Martial arts film

1973's Enter the Dragon, starring a charismatic Bruce Lee and distributed by Warner Bros., opened mainstream Western audiences to the previously obscure martial-arts film genre.

Martial arts film is a film genre. A subgenre of the action film, martial arts films contain numerous martial arts fights between characters, usually as the films' primary appeal and entertainment value, and often as a method of storytelling and character expression and development. Martial arts are frequently featured in training scenes and other sequences in addition to fights. Martial arts films commonly include other types of action, such as stuntwork, chases, and gunfights.[1][2][3]


As with other action films, martial arts films are dominated by action to varying degrees; many martial arts films have only a minimal plot and amount of character development and focus almost exclusively on the action, while other martial arts films have more creative and complex plots and characters along with action scenes.[4] Films of the latter type are generally considered to be artistically superior films, but many films of the former type are commercially successful and well received by fans of the genre.[5][6] One of the earliest Hollywood movies to deploy the use of martial arts was Bad Day at Black Rock.[7][8][9][10]

Martial arts films contain many characters who are martial artists, and these roles are often played by actors who are real martial artists. If not, actors frequently train in preparation for their roles, or the action director may rely more on stylized action or film making tricks like camera angles, editing, doubles, undercranking, wire work, and computer-generated imagery. Trampolines and springboards can also be used to increase the height of jumps. These techniques are sometimes used by real martial artists as well, depending on the style of action in the film.[11]

During the 1970s and 1980s, the most visible presence of martial arts films was the hundreds of English dubbed kung fu and ninja films produced by the Shaw Brothers, Godfrey Ho, and other Hong Kong producers. These films were widely broadcast on North American television on weekend timeslots that were often colloquially known as Kung Fu Theater, Black Belt Theater, or variations thereof. Inclusive in this list of films are commercial classics like The Big Boss, Drunken Master, and One Armed Boxer.

Martial arts films have been produced all over the world, but the genre has been dominated by Hong Kong action cinema, peaking from 1971 with the rise of Bruce Lee until the mid-1990s with a general decline in the industry.[12] Other notable figures in the genre include Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Donnie Yen.

Sonny Chiba has appeared with karate and jidaigeki from Japan of the 1970s. Hollywood has also participated in the genre with actors such as Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee), Wesley Snipes, Gary Daniels, Mark Dacascos, and Jason Statham.[13] In the 2000s, Thailand's film industry became an international force in the genre with the films of Tony Jaa,[14] and the Cinema of Vietnam followed suit with The Rebel and Clash. In more recent years, the Indonesian film industry has offered Merantau (2009)[15][16][17] and The Raid: Redemption (2011).

Women have also played key roles in the genre, including such actresses as Michelle Yeoh, Angela Mao, and Cynthia Rothrock.[18][19][20] In addition, western animation has ventured into the genre with the most successful effort being the internationally hailed DreamWorks Animation film franchise, Kung Fu Panda, starring Jack Black and Angelina Jolie.


Kung fu films are a significant movie genre in themselves. Like westerns for Americans, they have become an identity of Chinese cinema. As the most prestigious movie type in Chinese film history, kung fu movies were among the first Chinese films produced and the wuxia period films (武俠片) are the original form of Chinese kung fu films. The wuxia period films came into vogue due to the thousands of years popularity of wuxia novels (武俠小說). For example, the wuxia novels of Jin Yong[21] and Gu Long[22] directly led to the prevalence of wuxia period films. Outside of the Chinese speaking world the most famous wuxia film made was the Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was based on the Wang Dulu series of wuxia novels: it earned four Academy Awards, including one for Best Foreign Film.

In the Chinese-speaking world, martial arts films are commonly divided into two subcategories: the wuxia period films (武俠片), and the more modern Kung fu films (功夫片, best epitomized in the films of Bruce Lee).[23]

In the Chinese-speaking world, martial arts films commonly refer to a genre wuxia which presents historical background, usually in ancient dynasties, there lives a common person, usually poor and without social status, but possessing a kind heart and would like to help people and fight for justice, so the character develops though the plot fighting against the bad ones who hold the power and finally achieves the peace and justice for people and becomes a master of martial arts.

Martial arts westerns are usually American films inexpensively filmed in Hollywood's traditional Southwestern United States locations, transposing martial arts themes into an "old west" setting; e.g., Red Sun with Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune.

See also


  1. "The Problem With Fx". Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
  2. Beale, Lewis (1986-04-20). "Martial Arts Pics--packing A Hard Punch". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  3. "Martial arts moves get a hip-hop flair". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  4. Wren, Celia (1992-02-23). "FILM; Martial-Arts Movies Find a Home In South Africa". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  5. "Maximizing The Matrix". Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
  6. Film genre 2000: new critical essays. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  7. "The Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Movies - Bill Palmer - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  8. "Film Genre 2000: New Critical Essays - Google Books". 2000-02-24. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  9. "The American Martial Arts Film - M. Ray Lott - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  10. "Behind the Camera - Bad Day at Black Rock". Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  11. "The Problem With Fx". Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  12. Schneiderman, R. M. (2009-05-23). "Contender Shores Up Karate's Reputation Among U.F.C. Fans". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-30.
  13. Beale, Lewis (1992-11-15). "Revenge of kungfu Martial arts films are socking away the dough". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  14. Perrin, Andrew (2004-10-18). "Hitting the Big Time". Time. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  15. "Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais talk Merantau". Twitch Film. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
  16. "Jury Winners & Audience Winner at FAantastic Fest 2009 Announced!". Ain't It Cool News.
  17. Brown, Todd. "UNDISPUTED 3, 14 BLADES and MERANTAU Win At Action Fest 2010. Chuck Norris Declines Lifetime Achievement Award!". Twitch.
  18. Meisler, Andy (1994-07-03). "TELEVISION; The Biggest Star You Never Heard Of". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  19. "Hollywood is on a martial arts kick masters of ancient ways break into pop mainstream". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
  20. Miller, Davis (1992-08-23). "MOVIES The Next Action Hero? Kathy Long is a champion kickboxer whose movie moves remind some of Norris and Van Damme". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
  21. "Jin Yong and Chinese Martial Arts Novels". Hong Kong Films Free Web.
  22. "Kung Fu (Wuxia) Novels Translation". Lannyland.
  23. "Everybody is kung fu fighting". MSNBC. Retrieved 2010-12-17.

External links

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