Now on DVD: The Best Martial Arts Movies of 2008

Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee

[Amazon] [IMDB] [Netflix]
Starring Dustin Nguyen, Roger Fan, Aiko Tanaka and M.C. Hammer

Loosely based on the true story of Bruce Lee’s “lost footage”, Finishing the Game is a dry, sharply written satire of 70’s era Kung Fu filmmaking. Martial artists and genre fans will enjoy it immensely, but newcomers may not appreciate its subtle humor.
My rating: A-

Finishing the Game

Fist Foot Way

[Amazon] [IMDB] [Netflix]
Starring Danny McBride

If Finishing the Game was a little too dry, this low-budget Tae Kwon Do comedy is a little too dumb. Pathetic strip-mall instructor Fred Simmons abuses his students, and idolizes movie star Chuck “The Truck” Wallace. When Wallace finally pays a visit to his dojang–and his horny wife–Simmons’ martial virtues are put to the test.

A few scenes in this movie will make you laugh, and a few others will make you squirm.
My rating: B-

The Fist Foot Way

Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon

[Amazon] [IMDB] [Netflix]
Starring Andy Lau, Maggie Q and Sammo Hung

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written more than 500 years ago, has long been one of China’s most treasured novels. Andy Lau’s film is the first of two released this year, to be based on this classic work of historical fiction. Although short on the individual fight action scenes that identify the typical “martial arts movie”, it is nevertheless an entertaining work.

Andy Lau in Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon

The second Three Kingdoms movie, John Woo’s Battle of Red Cliff, will be released as a two-part epic. The first two-hour section is available now, and the last is scheduled for January 2009.
My ratings: B+ for Three Kingdoms and Red Cliff


[Amazon] [IMDB] [Netflix]
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tim Allen

I am not usually a fan of American martial arts dramas, with their second-rate fight choreography (in comparison to Hong Kong) and shallow moral lecturing. Redbelt was a pleasant surprise. David Mamet shuns most of the Miyagi-style stereotypes, and delivers a moving, suspenseful story with three-dimensional human beings.
My rating: A-

More of the Best…

Jet Li in Warlords
Jet Li in Warlords

Some of the Rest…

Tony Jaa in Ong Bak 2
Tony Jaa in Ong Bak 2

These martial arts movies were also released this year, but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch them. If you’ve seen one, please share your review below.

Are there any I forgot to mention?


  1. The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite; after a long period of union, tends to divide. This has been so since antiquity.

    – The opening words of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

    The ROTK has been one of my favorite books, and indeed I hope to read it in Japanese when my ability in that language becomes greater. A friend of mine has obtained for me a Japanese version of the TV series based on ROTK, with English subtitles. I am looking forward to seeing it.

  2. I haven’t read Romance of the Three Kingdoms in any language, but if the book is even better than the movies, I’ll have to add it to my list.

  3. Finally! My main reason for returning to the site! These lists make me so happy each year.

    I watched The Rebel a couple years back, and thought it was pretty good. Fight scenes aren’t amazing, but pretty darn good. Story was decent, but I wasn’t expecting much to begin with.

    My efforts to locate Ong Bak 2 have gone nowhere, which is quite surprising considering how easy it was to locate the later-released Ip Man.

    Your link to “Kung Fu Drunk” leads to the Warlords, and this made me sad.

    Looking forward to next year!

  4. Thank you, I fixed the link. Someone released a cam version of Ong Bak 2 last week, but I’d rather wait for the real thing.

  5. ong-bak 2 was amazing deff one of the best and shows us tony jaa’s badass skillz

  6. Ong Bak 2 is somewhat simple and convoluted in plot with very little dialogue, which on the flipside happens to benefit the movie adding much dramatic tension and keeping an eye turned to the action. A prequel in time-line alone, it takes place in presumably feudal times and has nothing to do with the original apart from Tony Jaa’s amazing martial ability and the inclusion of elephants. He plays a slave child readied for sacrifice only to be saved by a Pirate leader who adopts him and teaches him the ways of martial arts. I will say this: Tony Jaa amazes me more than anyone since Bruce Lee himself. This guy is the real deal and he is showcased to the utmost here with amazing fight sequences throughout the whole movie, using both open fist (or elbow if you will, ha ha, muay thai reference) and weapons. As you watch remember that he uses no wires and has no stunt men. The Finale is especially breathtaking. Somewhat visceral, it’s almost akin to Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” in cinematography and the jungle it’s filmed in is beautiful. The action sequences are without any sort of magic or special effect (remember – no wires) but do have some fantastical characters and costumes, especially the antagonists. The film is tastefully visceral and very welcome in my collection. Also……NINJA AND PIRATES BOTH!!!!! YOU HEARD ME! Go watch this. Well worth it.

  7. You should watch a movie called Ip Man, it’s in Chinese and only English subs. The movie is about the life of the guy who instructed Bruce Lee, def worth a watch 😉

  8. Only one of these I’ve seen is The Forbidden Kingdom. I’m relieved that you gave it a C+ because I thought it was pretty lame, especially considering it had Jackie Chan and Jet Li in it. One wonders what they as actors gain out of participating in a film like this. I only watched the whole thing because I had a desire at the time to watch some kung fu.

    But thanks for this list, I’m glad there are better movies out there, and I’m surprised to see it’s such a long list. Wikipedia had a very short list… why is their list so exclusive? I just assumed that the majority would be on the Wikipedia list.

  9. So I just went and started watching Ong Bak 2. Okay, I can’t get through it right now. I’m just not in the mood for that much violence. In terms of freakish characters, it’s worse than the original Ong Bak. There are just a bunch of characters who have no depth other than to serve as hideous, evil, violent monsters. I can’t even tell what this movie is about plot-wise ’cause it doesn’t appear to even have one. In terms of just watching Tony Jaa, this might be more interesting. Having seen Ong Bak, I knew this wouldn’t have depth… I am not in the mood for that right now! Maybe another time.

  10. Now I’m watching Shaolin Girl. I’d give it a B-. Why do all these martial arts movies have to be so unoriginal? You’d think if people were going to invest that much time and money into making a film, they’d bother coming up with an interesting story. It’s so unrealistic and philosophically indulgent. C’mon, we all know that martial arts ideally won’t be in use outside of class, but obviously it’s not helpful if the only people who learn how to fight are the ones who want to beat people up. The bad guy is also just silly.

    On the plus side, it’s a film about a bunch of girls, so that’s a little break from the routine. And the whole lacrosse thing as a means of learning kung fu. Heh.

  11. I haven’t watched any good martial arts movies lately. Probably because a lot of the ones I have seen use point-fighting rather then something like Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. Any recommendations on more realistic fighting?

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