Top Five: Martial Arts Movies

Top Five is a show where the hosts categorize, rank, compare, and stratify everything… from cars to gadgets to people and movies. From stuff that is hot, and things that are not nearly as interesting – it’s Top Five.


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  1. Good concept. Good choices. Good show.

    I’m still a fan of The Five Deadly Venoms and Shaolin Master Killer (aka 36th Chamber of Shaolin).

  2. 5. Gorgeous, with Jackie Chang. It is a slow paced romantic comedy, with a storyline I can’t remember thou I have seen the movie many times, but the final fight with Brad Allen is so bad-ass/funny it makes up for it. Where else can you see Jackie Chang box against an opponent, ball room dance with said opponent and basically win through the awesome power of the smile?

    4. Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children, anyone who has seen this movie with or without knowledge of FF7 always says the fight scenes are some of the most visually stunning they have ever seen and while it may not be realistic the sword fight of Cloud versus Sephiroth with One Wing Angel playing in the background is just jaw dropping awesome.

    3. The Quest, it was the first multi-styled tournament movie I ever saw, I was amazed at why no one had thought of something like this before then I was told it was older then dirt as a concept, still it was new to me and loved it.

    2. Jet Li’s Fearless, I liked this story of redemption, the kung fu versus all other forms of combat tournament at the end was nice. As a fencer the Jian Vs Katana fight was a rare treat.

    1. Once Upon a Time In China, this movie series has not only great fight scenes but more importantly a great historical setting, the historical reconstructions are just beautiful to watch. It doesn’t have the Chinese movie trope of the main cast dying, unlike most of the recent movies from China it’s not a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet which is a welcomed change.

  3. Just FYI to Rodrigo, Drunken Master’s Wong Fei Hung *IS* the famous Wong Fei Hung. The person also shows up in Iron Monkey (as played by Sze-Man Tsang), a film I very much recommend, and is also played by Jet Li in the first three Oce Upon A Time In China movies)

    • Just some additional comments:

      – Quick note about Iron Monkey: If you’ve never seen it I’d HIGHLY recommend that the viewer see the dubbed version first as there’s a lot of dialog during fight scenes.

      – I second Ricco’s love for Fearless (it’d be on my Top 5). AND Nathan Jones has a small role in it!

      – I also highly recommend “The 36th Chamber of Shao Lin” aka “Master Killer”, starring Gordon Liu, who played Johnny Mo and Pai-Mei in the Kill Bill movies.

      – And a much smaller movie starring Michelle Yeoh, “Wing Chun” is very good.

  4. hectorbustnuts on

    Hey, guys. I dig the “Top 5” concept. Great first episode and am looking forward to what you’ve got lined up in the future.

    I was actually rather surprised that not a single one of you put an Akira Kurosawa in your top 5! Yes, “Seven Samurai” *was* in the list of films that didn’t make the grade, but given the lasting cultural impact of his work, from Spaghetti Western remakes to Star Wars (“The Hidden Fortress”)…well, just colour me exceptionally surprised he didn’t get more love.

    Anyhoo, my Top 5 Martial Arts films would be:

    1. Monkey Magic –

    Hilarious retelling of a “Journey to the West” tale (made most famous by the “Monkey Magic” Tv series of the 70s & 80s). Slap-stick humour, with gloriously manic fight sequences. Great fun.

    2. Yojimbo –

    Before Sergio Leone brought The Lone Gunman to the silver screen in the West, Akira Kurosawa brought him to the East with “Yojimbo”. A must for any true fan of films.

    3. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance –

    The first of the the LW&C movies based on Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s manga series of the same name. In the US and UK, the first two LW&C films were edited together and released under the title “Shogun Assassin”.

    This brutal tale of revenge was banned in England for a long time due to the excessive violence, which when viewed today is quite comical and over the top.

    Referenced by Tarantino in the Kill Bill films, both stylisticly and by name (The Bride is watching it with her daughter at the end of Part 2), this series of films is another “must see” for movie fans.

    4. The House of Flying Daggers –

    Yimou Zhang’s follow up to “Hero” is another beautifully shot, stylistic “flying” action film with wire-work that would give acrobats vertigo. A film that tries a little too hard to prove there’s more substance than style (the plot’s somewhat convoluted) this is nevertheless a beautiful film to lose oneself in for a couple of hours.

    5. Red Cliff –

    Ignore the shamefully edited western release of “Red Cliff” and find a copy of the original sweeping 2-part, 4-hour action/drama.

    The most expensive Asian-funded film ever made, “Red Cliff” certainly shows it on screen. Be it epic, raging battles or quieter political moments, this sumptuously shot and directed (by John Woo, no less) movie has everything.

  5. I consider martial arts movies to be my personal favorite genre. I’ve watched most of the movies that you guys mentioned and they were all great choices. As a practitioner of Wushu, my list may be a little biased…

    5. Karate Kid (2010) The original Karate Kid was great for what it was. A lot of cheese and a true classic, but the new Karate Kid captured the culture, style, and spirit of Kung Fu. “Everything is Kung Fu.” Probably Jackie Chan’s best line of all time.

    4. Kung Fu Panda- For all the same reasons mentioned in the podcast! :D

    3. Enter the Dragon- This movie is more of a showcase of what Bruce Lee could do than people realize. I think people get tired of hearing about it when talking about martial arts movies, but it stands out for a good reason.

    2 and 1. Ip Man and Ip Man 2 are in my mind the greatest martial arts movies of all time. Not all the good martial movies are from the 1970s. In fact, these two were released in 2008 and 2010. The stories told in both movies are truly catching, but the martial arts displayed is pure Wing Chun. Each fight sequence is magnified by the special effects of today’s capabilities, but the pure style of the art is not lost for the sake of being “flashy.” I have seen every Bruce Lee movie I know of, but these movies are the pinnacle of the genre in my mind. If you are a fan of martial arts movies, you owe it to yourself to watch both of these. They are currently streaming on Netflix.

  6. GREAT, another way to pass time while commuting or waiting in airports! Thank you guys and I can’t wait for the next installment.

  7. I would suggest posting the actual top 5 list here in the shownotes. I wanted to see what some of these movies were again, and maybe try to find them, but there is no listing of them here. Might be a nice idea to include the list next time (just the list, not the explaination, people should have to listen to the podcast for that)

    but I really like this new podcast.

    • I agree that this ought to be done. Great podcast, and having the actual lists in the show notes would make it very convenient to then follow up on the things you guys are recommending

      • On the flip side, including our complete list in the show notes makes it very easy for people to simply skip the download and the listening experience and simply comment on the show notes… kind of defeats the point of having the podcast.

  8. Since comedy is making such a strong showing here, I was wondering if anyone has seen “They Call Me Bruce?” with Johnny Yune?

  9. Hey Stephen, Rodrigo and that other guy, really loved the show and wanted to chime in with my top 5 kung fu flicks.

    5) Enter The Dragon
    Listing Enter the Dragon is like saying Citizen Kane as the best film of all time — maybe it is but could you be anymore boring?! Well, I’ll attempt to restore some cosmic balance and slate it in at number five on my list (it doesn’t rank higher because frankly, I’ve seen it about a mabillion times.) What can be said about Enter the Dragon that you don’t already know– you’ve seen the movie even if you haven’t. Its Bruce Lee doing what Bruce Lee does best: focusing his chi — HIYAAAAA OOHHHHH, flexing his abs, talking smack,”You have offended my family, and you have offended the Shaolin temple,” and of course kicking some serious ass (contrary to popular belief, Chuck Norris isn’t invinceable!) Bruce Lee is such a global icon, and this is the movie that put him, and kung fu on the map.

    4) Supercop
    This is my personal favorite Jackie Chan movie, though Legend of the Drunken Master comes in a close second. In Supercop Jackie Chan stars as a um, super…cop tracking down a criminal mastermind… oh who frakking cares about the plot? Michelle Yeoh jumps a motorcycle onto a moving freight train! The crazy stunts are what really set this movie apart, and of course Jackie Chan and costars do their own. At one point, Jackie jumps from a skyscraper onto a ladder dangling from a helicopter hovering high above Hong Kong — its so extreme and dangerous it’ll make your palms sweat. In another scene, Jackie orders fried cat with string beans at a restaurant… nuff said.

    3) Clan of the White Lotus
    Remember Pai Mei, the dude in with extreme eyebrows who could take a roundhouse to the groin without flinching from Kill Bill? Explore his origins as the Priest of the White Lotus in this Shaw Brothers movie starring the awesome Gordon Liu. Pai Mei is quite the superhero, possessing many powers including the ability to magnetically repel blows the harder an opponent tries to punch him. But, spoiler alert — he does have a weak spot, and its not his crotch.

    2) The Crippled Avengers
    Another 70s Shaw Brothers classic where the actors from the 5 Deadly Venoms have different disabilities instead of poisonous animal styles. One is blind, one deaf, one had no arms and one has no legs and one is… um… mentally challenged. Each must train, and use the strengths of the other to overcome the challenges they face. Spectacular wirework, strangely offensive plot, hilarious dubbing, dead masters, training montages — this movie is everything I love about kung fu flicks.

    1) Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2
    Not the best martial arts ever, but who cares its Quenting Frakking Tarantino! The scene where The Bride fights O-Ren Ishii and her Crazy 88s ranks among my favorite movie scenes of all time, not just in the kung fu genre. There are so many memorable characters — Uma Thurman as The Bride, David Carradine as Bill, Michael Madsen as Budd, Darryl Hannah as Elle Driver, and of course Gordon Liu as the epicly eyebrowed Pai Mei. Forget Pulp Fiction, this is Tarantino’s true masterpiece. In fact, I think I’ll go watch it right now.

  10. Shouri Elemente on

    I thought that the Top 5 episodes you did before were pure win. Glad to see it’s gonna become a regular show.

    1. Kill Bill (both)
    I’ve always liked Uma Thurman, and to see her as a kick ass samurai chopping people up was a sight to behold.

    2. Kung Fu Hustle
    Not much to say here that you guys didn’t. Funny and awesome.

    3. The One
    How can you argue with a Jet Li vs Jet Li “with a sweater tied to his waist” fight to the death?

    4. Hero
    You guys covered this, was one of the first Jet Li movies i saw

    5. Mortal Kombat
    Come on, the first one was campy fun, and had an awesome soundtrack

  11. I just listened to this podcast and I was very impressed. Great format. Now for my list.

    5. Forbidden Kingdom. It has Jackie Chan and Jet Li together.

    4. Once Upon a Time in China. It is a great saga film.

    3. Hero. Great storytelling and awesome fights.

    2. Seven Samurai. One of my favorite westerns is Magnificent Seven. Trade six shooters for swords and cowboys for samurai and you have the same movie.

    1. Volcano High. This is a MTV Films martial arts movie and all the actors voices are dubbed over by famous hip hop artists. Snoop Dogg, Big Boi, Andre 3000, Method Man, Mya, and many more handle the voices while very talented Korean martial art actors handle the rest. Very cool movie. link

  12. I’m loving the new podcast. Always loved the top 5 shows so having an entire podcast dedicated to it every other week is great.

    I would like to point out that that Kareem Abdul Jabbar seemed more like Sagat to me:

    As for my own personal list, from someone who has not watched many martial arts movies at all:

    5. The Karate Kid (1984): I love a movie with a lot of cheese that doesn’t take itself too seriously so the Karate Kid definitely had to make my list. Been talked about on the podcast enough times that I’m sure I don’t have to go into too much justification over it.

    4. Mortal Kombat: A martial arts movie where most of the martial arts seemed to come from special effects. But as a video game fan, I can’t leave out the great, terrible movie that was Mortal Kombat. I’m sure there’s a lot of nostalgia behind this decision but at least I’m admitting it and there’s nothing like seeing video game characters on screen. And if nothing else, I learned not to mess with a movie star’s sunglasses.

    3. Police Story: One of only two movies on my list that had actual legitimate fighting. It was a great movie with fun interaction between Jackie Chan and the two woman co-stars. That, and the entire ending mall fight scene was great. I never realized that a ladder could be used as such a deadly weapon.

    2. Kung Fu Panda: I won’t say too much about this because it was covered well in the podcast, but I just love all the characters. The cast was top notch and it truly showed.

    1. City of Violence: A Korean martial arts movie about two friends trying to get revenge for the murder of one of their friends. It has some amazing action with both success and tragedy at the end. The fight scenes were awesome consisting of them going again everyone from gangsters to cooks to baseball players to bboys. The final fight involves the two of them going against hundreds of fighters using wooden katanas. Such an amazing movie and I loved every moment of it.

  13. Oops, posted to wrong podcast.

    First, I lilke the new podcast. Great category to begin and open for debate. I happen to go back to the day of more hand to hand combat from the early 70s. In the U.S. we were exposed to martial arts by Bruce Lee playing Kato in the Green Hornet. As a result most of us rememer Enter the Dragon, which was not not the first Bruce Lee film released in the U.S. This honor goes to Fist of Fury (The Big Boss)and Chinese Connection (Fist of Fury), which were mis-titled in the U.S. release. Bruce is in a special category as he was a pioneer.

    My list in reverse order:
    5. King Boxer (5 Fingers of Death) – the first martial arts film I ever saw in the theatre (as a result gets on the list), pre-dates the releae of Bruce Lee films. As children we immediately began to try to make our hands stronger. Currently in release on DVD and the picture quality is great.

    4. Lone Wolf and Cub – 500 piece of gold will be his sword, but nothing can buy his honor. Great series of six films available in a box set. great production for its time.

    3. Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman – Katsu Shintaro stars in series of great samurai action. In one film he meet the One-Armed Swordman (Yu Wang aka Jimmy Wang Yu) & in anther he meets Yojimbo (Mifune Toshiro).

    2. Ip Man 1 & 2 – great historical film with great hand to hand action

    1. Fearless – Jet Li’s best film (IMO) To me the best martial arts films are set in era’s which pre-date the gun (or set when guns were not as prevalent).

    Honorable Mention; 7 Grand Masters, 5 Deadly Venoms, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Street Fighter (Sonny Chiba)

  14. I agree with many of the choices.

    I have only one specific film that stands out in my mind
    Six String Samurai.

    In a post-apocalyptic world where the Russians have taken over a nuked USA and Elvis is king of Lost Vegas, “Six-String Samurai” chronicles the tale of Buddy, a hero who’s a ’50s rocker and wandering warrior rolled into one, too-cool package. Armed with his six-string in one hand and his sword in the other, Buddy is on his way to Vegas to succeed Elvis as King. Along the way, he saves an orphan who decides to play tag-along to his rescuer. What follows is the road trip from hell

  15. My list is a little odd, because I’ll be fighting with myself the whole time on how to structure the list. Firstly I want to go with my idea of what is the legitimately best list of movies based on my own criteria, or simply my five favorite movies growing up that I would watch over and over again. I’ll go with my nostalgic picks here:

    5. The Three Ninjas – I liked the first 3 movies fairly well, but never really got into High Noon at Mega Mountain with Hulk Hogan. I liked Rocky, Tum Tum and Colt, and wished that my Grandpa would have taught me karate.
    4. The Matrix – This is a little different from the rest, but what should I have put on here Double Dragon? I saw the movie twice, on back-to-back nights at the late showing, on school nights because it blew my mind so much. That was uncommon for my mom to let me go to the late showing on school nights, but she must have seen how excited I was for that movie. And I was like 16 years old when it came out.
    3. Barry Gordy’s The Last Dragon – It really should be higher on my list based on how much I love that movie now, but I’m going with those movies that influenced me the most growing up. The Last Dragon is such a quoteable movie and so much fun. Just direct-a yo feets’as to Daddy Green’s Pizzas.
    2. Surf Ninjas – Saw this movie in the theater as a kid and I own a copy now that I watch every so often. I love that movie still to this day. So much fun and Rob Schneider was hilarious in that movie.
    1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – What needs to be said here? If you’re even close to my age, you’ve seen the Turtles more times than you can remember. You know T-U-R-T-L-E Power and Ninja (ninja) RAP by heart, and you always ran around pretending to be one turtle or another. (Also, you can’t say the words Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles without mentally going right into the cartoon theme song. Go ahead, try it.)

    • I just realized before heading to work that my top three movies (sort of) all have a common denominator, one thing that links them all. The link between Barry Gordy’s Last Dragon, Surf Ninjas and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (part 2) is Ernie Reyes Jr. In The Last Dragon, he played the very young student in Bruce Leroy Green’s dojo named Tai, he’s the kid who is doing the karate dance moves when they’re all beating up on the thugs that Eddie Arkadian hired to take down Leroy. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze (I know, not exactly my top pick), he played the role of Keno, the pizza delivery guy. And in Surf Ninjas, he was one of the main leads, Johnny, who suddenly gains kick-ass karate skills.

      He was also in Red Sonja, The Rundown and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

  16. I freely admit that I have not seen much in the way of martial arts movies, so this list is probably kind off as far as most would consider. Here goes anyway:

    5: Mortal Kombat – I video game I loved turned into a movie? Take my money! Wait, where are all the fatalities? Well, it’s still a good beat em up movie.

    4: The One – Jet Li portraying a dimension shifting man seeking out all his other versions to kill them and take their power as his own sounds like a story that I have had banging around in my head for as long as I have been playing RPGs. (And that has been about 30 years.)

    3: Rush Hour – The action is somewhat limited compared to other films, but the comedic content between Jackie Chan and Chris Rock was great.

    2: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Holy cow this movie is pretty! The story was engaging and the action was really artistic. Some friends and I saw this movie at an older movie theater in Ann Arbor, and it was one of the best movie experiences I have ever had.

    1: Kung-Fu Panda – I really do enjoy this movie quite a bit, and the action was great. My favorite scene is the fight between Shifu and Tai Lung with Lung screaming about how what he did was to try and make Shifu proud while beating him down with the flaming fists sends shivers up my spine every time.

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