Popularized in the west by the iconic Bruce Lee during the 1970s, the art of kung fu has become a constant interest in international cinema. Although Lee is long gone, his legacy is picked up and continued by other Asian actors who revitalized the subgenre.
Here are the 10 of the best kung fu movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Kung Fu Movies of All Time
Drunken Master (1978)
Drunken Master (1978) is the film that made Hong Kong actor and heir to Bruce Lee’s filmic legacy, Jackie Chan. Departing from the more serious tone of earlier kung fu movies, Chan plays a literal ‘drunken master’ whose skills rely on being intoxicated in order to surface.
The film is not just one of the best kung fu films but also one of the best movies that Asian cinema has produced. It’s also the film that brought Chan to international stardom.
The Prodigal Son (1981)
What makes The Prodigal Son (1981) different from most kung fu or martial arts movie is that it places equal importance on fighting and telling a good story.
It tells the story of a kung fu student who seeks the training of a master after learning that he only won matches because his opponents were actually paid to lose. The film is the perfect mix of creative humor and fighting performances, which were well-placed to fit the film’s plot instead of just being there for the sake of it. The Prodigal Son is one of the best kung fu films of all time.
The Way of the Dragon (1972)
In the film, Lee plays Tang, a martial artist sent to Rome to help a Chinese restaurant deter the threats of a local mafia through the use of, guess what? Yep– martial arts.
Although formulaic, The Way of the Dragon is still a good watch along with its sequel Way of the Dragon 2. Watch out for that awesome fight scene between Lee and Chuck Norris. It is one of the best kung fu movies ever made.
For something, a little bit newer here is Jet Li’s Fearless (2006).
Based on a true story, the film tells the story of a martial arts master who leaves home after his family was murdered. The film shows the traditional honor and values of China which seems to have been lost in the modern world.
It’s different from other kung fu movies as it’s message centers on anti-violence resulting in well-thought fight sequences that have purposes transcending that of just to entertain. The film is also Li’s last martial arts movie.
Heroes of the East/Shaolin Challenges Ninja (1978)
In Heroes of the East/Shaolin Challenges Ninja (1978), audiences are treated to a story featuring Japanese martial arts alongside the kung fu popularized by Hong Kong cinema.
The film follows the story of a Chinese man who is forced to prove that kung fu is the superior martial art by defeating seven Japanese warriors after an arranged marriage to a Japanese woman.
It is most memorable for its well-choreographed ‘my style is better than yours’ fighting sequences which give this classic kung fu movie a nice refreshing twist.
The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
If you’re more into swordplay than hand to hand combat, then you should definitely watch the Shaw brothers’ The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984).
A period film set during the reign of the Sung Dynasty in China, the film follows the story of a general and his seven sons who go into battle knowing that one of the sons is meant to die as a prophecy states.
The film is your typical Shaw brothers production with lots of battle sequences, blood and yelling all set in colorful backdrops.
Fist of Legend (1994)
Jet Li pays tribute to Bruce Lee by remaking the latter’s Fist of Fury film into Fist of Legend (1994).
Although technically a remake, the film offers a much more complex plot paired with a better screenplay than the original. It is choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping who would, later on, be hired to choreograph The Matrix after the Wachowskis watched Fist of Legend.
36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
Ranking third on our list of kung fu movies is 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) a Hong Kong kung fu movie telling a fictionalized account of the life of San Te, a legendary martial arts disciple.
The film is widely considered to be one of the greatest kung fu movies ever made. It is followed by a more comedic sequel Return to the 36th Chamber and Disciples of the 36th Chamber. It also served as career turning point for the film’s director and lead actor.
Ip Man (2008)
Ip Man (2008) is a biographical film about the titular Ip Man, a martial arts grandmaster and Bruce Lee’s teacher, who enjoys national hero status in China after standing up against Japan during the Sino-Japanese War.
As expected, the film’s nationalism is quite evident in its portrayal of Ip Man. But looking past that, the film is both an excellent drama and an amazing kung fu movie with plenty of ‘bone-crunching’, close quarter fight sequences.
Ip Man (2008) proves that the kung fu subgenre isn’t dead yet and revitalized it for modern audiences. Ip Man is one of the year’s best kung fu movies.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Topping our list of best kung fu movies is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee returns to his Asian roots to direct the spectacular martial arts film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
Set during the reign of China’s Qing Dynasty, the film follows a martial arts master about to retire but thorn about seeking revenge for the death of his master. It stars a full cast of Chinese actors and the screenplay is based on a Chinese novel of the same name.
With the fighting scenes choreographed by the same person who did that of The Matrix, the film received high praise from critics and audiences alike.
Do you agree with the ranks on our list of the 10 best kung fu movies of all time? Which movies would you have added to this top 10 kung fu movies list? Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think in the comments below.