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Top Martial Arts Films of the 21st Century

For Black Belt's September 2005 issue, I wrote "Top 20 Martial Arts Films of All Time." I based my selections on each movie's impact on martial arts cinema, not necessarily on its acting or fight choreography. It wasn't an easy process then, and it wasn't any easier when the editor of Black Belt asked me to write this piece on the top films that have been released during this century. Nevertheless, I agreed. Here's my top-21 countdown.

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The son of Black Belt Hall of Famer Bow Sim Mark, Donnie Yen has entertained millions with his martial arts. We go one-on-one with the film icon.

Donnie Yen first appeared on my radar 25 years ago, when his name often graced the pages of martial arts periodicals. I learned that Donnie Yen, the son of Boston-based wushu pioneer and Black Belt Hall of Famer Bow Sim Mark, stood out from his peers because of his strong stances and aesthetic postures, which helped him dominate the competition at martial arts tournaments. In part because he longed to follow in the footsteps of Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen decided to try his hand at action films.

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Western critics loved this film about Bruce Lee's teacher even though most of them probably missed the numerous nods to the true martial arts lifestyle.

The Grandmaster (2013) is the first and only kung fu movie to come from Hong Kong film auteur Wong Kar-wai, but by no means does it suffer because of that. In fact, Western critics loved The Grandmaster — even though most probably didn’t grasp its full meaning. Wong is no noob when it comes to filmmaking. His resume includes Happy Together (1997), In the Mood for Love (2000) and My Blueberry Nights (2007). So when he conceived of The Grandmaster as an authentic depiction of wing chun kung fu that features purposefully hidden martial arts nuances, it’s safe to say he knew what he was doing. You can’t blame the reviewers for failing to notice those concealed treasures. The truth is, anyone who’s not a martial arts practitioner likely won’t appreciate the subtleties of the film. Zhang Zi Yi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; House of Flying Daggers) as the daughter of Gong Yu-tian. Before Wong Kar-wai started shooting the movie, he devoted several years to research, roaming around China in search of old kung fu masters. He even lived with a few so he could learn about and actually experience the traditions of the martial arts. During that time, many of those masters shared stories that otherwise would never have been told.

Have you read Bruce Lee: Wisdom for the Way? It’s a must for all martial artists. Order your copy here — it’s on sale!

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To celebrate the life of Darren Shahlavi, who passed away on January 14, 2015, Black Belt is posting this article about the actor's experiences making one of his best-known martial arts films.

On January 14, 2015, Darren Shahlavi died of undisclosed causes at his Los Angeles home. An accomplished stuntman, actor and martial artist, he's perhaps best-known for his appearances in Mortal Kombat: Legacy, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, 300, Ip Man 2, Lethal Combat and Tai Chi Boxer. He also had a co-starring role in Kickboxer (2015). In honor of his life, Black Belt is posting this story, which originally ran in our June 2011 issue. — Editor
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