The ultimate action movie about 10 iconic martial arts styles


  • Martial arts movies often focus on showcasing the bone-crushing action and impressive fighting skills of different martial arts styles.
  • Bruce Lee was one of the first influential martial artists to introduce martial arts to Western audiences, but many other talented actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen have since followed in his footsteps.
  • Every major martial art style has had its definitive cinematic representation, such as Tony Jaa’s Muay Thai skills in Young backBruce Lee’s depiction of Kung Fu in Enter the dragonand Ralph Macchio’s karate skills in the The karate kid.

While some action movies mix all kinds of martial arts styles, there are others that highlight one and become the definitive cinematic portrait of that art form. Martial arts is used as an umbrella term to refer to a wide variety of combat sports and self-defense practices, but many of their styles encompass much more than that. Many martial arts schools teach their followers entire philosophical ways of life, and the demonstration of skill during combat is only a small part of their practices. Understandably, many martial arts movies are more interested in getting to the bone-crushing action.

While the influential martial artist and actor Bruce Lee was one of the first action heroes to introduce the art to Western audiences, he was far from the last. Stars such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Donnie Yen wowed audiences with their acrobatic athleticism and amazing fighting prowess. Each of these stars was skilled in various forms of martial arts, though Lee offered what remains the definitive cinematic portrait of Kung Fu with his 1973 hit. Enter Dragon. This remarkable film was followed by the typical film of many other major martial arts styles.

Muay Thai – Ong Bak (2004)

Young back it’s not a perfect movie, thanks to its predictable story and unnecessary comic relief. However, star Tony Jaa’s stunning Muay Thai skills ensure that everything Young back the film franchise is still worth watching. Young backThe plot follows a humble martial artist who ventures into the big city to retrieve the stolen head of his village’s statue. However, this is all filler. The entire complaint of Young back watch Jaa’s mastery of Muay Thai, a brutally intense style of martial arts that facilitates plenty of elbows and knees, plenty of real strikes and some incredible stunts.

Wing Chun – Ip Man (2008)

Ip Man wins the final fight scene in Ip Man 4

Ip Man is a dramatization of the life story of the real-life Wing Chun master of the same name. A master by the age of 20, Ip Man was best known for teaching Bruce Lee much of what he knew about martial arts. Highly rated biopicIp Man contains numerous sequences that highlight the effectiveness of Wing Chun. Close combat styleIp ManWing Chun’s Wing Chun was a welcome reprieve from both the balletic wire-fu that was popular in the early 2000s and the animated action of Stephen Chow films.

Kung Fu – Enter the Dragon (1973)

Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon

Just as Bruce Lee remains the most famous martial arts movie star, kung fu is still the most famous martial arts style for the mainstream audience. Enter the dragon couldn’t be a more accessible introduction to the art form, with Lee playing a 007-esque secret agent who must infiltrate an island lair to confront a camp villain. Lee’s great martial arts skills meant he was a master of many styles, but kung fu became his calling card thanks to Enter the dragon.


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Karate – The Karate Kid (1984)

Daniel in a karate tournament in The Karate Kid

Although karate has a long and storied history, there is only one movie that most viewers associate with this martial art. The teenage classic The karate kid uses the titular martial art style as the central focus of an inspiring underdog story. Ralph Macchio’s titular character learns karate from his older neighbor, Mr. Miyagi, and uses it to defeat a local neighborhood bully in this iconic but dated 80’s hit.

Taekwondo – The Kick (2011)

The hero and heroine face off against their assailants in The Kick 2011

While director Prachya Pinkaew is best known for his collaborations with Tony Jaa, including the aforementioned Young backhe also gave a solid cinematic representation of taekwondo in 2011 The blow. Where Young back focused on a lone martial artist, The blow focuses on an entire family of taekwondo practitioners who become both celebrities and targets when their son foils an attempt to steal an artifact. While some American action films also used taekwondo, The blow remains the best cinematic advertisement of the martial arts style.

Hapkido – The Young Master (1980)

Jackie Chan in Young Master

Long before Jackie Chan became an American movie star, the actor appeared in countless major Hong Kong action films. One of them was his first film with Golden Harvest, The young master. This 1980 action comedy saw Chan play a young martial arts student who must make up for his brother’s betrayal by embarking on an epic mission. The story allowed Chan to display impressive hapkido skills in the process.

Capoeira – Only the Strong (1993)

The villain and his henchmen evaluate the hero in Only the Strong 1993

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art style that blends dance and combat into astonishing displays of physical prowess. Although capoeira has been seen in many specific martial arts film sequences, including one of Jaa’s best fights, it has rarely been the subject of an entire film. However, the 1993 cult classic Only the strong fix that. One of the most underrated martial arts films, it sees a soldier return to his hometown and take the law into his own hands to fight back against the drug dealers who took over his high school.

Silat – The Raid (2011)

Iko Uwais pointing a gun and looking angry in The Raid: Redemption.

While Young back could bring the brutality of Sonny Chiba’s films back to the multiplex, audiences were still not ready for their eerie cinematic introduction to the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat. Ultra violent action movie The attack sees his rookie police officer involved in a bloody siege of a skyscraper run by a crime syndicate. The entire film acts as one long, incredibly well-choreographed set piece in which Iko Uwais uses martial arts style to put himself and the villains in a world of pain.


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Tai Chi – Man of Tai Chi (2013)

Keanu Reeves in Man of Tai Chi

a Tai Chi man marked the directorial debut of Keanu Reeves, a longtime martial arts enthusiast. Although tai chi is not always perceived as the most glamorous style of martial arts, a Tai Chi man proved in its propulsive story that school is as cinematic as any other. a Tai Chi manThe actor’s action sequences were praised, as was Reeves’ turn as the film’s main villain, but the actor’s first film turned out to be an unexpected flop upon its release.

Arnis – Kamagog (1987)

The hero trained in Kamagong 1987

Arnis is the national martial art of the Philippines and is notable for incorporating more weapons than other traditional styles. Although arnis is rarely shown on screen, both Dune and Equalizer relied on arnis during their action sequences. However, Magnolia remains the best on-screen depiction of the fighting style. A pedestrian action drama in terms of story, Magnolia cannot be faulted for the film’s many memorably brutal fights and impressive displays of their invisible martial arts style.

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