Eastern Promise - Top 10 Hollywood Martial Arts Films

Wax on, wax off

Susan Omand kicks around some thoughts for a top 10 of Hollywood produced martial arts films...

I thought it would be a bit of fun to come up with a top ten of great films produced by Hollywood studios that drew heavily on the Eastern traditions of martial arts for influence... and then I got stuck. Don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of films that I could choose from but that was the problem, so I needed to narrow the criteria down. A lot.

The first decision was whether to count films that starred well known martial artists, whether or not they were in martial arts roles. Hollywood may have made the likes of Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris and Jean Claude van Damme huge stars in the late 80’s and early 90’s off the back of their fighting prowess but were the majority of their films really Martial arts films? I don’t think so. Seagal and Norris went for the “lets creatively kick the shit out of everyone when we can’t actually shoot them” type films, great in their own right, but hardly true to the martial arts ethos. Van Damme is now more famous for his ability to do the splits between moving vehicles than anything his film career threw up (figuratively speaking) and Hollywood ruined Jackie Chan’s chances of ever being taken seriously as an actor as they slowly but surely have made him into a parody of himself.

The second decision was whether to include the whole “this is a film of a martial arts fighty game” genre. This was a phenomenon for a while when games consoles started to take over from cinemas in young people’s entertainment priorities and everything that came out as a game soon had a film added to the franchise, rather than the other way around. Yes, I know Street Fighter made Kylie Minogue wear a not very warm or practical outfit and I know that Mortal Kombat had Christopher Lambert in but come on, they, and others like them, were atrocious films because of the story, or rather lack of it. So no.

The third thing was whether to include films that weren’t really Martial Arts films, more an action film but had Martial Arts fighting in it. This was a difficult one for me and, looking at the top ten I finally came up with, I’ve stretched the point on a few (OK, more than a few) occasions.

In the end I’ve just gone with ten films that I really really enjoy that have some kind of martial arts involvement (tangential or otherwise). You will agree/argue with the relevance of some/most. You will come up with excellent films that I’ve either forgotten about or not seen and you will flat out point and laugh at my idiocy of some of my selections. That’s up to you, this is my list and I’m sticking to it, you can argue in the comments.

10 - Karate Kid

Miyagi: Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off.

Well it had to be on the list somewhere right? Probably one of the first Martial Arts films that I watched.

9 - Enter the Dragon

Lee: Why doesn't somebody pull out a .45 and, bang, settle it?

Bruce Lee is the king when it comes to Martial Arts and it was a random pick as to which one of his films got included on the list. It could just as easily have been Fist of Fury.

8 - Kill Bill 1 & 2

O-Ren Ishii: You might not be able to fight like a samurai, but you can at least die like a samurai.

I love Tarantino films and, like everything he's ever done, his take on the Kung Fu genre is definitely not for the squeamish.

7 - The Raid

Rama: Our mission is simple.We go in, and we take him out!

Yes I know, I know it's probably not "technically" Hollywood but, let's face it, it was either this or Dredd (which I also enjoyed greatly).

6 - Kung Fu Panda

Po: Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose kung fu skills were the stuff of legend.

Jack Black as a panda. Awesomeness.

5 - Ultraviolet

Violet: I think I had to know what I was willing to die for.

One of the most beautiful, stylish looking and sounding vampirish martial arts films in a long time. Story? What story?

3= - Big Trouble in Little China

Jack Burton: You know what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like this?

I couldn't decide between this film and the other 3rd equal. I love them both. This is so 80's, fun, brash and vaguely violent entertainment for the sake of it. And Kurt Russell.

3= - Roadhouse

Wade Garrett: This place has a sign hangin' over the urinal that says, "Don't eat the big white mint".

The other 3rd equal. This is so 80's, fun, brash and very violent entertainment for the sake of it. And Sam Elliott. You see why I couldn't make my mind up.

2 - Blade

Whistler: Christ! I'm too old for this! Somebody get me a goddamn wheelchair!

I know, I know. Some of you may say that this isn't a martial arts film but that's tough, I do. At least the sword doesn't wibble like it does in Crouching Spider Hidden Wardrobe.

1 - The Matrix

Agent Smith: Good bye, Mr Anderson.

This is the martial arts film genre done properly by Hollywood. Cool and stylish with a surreal story, great stunts, excellent wirework and guns. Pretty much everything Crouching Tiger isn't, then.

Images - IMDb

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