From Jet Li to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, we take a look at the 10 best movie martial arts fight scenes of all time.
10. Michelle Yeoh vs Zhang Ziyi – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Released in 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is perhaps the most well known Chinese martial arts movie of all time in the US. The film was extremely well received and was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Cinematography.
Set in the Qing Dynasty, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has everything a lover of kung fu films could ask for. Epic martial arts fight sequences, beautiful scenery and a stunning soundtrack combine to immerse the viewer in an authentic Chinese martial arts experience.
The film is littered with fantastic fight scenes choreographed by legendary fight sequence director, Yuen Wo Ping. The best is the duel between Yu Shu Lien played by Michelle Yeoh and Jen Yu played by Zhang Ziyi. Wielding the legendary sword the Green Destiny, Jen manages to destroy every weapon that Shu Lien arms herself with. The fight finally draws to an end when Shu Lien defeats Jen with a broken sword.
9. Bruce Lee vs Kareem Abdul Jabbar – Game of Death
Bruce Lee’s Game of Death was never completed as Lee passed away during production. The film, which was also written and produced by Lee centres around the character, Hai Tien a retired martial arts champion. Hai is forced to fight his way to the top of a mysterious pagoda after a Korean underworld gang kidnaps his younger brother and sister.
The pagoda has a different martial arts master guarding each level. Hai must learn each master’s weakness in order to defeat him and progress to the next level.
Filming was only completed on three of the intended five floors. Firstly, he squares off against his longtime friend, Filipino Eskrima master, Dan Inosanto as well as Korean Hapkido master Ji Han-jae before facing his final challenge, the 7 foot 2 inch tall ex-basketballer, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Jabbar, who was a student of Lee’s uses his height and insanely long limbs to kick and punch his 5 foot 7 inch opponent. While the choreography may not be as tight as today’s movie fight scenes, you are in constant awe of the size difference between the two as they fight their way around the cramped top floor of the pagoda. Lee eventually triumphs when he learns that his over-sized opponent has a weakness to light.
8. Steven Seagal vs The Entire Bar – Out For Justice
Back in the 1990’s Steven Seagal was a pretty big deal in Hollywood and he was on par with the Van Damme’s and the Stallone’s of his day. In Out for Justice, Seagal plays tough a tough New York cop from Brooklyn named Gino Felino. He is out for revenge against Richie Madano, a member of the mafia who murdered his partner.
When Gino confronts Richie’s brother Vinnie at the bar he owns, he is forced to wipe the floor with everyone in sight.
Showcasing Seagal’s unique brand of bone breaking joint locks and judo throws, the fight scene also features martial arts legend and good friend of Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto.
7. Keanu Reeves vs Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus vs Neo) – The Matrix
Released in 1999, The Matrix revolutionised hollywood action sequences and fight scenes. Directed by the Wachowski’s, the film draws upon their admiration for Japanese Anime and martial arts films. The Matrix popularised ‘bullet time’ the visual effect that involves the camera moving freely through a slow motion sequence.
When Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne challenges Keanu Reeves character Neo to a duel in a simulator program the result is one of the most memorable fight scenes in movie history. Neo, who has just learnt kung fu by having it downloaded directly into his brain is forced to test his skills whilst coming to grips with the fact that the Matrix is nothing more than a simulation controlled by sentient machines.
Seemingly outclassed by Morpheus’ skill, Neo quickly learns how to manipulate the program to outmatch his opponent.
The action sequences received a variety of reactions from film critics. Many loved the blend of new camera techniques and Hong Kong style wire sequences while others felt the over the top action detracted from a well thought out and interesting storyline. Either way you look at it, this is still a great fight scene.
6. Jet Li vs Everyone – Shaolin Temple
Released in 1982, the Chinese martial arts film The Shaolin Temple was the first Hong Kong production to be filmed in mainland China. Often labelled as one of the greatest martial arts films of all time, the film stars a very young Jet Li in his debut role.
Li plays Jue Yuan, a young boy seeking revenge for the death of his father. He finds his way to the Shaolin Temple where he learns kung fu and after several years of training, plans his attack.
The film is littered with amazing acrobatic fight scenes that showcase many different Chinese martial arts styles. The best of them is the final confrontation between the Emperor’s army and the monks of the Shaolin Temple. The fight contains every type of weapon imaginable and culminates in the ultimate showdown between Jue and the Emperor.
While the film is subtitled and the quality is not the best it more than makes up for it with some of the very best martial arts fight scenes of all time.
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