The Kung Fu movie genre is large and varied. It contains everything from tales about folk heroes to gritty dramas about violence and vengeance. The genre is constantly changing and evolving to fit the public’s desires, and the genre has spawned many classic films that have only become more popular with time.
Diving into the genre can often feel intimidating due to the sheer number of movies it contains. But don’t fear, here are 10 must-watch kung fu movies.
10. Kid With The Golden Arm
Chang Cheh’s 1979 epic Kid With The Golden Arm stars members of the legendary martial arts acting squad, the Venom Mob. When Yang Hu Yun is asked to deliver a shipment of gold to a plague-stricken area, he draws the attention of the evil Chi Sha gang. The Chi Sha gang contains several mighty warriors called Silver Spear, Iron Robe, Brass Head, and the titular Golden Arm.
To protect the gold, Yang hires a group of warriors, and this rag-tag group sets off to complete the mission. While the plot is simple, the movie is full of excellent Venom Mob combat choreography, making it an action-packed rollercoaster ride.
9. Fist Of Legend
1994’s Fist Of Legend is a remake of the 1972 film Fist Of Fury. This version was directed by Gordon Chan, and it features Jet Li pulling double duty as both the star and the producer. Set in 1937, it follows Chen Zhen. When Chen learns that his teacher, Huo Yuanjia, has been killed by Japanese karateka, Akutagawa Ryūichi, Chen heads out to get revenge.
Fist Of Legend shows just how fantastic Jet Li is, and the whole film is scene after scene of him showing off his skills and talents. The entire movie is a masterpiece of fight choreography that has to be seen to be believed.
8. Master Of The Flying Guillotine
Written by, starring, and directed by Jimmy Wang, 1976’s Master of the Flying Guillotine is a classic. It also acts as a sequel to Wang’s 1971 film One Armed Boxer. The film follows the one-armed boxer as he gets stalked by an assassin with the world’s deadliest weapon, the titular flying guillotine. With his life on the line, the hero must quickly defeat several minions and the guillotine’s user to save his own life.
A surreal and strange movie, the film inspired countless later films. On top of this, the titular flying guillotine has become a pop-culture staple. Weapons inspired by it can be found in many shows, video games, and anime.
7. Ip Man
2008’s Ip Man is a biography of Ip Man, famous for being Bruce Lee’s trainer and a grandmaster of Wing Chun. This film tells a dramatized version of his life during the 1930s, following him as he leaves his home and struggles to survive after Japan invades China. However, when the Japanese organize fights between their soldiers and local fighters, Ip Man is dragged into combat.
Donnie Yen plays the titular Ip Man, and his performance is fantastic, balancing beautifully brutal combat and emotional pathos with calm ease. Ip Man is a violent but fascinating tale of a unique individual.
6. Once Upon A Time In China
Directed by Tsui Hark and starring Jet Li, 1991’s Once Upon A Time In China is often regarded as one of the best films in the genre. Jet Li plays Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung, who has to fight back against armies that aim to plunder China. While doing this, he will have to deal with the feelings he has developed for a woman he can’t have.
The film is an epic tale, and it spawned several sequels. Jet Li really shines in this movie, showing that he actually has astonishing range as an actor. However, it is Tsui’s fantastic cinematography that steals the show with several utterly beautiful sequences.
5. Five Deadly Venoms
1978’s Five Deadly Venoms is the film that created the legendary Venom Mob. This group of actors became famous for their creative kung fu fight sequences and made many films together. Yang Tieh, the last student of the Poison Clan’s great leader, is sent on a mission to check on five of the teacher’s former pupils and kill any who have turned to evil. Each of these students has been taught a different animal-based fighting style. Yang, however, knows a style that fuses elements from all five.
While on this mission, Yang has to work out which students have gone rogue and who can be trusted to help him take down the others in this classic battle of good against evil. A visual treat, Five Deadly Venoms features some of the best combat choreography put to film. The warriors’ varied fighting styles led to unique and creative fight scenes that really pushed the boundaries of cinema.
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Directed by Ang Lee and written by Wang Hui-ling, James Schamus, and Kuo Jung Tsai, 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made waves due to its visually stunning fight scenes that featured warriors flying through the air.
Li Mu Bai, a renowned swordsman, decides to give up his legendary Green Destiny sword. He hands the weapon to female warrior Yu Shu Lien and asks her to deliver it to Governor Yu. However, when it is stolen, both Shu Lien and Mu Bai are forced to hunt it down. While doing this, both will confront their past and the whims of their hearts.
This film beautifully merges an action film with a touching romantic and dramatic core, leading to a unique experience that few other films can match, and the moving last act will stay with you long after you finish the film.
3. Enter The Dragon
1973’s Enter The Dragon needs no introduction. The most successful martial arts movie ever made, Enter The Dragon sees Bruce Lee take the role of a martial arts instructor. Lee is approached by a British intelligence agent who is investigating Han, a known crime lord. Han is hosting a martial arts tournament on his private island, and British intelligence plans to send Lee to compete and gather evidence on Han.
While on the island, Lee meets several other fighters and learns their stories as he tries to win the tournament and settle a personal grudge. The fight scenes in Enter The Dragon are brutal and wonderfully done, and it is easy to see why this film cemented itself as a classic.
2. Drunken Master
When a film stars Jackie Chan and Yuen Siu-tien, you know you are guaranteed a good time. 1978’s Drunken Master is an enjoyable and masterful action film that laid the foundations for the kung fu comedy subgenre that would become Chan’s signature.
When Wong Fei-hung gets into trouble one too many times, his father asks martial artist Beggar So to train Wong. However, Beggar is famous for his harsh and crippling training methods, and Wong quickly runs away. However, while on the run, Wong gets involved in more scrapes and problems, forcing him to work harder to overcome them.
Packed full of amazing fight scenes that are both stunning and hilarious, Drunken Master is a must-watch film for martial arts fans and those who want to see Chan’s early work.
1. Police Story
Jackie Chan has often said that 1985’s Police Story is his best movie, and it is hard to argue against it. Police Story follows Inspector Chan Ka-Kui, a member of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force who is part of a sting operation aiming to bring down the criminal Chu Tao. However, when Chan is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he has to take down Chu Tao on his own to clear his name.
This film is packed full of action and stunts that show off just how talented Jackie Chan is. This is also the film that features the legendary mall sequence. In this sequence, Chan fights his way through a mall before crashing through a glass ceiling in what can only be described as the best 15 minutes of action ever put to film. Police Story is a film that everyone should watch at least once, even if they have no interest in kung fu movies.