As we continue to literally whizz through 2018, there’s no denying one thing – 2017 had some absolutely amazing martial arts films with some out-of-this world action! Before we can even get into our Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies of 2018, it’s of course necessary to take a look back at the best that 2017 had to offer, after which we’ll countdown the Top 10 Martial Arts Movie Fights of 2017. Well, before we can throwdown 2018’s action-laden output, we must first finish up the rundown of 2017’s greatest hits -no pun intended! So, buckle up readers, here are KFK’s Top 10 Martial Arts Movies of 2017! (in descending order)
“Hold on a second, didn’t ‘Undisputed IV’ take the number one spot for the 2016 list?”, you ask. Indeed it did, but that’s because we here at KFK were immensely privileged to give the film a look in 2016 just after its premiere at 2016’s Fantastic Fest. (And trust us, even we didn’t expect to have seen it as far in advance as ultimately ended up being the case, but martial arts fans can certainly agree that our genre is a bit more fickle than others when it comes to release dates.) Nevertheless, given that most fans of ‘The Most Complete Fighter in the World’ didn’t have the opportunity to see his triumphant return to the ring until 2017, we’d be remiss to not give Boyka a shout out on this year’s list, as there can be no doubt that “Boyka: Undisputed IV” is on any self-respecting martial arts fan’s list for the Best of 2017!
- “Plan B”
- “Commando 2: The Black Money Trail”
- “Birth of the Dragon”
- “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”
- “Wolf Warrior 2”
- “Beyond Skyline”
- “The Defenders”
- “John Wick: Chapter Two”
- “Into the Badlands”: Season Two
The first feature film from German stunt team Reel Deal Action, “Plan B” is a loving send up to all things 80’s and, like “John Wick” and “Unlucky Stars”, further solidifies the argument that stunt people are better suited than anyone else to serve the best action sequences possible. When the aspiring action stars that make up Reel Deal Action find themselves in over their heads trying to escape the clutches of Berlin’s most ruthless mob boss, they’re forced to put their extensive physical skills to the test in an exhilarating blend of comedy and martial arts action. In its affectionate homage to everything from “Back to the Future” to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, “Plan B” serves up a refreshing nostalgic love letter to the 80’s with loads of terrific action and daredevil stunt work to top it off!
The ancient art of Kalaripayattu has the best big screen ambassador it could possibly ask for in the form of Vidyut Jammwal, (The New Age Action Hero of Bollywood) who raises the bar for Indian action once more in “Commando 2: The Black Money Trail”. This time, our hero transitions from John Rambo to James Bond to take down an under-the-radar money laundering scheme that’s draining money from India and into the coffers of its most vicious criminal overlord. The opening action sequence, which looks like the offspring of “The Raid” and “District B13”, gives the audience their money’s worth right out of the gate, and sets up Mr. Jammwal to wow viewers throughout the film with his incredible physicality and square-jawed, towering charisma. And rest assured, impressing the audience “Commando 2” does!
Bruce Lee‘s legendary fight with Wong Jack-man is transformed into the most fun Bruceploitation movie ever made with “Birth of the Dragon” – and the second time the famed duel between these kung fu masters had been recreated on the big screen after 1993’s “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”. “Birth of the Dragon” heavily fictionalizes the circumstances surrounding the fight, but in doing so pays it the great tribute of illustrating the immortalizing effect that such monuments of history take on when they rise to the level of ‘legendary’.
Some may take exception to the brash and cocky attitude Bruce exhibits in the film, until you realize that its meant to be allegorical, with Bruce embodying the very know-it-all attitude he would later seek to reform in the martial arts world, whilst Wong Jack-man embodied the enlightenment that Bruce would gain from the fight. Phillip Ng and Xia Yu absolutely nail it as Bruce and Wong, and make no mistake, the film’s recreation of Bruce and Wong’s duel hits it out of the park!
Spy movies rarely embrace the kind of “Looney Tunes” meets “Itchy and Scratchy” tone of the “Kingsman” series, and by the halfway point of “The Golden Circle”, you’ll wish they did so more often. For the sequel to 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, the titular British spy organization is wiped out by the psychotic drug lord Poppy Adams, forcing the surviving agents of Kingsman, Eggsy and Merlin, to team up with the American covert spy group, Statesman, to put a stop to her nefarious plot. The utter zaniness of the first film is amped up in “The Golden Circle” with an even more cartoonishly evil villain with an even more outlandishly crazy scheme. The action sequences, with the help of Jackie Chan stunt team vet Brad Allen, are totally bonkers and ascend to greater heights of insanity culminating in a final battle where everything from taser-lassos to meat-mincers are put to use as combat weapons. And let’s just go ahead and admit it – the film’s version of John Denver’s “Country Roads” is better than the genuine article!
China is said to soon become the world’s biggest box office gold mine, and with $874 million almost entirely off the strength of the Asian film market alone, “Wolf Warrior 2” makes the case that that day is drawing near. Returning to his dual roles of director and soldier extraordinaire Leng Feng, Wu Jing crafts a modern-day Rambo in an explosion-packed battle of fists and bullets, and with the film’s widespread acclaim and box office success, cements himself as the next great action filmmaker. With a breakneck pace and significantly more kung fu than its predecessor, “Wolf Warrior 2” is one super-soldier action movie franchise we certainly don’t want to see ending anytime soon, and its quite safe to say that it won’t be!
Bringing martial arts action into an alien invasion movie is certainly both a novel and cool concept, and Liam O’Donnell’‘s “Beyond Skyline” hits the bull’s eye. The sequel to the 2010 sleeper hit “Skyline”, the film follows a grizzled L.A. detective whose riff with his teenage son is interrupted by an inexplicable alien invasion that forces him to join forces with Southeast Asian rebels to defeat the extraterrestrial army. Frank Grillo and Iko Uwais play so magnificently off each other that one can’t help but get instantly hyped for what Grillo is bringing to the table for the upcoming Hollywood remake of “The Raid”, and the film serves up a globe-spanning alien invasion that’s equal parts “Pacific Rim” and “Independence Day”. However, the novelty of the film’s premise hits home in a final martial arts extravaganza between man and ET’s in an ancient temple that resembles Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat, that’s truly one for the history books!
Marvel and Netflix’s highly anticipated superhero crossover hyped itself up as a “street-level Avengers”, and by the end of the final episode, “The Defenders” has pretty convincingly lived up to that boast. Bringing together the title characters of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, “The Defenders” brings together the strongest attributes of each individual series and delivers frenetic martial arts action worthy of anything on the big screen corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The buddy chemistry of Luke Cage and Danny Rand especially makes the Netflix wing of the MCU one that viewers will not hesitate to return to, while the ending leaves you eager to see more of where our heroes go next. This is particularly true of the second season of “Iron Fist” and the third of “Daredevil”, both of which are perfectly set up by the “The Defenders” end. And naturally, no Marvel-Netflix series would be complete without a really spectacular hallway battle, and “The Defenders” is no exception.
Sequels rarely outdo their predecessors with as much casual ease as does “John Wick: Chapter Two”, but the follow-up to 2014’s sleeper hit about the arcane underworld of assassins truly makes it look easy. John Wick wants nothing more than to leave his life as the world’s most feared assassin behind, but a blood oath that’s part and parcel of his line of work pulls him back in, forcing him to fight a whole new set of enemies. Audiences first got a glimpse at the underground world of assassins in “John Wick”, but this time, we’re given backstage passes to see just how big this world really is. Under the direction of veteran stunt man Chad Stahelski, “John Wick: Chapter Two” delivers some of the most satisfying action sequences of the year, and seriously turns its title character into one of the all-time great big screen badasses. Bring it on, “John Wick: Chapter Three”!
Two seasons in, and it’s crystal clear that to find that most finely tuned, big screen worthy martial arts action on the small screen, one must venture “Into the Badlands”. AMC’s post-apocalyptic re-imaging of “Journey to the West” brings everything action-hungry viewers crave to the table, and like the network’s mega-hit zombie series, “The Walking Dead”, takes the gloves off and keeps them off to dish out absolutely nail-bitingly bloody action. Daniel Wu continues to carry the series as a compelling and stoic leading man, while the addition of comedian Nick Frost as his fast-talking sidekick Bajie injects the series with considerable levity. Be sure to mark your calendars now, Season Three lands on April 22nd.
…and in at #1 is…
As Jason Bourne once taught us, men stricken with amnesia are not to be trifled with, and nowhere is that clearer than in “Headshot”, the most relentlessly blood-soaked movie of 2017. It also manages to be an emotional tale of reclaiming freedom and asserting individuality even at the cost turning one’s back on those whom they’ve come to know as “family”. Those even mildly uncomfortable with the sight of blood absolutely need not apply, as filmmakers, The Mo Brothers absolutely shower Iko Uwais and his supporting cast with an avalanche of blood and guts. Some of the most punishingly brutal martial arts sequences ever put to film are vividly brought to life in “Headshot”, and yet The Mo Brothers know how to create a veritable ballet of bloodshed, and further emotionally invest the audience with our hero’s recovery of his fighting prowess running parallel to his memory, gradually returning to him until his final confrontation with “father”, where he emerges as man reborn in a final duel that is simply stunning. Indonesia seems to be emerging as one of the new Hong Kongs for martial arts movie fanatics – and offering up films like “Headshot” as standard issue, it could very well remain that way for a long time to come…
So there we have it folks, KFK’s list of the Top 10 Martial Arts Movies of 2017! Which ones did you see, enjoy and rate the most? Let us know in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Watch out for our countdown of 2017’s best martial arts movie fights, most anticipated martial arts movies of 2018, and much more! (Why not check out our other martial arts’ Top 10’s?)