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12 Best Chinese Action Movies of All Time

July 30, 2018
8 min read

Chinese action movies obviously, are widely Kung Fu movies. Kung Fu is an integral part of Chinese culture, as I’ve said before in 10 best Kung Fu movies of all time. What is the difference between that list and this one you ask? Well, in that article, I’ve vividly listed movies that explore Kung Fu and define its essence in Chinese culture. Many of those movies define Kung Fu as more than just a way of fighting. They define Kung Fu as a way of life, rather than a mere Martial art. In this one, I purely focus on the Action part of Kung Fu.

There are brilliantly composed action sequences, some breathtaking stunts and legendary actors like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li and henceforth. And of course, I will also try to give preference to good plot lines and quality filmmaking, rather than picking the films which just fill the runtime with action sequences.  Here is the list of top Chinese action movies ever made. You can stream some of these best Chinese action movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

12. Fist of Legend (1994)

Jet Li, who is always exciting, shows his prowess in Martial arts here, and it is incredible. There are numerous fights in this movie, the most impressive being the 7-minute finale set inside a dojo. For anybody who likes martial arts films, this film is not to be missed. The plot may not be as strong as I would have liked. But it is good enough as there are interesting scenes and quite a few really good fights that are fluid and filled with well-choreographed moves, with some good camera work that makes the film one of the best of its genre.

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11. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

This movie is all about martial arts. Choreographed and directed by Chia-Liang Liu, the fight scenes are so intense that they keep you hooked, and rarely let you take a breath. There is some graphic violence, in fact, it could be one of the most graphic movies on this list. Though it has a sub-plot with some politics, it’s not very interesting since we don’t have much context. The main plot of this film is regarding what the Martial arts are all about and, how the hero is going to learn them. There are some great training sequences, much like in ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2’.

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10. Police Story (1985)

We expect some crazy stunts, and fast, creative action from Chinese Action movies and this one set the benchmark for others to follow. It’s two hours of pure entertainment, that impresses all the way through. Along with the superb action, we have a substantial story-line and believable characters, with Chan taking what appears to be a more western approach towards the writing, combining it with eastern elements, i.e the Chinese Martial arts of course. ‘Police Story’, like many other Jackie Chan films, is a piece of work of a true entertainer who just goes all out and is very talented in what he does.

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9. Red Cliff (2008)

This is a John Woo film, who is best known to Western audiences for action dramas like ‘Hard Target’ and ‘Mission Impossible 2’. ‘Red Cliff’, however, is a quite different sort of film when pitted against those. The nearest equivalent in the Western cinema would be the sort of classical epics which Hollywood used to produce in the fifties and sixties, films like ‘Cleopatra’ and “Spartacus’. One thing this film does have in common with some of Woo’s earlier works is the use of highly stylised, choreographed action sequences. And those are enough to entertain you.

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8. Fearless (2006)

The film is based on the legendary Huo Yuan Jia, the Chinese Kung Fu master and the story of how he changes the face of modern-day Chinese martial arts. The storyline and dialogue of the film fall short compared to Jet Li’s other films, but other than that, ‘Fearless’ is a treat. The fight scenes are endless and are throughout the entire movie, which unlike many movies, don’t bore you. Clocking in at only 106 minutes, the film may feel a bit long, but if you soak yourself into the action scenes, you won’t find any problem. If you’re a fan of roundhouse kicks to the face, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this movie.

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7. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

There are some great action moments and many plot twists that take the audience on quite a journey. You never quite know just what is going to happen next, which is a rare thing in Chinese Action movies. If I have any criticism, it’s that the comic scenes did drag on a little bit too long. And probably, the Chinese sense of humor doesn’t suit my taste. But apart from that, ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ a very entertaining film. It’s one that ends with a smile on your face and that’s almost always what these movies end up doing. And also, like many of these movies, this one too has a good repeat value, and you can have several rewatches.

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6. Iron Monkey (1993)

You pay to see a movie to be entertained, and this movie delivers. The so-called “wire-fu” isn’t anywhere as obnoxious as in other movies. There is a decent amount of character development spread among the action sequences. The movie has some plot problems and subplots that aren’t executed well, but no major defects that will concern you too much. There is a prologue, the first Act, the second Act, the third Act and the climax, and an epilogue. No more, no less. It’s simple and straight to the point. You will surely enjoy it more than many other Chinese Action movies.

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5. Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

The movie is set in the 19th century. Jet Li plays the legendary martial arts champion Wong Fei-hung. Rosamund Kwan plays Aunt Yee who returns from America. The plot isn’t very thick. The movie has many incredible fighting scenes and that’s all that matters. There’s a lot of very entertaining fight choreography, including a terrific sequence with an umbrella that would make Jackie Chan proud. Though it is slow at the beginning, once the action episodes kick in, the movie catches pace and drags you along with it. It is the action that makes this movie what it is.

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4. Ip Man (2008)

‘Ip Man’ is the “true story” of Yip Man grandmaster of Wing Chun and master of film legend Bruce Lee. Despite claims of frugality with the real facts, the film is a powerful one. The recreation of ancient Shanghai looks so authentic you feel a part of it. Donnie Yen is stunning as the placid, peace-loving martial artist who won’t give lessons and spars with the local masters privately in order to save them the public embarrassment of being beaten. And of course, the action sequences are breathtaking as usual.

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3. Enter the Dragon (1973)

Bruce Lee plays Lee, a Shaolin who goes undercover to an island led by an evil crime boss Han. Han holds a brutal martial arts tournament every few years as a cover to recruit fighters for his criminal activities. There are excellent fight scenes, all choreographed by Bruce Lee himself, and are very entertaining. The final fight between Lee and Shih, the villain, is excellent. It’s almost epic, even for a Bruce Lee film. The fight in the hall of mirrors is spectacular. Although the dialog is pretty cheesy, and Bruce’s signature screams annoy you a bit, this is a must-watch for all martial arts / Chines action movie fans.

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2. Hero (2002)

Despite being second on the list, this movie is nothing short of an epic. You get to see hundreds and thousands of soldiers marching on a small town before inundating it in a literal storm of arrows. There are dazzling special effects that create all sorts of spectacular images that will stick with you for days after you see them. The movie has insanely complex and beautiful fight scenes between martial arts masters which enrapture the imagination and make your jaw hang down. And there is the “fight on the water” scene, which is easily one of the five coolest things the Chinese Action movies have offered over the course of time.

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1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2002)

‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ is a very special film. The movie is about fates intertwining. There is the romance that doesn’t go over the top, and of course, the fighting. But the unfolding of the story and how everything plays out is just so darn fantastically portrayed. It is so captivating from the start to finish, just to see how the story proceeds. Even the drama aspect of this movie is the right amount necessary. It has won awards for good reason. Watch this movie, not just because of the storytelling, but because of the acting, cinematography, and action choreography.

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