martial arts movies

Dr. Craig D. Reid, author of the Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies, lists his candidates for the top 5 Kung Fu films of the 80's, when the martial arts movie craze was in full-swing. Did your favorites make the cut?

Twenty-first century kung fu film fans are more aware and appreciative of good movies than their ancestors ever were. There are three main reason for this: the mainstream success of Chinese-language martial arts films such as Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou's Hero and House of Flying Daggers in the West; the use of stylized Hong Kong action in Hollywood blockbusters; and the international success of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and their cohorts. Now, without further ado, let's take a trip down memory lane and dive in to the top five kung fu films from the eighties.

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I have a confession to make.

I was actually a ninja long before I stepped foot in any dojo. In fact, by seven years old, I already had plastic shuriken and two mini-swords as well as epic shoulder pads and a red headband.

I know. I was dang near ready to join the Iga ninja clan.

Mind you, I only wore this outfit and wielded these bend-before-breaking weapons once or twice, specifically on October 31st. After my Halloween spent as a "ninja", I spent subsequent Octobers as a street fighting karate master with ripped sleeves and a dark alter ego. The people around me called me "Ryu" back then.

Moral of the story: I had dope halloween costumes when growing up and, more importantly, the martial arts we train have an impact on more than just the lives in the martial art studio. Nowadays, pop culture has a close, curious eye on the things we do in the dojo. Martial art stories have become intertwined with countless books, TV shows, performances, and conversations.

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Dr. Craig's Martial Arts Movie Lounge

In the braniac comedy Paper Tigers, judging from this article's title, the film is more NSYNC than the prancing twisted version of their hit song By By By. Action films plagiarize each other by writing wall-to-wall action, a roller coaster ride, high-octane action and kick-ass fights. Like Bruce Lee says, "If you make an ass of yourself, there'll always be someone to ride you." Then there's Paper Tigers, who with jocular composition and wisecrack exposition, has quasi-wall-to-quasi-wall action (no limitation as limitation), a high-decane (that's higher than octane) backwards roller coaster ride with kick-whole body fights. And don't forget the zombie, origami and opera.

I've seen 15,000+ martial arts movies, which is a lot of plot repetition. Written by Vietnamese American Bao Tran, though Paper Tigers appears to be a revenge-for-killing-my-master motivated movie, it's a superbly well crafted relationship ridden and character driven film that has the humor not of Jackie Chan, but of three Emmy award sitcoms, All in the Family, Cheers and Friends.

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The 1970s are awash in classic martial art films, but the most unique of them all has to be Billy Jack.

While most screen action heroes were fighting drug cartels, rival martial art schools, avenging a master's death or proving they can be the best in the ring, Billy Jack was fighting the system and the entrenched attitudes and prejudices people formed over generations. Written, directed, and starring Tom Laughlin, Billy Jack is the story of a lone warrior with a dark past seeking enlightenment but unable to turn away from the injustice he witnesses against Native Americans both by townspeople, business, and the law.

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