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The 10 best Kung Fu movies you can watch online, ranked

From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan, these are the greatest Kung Fu movies in the history of cinema

Although it’s just one type of martial arts, Kung Fu has always commanded a uniquely powerful position in the imaginations of movie makers around the world. Dating all the way back to the 1920s, Kung Fu fighting movies have been an elemental aspect of filmmaking. You can see the way the fighting style has inspired filmmakers both in Asia and in other parts of the world, and eventually in Hollywood. The best Kung Fu movies use the best of what this fighting form has to offer to create uniquely thrilling action sequences that may still surprise, even decades after their original release. Even more crucially, they take the philosophical concept behind kung fu, which can apply to any skill that requires energy and patience to master.

Whether they were homegrown in Asia or heavily inspired by Kung Fu films of the best, these are the 10 best Kung Fu movies of all time that you can watch online.

10. The Matrix (1999)

10. The Matrix
73 %
8.7/10
r 136m
Genre Action, Science Fiction
Stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Directed by Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Hmm, not exactly the film you’d expect to see on this list, but there’s a reason why I mentioned the definition of Kung Fu: It’s everywhere. I’m not simply including this title because at one point Neo (Keanu Reeves) uploads martial arts training to his brain and spits out the ever-referenced one-liner: “I know Kung Fu.” That would be shallow. No, I’m appreciating this film for the philosophies and styles it incorporates into the plot itself. When a disillusioned computer hacker named Thomas Anderson — alias Neo — has the veil torn from over his eyes, he discovers that the world he is living in is nothing but a simulation programmed by a world-ending A.I. of human creation. Beyond being one of the best sci-fi movies ever, The Matrix actually employs many styles of Kung Fu film in its action sequences. Not only that, but the way that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) describes the Matrix as he and Neo train in a digitally rendered martial arts Daochang (Chinese word for Dojo) is eerily similar to the logic of many Kung Fu movie martial arts masters. “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.” Fun fact: Keanu Reeves trained in jiu-jitsu, wushu, boxing, and krav maga for this role, and later became skilled in judo and karate as well.

9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
94 %
7.9/10
pg-13 120m
Genre Adventure, Drama, Action, Romance
Stars Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi
Directed by Ang Lee
The first movie on our list that liberally utilizes the “Wire-Fu” film aesthetic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a timeless feature from Ang Lee that redefined the sub-genre. A young and aristocratic woman named Jen (Ziyi Zhang) works to overthrow the oppression of society by denying her arranged marriage, choosing a life of crime on the run in the throes of true love with another. Meanwhile, a highly skilled and trained swordmaster named Yu (Michelle Yeoh), devoted to justice and honor, realizes she has let her life pass her by without experiencing her own true love story. Despite my somewhat sappy summary, this film is emotionally intense and beautiful to behold. Crouching Tiger highlights the beauty and high art of Kung Fu, contrasted of course with much darker forces that threaten to shroud its wonder. This is all wonderfully shown through Ang Lee’s direction and Peter Pau’s cinematography, which perfectly captures the majesty of the film’s carefully choreographed fights. While it is more of a fantastical use of Kung Fu — with characters literally weightless, flying across landscapes — this was one of the most highly acclaimed foreign films of its time, winning four Oscars and captivating audiences worldwide upon its release.

8. Hero (2002)

8. Hero
85 %
7.9/10
pg-13 99m
Genre Drama, Adventure, Action, History
Stars Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung
Directed by Zhang Yimou
From Yimou Zhang, director of such greats as House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, and The Flowers of War (a notable Christian Bale performance), comes Hero. This film also likes to depict its characters as weightless, exaggerating the abilities of one man or woman to defy physics. The end result makes for a breathtaking visual journey, highlighting vividly colored sequences with masterful performances from its sprawling ensemble. Hero follows a man with no name (Jet Li) who has been summoned to talk with the King of Qin (Daoming Chen), who wants to discuss the unnamed warrior’s unfathomable victories against three notorious martial arts masters. This film and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon belong to a sub-genre of films called Wuxia, which focuses on martial arts as a form of entertainment and elation, but also as a dutiful action of respect, honor, and chivalry. This film has some of the most impressive duel scenes in any Kung Fu film, thanks to the skills of real martial artists like Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, and Chieu-Wai Leung.

Read more: The best action movies on Netflix

7. The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)

7. The Legend of Drunken Master
74 %
7.5/10
r 102m
Genre Action, Comedy
Stars Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Ti Lung
Directed by Liu Chia-Liang
Moving into another style of Kung Fu film, The Legend of the Drunken Master is fun, eccentric, and hilarious as well as masterfully choreographed. Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie Chan) is a highly-skilled martial arts master, but when a gang of thugs comes into town to steal artifacts and wreak mayhem, he must decide whether to align himself with his father’s pacifist wishes or fight the wrong-doers. Employing a Kung Fu style unique to this film, Drunken Boxing (A.K.A. Drunken Fist A.K.A. Zuì Quán) is a very impractical and mysterious practice, which makes for some fantastic film choreography with Chan behind the wheel. The fight sequences throughout the film, while hilarious and a bit extravagant, are essential to the character’s morality and show the importance that balance has in everyone’s life. This film — technically a sequel to Chan’s 1978 film Drunken Master — encapsulates the star’s early career and celebrates it, kicking off his global rise to fame for his many feats in acting, choreography, directing, and writing. Any fan of Jackie Chan should have this as a staple among their favorites, showing off his incredible talent for physical comedy and timing as well as martial arts mastery.

6. Iron Monkey (1993)

6. Iron Monkey
79 %
7.5/10
pg-13 90m
Genre Action, Crime, Drama
Stars Yu Rongguang, Donnie Yen, Jean Wang
Directed by Yuen Woo-ping
Unique on this list because it’s so difficult to define, Iron Monkey is an action/comedy/drama that should not be missed. The Iron Monkey (Rongguang Yu) is a masked vigilante who steals from the corrupt and powerful to provide for the less fortunate, who are oppressed by widespread corruption and greed in the 1800s. He’s sort of a Batman meets Robin Hood meets Chinese Monkey Kung Fu (A.K.A. Hóu Quán). When famous Hung Ga martial artist Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) has his son taken prisoner by the selfish governor, he is forced to hunt down the Iron Monkey for his son’s freedom. Thanks to the incredible choreography from Yuen Woo-ping (who also choreographed The Matrix), Yen and Yu’s grace and ability are on full display. This is also the only film on this list with a Kung Fu kid who can best four corrupt Shaolin monks. Among all these great highlights, this film has an impressive thematic change throughout the narrative, going from hilarious slapstick comedy to a life-or-death drama without missing a beat.

5. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

5. Kung Fu Hustle
78 %
7.7/10
r 99m
Genre Action, Comedy, Crime, Fantasy
Stars Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu
Directed by Stephen Chow

The only film on this list that goes pedal to the comedy metal, Kung Fu Hustle is a hilariously and imaginatively cartoonish take on the Wuxia Kung Fu film genre. After the success of Shaolin Soccer (an honorable mention and a great sports movie) in 2001, writer, director, producer, and protagonist Stephen Chow capitalized by creating an endlessly rewatchable gangster-action-comedy. In 1940s Shanghai, a quirky grouping of households in a cramped complex show their worth when the terrifying Axe Gang knocks on their door. Sing (Stephen Chow) aspires to join the Axe Gang but is restricted by his lack of ability and unshakeable morality.

Inspired at a young age by the legendary Bruce Lee, Stephen Chow devoted his life to martial arts and film arts. Because he was too poor to attend proper training schools, Chow learned his fundamental skills from TV and movies, translating his experience into the lighthearted films we see him produce today. Kung Fu Hustle, however, is the only one of Chow’s films that ends on a serious note, with the protagonist mastering an ancient, magical, and mysterious style of Kung Fu known as “Buddhist Palm.” In real life, Chow has taken his initial self-training and applied it to Wing Chun Kung Fu, the same style that Bruce Lee so famously mastered.

4. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

4. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
83 %
8/10
r 136m
Genre Action, Crime, Thriller
Stars Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
While both films display a a genuine love for Kung Fu, Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is more of a nostalgic Kung Fu film than Kill Bill: Vol 1. The reason for that is that we finally learn the origins of “The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” and where they all learned how to kill so relentlessly, delivering a glorious training montage in the process. Beatrix Kiddo (A.K.A. The Bride) has a thirst for vengeance against her former boss and lover, Bill (David Carradine), that will not be stopped until it is properly quenched. Along the way, Kiddo must eliminate the rest of the D.V.A.S. Assassins that she didn’t in the previous film, each one posing a different challenge to her skills. Tarantino directly applied film techniques from classic Kung Fu cinema (quick zoom, sound effects, silhouette shots while training, etc.) throughout the narrative, which is the reason why this film is so high on the list. The beautiful thing about Kill Bill is the dedication to the film style, which is not unique to this Tarantino film, but still helps to make it the best Quentin Tarantino movie ever.

3. Enter the Dragon (1973)

3. Enter the Dragon
83 %
7.6/10
r 102m
Genre Action
Stars Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Directed by Robert Clouse
In what is most certainly the best Bruce Lee film of all time, Enter the Dragon deserves its high spot on this list, and Bruce Lee’s top-notch fighting skills and commitment to the realistic nature of Kung Fu are two major reasons why. When Lee (Bruce Lee) is tasked with capturing a major narcotics dealer and gang lord, he must enter a tournament on a private island to get closer to his target. Full of epic duels and Bruce Lee simply and single-handedly defeating multitudes of henchmen, this was some of the most fast-paced Kung Fu ever portrayed in cinema at the time. Because of his dedication to the role Lee refused a stunt double for the fighting scenes, as did his co-star Robert “Bob” Wall (A.K.A. Oharra). This, however, caused some unwanted injuries, such as Lee kicking Wall so hard in the midsection that it broke multiple ribs. The film’s style is tuned to the Kung Fu film genre: grainy and staticky with all the zany sound effects you might expect. This film does well to pick and choose when to use music but more importantly, when not to. During the final epic battle (before the boss battle), there is a lack of music that was intentional, with nothing to drown out the onomatopoeias and the drawn-out, signature Bruce Lee screeches. And what would a Bruce Lee movie be if he didn’t get his shirt torn off before the epic climax?

2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
7.7/10
r 115m
Genre Action, Adventure
Stars Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Lo Lieh, John Cheung Ng-Long
Directed by Liu Chia-Liang
Probably the Kung Fu-iest of the Kung Fu movies on our list today, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a film that heavily influenced hip hop music group Wu-Tang Clan. When the Manchu government destroys his school, ravages his town, and kills his father, San Te (Chia-Hui Liu) travels to a Shaolin temple to learn the ways of Shaolin Kung Fu and be at peace. With the most fast-paced narrative out of all other films today, this one gets through all that information and on to the Kung Fu training in 30 minutes of runtime. After finally getting to the temple, he is — after some resistance — admitted as a monk for training. The rest of the film is focused solely on Kung Fu and the 35 chambers one must pass to become a master, training the wrists, shoulders, legs, eyes, mind, and so forth all one chamber at a time. Besides its naturalistic feeling and fantastic story, this film has some classically styled fight scenes that are timeless, cementing it in place as a staples in the Kung Fu film genre.

1. Ip Man (2008)

1. Ip Man
59 %
8/10
r 106m
Genre Drama, Action, History
Stars Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Lynn Hung
Directed by Wilson Yip
TA celebration of Kung Fu films themselves, Ip Man has noe equal. When Japanese forces invade China during WWII, a wealthy and respected Wing Chun Kung Fu master called Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is forced to leave his home and survive on the Japanese-occupied streets of Foshan. A biographical tale of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Bruce Lee’s mentor), this film focuses on events that could plausibly have taken place during that time. Since it’s on our list, I will say that this is unique in that it is not just a Kung Fu film. This film made it to the top for its incredible choreography and its charming yet moving performance from Yen. From the beginning, the fight scenes are crisp, clean, and frequent, starting on a lighter note while friendly neighborhood masters spar with each other. As the film progresses, however, the motives become much darker, forcing respected Kung Fu masters to fight Japanese masters just to get a bag of rice. The character arc at this movie’s center is incredible, with Donnie Yen portraying at first the kind-hearted and calm-minded Ip Man as he transforms into an emotionally driven and physically incapacitating version of himself. His drive comes from the frustration he feels with the Japanese invasion of his homeland, which you can see in his eyes throughout the film. This film is astounding on all fronts, especially when you’ve seen enough Kung Fu cinema to appreciate how it was shaped by the other films on this list.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Contributor
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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