The amazing thing about martial arts films is that you can never watch too many and will always leave wanting more.
This week, Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai ("In the Mood for Love," "Chungking Express") dabbles in martial arts for the first time with "The Grandmaster." Telling the true story of Ip Man, the grandmaster of the Wing Chun style and teacher of Bruce Lee, the film features famous fights by some of the biggest martial arts legends in history.
The genre itself has seen many variations and styles over the years, from Bruce Lee's animalistic cries to Jackie Chan's slapstick kung fu. In honor of "The Grandmaster," we picked 12 of our favorite epic martial arts fight scenes.
Gallery | 12 Epic Martial Arts Movie Fights
- Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris - ‘The Way of the Dragon’ (1972)
It’s the East versus the West -- and the shaved versus the hairy-chested -- in this unforgettable 1972 duel. Norris uses his modern karate skills against Lee’s own Jeet Kune Do style, with the former taking the upper hand for a little while. Norris even goes so far as to wag his finger at Lee (really dude?), but have no fear, the martial arts master of course dominates. What makes this fight even more amazing (and adorable) is that cute little kitten. We dub him the referee.
- Tony Jaa and Elephant vs Imperial Guards - 'Ong Bak 3' (2010)
Tony Jaa became an international martial arts star with the “Ong Bak” films, where he showed off his Muay Thai skills and fought more guys than we can count. While all the fight scenes from the three films are jaw-dropping, this scene from “Ong Bak 3” is particularly insane due to Tien’s (Jaa) helper: an elephant. While he used an elephant for a fight in “Ong Bak 2,” this scene takes things to even crazier levels. Not only does Tien crush every imperial guard in his path with his lightening-fast elbows and fists of steel, but he swings on the tusks of an elephant to knock out even more guys. We can’t keep our eyes off of Jaa’s moves, but we also can’t help but wonder if that poor animal was scared to death.
- Jackie Chan vs. the Axe Gang - ‘The Legend of Drunken Master’ (2000)
Reprising his famous role of Wong Fei Hung from Hong Kong’s 1978 “Drunken Master,” Chan mixes techniques of drunken boxing and his signature slapstick kung fu in this comedy sequel. While under the influence, Chan is one fierce, yet hilarious fighter as he takes on a house full of guys carrying axes by using one secret weapon: a table. Swinging pieces of broken wood and backflipping inside a table isn’t a usual method we’d use, but it definitely works for him.
- Black Mamba vs. Crazy 88 - ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1’ (2003)
When you put Quentin Tarantino (aka the cinema encyclopedia) together with acclaimed martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, you're guaranteed to get an epic fight scene. Paying homage to classic samurai films, “Kill Bill” lifts some of the greatest martial arts fights (and others from the horror and Western genre) to create the most insane one ever. This scene tips its hat to Bruce Lee’s dojo fight in 1972’s “Fists of Fury.” along with elements from “Sanjuro,” “Game of Death,” “Samurai Fiction” and others.
- Michelle Yeoh vs Zhang Ziyi - ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ (2000)
There are tons of jaw-dropping fights throughout Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” such as the tree-top sequence or Zhang Ziyi’s duel against a bar full of men. But the fight between Jen (Ziyi) and Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) is undeniably the most memorable and the best on-screen fight ever between two women. Jen fights with the Green Destiny sword, destroying each of Shu Lien’s many weapons, including her two swords, a giant metal staff, a spear, and every other ancient Chinese weapon she can find.
- Jet Li vs. Jackie Chan - ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’ (2008)
While this time-travelling martial arts film wasn’t necessarily a great movie, it still featured some memorable fights between Jackie Chan and Jet Li. In this scene, watch them go head-to-head as Chan evokes his "Drunken Master" Fei Hung character against Li’s silent monk. The two spin, flip, and dance as they fight over the King’s golden staff.
- Bruce Lee vs Shih Kien - ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973)
We shouldn’t even have to explain why this fight is so iconic -- Bruce Lee’s badass moves say it all. In his final film, Lee takes on the sinister Han (Shih Kien) whose Wolverine-like prosthetic hand slices him up. But that won't stop the martial arts master. Lee keeps kicking until the very end, even as Han tries to trick him in a hall of mirrors. This final fight is still thrilling today, proving that fast-paced action and crazy weapons are no match to the precise, intense techniques of Lee's Jeet Kune Do style.
- Ip Man va. 10 Black Belts - ‘Ip Man’ (2008)
Can you take down 10 guys in under two minutes? We didn’t think so. The grandmaster of Wing Chun and teacher of Bruce Lee is portrayed by Donnie Yen in this 2008 Hong Kong film. Ip Man takes on 10 black belts in this fight, popping hips, cracking ribs, and breaking arms as if were breaking off a turkey leg. The sounds of his super fast punches are so sharp and quick they almost sound like a machine gun (we’d take that over his fierce fists). Using bodies as mere punching bags, Yen shows us why Ip Man was truly a learned and revered legend.
- Zhang Ziyi vs. Maggie Chen - ‘Hero’ (2002)
Thanks to the epically colorful fight scenes, Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” is undeniably one of the most beautiful martial arts films ever made. Themed with different color sequences -- the blue lake fight, the white library fight, the green palace fight -- this wuxia film adds an emotional and serene layer to martial arts fighting. Starring some of the best Chinese actors including Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Chen, and Zhang Ziyi (of course), “Hero” showcases fight sequences different from any of the actors’ previous works. Unlike her intense duel with Michelle Yeoh in “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” Ziyi’s sword fight with Chen in the yellow forest in “Hero” is both mesmerizing and heart-wrenching.
- Bamboo Fire Fight - ‘Iron Monkey’ (1993)
Fighting with fire is one thing, but fighting while balancing atop bamboo poles with blazing flames beneath you is a whole other game. Iron Monkey (Yu Rongguang) and Wong Kei-ying (Donnie Yen) take on Shaolin traitor Hin-hung (Yen Shi-kwan) in this fight, dancing on poles, catching each other with their feet, and balancing on one another’s shoulders. And as if the stakes aren't already high enough (pun intended), they start using the burning poles as weapons. We'll just watch from the sidelines.
- Neo vs. Agent Smith - ‘The Matrix’ (1999)
When you get instant martial arts training uploaded to your brain in a matter of seconds, you’re bound to be a pretty awesome fighter. In one of the best fight scenes from “The Matrix” films, choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) fight it out Eastern-style. While this fight does add a heavy dose of cheese to the esteemed art form (Reeves' Kung Fu stances are pretty hilarious and goofy), you have to admit that these two killing machines are thrilling to watch. One piece of advice: should you ever need to practice your moves against an Agent Smith program, don’t break his glasses.
- Zhang Ziyi vs. Imperial Guards - ‘House of Flying Daggers’ (2004)
What would a wuxia film be without Zhang Ziyi? The two go hand in hand perfectly and Ziyi never ceases to amaze with her soaring, sword-wielding finesse. Yet unlike her previous wuxia characters, in Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers” Ziyi plays a character with an unexpected obstacle that makes her fights all the more astonishing -- she’s blind. In this jaw-dropping fight, Ziyi’s Mei is ambushed by the General’s soldiers in the the bamboo forest and has to dodge soaring bamboo spears as she balances between two trees. If this doesn’t amaze you, nothing will.