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Top 5 Best Martial Arts Movie Fight Scenes

Updated on November 9, 2015
NateB11 profile image

I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a second-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.

Bruce Lee figure from Comic Con 2010.
Bruce Lee figure from Comic Con 2010. | Source


It's going to be a bit of a biased review here. But I've been watching martial arts movies since I was a kid, and that was a long time ago. To me, the movies are operas and good comedies, while some are cheesy good.

Here I present what I consider the best martial arts movie fight scenes, assessed according to drama, choreography, and entertainment value.

Enter the Dragon: Lee versus O'hara

The protagonist in Enter the Dragon, Lee (played by Bruce Lee) has been hired by British Intelligence to investigate a criminal outfit on a remote island, run by gangster Mr. Han. Lee's sister had died at the hands of Han's henchman, O'hara, when he and his gang chased her into an abandoned building to assault her. I won't reveal any more details than that, but suffice it to say that Lee was not happy with O'hara. Unexpectedly, Lee meets O'hara on Han's island. The scene is operatic, showing how deep Bruce Lee's dramatic skills were; the scene leaves an incredible impression; Lee conveys a sense of rage and grief rarely seen in martial arts movie scenes. A classic portrayal of the deep pain of violence.

Return of the Dragon Nunchaku Alley Fight

Bruce Lee plays an unassuming country bumpkin named Tang Lung in Return of the Dragon who goes to Rome to help his uncle with his restaurant; the staff don't think very highly of him and assume he doesn't amount to much, and certainly do not think he's formidable. In one scene his skeptical new acquaintances are introduced to Tang Lung's talents. It was a well-crafted scene, has a certain poetry to it that is memorable, in which Tang Lung fights a gang of thugs sent to extort money from his uncle.

However, probably most memorable is a later scene in which Bruce whips out the nunchaku and makes short work of his adversaries, in true Bruce Lee fashion with some comedy added to accentuate the thugs' clueless and bumbling ways.

Return of the Dragon: Bruce Lee Versus Chuck Norris

Before Chuck Norris was a major movie star he was in Return of the Dragon with Bruce Lee, playing Bruce's most difficult adversary. The fight between the two expert martial artists conveys a sense of the futility of fighting and the regard one person can have for another, though their circumstances create tragic events. Incredible choreography and surprisingly touching sentiment, this scene is definitely a classic in martial arts cinema.

Legend of the Drunken Master Final Fight

Jackie Chan is a master of stunt work and choreography and it's hard to choose which scenes are his best, because they're all good. Rumble in the Bronx has some of the best fight scenes ever made, creative and extraordinarily well-performed. However, I have chosen to include in this list the classic final scene of Drunken Master 2. Jackie seems to be losing, but finds his second wind in the form of a heavy intoxicant poured down the gullet: Incredibly dramatic and climactic scene that is very intense. One of my favorites.

Underground Fight in Enter the Dragon

Bruce Lee's choreography in this scene is incredible: Drama, versatility, aesthetically pleasing. This scene has it all. The versatile use of various weapons, true Bruce Lee finesse, the intensity and explosiveness: The scene is one of the greatest in martial arts film.


So, that's my breakdown of what I consider the best martial arts fight scenes of all time. Of course, many more could have been added to the list, and more great fight scenes are being created, I'm sure, as I write.

I think the choreographers of these scenes were trying to convey something of significance in the scenes they created: Something of struggle, something of the tragedy of violence, something of the value of peace. Through art, they were trying to convey something of meaning beyond the excitement and entertainment of the spectacular fight sequences they presented. Both aesthetic appeal and underlying meaning are what give these scenes special depth and life. So, hopefully viewers feel inspired to explore both the outer and the deeper value of such masterpieces.


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