Movie Recommendations

Martial arts movie and show recommendations

What I’m not doing is judging these movies on the quality of the acting, scripts, or even the overall quality of the movies (in most cases). Instead I’m recommending these movies for what might interest martial artists watching, because they each have one of the following, something unique (martial arts wise) that isn’t often seen in martial arts films, actual techniques from traditional styles (rather than a generic mix of stuntman kung fu), or a higher percentage of practical and realistic techniques (very few movies are 100%). When I say realistic I’m only talking about the actual techniques being used not the situation, someone could be fighting an alien monster but if he/she is using strikes, locks and throws that would work in an actual fight I will label it as realistic and include it.


Warning most of these movies are R rated or NR (not rated) and if they were rated would be R. As many of the movies that opt for realistic martial arts also are dealing with issues such as gangs, and war in graphic detail. At the bottom I did include a few family friendly features.


Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian movies the next three movies are theirs and all feature pencak silat (Indonesian martial arts) both were silat instructors before they were actors (harimau (tiger) and minang styles). All three movies rely on real technique and stunts without wire work or a lot of special effects these movies have some of my favorite fight scenes of the past few years. 

Merantau: R first movie they starred in and choreographed together highlights the Harimau style more than their other movies (shows Iko doing forms in addition to fighting)

The raid redemption: R I’d recommend watching this one first of these three but all three are good. This movie has a simple plot, almost like a video game Iko has to fight his way through a building with near endless henchmen to the final fight giving the movie almost nonstop action. The techniques are more realistic and practical than you see in most movies also a good variety of techniques. The use of pencak silat also adds interest since you don't see it that often in movies. 

The raid 2 : R longer movie more story and stunts (a big car chase/fight with some impressive stunts ) also maybe a little more graphic (one person uses claw hammers to kill people), near the end a good fight scene with a krambit (Indonesian knife) which you rarely see in movies. lots of good empty hand fights also.


Tony Jaa  Is the star of the next four movies he also did stunts and choreography. These movies are all done mostly without wires and CG, they're made in Thailand and you can see the Mauy Thai influence but their are many other styles used also. All four are rated R.

Ong-bak the Thai warrior: R This first one isn't really related to the others, it takes place in modern times while the others take place hundreds of years ago. It also has a different feel with this first one being like a Jackie Chan movie with impressive acrobatics (in particular a long foot chase with a parkour like feel where Jaa jumps over, under and through everything in his way) It also has the most light hearted feel of the three with comedic touches added. The actual fights I didn't like as much with the focus on Mauy Thai their was less variety also some of the fights looked a little wooden without as smooth a flow but it's still worth watching.

Ong-bak 2 the beginning: R As far as martial arts this is my favorite of the three Ong-Bak movies. Whats unusual about this movie is the level of detail in the action, for example when it shows people training in the village in the background instead of doing generic punch and block sequences they're doing real training drills from a variety of martial arts styles. In the fights themselves they have weapon work thats better then most movies (more realistic) and a wide variety of real martial arts styles represented.

Ong-bak 3: R This is a continuation of the 2nd Ong-Baks story, most of the action occurs in the 2nd half and the final fight is different from what was in the other movies. In this Jaa is contrasting two ways of fighting an out of control berserk/animal like fighting and fighting with a more Zen like mind (at peace without anger) using a more bagua like techniques. This movie also has some magic type elements (so some less realistic parts but not too much).

The protector: R This one is a little more cartoon like at times but has some impressive parts including one fight scene where they have a single camera follow Jaa as he fights his way up floors of a building. They did this in all in a single cut it took a few trys as one of the times someone was going to be thrown off a few story drop and they didn't get the crash mat down in time luckily someone saw and stopped the throw (showed this in a behind the scene clip). They actually timed how much film one of their handheld cameras could hold and had the fight scene last the length of the film they had so they could film the whole thing without a cut. Another scene thats kind of interesting Jaa breaks arms, wrists, knees,etc. of dozens of guys as they keep coming into room (floor is covered in henchmen at end of fight). P.S. avoid protector 2 (warrior king 2) wrecked by bad 3d effects (throwing things and hitting at camera) and bad CG.


The Grandmaster: 2013 PG13 This is a story of Yip man/Ip man (Wing chun master) whats interesting about this movie is it shows a few duels between Yip man (played by Tony Chiu Wai Leung) and other masters and unlike most kung fu movies the other masters are from real styles and you can actually see elements of those styles in the choreograghy. Too often movies will say its a style than only toss in a couple moves and the rest is generic movie kung fu. When looking at the credits the reason it looked more real becomes apparent, they had seperate consultants (5 total) and trainers (9 total) from Wing Chun, Bagua, and Baji styles (which were two of the styles he fought against) along with a southern style consultant and another consultant listed as martial arts in addition to two choreograghers one of which was Yuen Woo Ping (whos done many movies). So this gives the fights a more authentic feel of the styles they're portraying.

The Man From Nowhere: R This is a Korean movie that stars Bin Won, who's not really known for his martial arts but does a good job. The movie doesn't have as much action as most of these others but its a well made movie (acting, story, etc.) and the martial arts it does have is good based mostly on kali and not surprising (since kali is known for its knife work) the final fight has a good knife fight along with some empty hand and gun use.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: PG13 I wouldn't consider the martial arts in this to be realistic its fast and fluid but reminds me more of watching  a wushu demo or a dance routine than an actual fight (which can be enjoyable but not what I'm listing). The movie also includes a lot of wire work (which I don't like). But the reason I did include it on this list is it also includes many real traditional weapons that you rarely see even in kung fu movies, such as deer antler sabers (from bagua), double hook swords, iron rod, two handed jian ( jian also called a straight or Tai Chi sword).

Seven Samurai: Unrated black and white movie from 1954, this is a long movie (207 minutes) but it is a classic (nominated for 2 oscars) you willn't see a lot of flashy techniques and most of the action is in the second half but it does have realistic sword and spear work and even more so good tactics showing the samurai who are outnumbered creating chokepoints by setting up fortifications (but leaving an entry on one side), dividing and conquering, using the element of surprise, the importance of morale, discipline, and working together for troops. Their is also a scene that I could relate to in which two samurai spar with wooden sticks and they both get hit, the lesser samurai thinks its a tie but the better one corrects him saying he won because with a real sword the other would be dead. of course the less skilled samurai is offended and forces a duel with real swords and gets himself killed. I've seen this mindset happen many times where people keep attacking in sparring after they would of been beat if it was a real fight and they don't even realize it. Or people judge a technique based solely on its effectiveness in sparring or practice and are not able to see beyond this that sparring and practice isn't the same as actual fighting (some techniques will work in sparring but not in fighting and some will not work in sparring but be fine in fighting). There is also a scene in which they test samurais that illustrates one of the principles from the art of war (classic Chinese strategy book).   

Donnie Yen: Donnie has done alot of movies, he has a good martial arts background his mother being well known kung fu instructor Bow Sim Mark, who he learned wushu and Tai Chi from stating at age 4, he also at 16 went to the Beijing wushu academy for three years and studied with Wu Bin (Jet Li's coach). The one thing I don't like is all of his movies that I can think of use wires to some degree, not always to do the flying extremes but he will use them at least to get higher jumps or to knock someone back further or to balance better on top of something including the Ip man movies I list below.

Ip Man: 2008, R and  Ip Man 2: 2010, R Both of these movies are telling the story of Ip man/Yip man and they use one of Yip man's sons Ip Chun as a consultant along with one of Ip Chun's students as a Wing Chun trainer giving them a more real feel to the Wing Chun though I would say Donnie does use some techniques that aren't 100% Wing Chun, but still good movies, the wire work that is used in these is not too much, (see above, though I would still rather they hadn't used any) but overall the movies are well done. The action director in these is Sammo Hung who as a kid studied in the peking opera along side Jackie Chan (and later was in movies with him).

The Honor of Dongfang Xu: Aka deadly fury 1983 This is more of an old school kung fu movie I wouldn't say the fights are as good as some of these others, but I'm including it because the training scenes actually show real bagua in them which is rare in a kung fu movie the star Li Junfeng was a wushu coach and the person playing his teacher Zhang Yunxi had been doing Chinese opera since age 7 and had also really done bagua which is what he is doing in the movie. Unfortunately alot of time is spent on fighting matches against some Russian boxer/strongmen and these fights aren't as good as the traing scenes and forms shown.


Tour of the T'ai Chi World:  From plum productions, if your interested in Tai chi its a very good documentary showing forms, push hands, weapons and history from many styles including the most popular like Yang, Chen, Wu, and Sun but also quite a few less known styles such as Wuu, Hao, Li, ZhaoBao and more.

Asian Martial Arts Masters: 2015 (Martial Arts Secrets of Asian Masters 2011 might be the same movie, in the trailer it shared alot of the same footage but I didn't see the whole movie) This is a documentary on filipino martial arts (kali, arnis, escrima) I thought it was both good and bad the good part is it shows interviews and clips of many different instructors from a variety of styles both familiar and ones I hadn't heard of. What I didn't like is much of the interview time is spent on instructors listing their resumes and lineages without really giving any insight into their styles or techniques and this can get pretty boring. but I'm still recommending it because of the good variety of clips showing practice and techniques. The techniques are not explained as this is not an instructional film but it still gives a good overview of filipino martial arts showing stick, sword, knife and some empty hand techniques and even showing them making some of the weapons by hand.


TV shows: NR (these are reality shows content wise they should be ok for kids though they might get bored, but of course check them out for yourself before making a decision) All three of these shows can be educational in that they show a wide variety of real styles and masters but if you know nothing about the style shown i'd be careful about judging it good or bad based on these shows because this is just a short snippet of one instructor from one lineage (and many of these styles vary hugely depending on instructor and lineage). The format of both shows are the same a couple martial artists travel and train with different masters for a short time and at the end of the period they usually spar against someone from the style that they've been studying sometimes they'll do a demo also. One problem is this format forces these styles into areas they sometimes don't emphasize because many traditional styles don't spar or at least not often, (having studied many of these styles myself for years, in most cases sparring was never a part of them, though I have sparred quite a bit in certain styles). Also take things with a grain of salt as the hosts are not experts in these styles the commentary that they state as fact is what they've been told by the masters on the shows which often is opinion and sometimes self promotion as much as it is fact. Things even someone from the same style but a different lineage might not agree with.

Fight Quest: This show follows a couple MMA guys around as they train with different masters from around the world, same format as the show Human weapon, which isn't a bad show either and worth checking out but of the two I prefer this one. On a personal note check out the Indonesian  episode as Ibu Rita was one of my instructors (along with her brother Pa Herman before he died). even though what I studied with them doesn't resemble what is shown on the show (I had both private lessons and seminars and sparring was never discussed only self defense, traditional techniques and weapons). Also check out the krav maga episode to see why going to the ground in a real fight can be a mistake (ended up with multiple people stomping on him and in an interview he stated that he kept thinking the teacher would stop it and when she didn't actually feared he would be seriously hurt).

Kung fu Quest: Same format as above but takes place in China follows a couple kung fu guys as the they train with different masters in China. Uses English subtitles can find these on youtube.


Kids movies and popular kung fu movies: Many of the most popular stars make movies that are ok for kids of course check ratings first. These include Jackie Chan, Bruce lee, Jet li, many of the old Shaw brothers movies are fine also. I'm going to talk a little about these actors as they are hugely popular and have many good movies, often that are more kid appropriate and very entertaining, even if the martial arts is in most cases not as realistic. 

Bruce Lee: Studied many martial arts most famously Wing Chun, (with Yip man/ Ip man same person different spellings) one that many people don't know about was fencing (his brother peter was a fencing champion) in his books some of the terminology he uses comes directly from fencing, he also studied boxing and many other styles of Asian arts creating his own Jeet kune do. It's worth watching some of his movies, not because they are realistic (he readily admitted what he did in movies is not how he would fight for real all the high kicks and such was just for looks). But for historical significance he influenced a huge number of people to take up martial arts including some of the ones listed in the other movies on this page. The one thing I would be careful of is a bunch of fake movies came out after he died with look alike actors with similar names. One youtube clip that is fake (was created as a viral ad) but is still pretty cool supposedly shows him playing ping pong with nunchucks. the list below are his movies in the order they were released he also did some tv and their are many documentaries made about Lee after his death. The following is a list of his actual kung fu movies.

The Big Boss, Fist of Fury(aka the Chinese Connection), Way of the Dragon, and Enter the Dragon, their is also Game of Death which wasn't finished before he died and they used a double for much of the movie. Warning though these movies did alot to introduce kung fu to the world and influence the other movies on this page (and people have fond memories of them including myself), but when looking back at them much of the action doesn't hold up in quality to these other movies, and if they came out today I probably would not be recommending them (his writings on Jeet Kune do I think are worth reading though, and I've attended many of his student Dan Inosanto's seminars and enjoyed them greatly).


Jackie Chan: Another very influential star, known for mixing acrobatics and slapstick comedy in with his martial arts. He got his start by attending a Peking opera school as a kid, this is where he learned martial arts and acrobatics. One interesting thing in his movies is he will use anything in his enviroment to help him in his figtht scenes, using all kinds of everyday items as weapons and obstacles. And this is a common element in real martial arts you always have to use your surroundings to your advantage, you can see this all the way back to the ancient writtings on battle like Sun-tzus Art of War. One of my favorites for him is Drunken master 2 also called The legend of drunken master its listed as an R rating but I think a PG would of been more appropriate (my guess is it got the R for the drinking and it probably came out before PG13 was an option because its not a bloody movie and doesn't have swearing or nudity, but use your own judgment). If you want one that is aimed at kids you could check out is the Karate kid remake 2010 he plays the master rated PG (not one of his best but the kids that I know that have seen it liked it).


Jet Li: Began studying martial arts as a kid competing and winning many gold medals in wushu doing forms/kata competitions. At this time he studied Northern Chinese styles such as Changquan, Fanziquan, Bagua, Tai Chi, Hsingi, Eagle claw, and Praying mantis along with weapons. Because of his competitive background he is very fluid and athletic with a good varied base. The thing I don't like about some of his movies is the unrealistic way he uses his techniques often using wire work and what you used to see in alot of old kung fu movies where two fighters would strike at each other sometimes for minutes at a time with no one actually getting hit, just elaborate combinations of strike/block back and forth. Having said that not all of his movies are that way and I still have watched most of his movies and will continue to in the future. 

The Shoalin Temple: 1982 This is a good place to start for Jet Li as it was his first movie and has a lot of traditional kung fu action relying on real martial artists instead of special effects. One of the people who was in the movie and did some of the choreography Qingfu Pan I've taken seminars with and can personally atest to his skill. Some might be grossed out by them suposedly eating dog meat in one scene (in story dog was killed by accident).


Shaw Brothers and others: These are the movies I grew up watching as a kid, what I'm really talking about isn't just Shaw brothers but the Hong Kong kung fu movies in general from primarily the 70s (and early 80s). I mention The Shaw Brothers in specific because they often were of a higher budget and quality then the average Hong Kong kung fu movie of the time. This period in time is when many of their most popular movies came out and like most things had its good and bad points (and movies). Most of the kung fu movies at that time were low budget and filmed quickly but this is also what made them better (kung fu wise at least) then most of the Hollywood movies of the time. Without much money the actors and stuntmen had to really do the stunts you didn't have green screens, and this was before using wires became commonplace (jumping off a trampoline was about as high tech as it got). These movies often shot fight scenes largely with one camera shot (though cuts became more common) for sometimes minutes at a time this might get boring for some but it ment the actors had to actually know what they were doing. Because one of the best ways to hide an actor who doesn't know martial arts is to do a different camera angle every few seconds. Each time they cut the actor can reset and be reminded of whats next, even someone with no marial arts background can remember a couple seconds of choreography (especially with unlimited takes). But if there is no change in camera then the actors have to do that entire scene straight through, so the longer the scene the harder it is to memorise and do without mistakes. This is why most of the kung fu movies of the time hired people that were martial artists first and actors second. Many of them had come up through peking opera (like Jackie Chan, Samo Hung etc.) or had done traditioanl arts since they were kids, But even with that being true the martial arts often was unrealistic and of inconsistant quality. Some of the best martial arts in these movies was in the training scenes as it wasn't uncommon to see real training drills and forms (though sometimes they made up ridiculous ones also) performed from the style the actor knew in real life giving the actor less to memorise. It also was common for these movies to have a comicbook or professional  wrestling mentality giving the main charactors some special power, weapon, or a made up new style trying to be unique and have the charactor and movie stand out. These movies also tend to use big motions so its easier to follow and some of them rythmically fall into a rut of an even timing of strike, block, back and forth (you can tap your foot in time with when the next strike will come) which would be easier for the actors to not make mistakes when you have alot to remember and a short time to shoot the movie, but is unrealistic and makes the action less interesting. The better ones had less of these problems though. Check the tips section I'll add a more comprensive discussion of these old style kung fu movies. 

I'll add a much more detailed list in the future along with many more movies, but here is some you can get started with (again these are not realistic in the same way as some of the ones listed above)

Ratings on these older movies, I'm not listing the ratings because most of them are R rated but this was around 40 years ago and if rated today I think in most cases they would be PG or at most PG13 unlike some of the newer ones these usually have no swearing no nudity and the violence usually isn't that bad by todays standards, of course use your own judgment but in most cases I would say they are equal to a PG rated movie today.

The 36th chambers of Shaolin: (also called Shaolin Master Killer) I in particular like the middle section where he trains at shaolin. While I wouldn't recommend some of the drills he practices particularly the one where he's hitting his head on heavy bags (not healthy). But the general ideas of spending years training both attributes such as strength, balance, reactions along with techniques and also struggling or failing at first but perservering, also when he lost the matches against the senior monk and he learned from his losses and came up with new tactics. All of this sums up pretty well what it takes to become good at martial arts.

The Five Deadly Venoms:

The Five Fingers Of Death: (AKA King boxer or The Invincible Boxer)

The Crippled Avengers: (AKA Return Of The Deadly Venoms or Mortal Combat)

Hereos of the East: Interesting movie because the fights are a series of duels by different Japenese masters including weapons such as sai, katana and empty hand vs the main character using kung fu and a variety of Chinese weapons.