If there’s one thing that action aficionados across the globe can agree on, it’s that 2017 had some seriously awesome martial arts films! However, the time has come once again, to fast-forward into what awaits us this year and low and behold, 2018 looks ready to rock our collective socks off folks, with more stunning action-packed, fu-filling adventures leaping onto the big screen!
In taking a quick glance over what this year has in store for us it’s hard to stop yourself from getting too excited to be able to hide it. Post-apocalyptic adventures on the small screen have risen to the occasion to match the finely-tuned combat of their big-screen counterparts, the superhero genre is incorporating martial arts action more frequently and seamlessly than ever before, and action ensembles are coming back with a vengeance – with one in particular representing the ultimate gathering of martial arts masters.
Of course, due to the often more fickle nature of release dates for our genre, there are a few carry-overs from last year’s list, namely the newly released “Kickboxer: Retaliation” and “Accident Man”, and the third instalment in the “Killzone /SPL” series, “Paradox”.
So, without further ado, here are KFK’s Top 15 Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies of 2018! (with trailers where available)…in descending order…
- “Batman: Ninja”
- “Enter the Fat Dragon”
- “Creed 2”
- “Baaghi 2”
- “Kung Fu Big League”
- “Big Brother”
- “Black Panther”
- “The Invincible Dragon”
- “Ip Man: Cheung Tin-chi”
- “Daredevil”: Season Three
- “Into the Badlands”: Season Three
In any other scenario, that title would be more than a little redundant, but while The Dark Knight’s martial arts mastery and urban ninja training are nothing new, seeing him sent back in time to feudal Japan certainly is! Batman is certainly no stranger to the world of anime, following his appearance in 2008’s “Batman: Gotham Knight”, but the premise of “Batman: Ninja” alone is something any die-hard Bat-fan can surely get on board with. Not to mention the fact that, judging by the trailer, the film may well be poised to deliver some of the most finely tuned animated martial arts action in recent memory, with the whole Bat-family going along for the ride!
Donnie Yen has never been one to hesitate to try new things, and with “Enter the Fat Dragon”, he not only tackles a far more comedic scenario than he normally takes on, but he also zips himself into a fat suit and steps into a modern take on Sammo Hung’s 1978 Bruceploitation parody of the same name. Talk about never going halfway into something! No trailer at the moment, or much info on the film beyond that, but “Enter the Fat Dragon” is most certainly new territory for Donnie Yen, and as we’ve seen in his MMA-driven films and portrayals of Ip Man, if anyone knows how to try new things and make it look easy as pie, its Donnie Yen.
While it may not be a direct adaptation of Capcom’s 2012 video game “Asura’s Wrath”, it’s a safe bet that it was at least a reference point for stuntman-turned-director Peng Zhang. Having lent his talents to such action hits as “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”, “Wonder Woman”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, “Transporter 2”, “Bulletproof Monk”, and “The Wrath of Vajra”, Zhang steps up to helm the most expensive Chinese-language film to date with “Asura”. When the lower heavenly realm of Buddhist cosmology attempts a coup on the realm of pure desire, Asura, it becomes an all-out war for the fates of the realms. With such a vast metaphysical system to draw from (not unlike James Cameron’s “Avatar”) as your source material, it’s no wonder the film comes with such a hefty price tag, but Mr. Zhang is most assuredly well-prepared to pull it off. And if “Asura’s Wrath” has indeed served as a source material to any degree, KFK has at least one suggestion for the film’s soundtrack.
The “Rocky” franchise has made arguably a very counter-intuitive comeback in recent years. 2006’s highly acclaimed “Rocky Balboa” came to be after Sylvester Stallone’s dissatisfaction with “Rocky V”, so you’d think after setting things right, Sly would want to end the series on a high note, right? Well, you’d be wrong, and along comes 2015’s “Creed”, which not only shifted the spotlight to the son of Rocky’s late friend Apollo, but would deliver perhaps the best film in the franchise since The Italian Stallion’s grand debut. And, of course, there’s just too much momentum now to end things there, not when Hollywood Donnie gets a chance to confront his father’s killer, the towering Ivan Drago. Like its title character, you just can’t keep the “Rocky” franchise down and considering the heights the series has risen to in its 21st century instalments, there’s no reason to see it throwing in the towel anytime soon.
2016’s Bollywood hit “Baaghi” wasn’t without its faults, specifically a second act on the streets of Bangkok with way too many similarities with “Ong Bak”. Nevertheless, overlooking that amusing blemish, the film ultimately proved a solid meshing of “The Raid” with “The Karate Kid”, with Tiger Shroff blowing viewers away in one dazzling action sequence after another and single-handedly making the whole film work. Not much is known at the moment regarding the upcoming “Baaghi 2”, but given that the first film ended with its titular hero assuming the role of teacher of his own guru’s Kalaripayattu school, it’s safe to infer that the sequel will see Tiger embody a more disciplined and confident warrior in comparison to the first film. So yeah, a Zen-master, a balanced yin-yang version of this fellow? Sounds good to us!
Pop quiz, hot shot – since the debut of the first “Justice League” trailer at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, have you heard anyone cracking “World’s Lamest Superhero” jokes at the expense of Aquaman? Yeah, neither have we! It’s safe to say at this point that Jason Momoa’s brooding, bad-ass, Parademon-slaying portrayal of the King of Atlantis in 2017’s “Justice League” (and, to a lesser extent, 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice“) has left the ridiculous, utterly asinine myth of Aquaman’s lameness as dead as a doornail. Audiences will see him truly ascend to his throne this holiday season with his eponymous solo adventure. Director James Wan is known primarily for his work on the “Saw”, “Insidious”, and “Conjuring” franchises, but he proved that his talents are not strictly confined to horror movies. With 2015’s action mega-hit “Furious 7“, he took the automotive action of the “Fast and Furious” franchise to new heights of insanity and also proved equally adept with martial arts action by pulling Tony Jaa, Jason Statham, and Ronda Rousey into the film. On top of that, Aquaman’s undersea brawl with Steppenwolf in “Justice League” gave audiences a tantalizing glimpse at King Arthur’s underwater fighting prowess, so its safe to assume that “Aquaman” could be a quite the game-changer for the superhuman martial arts action of comic book movies!
Ensembles and cinematic universes are all the rage nowadays, with everything from the latest superhero crossover to “Expendables”-esque team-ups (to say nothing of a certain upcoming entry on this very list, wink, wink!). That could only mean that sooner or later, a team-up of historical kung fu masters must needs be on the cards, any anachronisms be damned! And sure enough, the world will finally see that come to pass in the upcoming “Kung Fu Big League”. The film brings together a who’s who of martial legends in the form of Wong Fei-hung, Ip Man, Chen Zhen, and Huo Yuanjia, respectively portrayed by Vincent Zhao, Dennis To, Danny Chan, and Andy On. A quick Google search will clarify the divergent time periods each character originates from, but Chinese filmmakers have consistently been anything but reluctant to take a little poetic license with their homeland’s folk heroes. And in the interest of bringing these legends of martial arts together, we have to agree, facts, schmacts! give us a little fan fiction with “Kung Fu Big League”.
We often hear these days about how the world is becoming far more of an international community, and we’re seeing that commensurately reflected in the preponderance of Asian films enlisting the talents of Westerners. The upcoming Bollywood action-adventure “Junglee” will be the latest specimen of such international cross-pollination, under the direction of Chuck Russell, whose past directorial efforts include “The Mask”, “Eraser” and “The Scorpion King”. The film will reportedly see Vidyut Jammwal battling elephant poachers in the jungles of Kerala, and of course, anyone who’s seen “Commando” 1 and 2 knows his reputation as Bollywood’s reigning ‘King of Kalari’ is well-deserved. Stay tuned for more on “Junglee” before the film’s October 19th release date – for now though, who agrees that the teaser above gives off a very “Tom Yum Goong”-esque vibe?
Donnie Yen is widely credited as the man to bring MMA into mainstream martial arts films, and he’s ready to step into the cage once more with the upcoming MMA thriller, “Big Brother”. The fact that it’s Donnie return to MMA-action is about all the info that’s readily available on the film at the moment, but does anyone REALLY need any further incentive than that? On the off chance that there is, here’s the ending of “Flash Point” (with Guile’s theme).
After his show-stealing appearance in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”, The King of Wakanda has taken his throne in “Black Panther”, which has just hit theaters around the world in the last few days. Chadwick Boseman returns to the role of King T’Challa, who must face his nation’s greatest threat in the form of the vicious and appropriately named Erik Killmonger. Director Ryan Coogler previously delivered what many consider the best film in the “Rocky” franchise since the first with 2015’s “Creed”, so right away we know our hero is in good hands, and that’s without even getting into how much T’Challa already stole the show in “Civil War”. However, martial arts aficionados will want to double mark their calendars for the talent Mr. Coogler showed at capturing a fight sequence in “Creed”, especially in the title character’s single-take first fight in the ring. On top of that, Chadwick Boseman prepped for the film with the supremely talented Marrese Crump, a man who’s clashed against none other than Tony Jaa in 2013’s “Tom Yum Goong 2”. It’s certainly safe to say when it comes to action-packed superhero movies, 2018 has already taken a gigantic leap!
Max Zhang has been quite the rising star ever since his breakout in 2015’s “Ip Man 3”, and he’s certainly got a lot coming up for 2018, from the Ip Man-spinoff “Ip Man: Cheung Tin-Chi” and his English-language debut in the upcoming “Pacific Rim: Uprising”. Then there’s “Invincible Dragon”, and from the trailer, we can infer two very important things: our hero will find himself forced to carry on battling his enemy after having a row of thumb tacks embedded in his cheek and he’ll be pitted against MMA legend, the one and only Anderson “Spider” Silva. Not much else is known about “The Invincible Dragon” at present, but that’s all the incentive we need to keep this one in close on our radar!
As stated above, Max Zhang has been on the rise since breaking out in 2015’s “Ip Man 3”, and indeed, he made such an unforgettable impact in that film that the next one in the Ip Man Cinematic Universe will shift the spotlight to his character, Ip Man’s rival Wing Chun warrior, Cheung Tin-chi. Joining Mr. Zhang for Cheung’s next adventure are Michelle Yeoh, Dave Bautista, and his “SPL 2” co-star Tony Jaa, which seems to indicate a rematch on the cards for them! The legendary Yuen Woo-ping returns to direct after helming “Ip Man 3”, and considering the title character’s reputation as a far more merciless fighter than Ip Man, this is sure to be a very unique, exciting instalment of the series.
Marvel’s partnership with Netflix to bring their street-level crime-fighters to life has certainly paid off magnificently, and the one that started it all, “Daredevil”, remains the crowning achievement of the Netflix experiment two seasons in along with one team-up with the other Netflix titans in the form of “The Defenders”. ‘The Man without Fear’ set the template for street-level superhero action and delivered easily the best 21st century ninja thriller not involving Isaac Florentine or Scott Adkins.
For the third season, Matt Murdock is believed to be dead by his fellow Defenders but his dedication to protecting his city won’t let him rest for long when The Kingpin returns to cast his shadow over Hell’s Kitchen. Daredevil fans will delight to hear that season three is reportedly adapting elements of Frank Miller’s “Born Again” story arc, previously hinted at in the final scene of “The Defenders”, but the return of Vincent D’Onofrio as The Kingpin is what will really get hearts pounding. The emotionally volatile (and that’s putting it mildly) Wilson Fisk remains the MCU’s best and most terrifying villain, so another rematch with Daredevil is very welcome prospect indeed, though it will no doubt come after the ritual of Marvel’s Netflix shows that is an obligatory, and head-splittingly awesome, one shot hallway battle!
Two seasons down and sixteen episodes in, it’s pretty safe at this point to call it for “Into the Badlands” as the greatest specimen of martial arts action the small screen has to offer in the 21st century. The third season of AMC’s post-apocalyptic re-telling of the Chinese classic “Journey to the West” sees Sunny reunited with his young son and has left his life as the most feared Clipper in the Badlands behind. But, he may find himself forced to lift his sword once more now that The Widow is extending her grip as Barron over all the badlands with the young, supernaturally gifted M.K. now in her clutches.
“Into the Badlands” raised the bar for what a kung fu-driven TV series could do with its “Ong Bak” meets “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” style of martial arts action and season three is ready to hit viewers with a whopping sixteen episodes of what its got on April 22nd and running all through the summer. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a bummer that, barring either cloning or having a twin brother, Cung Le isn’t likely to return for season three, but then again, “Into the Badlands” has certainly never shied away from the supernatural, has it?
…and in at #1 is….
Was there ever any doubt? The film will reportedly concern a trio of down-and-out fighters who find themselves roped into protecting a billionaire’s daughter from a squadron of mercenaries out to kidnap her. However, one need only list off the roster to get butts in the seats for “Triple Threat”, which brings together heavy hitters Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade, Michael Bisping, and Jeeja Yanin for what is very possibly the greatest martial arts ensemble ever um…assembled! Even better, the film sees veteran stunt men Jesse V. Johnson and Tim Man assume the roles of director and fight choreographer, respectively. Actually the title “Best of the Best” would’ve been equally fitting if it wasn’t already taken – heck, the fact that the trailer, a flawlessly executed exercise in minimalism (if ever there was one) somehow forgot to work: everybody was “Kung Fu Fighting” into its soundtrack is the single biggest nitpick we can muster. “Triple Threat” has reportedly already got a sequel greenlit, which should tell you just how confident the film’s creators are in what they’ve pulled together here; but after seeing the “Expendables”-esque ensemble listed off amidst the blast of adrenaline felt from the trailer, you probably already knew that!
So that’s a wrap for KFK’s Top 15 Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies of 2018, stay tuned as we’ll have more on each entrant as it arrives during the year. Which ones are you looking forward to 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 last year’s best martial arts movie fights and much more! (Feel free to check out our other martial arts’ Top 10’s too.)