5 Martial Arts Movies to Watch Before Your Trip to China

For thousands of years, martial arts has been a part of Chinese culture. It is widely held that martial arts were introduced to China during the Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BCE). During the Warring States period (480-221 BCE) there was a cultural diffusion of martial arts that mixed ideas from India and China, laying the foundation for the nation’s rich and deeply nuanced martial arts philosophy.

It was in the crucible of the Warring States period that The Art of War, the seminal work on martial strategies and tactics, was written.  From these foundations, a rich tapestry of martial arts philosophy and practices was woven into Chinese culture. For this reason, anyone with a serious interest in martial arts must not overlook China. And anyone with a serious interest in China must not overlook martial arts.

Why the West Woke-up to Chinese Martial Arts

Chinese martial arts did not pique the interest of the Western world until relatively recently. Why did it take so long to capture the imaginations of people in the Occident? And why are Chinese martial arts now so important in the West, evidenced by the rapid rise in martial arts schools and mixed martial arts competitions?

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One of the main factors in the rise of martial arts films. The meteoric ascent in the popularity of Chinese martial arts through film was greatly influenced by the brilliance of Bruce Lee. This legendary martial artist studied under Yip Kai-man (also known as Ip Man), learning the Wing Chun, an important style with roots in Shaolin Kung Fu .

Bruce Lee founded Jeet Kune Do in 1967, a non-traditional style of martial arts that emphasizes speed and fluid motion. Lee’s personal development and brilliant adaptation of Chinese martial arts to the screen have seared Chinese martial arts into the memories and imaginations of millions of fans.

Martial Arts Movies as a Way to Appreciate and Learn About China

Martial Arts movies are an excellent way to experience China without setting foot in the Middle Kingdom (although there is no substitute for the real thing). For those who are traveling to China, watching martial arts films is a fun way to orient a traveler to Chinese customs and traditions. At their best, martial arts flicks are much more than fighting. They are serious looks at the history, culture, traditions, and the varied landscapes of China.

Below I have listed five of the best martial arts movies for anyone interested in learning more about China. These five films will interest the hard-core martial arts fan as well as entertain travelers with an interest in learning more about China.

The Top 5 Martial Arts Movies to See

#1 Ip Man

This is the first installment of the three-part series which fictionalizes the extraordinary life of Yip Kai-man (also known as Ip Man). Shot in 2008, Ip Man was an instant sensation for good reason, it was meticulously crafted with careful attention to detail. This is evident in the fight choreography, scenery, and the overall sharpness through the combined efforts of director Wilson Yip, Producer Raymond Wong, and star Donnie Yen among many others.

The movie focuses on Ip Man’s life in Foshan, Guangdong province during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The movie has historical significance that makes it interesting for people who want to get a better sense of Chinese history as well as an important portion Ip Man’s legendary life.


Source: Wikipedia

#2 Enter the Dragon

This 1973 film is widely considered to be one of Bruce Lee’s best movies. Sadly, it was the last movie Lee starred in before his mysterious death at the age of 32. The movie is not only packed with phenomenal fight scenes, but it is imbued with wisdom. The film’s action is well-balanced with quiet moments that turn into extended metaphors. One example is an intriguing fight between praying mantises on a boat that is instructive and thought-provoking.

This movie is packed with great kicks and also great lines. Such as when Bruce Lee is asked to explain his style, to which he responds: “My style?…” Then Lee broods for a moment and replies, “you can call it the art of fighting without fighting.”


Source: Wikipedia

#3 Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle has been included in this list because it may be the finest example of blending martial arts with comedy. It is rare to find a good martial arts movie and even rarer to find a clever comedy. Amazingly, this movie is both.

The 2004 release was a collaborative effort between Star Oversees and Columbia Pictures Asia to do something more interesting and authentic by building on the success of Shaolin Soccer. The movie, set in the 1930s, is a humorous take on gang life in Shanghai.


Source: Wikipedia

#4 Hero

When this film was released in 2002 it was not only the most expensive movie ever made in China, it was also the highest grossing. This movie is set during the Warring States Period and has an intricate plot surrounding a nameless hero who is artfully played by martial arts movie star Jet Li.

The film features amazing cinematography that transforms China into a surreal dream world. The movie was released in the U.S. in 2004 and received rave reviews. In the words of film critic Roger Ebert, Hero is “beautiful and beguiling, a martial arts extravaganza defining the styles and lives of its fighters within Chinese tradition.”


Source: Wikipedia

#5 The Grandmaster

In 2013 The Grandmaster took the genre to new heights. The movie loosely follows the life of Ip Man. However, he is but one character in a movie that tells the story of the relationship and rivalry between northern and southern martial arts styles in China.

The production is visually stunning and grabs the viewer from the first fight scene, which occurs in the pouring rain. All of the choreography is fantastic, in a large part because the film was choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping. Yuen developed his unique style working on films like The Matrix, Kill Bill, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The cinematography in The Grandmaster is fantastic; it shows many sides of China in such enchanting ways that it makes one yearn to be a part of the exotic landscape. As the trailer says, “it is the true story that changed martial arts forever.”


TGM teaser 1sht

Source: Wikipedia

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Loren Mayshark

Loren Mayshark is an American published author and travel writer who has traveled extensively in S.E. Asia and studied Chinese art, religion, philosophy, and history while earning a BA in World History from Manhattanville College.

He has written for The Permaculture Research Institute and Uisio among other prominent outlets.

He is the author of Death: An Exploration (2016). For more visit his official website: www.lorenmayshark.com
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