No martial arts action library would be complete without adding these 50 kung-fu action DVD’s.

ImageFans of martial arts movies are always asking, “Which DVD’s should I get for my martial arts library? What do fanatics see as the best of the best?” Answering the first question is easy. The second question, however, comes with some caveats.

* First, no bootlegs. Bootlegs nearly killed kung-fu films, and still go a long way toward crippling them.

* Secondly, I’m sticking with American releases rather than parallel imports. The more we support American releases, the more American releases there will be. But come on, American releasers, make sure the translations are accurate, and don’t mess with the cover art and soundtracks, okay?

* Thirdly, it’s extremely rare that I suggest DVD’s that don’t have subtitles or original audio. No matter how good the dubbing, it’s almost always inferior simply on the basis of its limitations (fitting mouth movements requires editing and simplified translation).
So, go Amazon and NetFlix these for the best kung-fu films of the year! But be quick about it. Experience dictates that these things can go out of print faster than a good metaphor.

1. Above the Law aka Righting Wrongs (Dragon Dynasty) 1986
Directed by Corey Yuen Kwai
Starring Yuen Baio and Cynthia Rothrock
Not to be confused with the Steven Seagal movie of the same name, this bleak, brutal Death Wish has cool kung-fu up the wazoo.

2. A Touch of Zen (Tai Seng Entertainment) 1971
Directed by King Hu
Starring Hsu Feng and Roy Chaio
Wildly influential and incredibly symbolic, you’ll notice that this tale of enlightenment ruined by human power lust is actually two films in one—both of which treat kung-fu as dance. A great start to your film journey.

3. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Sony) 2000
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-fat
The first wuxia (martial chivalry) film directed by an artist, this Oscar-winning epic of swordspeople whose bodies do what their hearts cannot broke records and preconceptions.

4. Drunken Master (Sony)1978
Directed by Yuen Wo-ping
Starring Jackie Chan
Masters Yuen and Chan revolutionize Hong Kong kung-fu comedy and venerable character Wong Fei-hong.

5. Eastern Condors (Fortune Star/20th Century Fox) 1987
Directed by Sammo Hung
Starring Sammo Hung and Yuen Baio
Sammo’s thundering mix of Dirty Dozen, Deer Hunter, and 007—as well as every kung fu actor and director available—makes for a great epic of martial arts mayhem.

Image6. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (Dragon Dynasty) 1984
Directed by Liu Chia-liang
Starring Gordon Liu Chia-hui and Kara Hui Ying-hung
Listed as one of the “Top 100 Chinese Films,” this savage saga of betrayal and revenge has brilliant kung-fu throughout and an unforgettable climax.

7. Fearless (Universal) 2006
Directed by Ronny Yu
Starring Jet Li
Li’s “last” kung-fu film is a suitable statement of martial skill and internal growth, using the historic occurrences before Fist of Fury as a starting point.

8. Fist of Legend (Dragon Dynasty) 1994
Directed by Gordon Chan
Starring Jet Li
Jet and company beautifully remake Fist of Fury with no help from, at times, flatly false dubbing and mis-subtitling (the line is “if you want to win, bring a gun,” not “if you adapt, you will be invincible,” and the sign says “Chinese are the weaklings of Asia,” not “Your school is closed”)!

9. Five Deadly Venoms (Dragon Dynasty) 1978
Directed by Chang Cheh
Starring Kuo Chui and Chiang Sheng
The grand guignol “Judge Bao” masked mystery thriller that launched a thousand hip-hop videos.

10. Five Element Ninjas (Media Blasters) 1984
Directed by Chang Cheh
Starring Cheng Tien-chi and Lo Mang
“Godfather of kung-fu films” Cheh’s last great film, a beautifully structured, super-heroic, fun and frenzied slaughterfest.

11. Flag of Iron aka Spearmen of Death (Media Blasters) 1980
Directed by Chang Cheh
Starring Kuo Chui and Chiang Sheng
The Venoms are back, this time raising corpses of their victims on their long, spear-tipped flags.

12. Flash Point (Dragon Dynasty) 2007
Directed by Wilson Yip
Starring Donnie Yen
Donnie won a Hong Kong Oscar for his sweet choreography of this otherwise familiar crime thriller. Fast forward until the climatic fight. It’s a doozy.

13. Hard Boiled (Dragon Dynasty) 1992
Directed by John Woo
Starring Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung
Woo’s ultimate “gun-fu” statement with a hospital-set finale blow-out for the ages.

14. Hero (Miramax) 2002
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi
A glorious cinematic masterpiece that compares kung-fu to art, music, and nature. Now if only they’d get rid of the samurai sword on the box cover (it’s like putting a baseball in a football player’s hands, guys).

15. Heroes of the East (Dragon Dynasty) 1979
Directed by Liu Chia-liang
Starring Gordon Liu Chia-hui
Master Liang’s kung-fu Kramer vs. Kramer where a Chinese husband must take on his wife’s Japanese martial arts family. Genius.

16. House of Fury (Tai Seng) 2005
Directed by Stephen Fung
Starring Stephen Fung, Anthony Wong, and Gillian Chung
A live action kung fu Incredibles with a welcome assist from choreographer Yuen Wo-ping.

17. Ip Man (Well Go USA) 2008
Directed by Wilson Yip
Starring Donnie Yen
Donnie finds his center, and awards, as the venerable qing chun master who taught Bruce Lee. The only flaw is the mistranslation of the film’s best joke subtitle. It should read, “Mom says if you don’t start fighting, the house will be ruined.”

18. Ip Man 2 (Well Go USA) 2010
Directed by Wilson Yip, starring Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung
Its brilliant first hour supports the all-too-obvious Rocky IV second hour.

19. Kid with the Golden Arm (Media Blasters) 1979
Directed by Chang Cheh
Starring Kuo Chui and Chiang Sheng
The Venoms are back in another classic adventure seemingly patterned on comic books (everyone has unique costumes, weapons, and enter the scenes by announcing their names).

20. The Killer (Dragon Dynasty) 1989
Directed by John Woo, starring Chow Yun-fat and Sally Yeh
Woo’s crowning “gun-fu” achievement with brilliant mise-en-scene and a wicked climatic “joke.”

21. Kill Zone aka SPL (Dragon Dynasty) 2005
Directed by Wilson Yip
Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, and Jacky Wu Jing
A sizzling crime thriller with some of the best realistic kung fu fights ever filmed.

22. Knockabout (Fortune Star/20th Century Fox) 1979
Directed by Sammo Hung
Starring Sammo Hung and Yuen Baio
Sammo mixes action, comedy, and unique kung fu styles for one of his best loosey-goosey adventures.

23. Kung Fu Hustle (Sony) 2004
Directed By Stephen Chow
Starring Stephen Chow
Still so entertaining that you won’t even know every single scene is a satire of a Chinese movie you haven’t seen.

24. Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks/Paramount) 2008
Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
Starring Jack Black
Want to know how good this was? The Chinese Government condemned its own movie industry for not doing something like it first.

25. The Legend of Drunken Master (Miramax) 1994
Directed by Liu Chia-liang and Jackie Chan
Starring Jackie Chan and Anita Mui
Originally Drunken Master 2, it’s so good that Miramax’s doesn’t ruin it cowardly box cover, dubbing, and soundtrack replacement.

26. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Well Go USA) 2010
Directed by Andrew Lau
Starring Donnie Yen and Shu Qi
A crazed, kung-fu-filled tribute to the entire career of the man who made Enter the Dragon.

27. Magnificent Butcher (Fortune Star/20th) 1979
Directed by Yuen Wo-ping
Starring Sammo Hung and Kwan Tak-hing
Ostensibly Sammo’s Drunken Master, co-star Simon Yuen (the director’s father) died during production. Still, it remains one of the great Wong Fei-hung movies, with one of the greatest kung-fu sequences (the calligraphy battle) ever.

28. Martial Club (Media Blasters) 1981
Directed by Liu Chia-liang
Starring Gordon Liu Chia-hui and Johnny Wang Lung-wei
Master Liang’s greatest Wong Fei-hong movie, and another of his pure kung-fu classics.

29. The Master (Media Blasters) 1980
Directed by Lu Chin-ku
Starring Yuen Tak and Chen Kuan-tai
Not to be confused with the Tsui Hark-directed, Jet Li-starring film of the same name, this one was the entertaining, fast-moving Shaw Brothers Studio attempt to make a Jackie Chan clone picture.

Image30. Master of the Flying Guillotine (Tai Seng) 1975
Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu
Starring Jimmy Wang Yu
Although clearly a cheap, frenzied knock-off, it’s loads of fun, and, obviously the creators of the “Street Fighter” videogame studied it intently.

31. My Young Auntie (Dragon Dynasty) 1981
Directed by Liu Chia-liang
Starring Kara Hui Ying-hung and Liu Chia-liang
Master Liang’s exhilarating kung-fu My Fair Lady.

32. Once Upon a Time in China (Sony) 1991
Directed by Tsui Hark
Starring Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan
Hark’s masterful resurrection of Wong Fei-hung in the person of a man seemingly born to play him.

33. Once Upon a Time in China 2 (Sony) 1992
Directed by Tsui Hark
Starring Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan
The apex of the series, with a perfect blend of action, politics, comedy, drama, and romance.

34. Operation Scorpio (Fortune Star/20th Century Fox) 1991
Directed by David Lai
Starring Chin Kar-lok and Liu Chia-liang
A clever, exciting tale of a comic artist learning “wok-fu” at just the right moment.

35. Police Story (Dragon Dynasty) 1985
Directed by Jackie Chan
Starring Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung
Jackie revolutionized the modern kung-fu thriller with this highly influential, oft-copied (Tango & Cash, Bad Boys 2) adventure.

36. Police Story 2 (Dragon Dynasty) 1988
Directed by Jackie Chan
Starring Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung
Not as cohesive and focused as the first, but still plenty of kung-fu bang for the buck.

37. Red Cliff (Magnet) 2008
Directed by John Woo
Starring Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro
Although the two-and-a-half hour U.S. version sadly eliminates some of the show-stopping “battlefield-fu” of the original two-part, 4:40-minute original (also available), enough greatness shines through to make watching Woo’s version of China’s ancient “D-Day” worthy.

38. The Return of the Deadly Venoms aka Crippled Avengers (Dragon Dynasty) 1978
Directed by Chang Cheh
Starring Kuo Chui and Chiang Sheng
The Venoms are back in one of their wackiest, and most fun, adventures.

39. Return to the 36th Chamber (Dragon Dynasty) 1980
Directed by Liu Chia-liang
Starring Gordon Liu Chia-hui
An eager amateur learns “scaffold-fu” to defeat evil dye factory bosses in this fascinating and joyful quasi-sequel.

40. 7 Grandmasters (Media Blasters) 1978
Directed by Joseph Kuo
Starring Jack Long and Mark Long
What many consider ultimate independent kung-fu film director Joseph Kuo Nan-hong’s best film finally gets a decent release—ably representing the cheap edges of the “old school kung-fu” genre.

41. Shanghai Express (Dragon Dynasty) 1986
Directed by Sammo Hung
Starring Sammo Hung, Yuen Baio, and Cynthia Rothrock
Its huge cast of kung-fu stalwarts, some jaw-dropping stunts, and a climatic free-for-all that may never be equaled elevates Sammo’s “noodle western”.

42. Shaolin Soccer (Miramax) 2001
Directed by Stephen Chow
Starring Stephen Chow and Vickie Zhao
Chow’s crazy, clever, inventive, insightful, martial art masterpiece. A joy to behold.

43. Spooky Encounters (Fortune Star/20th Century Fox) 1980
Directed by Sammo Hung
Starring Sammo Hung
Sammo mixes great kung-fu with amazing Chinese supernatural lore to create a high point in horror action film history.

44. Supercop, aka Police Story 3 (Dragon Dynasty) 1992
Directed by Stanley Tong
Starring Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh
Jackie finally gives his female co-stars their due in this rambunctious adventure featuring a mainland female cop who gives as good as he gets.

45. The Tai Chi Master (Dragon Dynasty) 1993
Directed by Yuen Wo-ping
Starring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh
Not to be confused with the TV series below, this takes precedence over the same director’s Iron Monkey (1993) since a more recent DVD of it isn’t available. Even so, the central “discovery of tai chi” sequence in the middle of this movie makes it a keeper.

46. The Tai Chi Master aka Master of Taichi (Tai Seng) 2003
Directed by Yuen Wo-ping
Starring Jacky Wu Jing
Not to be confused with either the Jet Li movie of its changed name or the 2008 TV series of its original name, this effort has the best tai chi ever put on screen.

47. Thai Warrior: Ong Bak (20th Century Fox) 2003
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Sarring Tony Jaa
The one non-pure-kung-fu film on this list, this produced-in-Thailand movie packs plenty of muay Thai punch (and knee picks) in its fast-moving, Jackie-Chan-inspired 100 minutes.

48. 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Dragon Dynasty) 1978
Directed by Liu Chia-liang
Starring Gordon Liu Chia-hui
Master Liang’s “love story” spotlights kung-fu as the object of affection as the audience finally sees what it takes to become a shaolin martial arts master.

49. The Warlords (Magnet) 2007
Directed by Peter Chan and Yip Wai-man
Starring Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro
This modern remake of Chang Cheh’s ground-breaking Blood Brothers features great performances and some of the best “battlefield-fu” yet filmed.

50. Warriors Two (Fortune Star/20th Century Fox) 1978
Directed by Sammo Hung
Starring Sammo Hung and Casanova Wong
Not to be confused with Chang Cheh’s Warriors Two starring Alexander Fu-Sheng and Chen Kuan-tai as Shaolin survivors, this one features Sammo’s kung-fu comedy and chums at their best.


Ric Meyers is the world’s foremost authority on martial arts film and entertainment.