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My Top 5 Martial Arts Related Movies | Pacific Wave Jiu-jitsu

My Top 5 Martial Arts Related Movies

Almost every martial artist has a list of favourite martial arts movies that they have a soft spot for, ones that excite and inspire them in their training, or psyche themselves up for an upcoming test or competition. I have my own top 5 list that I will share with you here (in no particular order). Bear in mind that these are not necessarily movies with the best fight scenes (I’d have to make a separate list for that), but ones that I actually enjoy watching from start to finish.

1. Supercop. This was the first Jackie Chan movie I ever saw. Being the first, it’ll always have a special place in my heart. It also features my favourite female Hong Kong action film star Michelle Yeoh, who manages to rival Jackie Chan in terms of martial grace as well as jaw-dropping stunts.
2. Mulan. Back when I first got my first degree black belt, I was asked to do a martial arts demo for the opening of this Disney film. I really didn’t know much about it until I saw it after the demo, but it really resonated with me as a woman having trained mostly with men. Some think Disney movies are a little cheesy, and perhaps that is true, but I really liked the spirit behind this movie and seeing a woman being more than the typical princess as is often the case in Disney children’s movies.
3. The Matrix. I was totally blown away by this movie the first time I saw it in the theatre. It is a favourite for almost every martial artist I know, especially ones that are programmers. I think people like it because many of them secretly wish they had some sort of latent special abilities that they just need to unlock. A lot of martial artists also like the zen-like philosophy that is peppered throughout the movie. And of course, the martial arts fights were pretty legendary at the time. I also like Trinity as a strong female lead (which led to my getting a Trinity costume for Halloween one year).
4. Hero. I first saw this movie back when I was doing a 3-week Taichi training program in Beijing. Not only is there a lot of traditional martial arts philosophy in this movie, it is rather beautifully filmed. The use of colour and scenery is spectacular, especially in the fight scenes. The fights themselves aren’t the most amazing I’ve seen in a movie, but the film as a whole is both breath-taking and inspiring.

5. Equilibrium. This movie is a new addition to my favourites, having only watched it for the first time a couple of years ago. I love this movie for its innovative approach to gun combat, which manages to blend it with the kind of movements and action we have come to love in martial arts fight scenes. The movie uses the concept of a gun kata, which I’ve never seen in any other film. Check it out:
The movie itself is a fairly standard 1984 style sci-fi movie, but the above concept just makes all the action so awesome to watch. Here is the official trailer if you’re interested:
Now over to you. What are your favourite martial arts related movies that you go to for inspiration? I’d love to add more to my own list. 🙂
Comments (8)

8 thoughts on “My Top 5 Martial Arts Related Movies

  1. Corny as this might seem, I watched Kung Fu Panda as my pre-grading movie before my brown belt grading. The choreography, the visual delight of the character design and animation, and the "Secret Ingredient" moral… Maybe I'm goofy for it, but it still fills me with excitement whenever I watch it. Maybe it's the panda's over-the-top enthusiasm that I identify with sometimes too. 😉

  2. I'd include the films with Bruce Lee (or at least one of them): true the storylines were pretty lineair and hardly original but the fight scenes were pretty good and the man was a superior martial artist and deep thinker. Jeff Speakman's 'the perfect weapon' would probably make my list too. You could include any of the Star Wars movies since a lot of sword play was involved (albeit with futuristic weapons) and the Jedi Order is imbued with a lot of the spirituality (Zen, Taoism…) that is found in the philosophy underpinning the eastern martial arts. Number one on my list would be '7 samurai' by the phenomenal Akira Kurosawa: amazing cinematography (beautiful, thoughtful scenes from nature, that superb duel in the beginning…), great story and excellent fight scenes by truly gifted martial artists who didn't just play pretend like Tom Cruise in 'the last samurai'… Dreadful movie and historically wholely innacurate, on top of that the guy actually had the nerve to suggest he 'understood and lives by' Bushido because he took a few lessons in kenjutsu: what a dunce. Ong Bak is pretty good too since it showcases a lot of techniques of Muay Boran or old style thai boxing. 'The bourne identity' was great imo since the fighting was actually realistic (gruesome, chaotic and brutal), I bet that had something to do with the choreography by Jeff Imada (trained by the renown Dan Inosanto) based on kali-escrima which is an inherently practical and devestating art. That's just of the top of my head, of course there are more that are worth mentioning.

    I seriously dislike Jackie Chan since his movies are just pure show and the humour in them is a little childish and predictable. Haven't seen the other movies you liked except for 'equilibrium' which I watched after you recommended it on your blog and the matrix of course. The matrix is a very deep philosophical movie (a rare phenonomenon indeed) which I greatly enjoyed, can't comment on the quality of the fighting since I barely remember that (except the scene where Neo dodges bullets), maybe I'll watch it again one of these days. Good movies are worth watching over and over again but alas such movies are rare indeed.

    Zara

    PS: totally unrelated but what's your greatest movie of all time?

  3. I always felt Jiu-Jitsu (and Japanese arts in general) were underserved in film – or at least overshadowed by Kung Fu/Chinese arts… so here are some alternate considerations:

    1.) Bourne Ultimatum. They always say they taught Matt Damon Kali, but this film has him dispatching mooks in a stairwell with a shoulder throw and wrist throw that any jitsuka would recognize.

    2.) Lethal Weapon 1. The end fight features a lot of BJJ, from well before it was a "thing"

    3.) Ong Bak or the Protector for Tony Jaa's mind-bending stunts and Muy Thai.

  4. @The novice: like I stated earlier the fight choreography for the Bourne movies was designed by Jeff Imada who is a master at the Filipino Martial Arts, basic wristlocks and shoulderthrows are common in many arts and systems and hardly unique to jujutsu although a lot of arts did borrow elements from it. Modern arnis for example is basically a blend between Japanese JJ and traditional escrima. I think the main reason why jujutsu isn't featered much in films is that a) it doesn't usually look visually appealing and b) you can't make a fight last several minutes with JJ since it's pretty much designed to end an altercation fast and decisively. When you watch Japanese martial arts movies sometimes you'll see JJ but not that often since they're mostly made up of sword fights.

    Zara

    PS: anyone seen the recent Yip Man movie? I heard it's pretty good but I still have to watch it.

  5. One more thing: I saw 'the scorpion king' last night and I'd have to nominate it for being one of the worst martial arts related movies I've seen: clumsy fighting by people obviously not schooled in it, a daft story and a lead actor who can't act and was apparantly mainly chosen for his bodybuilding physique… Perhaps your next post could be about the 5 worst MA films you've seen?

    As a martial artist what I detest most about certain fight choreographies is the long winded nature of the fights, even with weapons: in the above mentioned movie there was a swordfight lasting well over 5 minutes where the lead got cut(!) twice with hardly more than a scratch and some blood, and they both used their weapons solely for blocking instead of what they're actually designed for. Why hit a guy with your fist when you have a blade in the other hand? Where's the sense, people? (lol)

    Zara

  6. The Bourne movies are indeed excellent for showcasing interesting fights, and would certainly include Bourne fights in a top movie fight list. Same with Ong Bak though it's so painful to watch the acting in those movies. I just fast forward to the fight scenes.

    Sorry to say it, but while I highly respect the Bruce Lee movie fights and his abilities in general, I find that the acting and plots of his movies lacking.

    I wholeheartedly agree about The Last Samurai. Total crap, though there are a few interesting fight scenes.

    Lethal Weapon 1 had a good gritty fight scene and it was definitely the best of that series of movies.

    As for Kung Fu Panda, I have a soft spot for Mulan in a similar way.

    To answer your question Zara, I don't really have a favourite movie. I guess it depends on my mood and the occasion.

  7. To each his own: I won't say Bruce Lee was a great actor but I have a soft spot for the man and his art and it's nice to see him in action, even if it isn't really JKD he's showcasing (too many showy moves, high kicks…). As to fight scenes: call me crazy but Seagal's movies actually feature some pretty good brawling and very nice locks and throws (he's a high ranking aikidoka after all). Of course the man couldn't act if his life depended on it (seldom seen a face with so little expression in it) but he's a good fighter, at least on the big screen.

    I've recently began to explore the Japanese film genre of 'jidaigeki' or historical movies. For one I've always been interested in Japanese history and warfare (at least from the time I began training JJ) and these movies truly bring it to life. Of course Kurosawa's the grandmaster of this genre: if you haven't seen his films you absolutely must see Ran, Kumonuso Jo (both films are based on Shakespeare: king Lear and Macbeth respectively), Yojimbo… It's said Georges Lucas drew much of his inspiration from Kurosawa's work. Also noteworthy is the trilogy about Musashi, 'sword of doom' (about a mad swordsman who ultimately succumbs to his bloodlust) is also pretty good as is the TV mini-series 'Shogun' based on the books by James Clavell which I read before watching the series. At the moment I'm watching the trilogy about Hanzo the razor (a very stern if not fanatic policeman who combats both crime and the corruption in his own precinct), it is pretty violent though (including many scenes of torture, at least in the first part) but good movies none the less.

    Zara

    PS: I know it's hard to name best movie as there are so many who are top level but I'd probably go for one of Sergei Eistenstein's films due to their historical value and for his superb mastery of film techniques that were just in their infancy before he expanded upon them. I've recently watched 'triumph of the will' again: the propaganda film by Leni Riefenstahl about the Nürenberg Partei Tag (nazi party meeting) from 1934: of course the ideology is pretty despicable but the film truly is a masterpiece and it'll always serve as a warning of the dangers of extreme political thinking, racial pseudo-science and demagogy coupled with propaganda which is so masterfully employed in Riefenstahl's movie. If you haven't seen it you can watch it in its entirety on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcFuHGHfYwE.

  8. In retrospect the Hanzo films are perhaps best avoided since they can be considered offensive to women. Word to the wise, then again as you've lived in Japan you probably know Japanese cinematography can be quite disturbing at times.

    Zara

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