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Kill Bill

Hollywood loves musicals. Hollywood loves superhero movies. Hell, Hollywood even loves horror movies because of the low cost/high returns they usually get at the box office. But do you know what genre Hollywood isn’t usually fond of? Martial arts. And films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill are unfortunately few and far between.

But look, you and I? We’re martial arts fans. We know what’s up. We know how awesome it is to watch somebody kick somebody else in the face and then do a back flip before whipping out the nunchucks and wrecking a whole crew of people. And that’s why I’ve written this list, to point you to all the cool Kung fu movies you can watch while you’re sitting at home on your couch, counting down the days. So let’s do this! Here are the ten best martial arts movies that you can check out right now.

Kill Bill: Vol 1

Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)

More a homage to other Kung fu films than anything else, Quentin Tarantino’s martial arts epic, Kill Bill, concerns a woman known only as "The Bride" in the first movie. She was shot and left for dead on her wedding day by a group of killers called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that she once belonged to. Now, after awakening from a coma, "The Bride" is out to kill the other assassins until she finally gets to the head of the organization and (wait for it) kills Bill. Bloody violence ensues.

Now, Kill Bill is in two parts, but Part 2 is more of a western, and Part 1 has all the great fight scenes, like the battle with the Crazy 88’s. It’s not the deepest movie and it’s definitely a Tarantino picture--meaning, expect a lot of witty banter in-between the violence. But if you love martial arts, and you like your combat bloody as hell, then Kill Bill: Vol 1 is your movie. Bang bang.

Stream it on Hulu: Hulu

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Up from the 36 Chambas! Do you like the Wu-tang Clan? If you like Kung fu movies, then you're probably a fan. You wouldn’t think that the two go hand-in-hand, but they do, and you have a rap group from Staten Island, aka, the slums of Shaolin to likely thank for your appreciation of martial arts films. Especially the classic ones from the Shaw Brothers like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which is where the rap group got the inspiration for their first rap album.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, also known as The Master Killer (which is also the name of one of the rappers in the group) is a story of revenge, but then growth. A man named Liu Yude is caught in the middle of an uprising where his family and friends are murdered. In anger, Liu Yude heads off to the Shaolin temple to learn the ways of martial arts, but he needs to start from the bottom and he learns valuable lessons in the process. Each “chamber” that he learns is a different technique. The fight choreography is immaculate and it’s a legendary movie that all fans of the genre need to see.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

The Five Venoms

The Five Venoms (1978)

Another Shaw Brothers masterpiece, The Five Venoms (also known as Five Deadly Venoms) is about the last student of a moribund master who is sent out on a mission to track down the master’s five best students, who all have a distinct style of martial arts. There’s the centipede, snake, toad, scorpion, and lizard, and their styles are so unique, that it’s a pleasure to meet each one of them.

The fight choreography in this one, by the legendary Leung Ting, is bold and expressive, and I just love watching each technique, especially the fast as lightning centipede style. When it comes to classic Kung fu, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

Drunken Master

Drunken Master (1978)

You knew I had to put a Jackie Chan movie on this list. Drunken Master is a kung-fu comedy starring Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-hung, who was an actual person, though this is far from a biopic. At least I hope it is. It’s about Wong Fei-hung back in his youth when he used to get in trouble all the time.

Unlike in the sequel, Drunken Master II, where Jackie Chan’s character is actually getting drunk to become a better fighter, in this one, his drunken technique is just a style that he learns from a wise master named Begger So. The fighting in this one is just so much fun to watch, and it’s more like dancing than anything else. Check it out.

Stream it on Starz: Starz

Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Drunken Master is cartoony, but the Kung fu comedy, Kung Fu Hustle, is pretty much a full-on cartoon, with characters running like Sonic the Hedgehog. In that way, watching Kung Fu Hustle really depends on your mileage when it comes to slapstick martial arts movies. Either you’ll love this one, or you’ll hate it. There really isn’t much of an in-between.

The story is about a guy who wants to join a group called the axe gang, but he finds he’s up against a bunch of pissed off tenants in a housing complex who can kick ass, most notably a cigarette-smoking landlady. The fighting is high flying and ridiculous, but you kind of go into this movie already knowing that.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

Unleashed

Unleashed (2005)

Also known as Danny the Dog, which is a far better title than Unleashed, Jet Li stars in this action movie about a man raised by the mob as a human attack dog who breaks out of captivity and tries to learn what it’s like to be human. Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins are also in the movie, so it has a bit more Hollywood clout than some of the other movies on this list.

The combat is fast and vicious since Jet Li’s character, Danny, is meant to act like an animal. It also has a pretty fascinating story about what it means to come out of captivity and become your own man. Plus, it’s Jet Li, who’s a bad ass. What more could you want?

Stream it on Starz: Starz

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

The only martial arts movie to ever be nominated for best picture (which pisses me off, but that’s a topic for another day), Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon concerns a sword being stolen and the romance that ensues. It’s super classy for a martial arts picture, and has some of the biggest names in the business at the time, such as Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Ziyi Zhang.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is unlike most of the other martial arts movies on this list since it’s more about story first, and martial arts second. At its heart, it’s a romance, but there’s also some great Wuxia action and swordplay that makes it look almost like a dream at times. It's a beautiful movie and a landmark film in the genre.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

Ip Man

Ip Man (2008)

Let’s keep it classy. Ip Man tells the biographical story of Bruce Lee’s teacher’s origins. Rogue One’s Donnie Yen plays the titular character who comes from a wealthy family, but, due to circumstances involving a Japanese invasion, loses everything and begins to teach others in his martial arts style. This is actually the first of four movies, but the first one is the best one and the most worthy of your time.

The combat is amazing in this modern day classic, and since there are different styles between the Chinese and the Japanese, you get some intense battles that are utterly thrilling to watch.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

The Big Boss

The Big Boss (1971)

Speaking of Bruce Lee, I’d be remiss if I left him off this list. Everybody who loves martial arts has likely seen Enter the Dragon, so I thought I would shout out another one of his classics, The Big Boss, which is about a pacifist, played by Bruce Lee, who works in an ice factory. But the ice factory isn’t what it seems (It’s actually a different kind of “ice”), and Bruce Lee’s character, Cheng, drops the pacifism and starts kicking ass the way only Bruce Lee knows how to do.

For those unfamiliar with Bruce Lee movies, the fighting is a bit different from other martial arts films since a lot of the fights consist of Bruce Lee kicking ass and then close-ups of his face. Bruce Lee is the usual go-to guy for martial arts, and I highly recommend this movie, but just be forewarned that it has a bit of a slower pace. But that’s just to keep track of all those heavy kicks Bruce Lee is swinging.

Stream it on Cinemax: Cinemax

Game of Death

Game of Death (1978)

Finally, I thought it was only fitting to end on both Bruce Lee’s final film and also on the yellow jumpsuit that would become so recognizable in Kill Bill. Bruce Lee wrote, starred in, and directed parts of Game of Death, but unfortunately died before it was finished. The full version was released five years after his death.

The story, out of necessity, is about a movie star who gets shot and then gets a face lift. But with the face lift, he is able to fake his own death to exact revenge against the people who “killed” him. There are some gnarly fight scenes in a pagoda, and of course the famous climax, which is actually Bruce Lee himself in the yellow track suit, since he shot the end of the movie early on.

Stream it on Cinemax: Cinemax

As mentioned up top, there’s a lot of great martial arts movies streaming right now. So sit your butt down and watch some of these movies or I’ll kick your butt! Just kidding. I’m out of shape, too. Might as well be out of shape together, right?

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