The Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to keep its movies from feeling stale and formulaic by exploring new genre frameworks. Ant-Man is a heist movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera (and a little bit of a jukebox musical), and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a ‘70s-style paranoid conspiracy thriller.
The latest MCU movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is the franchise’s first martial arts movie. There are plenty of great movies in that genre – both timeless classics featuring legendary stars such as Bruce Lee and modern gems that can be found on streaming services – for fans of Shang-Chi to check out.
10 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
One of the most gloriously stylized wuxia movies ever made, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon broke the record for the most Oscar nominations for a non-English-language film in 2000. The film tells the tale of two great romances in 19th century Qing Dynasty China.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton pays homage to this movie in Shang-Chi’s opening prologue. The fight choreography when Ying Li is confronted by Wenwu – floating around the trees in a beautiful ballet of hand-to-hand combat – was heavily influenced by Crouching Tiger’s uniquely poetic fight scenes. Plus, the great Michelle Yeoh appears in both movies as a wise mentor who can also take down any opponent who crosses her path.
9 The Raid (2011)
Gareth Evans’ The Raid uses the minimalist plot of an elite squad infiltrating a drug lord’s high-rise to offer a relentless 101-minute action sequence. Iko Uwais leads a cast of master martial artists through a string of increasingly intense, high-stakes, and blood-soaked fight scenes.
The visceral, fast-paced battles in Shang-Chi – particularly in the scaffolding set piece – are reminiscent of the pencak silat fight sequences found in The Raid and its equally thrilling sequel, The Raid 2. The trope of one man fighting against a seemingly endless horde of enemies is repeated in both films, dramatically raising the stakes for the protagonists as they struggle to fight their way out of an impossible situation.
8 Fist Of Fury (1972)
Bruce Lee is the legendary actor and fighter whose groundbreaking starring vehicles inspired a wave of martial arts movies in the 1970s. Fist of Fury stars Lee as a Huo Yuanjia student who takes on foreign oppressors to avenge his master’s death.
Aside from both having cool fight sequences, Fist of Fury and Shang-Chi share a few key themes, like grief, the need to fight injustice, and the consequences of violence. Fist of Fury also shares Shang-Chi‘s visual flair as a number of action sequences are punctuated by bursts of color.
7 Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Quentin Tarantino put an unforgettable stamp on the action genre with the hyper-stylized fight scenes of his two-part epic Kill Bill. The beauty of Kill Bill is that Uma Thurman brings real pathos and humanity to what the Bride goes through – being left for dead, losing a child, spending four years in a coma – while Tarantino is busy dressing it up with stylish action.
While Volume 2 is more of a contemporary spaghetti western crossed with a straightforward exploitation thriller, Volume 1 is a full-blown martial arts movie paying homage to such classics as Lady Snowblood and Game of Death. Both films satisfy the audience’s desire for rapid-fire action with a relatable protagonist that anyone can root for to succeed.
6 The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (1978)
With its story of a young boy who witnesses a ruthless attack and trains extensively to become a kung fu master before seeking revenge, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is kind of a martial arts spaghetti western. It plays like Death Rides a Horse with kung fu in lieu of gunslinging.
Hailed as one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is arguably the jewel in the crown of the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio. The film’s revenge plotline bears a striking similarity to Shang-Chi‘s as the Marvel hero also is determined to avenge his mother’s death.
5 The Night Comes For Us (2018)
The underappreciated Netflix original The Night Comes for Us opens with a gangster gaining a conscience and saving a little girl from the massacre of her entire village. His boss then proceeds to send the entire Triad and all the cops on his payroll after the gangster, the little girl, and everybody brave enough to help them.
Both Shang-Chi and The Night Comes for Us revolve around a makeshift vigilante team taking on a hundreds-strong crime syndicate. The difference is that The Night Comes for Us has brutal, uncompromising violence – it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.
4 The Street Fighter (1974)
1974’s The Street Fighter kickstarted a trilogy centered around Sonny Chiba’s Takuma Tsurugi character, a mercenary who’s hired by gangsters to beat up their rivals. The trilogy famously appeared at the beginning of True Romance when Alabama meets Clarence at a marathon screening and he declares Chiba to be the greatest kung fu movie star of all time. Tsurugi is more of a morally ambiguous antihero than the noble, righteous hero of Shang-Chi, but both movies revolve around a kung fu master singlehandedly taking on legions of henchmen on a vigilante crusade.
3 Hero (2002)
Inspired by Jing Ke’s assassination attempt on the King of Qin in 227 BC, Hero stars Jet Li as a nameless protagonist who’s summoned by the monarch to be congratulated on killing three of the most notorious assassins in the land. The film then recounts how each of those assassins is dispatched in a variety of brutal and creative ways.
Both Hero and Shang-Chi tell the story of a courageous fighter taking on a much more powerful opponent. Hero even features Tony Leung, the screen legend who played Wenwu in Shang-Chi. In addition, both films share a visual flair for slow-motion fight choreography that emphasizes the beauty of two foes locked in battle.
2 Drunken Master (1978)
Directed by Yuen Woo-ping, Drunken Master stars Jackie Chan in one of his best movies as a martial artist who unlocks his abilities by learning how to fight drunk from an alcoholic master. The film is notable for bringing the Zui Quan (“drunken fist”) fighting style into the mainstream.
One of the greatest things about Shang-Chi is its perfect balance of action and comedy, and the goofy, action-driven premise of Drunken Master ensured that it achieved the same balance. Jackie Chan’s comical fighting style is coyly referenced in the opening bus sequence when Shang-Chi effortlessly uses his jacket as a weapon before cooly putting it back on in the middle of a fight.
1 Enter The Dragon (1973)
1973’s Enter the Dragon was the final movie that Bruce Lee completed before his untimely death. Released a month after Lee passed away, Enter the Dragon was praised by critics as an action-packed masterpiece and became a huge hit at the box office.
The plot of Enter the Dragon is so similar to the turn of Shang-Chi’s second act – in both movies, the hero infiltrates an underground martial arts tournament on his way to confront a fearsome crime boss – that it feels like a direct homage.
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