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Tue, 30 Oct ’12

Lights, Camera, Ass Kicking: The Best Cult Martial Arts Films

The Man With The Iron Fists pays respect to his elders.

It’s not everyday that Hollywood throws a bone to diehard martial arts movie fans, so you can understand our excitement for the cult-film-in-the-making goodness of RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists, which comes out this Friday. Equal parts Shaw Brothers kitsch, Tarantino-style editing and Wu-Tang Clan braggadocio, the film looks to celebrate the seemingly forgotten genre of underground martial arts movies.To celebrate, we’re taking a walk down memory lane to shine a light on five of the genre’s best. Although these films have very different concepts, they all have the same message: don’t ever mess with a martial arts master. 

The Street Fighter (1974) – Trying to read the description for this movie is dizzying. Pretty much every scene seems to follow the same formula: “Someone says something to person A.  Person A refuses. Ass-kicking ensues.” It ensues so much that it was the first film to receive an X-rating for violence in the United State. Ah, pointless violence – the staple of every good martial arts film. But when Sonny Chiba is such a certified badass, it doesn’t matter what letter of the alphabet is next to the film.

Iron Monkey (1993) – This remake of a ’70s hit was backed by legendary director (and noted genre fan) Quentin Tarantino and also featured the choreography of Yuen Woo-ping, who appears on this list more than once. Critically acclaimed in the states, it’s the 11th highest-grossing foreign film of all time and it features Donnie Yen – who kicks ass more than once on this list. Side note: never mess with Donnie Yen. EVER.

Drunken Master (1978) – Drunken Master isn’t just chock-full of just amazing martial arts choreography (which, by the way, was done by Yuen Woo-ping!) it all features one of the greatest living martial arts masters: Jackie Chan! That’s right. Before he was staring in such cinematic masterpieces as The Tuxedo, he was boozin’ it up, kicking butt and taking names. Maybe he was still a little tipsy when he accepted that new Karate Kid movie.

Ip Man (2008) – Starring our old friend (and dude we will never EVER make the mistake of messing with) Donnie Yen, Ip Man is based loosely on the life of Yip Man, who trained a fella you may have heard of: Bruce Lee. That’s right. Bruce Freakin’ Lee learned from this dude, so you know he’s pretty good.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) – Widely regarded as one of the best martial arts movies most people haven’t heard of, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is based loosely on the life of San Te, a man who kicked so much ass that people had to make movies about it. Here’s a sample of how amazing he is: he meets a group of menacing monks and then invents a whole new chamber of beatdown for them. Money, meet mouth.

What’s your favorite cult martial arts film? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter and Google+!