by Angela Chow

Watching two or more skilful fighters battle it out with their fists and knees is as mesmerising as it is brutal.

Martial arts flicks are not all about sheer violence, though. Rather, they bring to the screen very personal stories, whether they be of self-improvement, vengeance, or redemption. So, from period dramas to works of visionary artistry and pure adrenaline-pumping action films, here are four of the best martial arts movies to put on your watch list.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Bruce Lee’s filmography is filled to the brim with cult classics. But the tragic story behind Enter the Dragon makes it more than just another martial arts flick. Directed by Robert Clouse, the movie hit theatres a few days after Lee’s premature passing. His last proper body of work, despite an on-screen appearance in the rather tepid Game of Death in 1978, Enter the Dragon cemented the “Little Dragon” as an icon.

Yet the unfortunate circumstances surrounding its release would not have been enough to make Enter the Dragon Lee’s highest-rated film on IMDB, if not for memorable action sequences and a solid, ground-breaking plot mixing spy elements with martial arts action. Enter the Dragon also left an enduring mark on pop culture as a whole, influencing as many comic books as TV shows and video games.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A wuxia film verging on the fantastical, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not your run-of-the-mill martial arts movie. Set in the 19th century, the film follows a group of people seeking a mythical sword. And as they fight each other out, their martial skills sure defy the laws of gravity to deliver some of the most exhilarating and whimsical fight scenes ever seen on the silver screen.

Still, filmmaker Ang Lee’s poetic flair oozes in every sequence. The movie was thus showered with praise for its cinematography and earned several accolades, including two Golden Globes. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also stuns for its star-studded cast of Asian A-listers, such as Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat, and Zhang Ziyi.

Ong Bak (2003)

Classic 80s action flicks like Van Damme’s Kickboxer helped put Muay Thai on the map for international audiences. But Ong Bak was much more of a punch in the gut compared to its arguably corny predecessors. Tony Jaa’s breakout film introduced a traditional form of Thailand’s national martial art known for its ruthless strikes. And the movie’s incredible stunt choreography brought some fighting scenes for the ages, like Ting’s first fights in an underground club where bystanders have him entrapped while sore gamblers boo him at every kick.

Ong Bak’s surprise international success also revived the interest in Muay Thai, prompting many visitors to train in Thailand or grab tickets for Muay Thai fights. Sitting among buoyant crowds within Muay Thai stadiums, on-lookers might even feel like placing a few bets on reputable platforms like Asiabet. While gambling is essentially outlawed in Thailand, online betting offers a safe venue for punters. Alongside sportsbooks, top reviewers even deliver advice on online casinos. Therefore, punters can easily switch to top table games and Muay Thai-themed machine slots.

The Raid (2011)

The Raid kicks off as a S.W.A.T. squad sets out to storm a Jakartan apartment block to take out a notorious drug lord. But the outnumbered team led by Sergeant Jaka, portrayed by martial artist Iko Uwais, soon becomes trapped in the building and has to fight for its very survival. Sure, the film’s plot might seem paper-thin. Yet what made this low-budget Indonesian movie a worldwide phenomenon lies in action sequences so visceral they have hardly been matched on the big screen.

The Raid never shies away from the brutish violence the squad faces while progressing through every floor, and the tension gets even more suffocating when the movie reaches its climax. Besides, the traditional Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat is a welcome break from the usual kung-fu and karate.

Looking to feel the heat of some rousing hand-to-hand combat on your next movie night? The pictures on our list are some of the most electrifying introductions to the genre. And if you haven’t had your fill, many more classics by top martial artists like Jet Li and Jackie Chan await.

Photo: Dushan Hanushka – Flickr