This list became invalid the moment they added Scott Adkins. And at number one. He is so awful it isn’t even a joke.

  61. Kamalsays:

    Where is Donne Yen?

    1. Darrensays:

      Donnie Yen might be unknown to western audiences but he’s a huge star in Asia, same goes to Tony Jaa. I think this list is about martial artists who don’t get their just due at all, worldwide

  62. Darrensays:

    Very good list, the top 3 is spot on, although I’d place Michael Jai White at #1 hands down. Adkins is a fantastic martial artist but truth is he’s lacking in the charisma and acting ability department. Dacascos is the whole package, talent, acting ability, charisma, looks, but I feel he’s had plenty of opportunity to showcase his talents, starring in lots of B movies and tv series like The Crow, he’s been unlucky so far, stuck with mostly mediocre projects and low budget films but he’s had his chances; MJW on the other hand has been largely ignored by the film and TV industry despite being amazingly talented at every level, the films he’s starred in are few, which is a goddamn shame, because he never fails to deliver. MJW imo is the most underrated martial artist out there

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