I recently finished writing The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s. In one section, I list my 20 favorite films of the ’70s before and after I wrote the book. Why? Because after watching 600-plus movies during an eight-month stretch, my list had 14 changes. That got me thinking about what would constitute the 10 movies every martial artist must see and why—hence, this article. The 11 titles listed here—I couldn’t narrow it down to 10—aren’t the best martial arts films ever made or even my favorites. Rather, they were chosen for the impact they had on the genre, either by presenting new directions in fight choreography or by bolstering international appeal. Therefore, they’re listed in order of release date, not in order of preference.
Martial Arts Movie #1: Fist of Fury (1972)After the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), China was a fractured country, its pieces handed out to Japan and various European powers. Japan played a villainous role in Chinese history from that point on. Even after the nation’s defeat during World War II, the fear of economic backlash against the Chinese kept Hong Kong and the Republic of China mum about Japanese atrocities committed against the Chinese. Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury changed all that. His character defiantly defeated Japanese martial artists in 1909 Shanghai, when the city was under strict Japanese rule. Lee single-handedly crashed through that barrier of silence, giving the Chinese a sense of identity and pride. Although Story of Huang Feihong, Part 1 (1949) ushered in the second genre of Chinese movies known as gong fu pian (“kung fu film,” in which heroes fought with realistic skills), Fist legitimized it and brought international prominence to Hong Kong’s waning film industry. Trivia: The scene in which Lee kicks eight attackers in the Japanese dojo is one unedited, wide-angle shot. It forever changed fight choreography.
Learn even more about Fist of Fury with our FREE guide—Our Bruce Lee Movies List: Little-Known Trivia From Bruce Lee's Pictures.