Everybody wants kung fu fighting! At least in the movies, that is. Who doesn’t love a classic kung fu movie? No matter if they are not in English, the actions speak louder than words in this instance. After all, some of the best kung fu movies came from the world region where kung fu sprouted.
That’s why when we say the best kung fu movies around, we also mean the ones produced mainly in the Asian region. It’s because this region is the originator of this kind of storytelling form. It’s the tradition of the region, especially the Chinese.
So, can you name some of the best kung fu movies that the world should see? If you’re new to this genre, then this list is perfect for you. If you’re a fan of kung fu movies or martial arts movies in general, you should also watch our recommendations here.
1. Fist of Fury
Hong Kong moviegoers are familiar with Golden Harvest productions, the company that produced a lot of great martial arts films. They also distributed their movies in the Asian region, making their stars household names. One of these stars is, of course, master fighter Bruce Lee.
Fist of Fury is one of the best kung fu movies to come out of this region, this production company, and in the genre of martial arts films in general. Lee’s performance here is both heroic and dramatic. He stars as the talented student of a martial arts school who discovers that his mentor died. The film later depicts some kung fu action between the Chinese school’s students versus some Japanese students from another school.
This 1972 classic helped build Bruce Lee’s enormous popularity as an action hero onscreen, with his signature kung fu moves. Watch this one and wait for his fight scenes using the nunchaku. Many kids who grew up watching this indeed wanted to learn how to wield that weapon like him! We know we did! You might, too!
2. Drunken Master
While it’s clear that the best kung fu movies will have the heroic action star and the dramatic storyline, trust Jackie Chan to go on a road less traveled with his own filmography. And in that road, he sure did pave the way for others to follow!
So if you’re just discovering Jackie Chan’s pre-Hollywood movies, we suggest you start with this classic. It’s called Drunken Master, his 1978 blockbuster. He stars as Wong, a happy-go-lucky naughty man who always gets into fights and troubles. So his father enlists him to become a martial arts student by the great Beggar So.
Beggar So’s fighting specialty is connected with the style of the Eight Drunken Immortals. So while he looks like an uncoordinated drunkard with loose faculties, it turns out that there are several fighting styles hidden in this kind of drunken boxing technique. Will the wily Wong learn all of the eight fighting styles, or will he be defeated by an incoming undefeated enemy?
Not only will Jackie Chan endear you with his acting and humor, but he will definitely impress you with his fighting style as well. That’s why we count Drunken Master as one of the best kung fu movies, ever! Go watch this one! Watch out for the training scenes involving wine bottles and saucers! Such a hoot.
3. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Another one of those best kung fu movies from the 1970s is this classic called The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. It tells of the story of a legendary martial artist named San Te, but this film is a fictionalized version of his true legend.
Regardless, the film is still highly entertaining in its storyline and fight sequences. San Te trains at the famed Shaolin temple, where he has to master one style of fighting featured in the temple’s 35 chambers. His eventual aim is to create a 36th chamber where even ordinary people could learn kung fu moves from the teachers there. This is an ambitious project for him, and you’ll discover if he succeeds or not in this story.
So go watch this fight classic! And learn a thing or two – or 35 – from the Shaolin masters.
4. Once Upon A Time In China
Tsui Hark is an influential Chinese filmmaker who has given the world some great films, including martial arts films. One of these classics is the 1991 film Once Upon A Time In China. That one earns its spot here in our list of best kung fu movies.
The film stars Jet Li as a 19th century folk hero of a character named Wong Fei-hung from Foshan, China. He is a medicine man who is also a martial arts instructor there. This very interesting narrative brings Wong into various kinds of subplots as the film progresses. Of course, the fighting scenes are also there, especially when he encounters some gangs already.
This is the first part of a series of films, that’s why it’s interesting to revisit. Always watch the first one, and then see the sequels for more kung fu fun.
5. King Boxer
The 1972 kung fu film called King Boxer starred another successful martial artist named Lo Lieh. He had many kung fu films prior to this one, and he is touted as one of the most popular kung fu actors of Hong Kong cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. That’s why it’s necessary to include his work in this list, notably this one.
King Boxer stars Lo Lieh as Chi-Hao, a martial arts disciple of a local mentor. However, his mentor sends Chi-Hao to train with a better fight mentor later on. He commands him to do this, so that the mentor could give his blessing to him in wooing his daughter. So Chi-Hao, smitten with the mentor’s daughter, goes on to train, to hopefully earn his stripes and his bride.
You can see in this film why Lo Lieh is a popular beloved kung fu actor during those early times. Watch for the competition or tournament fights, and you’ll have an idea of why this is included in our list of best kung fu movies, ever!
6. Ip Man
How about a film based on the life of the martial arts teacher of one of the greatest martial arts talent of all time, Bruce Lee? Yes, this is what Ip Man is all about.
The 2008 biopic was produced in Hong Kong, and directed by Wilson Yip. It stars Donnie Yen as Ip Man. He is regarded as a Wing Chun grandmaster who also trained successful students who became great martial artists themselves. And yes, one of the students this legendary teacher had was the legendary Bruce Lee.
But this film’s story focuses on his life during the Japanese invasion of Foshan in China in the late 1930s. This is known as the Sino-Japanese War which lasted until the early 1940s. So many events happened in their town during that time. The film also tells of how Ip Man established his own school later on.
Many films have already featured Ip Man, but this one is worth seeing because of the fight scenes. So go watch this one and enjoy his legacy.
7. Mad Monkey Kung Fu
This 1979 classic kung fu film indeed involves fighting, as well as a monkey! This film is here in our list of best kung fu films because of its intriguing storyline, plus of course the fighting.
The film is produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio, a successful producer of such martial arts movies from Hong Kong. The film stars Hsiao Ho as Monkey, a small-time street thief who befriends a former kung fu master named Chen. Aside from the strange camaraderie they develop, Chen soon teaches Monkey how to fight properly. This is also as a defense against encountering notorious villains in their place, namely the gangster-like Tuen. Incidentally, Tuen is played by the great Lo Lieh.
Find this film and see how underdogs beat the villains here. And yes, there’s a real monkey in there somewhere. Go find it!
8. Iron Monkey
The 1977 martial arts movie Iron Monkey is one of the best kung fu movies to come out of this genre. It’s interesting how it focuses on the famed monkey fist style, and the story of a man who excels in it.
But this film doesn’t disappoint in terms of dramatic plot as well. A young man named Iron gets distraught when his revolutionary father gets killed by a traitor from their ranks. This traitor turns out to be under the employ of the dictatorial Manchurian general who’s been oppressing everyone.
At first, Iron escapes getting killed himself and wanders into a Shaolin temple. He is then accepted there, and soon trains. He eventually surpasses all students there, and gets recruited into the evil general’s army.
So, the kung fu movie suddenly becomes an espionage movie and a spy movie as well! That’s why this is so interesting to see. Let’s hope that you find a copy of this one, since it’s quite rare already.
9. The Prodigal Son
This 1991 comedy film doesn’t lack on the fight scenes, too. But The Prodigal Son successfully meshes kung fu fighting and laughter in a slightly dramatic plot that will also make you pity the lead.
The film is directed by another icon in this genre, Sammo Hung. The actor-director also appears here, but the film centers on the character of Yuen Biao named Leung Chang. And he’s got an interesting and heartwarming story unfolding here.
The film is about Chang, who believes he is a super-duper world class kung fu artist. He is being trained by two instructors, since his father is a wealthy man who can afford to pay the masters. However, he can also afford to pay all of his son’s opponents. That’s why Chang keeps winning – because his opponents are paid to lose to him.
However, he later discovers the truth when his fighting prowess is put to a real test. And this is where reality changes for him. Will be pursue kung fu fighting more seriously, or will he accept his current state? This is one film you got to see, and see why it’s here in our list of the best kung fu movies to come out in this lifetime.
10. Kung Fu Hustle
if it’s over-the-top storytelling you want, complete with really wildly choreographed fight sequences, then Stephen Chow will deliver that to you. Start with this 2004 film called Kung Fu Hustle.
In the tradition of his earlier film called Shaolin Soccer, Stephen Chow employs similar antics in this film that made his earlier film popular as well. The characters are obviously caricature versions of other martial arts movies. His storylines and scene executions also employ humor first before anything else.
Many elements of his filmmaking are wild exaggerations of a comedic kind, and they are evident here. It’s a simple story of two friends in 1930s Shanghai, whose aim is to join a deadly gang. But of course, joining a gang is not as simple as it seems. And it is never without any consequences, especially the bad kind.
Watch this and see how Stephen Chow directs, writes, and acts in his own films!