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Guide to American Martial Arts Movies

NOTE: The movies that I will be reviewing are American martial arts movies. I will not judge them on the same standards that I would judge a Hong Kong martial arts film. If that was the case, most movies would get very low ratings. The appearance of Hong Kong-style choreography didn't really appear in the states until Mortal Kombat (post-Bruce Lee that is). I am judging these films according to American martial arts standards. The ratings given will be based on the martial arts content (i.e. technique of performers, choreography, etc). Also, movies that aren't made in the U.S. will occasionally be reviewed if I feel there is an important significance to it (i.e. was made more American audiences or something). The ratings are on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.

Enter the Dragon

Stars: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Angela Mao, Bolo Yeung
MA Rating: 5

One of the great classics of American martial arts cinema. This movie is influential in several different ways:

1. It's the first American "martial arts tournament" film, a sub-genre that's been used COUNTLESS times since.

2. It cemented Bruce Lee's status in the states as probably the greatest martial arts actor in history. This movie set the standard for movie martial arts in the U.S. that (depending on who you ask) either hasn't been met or wasn't met until the appearance of Hong Kong choreography in the mid-90s.

3. It was hugely successful.

The plot is about a martial artist who goes to a shady tournament to investigate the illegal activities of the man in charge of it. He teams up with two other martial artists in bringing down the drug/prostitution empire of the villainous Mr. Han, who also happened to study kung fu with Bruce Lee's character.
There are a lot of notable aspects of the film. That's a very young Sammo Hung that Bruce Lee beats up in the opening sequence (Sammo would go on to do "Enter the Fat Dragon, which is generally considered to be the best Bruce Lee imitation ever). Angela Mao, often called the "female Bruce Lee", makes an early performance as Bruce Lee's sister. She gets to beat up a lot of thugs, and then commits suicide. There are many all-out brawls, the best of them being the brawl in the cave where Bruce uses jeet kune do, nunchaku, escrima, and a pole. His duel with Bob Wall is also memorable. Overall, a classic, no doubt.

Game of Death

Stars: Bruce Lee, Bob Wall, Danny Inosanto, Sammo Hung
MA Rating: 5

Most people generally tend to view this film as crap. Personally, I don't agree. Even compared to high standards which movies today are creating, this film holds up well. While most of the action is done by lookalikes, the fighting is expertly choreographed by Sammo Hung. The highlights of these scenes are the fights and the estate and against Bob Wall. Bruce Lee himself fights in the final 15 minutes. His fights against, Danny Inosanto with a bamboo cane and nunchaku, a hapkido master, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar are among the best you'll ever see. Great fighting all around.

The Perfect Weapon

Stars: Jeff Speakman, James Hong, Mako, Dr. Toru Tananka
MA Rating: 5

Standard revenge storyline is a great showcase for Speakman's kempo martial arts. His punches are fast and his kicks are good, also. Speakman also gets a chance to use some escrima in the movie. One notable a fight is one between him, James Lew, Al Goto, and another fighter at a tae kwon do gym.

Above the Law
Hard to Kill
Out For Justice

Stars: Steven Seagal
MA Rating: 2-3

Modern crime dramas with lots of shootings mixed in with short martial arts sequences. Seagal's aikido, which is done quickly and brutally, is great but not showcased well. Also, these movies give him no opponent for him to fight with at the end.


Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bolo Yeung
MA Rating: 5

Good "tournament film" tells the story about how Frank Dux became the first Westerner to win the Kumite, a brutal martial arts tournament held in Hong Kong. This movie was Van Damme's breakthrough role. Van Damme himself is in good form with lots of high kicks and his patented spinning jump kick. This movie also features Muay Thai, Korean martial arts, and Chinese martial arts. One of Van Damme's best.


Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tong Po
MA Rating: 4.5

Another "tournament film" by Van Damme has him studying Muay Thai in Thailand so he can fight Tong Po, a Thai boxer who crippled his brother. Great training sequences and excellent kicks from Van Damme. Only qualm is that the end become an exhibition of moves instead of a choreographed fight.


Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme
MA Rating: 4.5

Yet another "tournament movie" has Van Damme fighting in the illegal pit fighting circuit so he can help out his deceased brother's family. More acting from Van Damme than usual. His kicks are excellent as usual. The final battle is fairly long and brutal, but descends into the "punching bag" choreography that was present in Kickboxer.

The Quest

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme
MA Rating: 5

Less brutal Bloodsport-variation about a street crook learning Muay Thai and then fighting stylists around the world at a tournament held in hidden city. The usual muay thai/kickboxing from Van Damme is present, along with showcases from various world champion martial artists. The 5 Animals stylist is a highlight.

Double Team

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke
MA Rating: 5

Secret agent film about retired spy Van Damme and arms dealer Rodman going after a terrorist. The action is choreographed by Sammo Hung, who successfully makes Van Damme look his best. His display of kicks at the finale is impressive. Xiong Xin Xin, who played "Clubfoot" in the OUATIC series, makes a welcome cameo in the film.

Rapid Fire

Stars: Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Tzi Ma
MA Rating: 5

Showcase for Bradon Lee's martial arts talents. The movie is action-packed, although a lot of it is with guns. Lee's skills are superb. His fight with Al Leong is a classic. Several stunts in that movie are a rip-off of Jackie Chan's Police Story.

The Octagon

Stars: Chuck Norris, Lee Van Cleef
MA Rating: 3

Early ninja film about Chuck Norris taking on a school of ninjas, headed by an old rival of his. Most of the action doesn't come until the end, when Norris takes on the whole school. Norris is OK. The swordfight with the ninja executioner is slow, even by American choreography standards.

The Protector

Stars: Jackie Chan, Danny Aiello
MA Rating: 3

Buddy-cop movie about Chan and Aiello tearing up Hong Kong in search of a kidnap victim. Lots of gunfire, explosions, and nudity, but not enough martial arts. The fight between Chan and karate champion Bill "Superfoot" Wallace is disappointing.

Revenge of the Ninja

Stars: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali
MA Rating: 4

Arguably the best movie to come out of the 1980s "ninja craze." The movie is filled with the prerequisite ninja swordfights, disappearing tricks, nifty ninja weapons, etc. Lengthy fight sequence where Kosugi and Vitali take on drug traffickers is a standout.

Ninja III: The Domination

Stars: Sho Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey
MA Rating: 4

After a violent, action-packed beginning, this movie becomes a supernatural/possession film. Things pick up when Kosugi gets on the scene. He's underused, however.

The Matrix

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss
MA Rating: 5

Long, occasionally slow computer/techno thriller contains a convoluted plot, John Woo-esque gunplay, and also the most intricate choreography to come from an American movie. Yuen Woo-Ping, one of the best martial arts directors in existence, does an excellent job of making the non-MA actors look like seasoned fighters. The fight between Reeves and Fishburne contains a lot of stances from different styles. Good fights.

Romeo Must Die

Stars: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Russell Wong
MA Rating: 5

Although the fights are few and far between, they are more imaginative and expertly-choreographed than most American films. Corey Yuen does a good job of directing the action, although there are too many close-ups during the fight. At times special FX are used, but Jet Li is still impressive. Notice the amount of actual martial arts that Jet Li uses compared to Russell Wong in the finale. Would've benefited from a better main villain.

Lethal Weapon 4

Stars: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Jet Li
MA Rating: 5

This is a buddy-cop action/comedy movie, not a martial arts film. However, with Corey Yuen behind the scenes, this film is an excellent showcase for Jet Li's wushu. He has fast reflexes, great kicks, and does an awesome wushu kick from the top of a forklift. You know he's that good when it takes the good guys various weapons and tricks to kill him. In short, he steals the show.

Hard Target

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henrikson
MA Rating: 3

John Woo's first American movie is an action-packed movie about a merchant sailor going up against a band of human hunters. A lot of the action is gunplay, which is John Woo's specialty. There is some good kickboxing from Van Damme, although not enough for a man of his skills. Generally said to be one of Van Damme's best, because of Woo's stylistic touches (the irony is that people also say that Van Damme brings John Woo down in this). Entertaining, in any case.

Street Knight
The Expert
Scorpio One
Memorial Day

Stars: Jeff Speakman
MA Rating: 1-2

Disappointing B-movies have a few short fights that are in no way an appropriate showcase of Speakman's kempo skills.

China O' Brien
China O' Brien 2

Stars: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Keith Cooke
MA Rating: 5

These two movies are non-stop action films for those who like their martial arts films to be pure. There's no unnecessary comedy, drama, or anything like that. It's all strictly fighting. The movies are a showcase for the talents of the three main characters. Good kickboxing from Cynthia and Richard. Cooke is also in great form with some great wushu kicks.

Big Trouble in Little China

Stars: Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, James Hong
MA Rating: 5

This movie is basically an American-made Chinese fantasy movie. There's monsters, socerors, Chinese gangs, wire-fighting, and gunplay thrown into the mix. The highlight of this films is a big martial arts brawl inside of a Chinatown alley. Welcome cameo by Al Leong. This is one of those movies that is just plain fun to watch (it doesn't take itself too seriously).

King of the Kickboxers

Stars: Loren Avedon, Billy Blanks, Keith Cooke
MA Rating: 5

Violent, B-grade version of Kickboxer finds Avedon fighting Billy Blanks while smashing a snuff-film ring in Thailand. The film was produced by Ng See Yuen, who was responsible for some of the best traditional kung-fu flicks during the 1970s. Lots of great kickboxing from the stars. The choreography is good enough to classify this as an American classic (from a martial arts point of view). Billy Blanks kicks good. The plot is cliched and the acting is pretty bad (Just look at Avedon's face when he overacts), but the fights make up for it. Keith Cooke is a standout as a Thai kickboxing master. Unfortunately, he's underused.

Sudden Death

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Boothe
MA Rating: 0

Die Hard-like movie set at a hockey game. Van Damme is a fire marshall who battles terrorists holding the Vice President hostage. The movie is violent and has a high body count, but there's not really a lot of MA from Van Damme. There are some claustrophobic fight scenes, but nothing special. Look elsewhere to see Van Damme fight good.

Mission Impossible 2

Stars: Tom Cruise
MA qnty: 1 MA qlty: 4 (changed to a 3)

After 90 minutes of worthless, boring plot development and another 20 minutes of gunplay and motorcycle chases, the movie ends with a big martial arts showdown between Tom Cruise and the main bad guy. This fight scene makes a lot of American movie fights look pale by comparison. It is important to note, however, that the fight isn't really martial arts. It's a combination of Cruise's gymnastic skills mixed with that hyper-stylized slo mo that John Woo does so well.

On Deadly Ground
Fire Down Below

Stars: Steven Seagal
MA rating: 1

High on environmental philosophy and low on aikido. Avoid unless you are a big fan of Seagal.

The Glimmer Man

Stars: Steven Seagal, Keenan Ivory Wayans
MA rating: 4

Buddy-cop movie has more Seagal aikido than usual and it actually has some sort of a final duel, something not often seen in a Seagal movie.

Deadly Outbreak

Stars: Jeff Speakman
MA rating: 2.9

Terrorist movie with B-production values is better than much of the other straight-to-video stuff he's done. There's more kempo in this one than usual. However, he has yet to surpass his first movie The Perfect Weapon.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

Stars: Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly
MA rating: 4

For being a biography, there's a good amount of fights in this film. The fights are also more energetic than usual. However, since this film is about one of the greatest martial artists ever, the movie loses a point for failing to truly capture the spirit of Jeet Kune Do and wing chun. Jason Scott Lee is not a martial artist, and it shows. I've also heard that this movie leaves out a lot of the story as well (The don't even mention Betty Ting Pei). The film could've benefited from either a better choreographer (Sammo Hung) or a better lead.

Rush Hour

Stars: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker
MA rating: 3

Standard buddy-cop/fish-out-of-water story about Chinese cop Chan and LA cop Tucker searching for a kidnap victim. There's a fair amount of kickboxing from Chan, nothing special, however. He is fast and agile, don't get me wrong, but there are better showcases for his physical talents. Watch his Hong Kong movies instead.

Mortal Kombat

Stars: Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
MA rating: 5

Martial arts extravaganza based on the popular video game. The movie is basically "Enter the Dragon" with special FX. There are quite a few fights in this movie, choreographed by both Pat Johnson and Robin Shou, a sort of teaming up of Hong Kong and American fight choreography. Shou's choreography clearly comes out on top. Shou's wushu is excellent, clearly the highlight of the film. His fights, including the one against Reptile (Keith Cooke, who's also a wushu stylist), stand out from the rest. Some of Pat Johnson's choreography is slow, showing the audience that some of the actors don't know martial arts. Extremely satisfying in the end, however. One of the best movies to come out of the states.

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Stars: Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, James Remar
MA rating: 4.5

Sequel to the first hit movie is full of bad acting, stupid plot twists, horrible dialogue, and subpar visual FX. There are also a large number of fight scenes in this film, once again choreographed by both Robin Shou and Pat Johnson. And like the first one, Shou's choreography outshines Johnson. It often seems like characters from the game were just thrown in so there could be a fight scene between them and the main characters. Slow choreography from Pat Johnson once again shows that many of the actors aren't martial artists. Great wushu from Shou and Keith Cooke (in a cameo as Sub-Zero). The guy who plays both Cyrax and Scorpion is pretty good too. Ray Park (James Remar's stunt double) has a short but decent fight scene.

White Tiger

Stars: Gary Daniels, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
MA rating: 3

Unremarkable B-movie starring British martial artist Daniels. A few decent kickboxing scenes; one can get a good idea how good Daniels is. However, nothing new or special.

The Big Brawl

Stars: Jackie Chan, Mako
MA rating: 3

1930s era gangster/slapstick/kung fu flick was Jackie Chan's first American film. Lots of stereotyped characters, slapstick, and goofing off. Jackie Chan is fast, agile, and talented. Everyone else is big, dumb, and/or clumsy. The finale features a lot of hulking wrestler-types. The fights, choreographed by Pat Johnson, are often slow and sloppy. Mostly for Jackie Chan fans.

Hot Potato

Stars: Jim Kelly
MA rating: 1

1970s kung fu adventure has Kelly looking for the daughter of a politician. Mostly idiotic slapstick, with some MA tossed in here and there. Not enough to redeem the film though. Avoid it.


Stars: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff
MA rating: 4

Horror/action based on Marvel Comics character who's a vampire hunter. Full of gunplay, action, violence, and gore. Wesley Snipes makes an effort to add a Hong Kong flavor to the choreography. The choreography is better than usual and Snipes proves he's a capable fighter. Should've spent more time on the fight sequences and less time on the sadistic violence.

Executive Decision

Stars: Steven Seagal, Kurt Russell, John Leguizamo
MA rating: 0

Suspenseful terrorist thriller about Arab terrorists hijacking an airplane. Fans of Seagal will be disappointed as he shows up in the beginning, kills some people with knives, and dies early on.


Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon
MA rating: 3

Action-packed spy thriller set in Hong Kong. The plot is a convoluted mish mash about the CIA, the Russian mob, and miniature bombs. Van Damme fights well under Sammo Hung's direction, but the action is too often obscured by quick cuts and drug-induced photography. The action overall is quite slick and entertaining. This is one of his most stylistically original films, thanks to director Tsui Hark.

Marked for Death

Stars: Steven Seagal, Basil Wallace, Keith David
MA rating: 4.5

Tough, violent crime-drama about an ex-DEA agent going after a Jamaican drug lord. This movie features more Steven Seagal aikido than usual. He does his usual throws, twists, breaks, etc. In one sequence he bashes a group of guys with a sledge hammer. Main problem is the over-abundance of voodoo rituals and the sort. Not for the squeamish.

Desert Heat

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme
MA rating: 0

Bizarre desert drama about Van Damme seeking vengeance on the white trash that stole his motorcycle. A fair amount of action, but most of it is gunplay and explosions. Spends too much time on weird, unlikeable characters. Too much sex also. Van Damme throws a few kicks and punches, nothing special. For die hard fans only.

Laser Mission

Stars: Brandon Lee
MA rating: 0

Cold War-era spy film comes off as a James Bond spoof. Fighting is short, sparse, and sloppy. A real disappointment.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series

Stars: various actors, Ernie Reyes Jr. (# 2 only)
MA rating: 2-3

Film series based off of the comic book is basically an action/comedy series for kids. The movies are full of slapstick humor, one-liners, and dated slang. The action, while choreographed by Pat Johnson, seems to come from the Jackie Chan school of "slapstick-fu." The first movie is fairly standard stuff. #2 is more of the same but benefits from the great tae kwon do of Ernie Reyes Jr. The finale is a disappointment, however. Part 3 contains some good weapons forms at the beginning and some good kicking. Although the turtles are all amred with a specific weapon (katana, sai, bo, and nunchaku), the weapons work is slow and never exciting. The accessibility of these films is limited mainly to children.

Circle of Iron

Stars: Jeff Cooper, David Carradine, Christopher Lee
MA rating: 1

Bizzarre kung fu/ Zen philosophy/barbarian film about a man who is searching for a book and the warrior who guards it. the MA is very sloppy, hinting at the fact that a lot of these guys probably don't know how to fight. Based on an idea from James Coburn and Bruce Lee. Too bad Lee died before this film was made.

American Ninja series

Stars: Michael Dudikoff (#1,2, and 4), Steve James (#1,2, and 3), David Bradley (#3,4, and 5)
MA rating: 1-2

This series was born during the "ninja craze" of the 1980s and became a solid B-movie series. The choreography is slow and unexciting. The fighters themselves are unimpressive. Also, the weapons choreography is slow as usual. Oh, and the occasional "ninja magick" is corny. There are movies with better choreography and a better fighters out there. If you want ninjas, watch a movie with Sho Kosugi or by Ching Siu Tung.

Maximum Risk

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme
MA rating: 3

Gritty, violent crime thriller directed by Hong Kong director Ringo Lam. There's a violence, sex, and martial arts thrown in here and there. Van Damme isn't bad, but the fights don't showcase his talents well. The finale is disappointing.

Double Dragon

Stars: Marc Dacascos, Scott Wolf, Robert Patrick
MA rating: 0

What should've been a brutal, non-stop martial arts film is actually a corny, post-apocalyptic, mystical action/comedy freak show. I might note that the film's attempts to have comedy fall horribly flat and make the movie all the more excrutiating to watch. This bears little resemblance to the video game in which it is based. There's not a lot of MA, and those scenes are sloppy. Dacascos is the only member of the cast who can fight, but he's horribly underused. Everyone else is slow and sloppy. Al Leong, who appears as a henchman, can't even save this movie. Probably the worst video game movie adaptation.

Surf Ninjas

Stars: Ernie Reyes Jr., Leslie Nielson, Ernie Reyes Sr.
MA rating: 4

Martial arts/comedy is in the same vein as the TMNT series. Surprisingly, the movie isn't bogged down by stupid slapstick and most of the action is played straight. Although the choreography is often of the "punching bag" variety, both father and son are fun to watch. Their tae kwon do is swift and graceful. Silly, but entertaining.

Street Fighter

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ming Na Wen, Raul Julia
MA rating: 3

Silly, corny, and ultimately disappointing film adaptation of the popular video game. What could've been a great tournament film in the same vein as "Enter the Dragon" ended up being a high-tech terrorist movie. A lot of film time is spent on the stories of characters too numerous to mention. Much of the action is gunplay and explosions. The fight scenes, choreographed by Benny Urquidez, are decent. Van Damme looks good but doesn't get a lot of fight time. Ming throws some kicks and looks good doing it. The other fighters are poorly casted and aren't impressive. As far as martial arts goes, you could do better or do worse.

Double Impact

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Geoffrey Lewis, Bolo Yeung
MA rating: 5

Van Damme plays twins who go after the triads responsible for murdering their parents. Van Damme is good in this one; his kicks are fast and high. The fight with Bolo is fairly impressive, but a bit short. Not all of the action is martial arts, there's a fair amount of gunplay in this movie. Fights are choreographed by Van Damme.


Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ron Silver, Mia Sara
MA rating: 4

Pretty good sci-fi actioner about a time-traveling cop battling a corrupt senator. Van Damme's kickboxing is good like usual, but there could've been more fighting. The finale could've been better, also. One notable scene is where Van Damme does some escrima-like stick fighting.

Universal Soldier: The Return

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Jai White, Bill Goldberg
MA rating: 4

Brainless, often exploitive sequel to the original has Van Damme fighting an army of UNISOLs led by Jai White. Although the action is non-stop, most of it is gunplay and explosions set to loud rock music. However, there is some good kickboxing, choreographed by Hong Kong veteran Yuen Tak. Van Damme and Jai White are impressive in the finale, one of Van Damme's best fights.

Highlander: Endgame

Stars: Adrian Paul, Christopher Lambert, Donnie Yen
MA rating: qnty: 1 qlty: 5

If you can get past all of the Highlander mythology stuff, there are two great fight scenes with and choreographed by Donnie. He uses wing chun, kickboxing, and a kwan do in his fights.

Under Siege
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory

Stars: Steven Seagal
MA rating: 1

Seagal battles terrorists on a battleship in #1 and on a train in #2. Most of the action is gunplay and explosives. There is little aikido on display in these movies. Entertaining, but not from a MA standpoint.

Mr. Nice Guy

Stars: Jackie Chan, Richard Norton
MA rating: 4.5

Typical Jackie Chan underdog kung fu/comedy hijinks. Chan plays a cook that gets caugt up in gang war between two Australian gangs. The movie is action-packed and full of comedy, prop-fighting, great stuntwork, and fighting. The choreography, done by Sammo Hung, is good (I liked the flip kick Jackie does when his leg is grabbd by a thug). Jackie is acrobatic and quick. However, his fight with Richard Norton is very short and the finale is disappointing. That's what prevents this movie from getting a full 5. However, when compared with the typical American MA film, this film really does shine. This movie, filmed in Australia with mostly non-Asian actors, was made with American audiences in mind.

Who Am I?

Stars: Jackie Chan
MA rating: 5

After an unimpressive first half (no martial arts), things begin to pick up. There are two typical Jackie Chan prop fights (he uses wooden clogs in one seen). The movie ends with an excellent final fight. Chan fights a Dutch superkicker, Ron Smoorenburg, and a Chinese guy, David Leung, who uses a lot of punches (choy li fut?). The fight lasts for about 10 minutes and makes up for the disappointing finales of "First Strike", "Mr. Nice Guy", and "Rumble in the Bronx." The movie was filmed in English, once again with American audiences in mind.

The Karate Kid series

Stars: Pat Morita, Ralph Macchio
MA rating: 0

Despite the title, don't expect much martial arts (or good martial arts for that matter). The sequences are short and unimpressive. Disappointing films overall.

Excessive Force

Stars: Thomas Ian Griffith
MA rating: 4

Violent cop movie is a showcase for Griffith's MA skills. The story is typical: cop avenging his partner while battling the mob and corrupt officials. There's a fair amount of kickboxing, and Griffith looks impressive. He uses a lot of crescent and spinning kicks. However, the action lacks a certain spark.

Only the Strong

Stars: Marc Dacascos
MA rating: 5

Excellent display of Dacascos and his capoiera skills. Capoiera is a Brazillian martial art that mixes rhythmic movement with kicking. The choreography is intense without being too violent. Dacascos is swift, agile, and graceful. His kicks are great. His main opponent is talented too. A model of a great martial arts film. The capoiera exhibitions are great also.

Charlie's Angels

Stars: Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz
MA rating: pure MA: 1 fight scenes: 5

Another entry in the ever-increasing movies from Hollywood to contain hyper-stylized fighting choreographed by Hong Kong veterans. This time around, it's Yuen Cheung-Yan, brother of Yuen Woo-Ping from the Matrix, doing the work. There's barely any authentic martial arts from the cast. Most of the time they're performing gravity-defying kicks and the sort. Drew Barrymore's "king kong palm" pays homage directly to Iron Monkey, in which Yuen Cheung-Yan helped with the choreography. The movie is enjoyable, but MA purists beware.


Stars: Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardisson, Masaya Sato
MA rating: high 5

This straight-to-video film was originally intended as a vehicle for Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone. However, it ended up being a B-movie with Dacascos and Hardisson, who aren't necessarily box office draws. The plot finds Dacascos and Hardisson on the run from assassins in the near future; it is merely an excuse to go from one action set-piece to another (imagine a cross between Universal Soldier and a Jackie Chan film). DO NOT let the straight-to-video status fool you, it is the best American martial arts movie made since Enter the Dragon
It is not hard to guess that this movie was orginally intended for Jackie Chan. Props and object-driven combat show up often during the fight scenes, a practice that has become Jackie's trademark. The choreography is complex, quick, and intense. The main players and the stuntmen all know how to move. There are some wires used, none of it terribly obvious though. The fight scenes take place at regular speed, as opposed to often-excessive use of slow mo that is used today. The choreography ranks with The Matrix in speed and intricacy and surpasses it in quantity.
After the abysmal Double Dragon, Dacascos has redeemed himself with movies like this and Only the Strong. Unlike the latter, Dacascos uses a more modern kickboxing style of fighting, as opposed to pure capoiera. Nonetheless, his presence as a screen fighter has far surpassed Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and such. Sato, who plays the main villain, nearly if not does steal the show in the finale with an awesome flurry of kicks that's reminiscent of Ken Lo from Drunken Master II. To sum it up: This is one of the true classic MA films.

Best of the Best 3: No Turning Back

Stars: Phillip Rhee, Gina Gershon
MA rating: 2

Martial artist Rhee battles white supremists in the South. The movie contains a not-so-subtle message about racism and hate. There is also a lot of violcnce and brutality which is quite disturbing at times.
The action is OK. Rhee's tae kwon do skills aren't the problem, it's the way they are showcased. Most of the fights are short and uninteresting. The finale is decent, with a few nifty kicks that Rhee does. One fight has him fighting in a clown outfit (something one would expect to find in a Jackie Chan film). Overall this film is forgettable.

The Big Hit

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, China Chow
MA rating: Qnty: 1 Qlty: 4

Kirk Wong, best known for his "true crime" flicks in Hong Kong debuted in the U.S. with this action-comedy about young hitmen. Stylistically, this is a Hong Kong action film with over-the-top gunplay and some pretty good martial arts.
The finale is a hand-to-knife duel in a video store. Wahlberg, who studied martial arts with Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, looks pretty good. The choreography was better than usual. If there was only more.

Lady Dragon 2

Stars: Cynthia Rothrock
MA rating: 3

Generally believed to be Rothrock's best acting performance. Personally I thought the first half dragged and the melodrama was particularly annoying. When the second half of the movie goes in the revenge direction, there are some decent if unexceptional kickboxing scenes. Not bad, but not great either.

Shanghai Noon

Stars: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu
MA rating: 5

I was a bit hasty in reviewing this movie earlier. Watching it again made me appreciate it more. The plot is similar to Rush Hour, with Jackie Chan teaming up with bandit Wilson to find a kidnapped Qing princess. Like most of Chan's movies, his character is a sort of fish-out-of-water/underdog type. The movie generally alternates between western-spoof and a typical Jackie Chan physical comedy.
The action: Refreshingly, Chan's distinct style of choreography isn't watered down like it was in his other American efforts (i.e. Big Brawl, Rush Hour, and The Protector). Yuen Biao, Chan's brother from Opera Institute, was the main choreographer. The fights put Chan's martial arts, acrobatics, and stuntwork on full display. Highlights: a Chinese rope-dart sequence using a rope and horseshoe and a short duel with Yu Rong Gwong with a sword, a spear, and a 3-sectional staff.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chow Yun Fat
MA rating: 5

Although this movie is actually a Taiwanese production, I have a few reasons for including it on this page:

1. It was financially backed (if I'm not mistaken) by an American company.

2. It's a commercial success here in the States.

3. American critics are hailing it as the best martial arts movies ever.

4. It's helping to set the standards for choreography in America for years to come.

I will first discuss the movie's fight scenes before commenting on the film as a whole. The choreography, done Yuen Woo-Ping, is great. There's a great deal of wires, flying people, and the like. That can attributed to the fact that this movie belongs in the "Wuxia" sub-genre of martial arts film. The highlights are two fights between Michelle and Ziyi. The first has the two fighting hand-to-hand. The fighting is fast and intricate. Michelle is Ziyi's superior. The second duel has the two fighting once again but with weapons: sword, machete, spear, double hook swords, Chinese broadsword,etc. This is simply the best swordfight I have ever seen. Michelle looks awesome and is a joy to watch.
With that said, my comments on the film: By American standards, this has some of the best martial arts put on film. By Asian standards, this is nothing new (still good, but not groundbreaking). Yuen Woo-Ping has done better. Michelle has looked more impressive. It is neither of their best work. Nor does it live up to the faster-growing reputation as the greatest martial arts movie ever. It is not the first martial arts movie with a plot. It's not the first martial arts movie with well-defined characters and good acting. Nor is it the first time a martial arts movie has had a good score. I don't doubt that the film is well-made, but certainly not the best of the genre.
While I'm always pleased to see martial arts films be successful in the box-office, it is disheartening to think about what the critics' remarks imply. They imply that this film rises above the great movies whose stars are certainly more talented than Chow Yun-Fat or Zhang Ziyi. When Drunken Master 2 came out in the States, it didn't make a stir despite the fact that the choreography is superior by all standards. Many movies with Jet Li, a truly-talented martial artist, movies which have been said to be among the best of the genre, have been released in U.S. with little or no critical reaction. My point is that the great martial artists have made great films which might be left in the shadow of this film, which certainly isn't the best of the genre.

No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (aka Raging Thunder)

Stars: Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock, Max Thayer
MA rating: 4.5

Avedon teams up with Rothrock and Thayer to battle Russians, evil monks, and Hwang Jang Lee in this 1980s action fest. Lots of martial arts action are provided courtesy of Corey Yuen. Although he's one of the biggest import choreographers now, he's worked in America before. There are some good fights, like the fight with the monks and Avedon's final duel with the Russian general. The latter feels derivative of various other Hong Kong fights (like the finale of Dragons Forever). Cynthia's fight with Hwang Jang Lee, the Korean super kicker, is disappointing. It's too short; Hwang doesn't get to cut loose and Cynthia beats him too easily. On whole, it's a very entertaining film.

Lone Wolf McQuade

Stars: Chuck Norris, David Carradine
MA rating: 2.5

Fairly early Chuck Norris action film that is often said to be one of his best. The movie feels like a modern-day western (thanks to the score). The plot has Texas Ranger Norris going up against an arms dealer, played by Carradine. Interesting premise, pitting the man who fought Bruce Lee against the man who replaced Bruce Lee. The martial arts scenes are short and sparse, with the exception of the last fight. Norris may have been a karate champion, but only Bruce Lee seems to be able to translate his skills on-screen. Overall, a generic action movie.

Six-String Samurai
Stars: Jeffrey Falcon
MA rating: 5

Bizarre, action-packed oddysey set in a post-nuclear holocaust Nevada during the 1950s. A katana-wielding guitarist and a young boy battle Death and his minions on his way to Vegas to take Elvis' place as the King. There are several swordfights and some hand-to-hand fights as well. The set-pieces are fast, full of energy, and well-choreographed. Falcon, whose career contains several Hong Kong films, is quite impressive. Weird, but fun and entertaining.

Kiss of the Dragon
Stars: Jet Li, Brigitte Fonda, Tcheky Karyo
MA rating: 5

This is Jet Li's third film done in the US. It is also the first time he doesn't have to share screen time with any others. It his film, plain and simple.
The story, conceived by Jet himself, tells the story of a Chinese cop who gets framed for murder in Paris, France. He spends most of the movie trying to clear his name while battling policemen and befriending a prostitute.
This movie arguably contains Jet's best physical performance since Fist of Legend in 1994. Part of this is due to the fact that he gets more action scenes than he had been getting before that. Also, this movie doesn't have the reliance of special effects that many of his films did. Prior to its release, this film boasted of having "Fist of Legend style action scenes" and for the most part, it delivers. Jet looks great and gets to use not only his hands and feet, but a variety of weapons also. In one scene that's reminiscent of Fist of Legend and My Father is a Hero), he takes on an entire room full of martial artists (this time with a stick). Unlike his two previuos American movies, KOTD features a fair amount of actual martial artists for Jet to fight, instead of nothing but unskilled stooges. Corey Yuen, Jet's most frequent choreographer, does his best job of bringing out the best in Jet. While he's been one of Hong Kong's most creative action directors, he's had a tendency to let the choreography overshadow that actual physical talents of Jet. This isn't hte case, however.
In addition to being one of Jet Li's best fighting fighting performances, this is also his grittiest and most violent film (with Black Mask coming in second). Bones are broken, necks are snapped, people are shot, stabbed, and brutally beaten. While Swordsman 2 and Black Mask were graphically violent, the films were stylish enough to not make it offensive. The realistic tone of the film makes the violence all the more real and disturbing. Jet Li even announced publicly that he didn't want children watching this film.
Purely on the basis of Jet Li's martial arts, this film gets the highest recommendation. This is Jet's best fighting film since Fist of Legend (with Once Upon A Time in China and America coming in second). However, when the violence, language, and adult themes are considered, it's very hard to recommend this film. It is not for young people. It is not for the squeamish. Whether or not a person likes it depends on his/her taste.