There's something about the beauty and grace of martial arts movies... that turns all of us into buffoons as we attempt to recreate elegant ass-kicking moves in our own living rooms. Aside from those moments of inanity, kung fu films are also inspirational slices of cinema. Yes, they encourage us all to act out Bruce Lee's infamous moves on our nearest and dearest, but there's the spiritual component too. These legendary flicks showcase some absolutely breathtaking fight sequences and mesh them together with insightful existential banter. Brilliant!
This list counts down the very best in kung-fu cinema. Click ahead to begin your martial arts odyssey, and please for the love of all things sacred, don't imitate any of it at home. Oh okay, go on then. You'll just end up looking really, really stupid.
25. Fearless (2006)
The movie: Jet Li’s last wushu epic is based on the life of Chinese martial artist Huo Yuanjia, who challenged foreign fighters and boosted Chinese morale when it was at its lowest thanks to Japanese manipulation and Western imperialism.
Coolest fight: Seeing as Yuanjia faces off against tons of opponents in this movie... we're going for the sword fight where he leaps, swims and punches his way to glory.
Iconic moment: The lotus pond scene was filmed at a lake outside of Shanghai, where over 200 lotus plants were shipped specifically for the movie. Luckily, it turned out to be a legendary scene.
24. Iron Monkey (1993)
The movie: Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung continues to inspire the movies. This '90s kung fu film takes a rifle through his childhood for a fictional yarn detailing his supposed encounter with the Iron Monkey. The young Fei-hung was played by a talented martial artist called Tsang Sze-Man, who’s actually a girl.
Coolest fight: Insults are slung like mud, before right hooks, chains, shovels, and... uh, giant sleeves get slung as well. No-one saw those coming.
Iconic moment: “It is I, Iron Monkey!” A gloriously camp introduction to our masked fighter.
23. Fatal Contact (2006)
The movie: Wu Jing plays a young man trained in the art of Sanshou and lured into fighting in illegal martial arts competitions. The film’s fight scenes were choreographed by Nicky Li, who’s a member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, hence the superb combat style.
Coolest fight: Jing shows everyone who’s boss, even managing to take down a bitchy coward who’s cheated and shoved nails into his gloves and shoes.
Iconic moment: Sure, Jing can fight, but he can also do really cool flips off stuff, making him a martial arts AND parkour expert.
22. Chocolate (2008)
The movie: A Thai martial arts film, Chocolate (aka Fury) stars Yanin ‘Jeeja’ Vismitananda as Zen, an autistic woman who develops jaw-dropping martial arts skills by copying what she’s seen on TV. It's all rather handy, because she needs to track down gangs that owe her dying mother money.
Coolest fight: It’s got to be the film’s final fight, as a battered, exhausted Zen shows us why she’s the queen of kung fu - she takes out an entire squad of Thai gangsters like it ain't no thing.
Iconic moment: Zen, mimicking the great martial arts prowess of Bruce Lee and Tony Jaa, comes to grips with her abilities.
21. Magnificent Butcher (1980)
The movie: Sammo Hung continues his endeavours to create an action comedy like Drunken Master with this fun genre-blending romp. He plays Lam Sai-wing, a rotund butcher who is falsely accused of raping the head of the Five Dragons Kung Fu School, and targeted for revenge.
Coolest fight: Yuen Biao and Lam Ching-ying duke it out. Never has fighting looked more beautiful and painstakingly choreographed than here. It’s almost like really macho dancing. Except there's lots of slapping.
Iconic moment: Lee Hoi San and Sammo Hung show us what they’re made of. Old boots, it would seem. This guys are tough.
20. The Way Of The Dragon (1972)
The movie: Bruce Lee’s directorial debut finds him also playing the titular Dragon. He travels to Rome in order to help his friend’s family, whose restaurant is being targeted by the Mafia, and winds up kicking ass. The film set a new box office record in Hong Kong, taking $5 million.
Coolest fight: Lee finds himself opposite the Mafia's hired hand played by Chuck Norris; the pair go toe-to-toe in a Roman Colosseum. Naturally, Lee wipes the floor with his competitor.
Iconic moment: It's hard to imagine another moment in this movie that's more iconic than a Lee vs. Norris smackdown.
19. The Big Boss (1971)
The movie: Initially set up as a starring vehicle for James Tien, the emergence of the fantastic Bruce Lee (in his first major role) earned him the lead instead. Big Boss went on to become the highest grossing fight film in Hong Kong in 1971. And just in case you were wondering, the Thai brothel featured in the film? The real deal.
Coolest fight: Cheng, on a mission to avenge the deaths of his family, takes down Hsiao Chiun’s gang. He's no fool, he saves the gangster's father Hsiao Mi for last. To be honest, he could be taking out a load of random passers-by, this is fun because it's one of Lee's earliest screen fights.
Iconic moment: More like a lost iconic moment: a scene in which Lee slams a handsaw into a villain’s head was featured in an early cut of the film, but has been excised in more recent releases. It's a shame. That would have been bonkers.
18. The Burning Of The Red Lotus Temple (1928)
The movie: Adapted from a newspaper serial Red Lotus is the longest kung fu film ever created. No, really. You've got to be committed to watch this as it's a staggering 27 hours long. It was released in feature-length portions - 18 in total - over a period of three years. It pretty much kicked off the martial arts movie craze in the East, something we should all we thankful for.
Coolest fight: It’s damn near impossible to get a copy of the film, but we’ve heard on the grapevine that this contains some stellar moments.
Iconic moment: The story thread, in which a young main gains kung fu powers after stumbling upon a secret, would go on to become a martial arts movie staple.
17. Warriors Two (1978)
The movie: Celebrated as one of the few films that features an authentic version of the Wing Chun style of kung fu (point of reference: the type that Neo uses against the Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded). Warriors Two stars Sammo Hung as a student who convinces his doctor master (Bryan Leung) to teach his patients the art of Wing Chun.
Coolest fight: It may sound like some mad person’s having a clapping competition somewhere nearby, but there’s no denying the skills involved in the climactic tussle.
Iconic moment: Casanova Wong whoops some serious ass, taking on an unstoppable herd of sword-wielding assailants and barely breaking a sweat.
16. Ong-Bak (2003)
The movie: Thai actioner Ong-Bak shoved newcomer Tony Jaa into the spotlight as a supremely skilled martial artist. He plays Ting, who takes on the underworld when a sacred statue is disfigured. Proving his dedication, Jaa trained for four years in the action form of Muay Boran for the film.
Coolest fight: “Let’s fight!” Ting takes on three opponents, one after another, and it's watching him go up against the goliath Big Bear that's the most fun. Ting might be small in stature, but boy, does he make up for it with his quick-footed muay Thai skills.
Iconic moment: Ting shows off his parkour prowess during a chase through some hectic backalleys.
Click 'Next Page' to see titles 15-6 in our countdown of the best kung fu movies.