Who doesn’t love watching some good old combat on the screen? And while we may enjoy the computer-generated visuals of Hollywood action, nothing beats a perfectly choreographed martial arts scene. However great martial arts films aren’t just about the combat scenes, they also tell compelling stories. We pick out 11 movies on Netflix that are sure to delight action buffs.
‘The Flying Guillotine’ (1975)
Director: Meng Hua Ho
Writer: Kuang Ni
Cast: Chen Kuan Tai, Feng Ku, Hung Wei
This 1975 flick takes us back to the origins of one of the deadliest weapons in Chinese martial arts, a flying disc that can decapitate someone from a distance. In Qing dynasty China, the emperor orders that a weapon be created which can assassinate his enemies discreetly. One of his loyal servants invents the flying guillotine and subsequently trains an elite squad of assassins in its use. However this has grave consequences, as the weapon is used as a tool of oppression and to silence those who speak against the dynasty.
‘The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin’ (1978)
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Writer: Kuang Ni
Cast: Gordon Liu, Lo Lieh, Chia Yung Liu
This is one of the most iconic martial arts films of all time. It is the story of Liu Yude (Gordon Liu), a young student who raises his voice against the tyranny of the Manchu regime. When Manchu oppressors ransack his village and massacre people, he’s forced to flee. He goes to the Shaolin temple to learn their martial arts in a bid to fight back. But to master Shaolin martial arts, he must pass all the chambers of the temple.
‘The Five Venoms’ (1978)
Director: Cheh Chang
Writers: Cheh Chang, Kuang Ni
Cast: Sheng Chiang, Chien Sun, Philip Kwok
Also known as The Five Deadly Venoms, this film has one of the most intriguing opening sequences ever. The dying master of the Poison clan tells his final student that there were five more before him, and each of them was trained by him in a unique fighting style. These five men wear masks that represent their particular styles – the centipede, the snake, the scorpion, the lizard and the toad. The sixth student must now track down these men, and find out which of them has turned evil.
‘Legendary Weapons Of China’ (1982)
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Writers: Tai-Heng Li, Chia-Liang Liu
Cast: Gordon Liu, Chia Yung Liu, Hou Hsiao
The story revolves around the Yi Ho society, a kung fu group determined to find a way to repel bullets using martial arts. The experiment results in the slaughter of many students. Lei Kung, a former master in the society, is critical of these practices and doesn’t hold back from voicing his opinion. This enrages the society, and an order to kill Lei Kung is passed.
‘The Last Samurai’ (2003)
Director: Edward Zwick
Writer: John Logan
Cast: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly
Set in nineteenth century Japan, the Japanese emperor hires Captain Nathan Algren (Cruise), an American military officer, to train the nation’s first army in modern warfare. His instructions are to eradicate the ancient samurai culture that is prevalent, and to replace it with a westernised outlook. However, as Algren goes about his task, he finds himself increasingly impressed and inspired by the ways of the samurai.
‘Undisputed II: Last Man Standing’ (2006)
Director: Isaac Florentine
Writers: Boaz Davidson, James Townsend
Cast: Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Ben Cross
The first part of the Undisputed franchise was forgettable, but Undisputed II raises its game big time. You needn’t watch part one to get a hang of the plot, since the second part has an independent narrative. Former heavyweight boxing champion George ‘Iceman’ Chambers is thrown into prison in Russia on framed drug possession charges. He is promised release if he emerges victorious in a one-on-one face-off with Yuri Boyka, a fighter who has so far remained undefeated in the prison.
‘Dragon Tiger Gate’ (2006)
Director: Wilson Yip
Writers: Yuk Long Wong (comic series), Edmond Wong
Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue
Based on a comic series called Dragon and the Tiger Heroes, this film boasts some tremendous action sequences. Half brothers Dragon Wong (Donnie Yen) and Tiger Wong (Nicholas Tse) are strangers to each other. Dragon works for a triad boss, whereas Tiger is honest and straightforward. Naturally their paths converge, and they realise that they were fathered by the same martial arts teacher. Cantonese with English subtitles.
‘Kung Fu Panda’ (2008)
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Cast: Jack Black, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie
This 2008 animated movie was a hit with kids and adults alike, and gave us one of the most popular animated characters in recent history. Po is a lazy, clumsy but lovable panda, who lives in the Valley of Peace and works at his father’s eatery. When Tai Lung, the dangerous snow leopard threatens his home, Po is unwittingly earmarked to fulfil an ancient prophecy and defend the valley. He goes to train in kung fu under Master Shifu, and attempts to thwart Tai Lung’s evil designs.
‘Shinjuku Incident’ (2009)
Director: Tung-Shing Yee
Writers: Tung-Shing Yee, Tin Nam Chun
Cast: Jackie Chan, Naoto Takenaka, Daniel Wu
This list wouldn’t be complete without a Jackie Chan film. This dark crime thriller is the story of Steelhead (Jackie Chan), a tractor mechanic who illegally enters Japan from China in search of a better life. Unable to find decent employment opportunities, he ends up becoming a hitman for a yakuza boss. However, when his fellow countrymen are threatened by the yakuza, Steelhead is conflicted.
‘Undisputed III: Redemption’ (2010)
Director: Isaac Florentine
Writer: David N. White
Cast: Scott Adkins, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Mark Ivanir
While George Chambers was the protagonist in Undisputed II, the third instalment of the series shifts focus entirely on to Yuri Boyka. Years have passed since Boyka’s defeat at the hands of the Iceman, and he’s now the prison janitor. An inter-prison fighting tournament is being organised by the mob boss Gaga, bringing together the best prison fighters across the planet. Despite an injured knee, Boyka is determined to compete and win against the odds.
‘The Night Comes For Us’ (2018)
Director: Timo Jhajanto
Writer: Timo Jhajanto
Cast: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Asha Kenyeri Bermudez
The critically acclaimed Indonesian action-thriller follows Ito (Joe Taslim), one of the six gangland enforcers for the South East Asian triad, known as the Six Seas. He saves the life of a young girl against the wishes of his colleagues. This provokes the triad to go after him, thereby setting off a violent battle on the streets of Jakarta. Indonesian with English subtitles.