5 Must-See Chinese Martial Arts Movies

Martial arts has had a profound impact on the Chinese culture, so much so that it can actually be an entire movie genre on its own. 

Besides the action movies you’ve seen from Hollywood, here are some noteworthy Chinese martial arts movies you should watch:

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)


Courtesy of IMDb

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is about a young boy named Liu who learns martial arts in the Shaolin temple to fight against the Manchu government.

The movie won the Best Martial Arts Award at the 24th Asian Film Festival. It was in Hong Kong’s Top 10 Box Office Hits in 1978 and is listed in the book, 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, by respected film critic Steven Jay Schneider.

Once Upon a Time in China (1991) 

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Once Upon a Time in China is also included in Schneider’s 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. In this movie, Jet Li portrays Wong Fei-hung, who, in real life, was a martial artist, physician, and folk hero.

Don’t miss out on this movie by director Tsui Hark, who is considered the master of kung-fu action films. Tsui received the Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival, and he was the fourth Chinese film director to join the board of judges at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2004.

Iron Monkey (1993)

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The Iron Monkey is a prequel to Once Upon a Time in China (1991). It tells a story about a man who helps the poor and oppressed by going against a corrupt government.

If you’re a fan of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016), be sure to check out this movie by the same director, Woo Ping-Yuen.

House of Flying Daggers (2004)

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House of Flying Daggers is about two police deputies who are on a mission to investigate Xiao Mei, a dancer who is said to work for a rebellious secret organization. Instead, they fall for her charms and end up helping her.

Bonus Trivia: Ziyi Zhang, the actress who played Xiao Mei, lived with a blind girl for two months in preparation for her role.

Also, did you know that this movie reportedly received a 20-minute standing ovation when it debuted at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival? On top of that, this was China’s official choice for the Academy Awards in the Foreign Language film category in 2004.

Kung Fu Hustle  (2004)

Courtesy of IMDb

Kung Fu Hustle became the highest-grossing Hong Kong-made movie in Hong Kong during the time of its release in 2005. It tells the story of an ambitious man who pretends to be part of the infamous “Axe Gang.” Little does he know, some of the residents in Pig Sty Alley are actually martial arts practitioners. Show-stopping action scenes ensue!


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