In conjunction with yesterday’s list of the top 5 old school martial arts films, why not delve a little deeper and offer up 5 of the best modern martial arts films? The genre may not be quite up to what it was, but these 5 modern classics make a strong case for the genre still being a contender.
The Raid 1 & 2
Most people I know are in agreement that in terms of modern martial arts films, The Raid series has set the new standard. Maybe not in storytelling, but in choreography very few films are even in the same league. Director Gareth Evans and lead actor/fight choreographer Iko Uwais have created straight up action nirvana. The first film is essentially distilled adrenaline, the second film is that adrenaline used on rabid wolves. A supposed third entry is coming down the line which will close out the directors planned trilogy, but even if it never comes to life these 2 films will continue to gain higher and higher cult status. If you love action or martial arts in any form, these movies can’t be recommended highly enough.
Hero is one of the single best love letters to the films of Akira Kurosawa I’ve ever seen. From the raining volley of arrows, to the color use, to the Rashomon style of the storytelling, this film takes its influences and proudly morphs them into one of the most beautiful modern films, Martial arts or otherwise. The story involves our title character as he tells the story of how he killed 3 assassins looking to kill the emperor. Of course, there is much more to this story than meets the eye and we are taken through multiple versions of the events. Hero was one of the first few subtitled films I ever watched and to this day remains one of my personal favorites. While I’d concede my next pick has a better story overall, Hero is just as good and better in other areas. If you enjoy the wire fighting made popular by my next pick, then watch Hero as soon as possible.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Let’s face it, you can’t really talk about modern martial arts films without discussing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The movie was nothing short of a phenomenon when it premiered, doing huge financial business and introducing many western audiences to an alternative type of action film. The story, which borders on melodrama, is equal parts emotion, action and epic. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say that if you missed the hype on this film then now’s as good a time as any to revisit.
Kung Fu Panda
Now, this pick might be a little strange to some. Don’t let the cutesy animation and kid’s movie aura fool you though, this is a top notch martial arts film that specifically dabbles with the wuxia genre. Following a young Panda’s journey from restaurant worker to kung fu master is an exciting one in the vein of classics like The Karate Kid or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. I wanted to put at least one kid friendly movie on this list so it also fits nicely into that criteria. If you like this one, the second film in the series isn’t half bad.
Ip Man 1 & 2
Ip Man, who was actually a real person (Named Yip Man), has had about half a dozen films come out about him in the last decade. While some takes are better than others (The Grandmaster for example), the two that always stand out for me are simply titled Ip Man 1 and Ip Man 2. Both films star superstar Donnie Yen and both films tell a thorough and captivating story about the man behind the legend. What works best about these films is that they actually tell a story worthy of the amazing action on display. Something that’s a rare occurrence in this day and age. I’ve watched both movies several times and they maintain a certain level of dignity that seems absent from the bulk of modern martial arts films. These are films that also go a bit further in gaining fans outside the genre diehards. Any fan of dramas should also find a great story here. Recommended for everyone!