We’d like to be as frank as we can with you – with the COVID-19 pandemic that’s affected everything we all take for granted about day-to-day life, 2020 was a rough year for the entire world.
Unfortunately, the need for social distancing and mask wearing also affected everything we’d all been looking forward to seeing at our local cinemas too, with entire theater chains closing down for months and many remaining so today. This, of course, had a huge impact on everything coming down the pipeline in 2020, with many movies being postponed by as long as a year, and others simply dropping on streaming platforms instead.
Fortunately, with the grim spectre of 2020 well behind us, we can all look ahead towards better days as we begin to rebound from the pandemic. Among the innumerable great things about the spirit of martial arts is that it’s always free and vibrant even at the worst of times. Of course, us aficionados of action have had to adapt our expectations alongside everyone else, but with the internet and streaming uniting the world like never before, we have plenty to look forward to in the rest of 2021 as we rebuild from unfortunate struggles of the past year.
As is common knowledge among the devoted, martial arts can sometimes be a fickle genre in the entertainment world, which tends to affect the release patterns of upcoming movies and series’ even in normal times, and far more so now. “The Outlaw Johnny Black”, “Snake Eyes”, “F9”, “Project X-traction”, and “The King’s Man” are all upcoming martial-arts flicks we’ve shared our anticipation for previously and which hopefully, we’ll get to see this year. Ditto for “Kung Fury 2”, which is currently tied up in some legal issues, as well.
Aside from holdovers that will hopefully make landfall this year, 2021 has plenty for martial arts aficionados to sink their teeth into. Of course, we’ll all have to exercise a great deal more patience and flexibility this year in comparison to previous ones, as efforts to recover from the pandemic must take priority above all. Nevertheless, as Bruce Lee himself once pointed out: ‘Under the sky, under the heavens there is but one family.’
Now it’s time to buckle up get ready for an action thrill ride – as here, in descending order, are KFK’s Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies of 2021!
- Raya and the Last Dragon
- Assault on VA-33
- Castle Falls
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
- Rising Shaolin: The Protector
- Iron Monkey
- The Matrix 4
- Raging Fire
We’ve seen this and it’s just out now, but thought we’d mention this one for those who aren’t aware. We would have been seeing “Raya and the Last Dragon” in theaters this past fall, and the delay to March is yet another thing to send COVID whatever the opposite of a ‘thank you’ letter is for. The animated adventure sees Kelly Marie Tran of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” as the voice of Raya, a young warrior tasked with finding the last dragon to save the world known as Kumandra.
When you think of Pixar, you naturally think more along the lines of “Toy Story” and “Inside Out”, so a martial arts-laden epic adventure is certainly a change of pace for them. This is one that genre aficionados will definitely want to check out as much as for Ms. Tran’s transition to carrying a story herself with its animated action scenes.
The trailer certainly does a splendid job of selling “Russian Raid”, but one look at the title, and it’s not hard to guess where the movie’s taking its cue from.
“Russian Raid” follows Nikita, a former Russian Spetsnaz operative who is recruited into a mission to take down the security force of a local factory, with him and his team soon finding themselves in over their heads once the mission is underway.
If you haven’t guessed yet, “The Raid” is the basic template that “Russian Raid” is dancing to, but it’s also adding enough of its own to put a new spin on the overall formula.
Not unlike the different twists often made to the basic premise of “Die Hard”, “The Raid” was the game changer in action movies that’s still inspiring movie makers nearly a decade hence. The trailer for “Russian Raid” showcases an exhilarating action movie, and hopefully, one that lives up to its namesake.
It’s frankly been a long time coming for Michael Jai White and Mark Dacascos to be seen in the same movie, while the addition of Sean Patrick Flanery just sweetens the deal for “Assault on VA-33” even more.
Flanery portrays PTSD-stricken military veteran Jason Hill, who is forced into a harrowing hostage situation involving his wife when terrorists take control of the VA hospital. Michael Jai White and Mark Dacascos, of course, need no introduction to action fans, but Sean Patrick Flanery is simultaneously a Hollywood vet and a rising action star himself.
A well-versed martial artist in his own right, Flanery has recently begun receiving acclaim for his performances in martial arts-oriented roles, winning particular acclaim for his new MMA movie “Born a Champion”, which he also wrote.
Of course, the stakes are a tad higher than what one encounters in the octagon in “Assault on VA-33”, but its stellar cast of martial-arts masters, which also includes the great TNA/WWE wrestling world champion, Rob Van Dam, are all clearly bringing their A-game.
Remember Halle Berry’s show-stealing mid-movie battle alongside Baba Yaga himself in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”?
She’ll be stepping out of the Continental and into the octagon herself in the upcoming MMA drama “Bruised”, which also marks Berry’s directorial debut.
“Bruised” sees Berry portray ‘Jackie Justice’, a former MMA champ stepping back into the cage to take on one of the sport’s current heavy hitters, while reconnecting with her estranged son.
The title is fitting in more ways than one, with “Bruised” having to briefly shut down production early on after Berry incurred an injury in a fight scene. Between that and the electricity she brought to “Parabellum”, “Bruised” is an MMA flick to keep your eye’s peeled for ahead of its Netflix release later this year.
Want to talk about action movies that COVID put a roadblock in front of? “Castle Falls” literally got halfway into its first day of production before having to close up shop once the lockdowns began.
Scott Adkins kept himself busy in the interim with tutorial videos on YouTube and his excellent interview series “The Art of Action”, but once productions were able to resume in late 2020 (obviously under strict anti-COVID safety regulations), “Castle Falls” was finally able to be completed.
The movie is also the latest collaboration between Scott and Dolph Lundgren, following such action films as “The Expendables 2” and “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”, with Dolph directing and the endlessly dynamic Tim Man handling the action. No release date or trailer at the moment, but the team involved is more than enough to go by.
Here’s a case of good news, bad news. The bad news is that “John Wick 4” was among the many movies whose release plans were impacted by the pandemic, with the film’s intended release date (in theaters, March 26th) pushed back by a year. The good news is “Nobody” is not only clearly cut from the same cloth, but looks like it ought to more than help tide fans of assassin-action movies over until then.
Bob Odenkirk portrays Hutch Mansell, a simple family whose humble life is thrown into disarray when he is forced to unleash his concealed assassin skill set once more to defend his family.
From the reliable 87 Eleven folks, “Nobody” is an obvious byproduct of the assassin-movie craze that “John Wick” kicked off back in 2014, and judging from the trailer, looks well-equipped to kick butt at the same intensity.
The movie even arrives with perhaps the most modest action movie title ever, a night and day contrast to the fighting machine that Mr. Mansell clearly portrays in the trailer. The film might be titled “Nobody”, but it’s something for everybody to watch out for!
In the comics, he was known as the “Master of Kung Fu”, and the truth of those words will be brought to life in the upcoming “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”.
Not a lot is known about the story at the moment, although the fake-out version of ‘The Mandarin’ seen in “Iron Man 3” is now being traded out for the real deal, with Hong Kong star Tony Leung in the role opposite Simu Liu’s Shang Chi.
Leung isn’t the only Hong Kong star on hand, either, with Michelle Yeoh also set to star in the film as ‘Jiang Nan’. “Shang Chi” is currently due to be released on July 9th, and an emphasis must be placed on “currently”, since the movie has already been forced to push its date back several times due to the pandemic. Naturally, even its current spot this summer may be subject to change.
Still, with decades of comic book history behind him, Shang Chi will finally jump right into the ever-expanding pantheon of superhero movies with loads of martial arts action. Stay tuned for the trailer and more on KFK!
Helmed by the great Stanley Tong, known for his many collaborations with Jackie Chan, “Rising Shaolin” has already dropped on streaming platforms in China, so hopefully, news of a Western release won’t be too far behind.
Wang Baoqiang was outstanding in such prior performances as 2014’s “Kung Fu Killer”, and the training sequence seen in the trailer seemingly teases quite a loving update of Jet Li’s famed “Four Seasons” training montage in “The Shaolin Temple”. Based on that alone, “Rising Shaolin” could really prove to be something special among the martial-arts flicks debuting in 2021.
Yue Song is gradually turning into the next Jackie Chan, and while that might sound hyperbolic at face value, go take a look at the punishment he puts himself through in “King of the Streets” and “Super Bodyguard” (released stateside as “Iron Protector”), all the way through to writing and directing each.
Not to be confused with the 1993 Donnie Yen movie of the same name, “Iron Monkey” sees Song portray a solitary warrior known only as ‘Thunder’, who breaks rank with a despotic leader in post-apocalyptic Earth to rescue a band of women he’s holding captive in the hope of using one of their hearts to extend his dwindling lifespan.
Essentially a Chinese, martial arts-filled spin on “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “Iron Monkey” premiered on VOD in China last summer, and the emerging dynamism of Yue Song makes it one that Western viewers will surely want to sit tight for.
Song’s extremely hard-hitting approach to action scenes made his two previous films jaw-dropping and full of wince-worthy moments, and the fact that he puts himself through such rigors while consistently writing and directing his own projects is something to silently tip your hat to.
No word on a stateside or UK release yet, but hopefully, via Well Go USA or Hi-YAH! will be how English-speaking viewers get to see “Iron Monkey” before too much longer.
Franchise revivals are all the rage these days, and frankly, it’s about time for a return to “The Matrix”. Rumored to carry such titles as “The Matrix Resurrections” to simply “Matrix”, “The Matrix 4” brings Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss back as our heroes from the original trilogy, Neo and Trinity.
Not a huge amount more is known about it right now, aside from that Daniel Bernhardt is also returning as Agent Johnson (check out our interview with Daniel where he talks a bit about it). Being unaware of the full details of what we were in for was exactly what made “The Matrix” the ultimate sleeper hit in 1999.
That and the gravity-defying wire-fu action and bullet-time effect, both of which are sure to be key components of “The Matrix 4”, but that just goes without saying!
This was previously mentioned on the 2020 list, and normally, we’d simply list it in the holdover column with the others, but “Raging Fire” is receiving a second proper column on this year’s list for a very specific and unfortunately, sad reason.
Bringing together Donnie Yen and his “Ip Man 4” co-star Chris Collins once more, “Raging Fire” also carries the heartening distinction of being the final movie of director Benny Chan, who passed away of cancer last year. Mr. Chan helmed such action hits as “Shaolin”, “Rob-B-Hood”, “Invisible Target”, “New Police Story”, and Jackie Chan’s “Who Am I?“
His innate talent for marrying electrifying action scenes with strong characters and a compelling story is all over the trailer for “Raging Fire”, and though its release this July will be a posthumous one, it’ll give Hong Kong action film lovers one last glimpse at a master in the driver’s seat.
…and in at #1 is…
What else is there to say after that trailer beyond simply whipping out Shang Tsung’s quote from the 1995 original, “It has begun”?
Arriving in both open theaters and on HBO Max on April 16th, due to Warner Bros. entire 2021 slate adopting that release model, no other 2021 martial arts flick touches “Mortal Kombat” for breathless anticipation, with the game’s gruesome fatalities brought to life in a way many would never have thought possible.
The reboot is also taking the unexpected approach of centering on a new character not originating from the games in the form of MMA fighter ‘Cole Young’, played by Lewis Tan, but he already bears some hidden connection to the tournament for the fate of the realms with his mysterious dragon birthmark.
Even without any history with the games, the trailer is just a glorious, out-of-control silo of kung fu, while the rollout of characters already shows that nobody’s going to be warming the bench. Truth be told, the trailer for “Mortal Kombat” might already be the most exhilarating blast of martial arts so far this year, leaving one to just imagine how incredibly all out berserker the movie itself is going to be!
Be sure to check out KFK’s interview with Joe Taslim where he talks a bit about his role as ‘Sub-Zero’ in the movie, and until April 16th, retro yourself out on the old classic above – “Mortal Kombat” hath commenced!