Looking back on 2018, one thing becomes immediately clear – we lovers of action and adventure had one hell of a year at the movies! What’s also clear is that, for those of us with a particular sweet tooth for martial arts action, we had a blast like very few moviegoers did. Whether it involved taking a drive to the local multiplex or pulling up the latest action-packed hit to arrive on streaming platforms, 2018 treated us to twelve months of bare-knuckled, hot-blooded, martial arts-laden adventure!
We’ve already run our countdown of 2018’s Top 10 Martial Arts Movies, along with the Top 10 Martial Arts Fights of 2018, but now, the time has come to look ahead. And we can plainly see that 2019 has a smorgasbord of goodies for action aficionados to look forward to. This year is set to hit us with superhuman warriors brought to life with motion capture, the next rodeo of the world’s most lethal assassin, the return of the famed mentor of Bruce Lee, along with the long-awaited realization of Bruce’s pet project, and an absolute cavalcade of warrior women!
However, before we proceed any further, a quick side note – martial arts fans are accustomed to our genre being a little on the unpredictable side than most when it comes to release dates, whether due to logistical issues or the nature of foreign imports. So, before diving right in, here are some holdovers from last year’s list that didn’t make landfall for most of us last year, but which should do so this year!
But first, a few 2018 holdovers…
“Junglee”, “Big Brother“, “Enter the Fat Dragon”, “Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy“, “Kung Fu Big League“, “Invincible Dragon” and “Triple Threat” (and when it comes to THIS one, realistically, it’s still in the number one spot. However, now that the release date of “Triple Threat” is set, we can go ahead and take a look at the other contenders for 2019!)
The year’s looking amazing already, just from last year’s holdovers! Think you’re ready for what the rest of 2019 has in store? Then hold tight, readers – here (in descending order and with trailers where available) are KFK’s Top 15 Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies for 2019!
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Project X-Traction
- Kingsman: The Great Game
- Commando 3
- Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw
- Into the Badlands: Season Three (part two)
- Alita: Battle Angel
- John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
- Wu Assassins
You know you’re in for a wild ride of surreal knocking on the fourth-wall when Quentin Tarantino’s in the director’s chair. Set in the hustle and bustle of 1969 Hollywood, the film will reportedly follow the exploits of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, and their attempts to break into the business, set against the backdrop of the Manson Family murders. Tarantino previously ventured into martial arts filmmaking with his 2003-2004 two-parter of bladed bloodletting, “Kill Bill”. However, what makes “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” a real wild card for martial arts fans is the presence of Mike Moh of “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” fame in the role of Bruce Lee. With the murder of Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson family, Bruce naturally fits into the backdrop of the story. He famously served as fight choreographer on Tate’s 1968 film “The Wrecking Crew” and even attended her funeral, so it’ll be fun to see what Tarantino cooks up for Bruce in this True Hollywood Story. Fun fact – Mike Moh had previously been a candidate to portray Bruce in 2017’s “Birth of the Dragon”, though Philip Ng would ultimately assume the role. Hey, who ever said opportunities don’t knock twice!
Pop quiz, hot shot – Have you ever seen a zombie movie set in medieval Korea, with feudal warriors battling hordes of blood-thirsty undead with slashing swords and swift kicks? Neither had we! And that’s exactly what the South Korean zombie actioner “Rampant” has in store for fans. The film dropped last fall in Asia, but audiences in the English-speaking world will soon have the chance to see it for themselves, with Well Go USA releasing the film in North America at the end of February. That’s really all that’s needed for this entry – sometimes, a wildly creative, high concept premise is plenty enough to get butts in seats. Bring on your legion of the undead, “Rampant”!
Ever since the debut of “John Wick” in 2014, we’ve seen an ever-growing trend of stunt people transitioning into directing, with that film’s own directors, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, being two of the most high profile examples. However, we can also include stunt vet Jesse Johnson in that list, as well. He’d already made the leap to directing in the early 2000’s with indie efforts like “Pit Fighter” while continuing to work as a stunt professional. However, he’s really dug into the deep end of action filmmaking in the last two years with “Savage Dog”, “Accident Man”, “The Debt Collector”, and the aforementioned “Triple Threat”. With all of those exemplary credits to his name, Jesse is set to direct once more with the upcoming “Avengement”. While there’s not much info at the moment, the film will reportedly centre on a British assassin, played by Scott Adkins, on a mission of vengeance against some bitter enemies from his past, making the title a fitting one, indeed. The film will also mark the fifth collaboration of Scott Adkins and Jesse Johnson (or the sixth, if you count Scott’s minor appearance in “Pit Fighter”), and with the past results that’s yielded, “Avengement” is certainly one to watch out for!
Here it is, at last, the year’s obligatory Jackie Chan adventure! As he’s gotten older, and his body having gone through an ever-increasing amount of wear-and-tear, Jackie’s made a clear effort to reinvent himself. He’s still kicking appropriate amounts of butt and doing his own stunts wherever possible, but he’s transitioned in recent years into a more Clint Eastwood-esque persona, such as in 2017’s “The Foreigner” (though he still hasn’t forsaken his comedic roots, as seen in the likes of “Kung Fu Yoga” and “The LEGO Ninjago Movie”.)
With Scott Waugh’s “Project X-Traction”, he’s decidedly leaning more heavily into the former, as the film will see him teamed with WWE legend John Cena. The duo portray a pair of Special Forces soldiers tasked with transporting a group of Iraqi civilians along Baghdad’s “Highway of Death” and into the safety of the Green Zone.
With his pro-wrestling background and “G.I. Joe”-like facial features, military-oriented roles fit John Cena like a glove, as seen previously in last year’s “Bumblebee” and the 90-minute long explosion that is “The Marine”. For Jackie, however, the heated battle of a war zone is completely new territory, but his recent efforts to show off his versatility have made for perhaps the most fascinating chapter of his decades-long career. On top of that, Cena’s quite an adept comedian in his own right, as seen in his stints hosting the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, and his performance in last year’s “Blockers”. Even teaming him up with a grizzled Jackie Chan is bound to yield a little levity!
The “Kingsman” franchise frankly has as much of a tenuous relationship with reality as “Austin Powers”, and that’s just what makes it so endearing. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel series, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” dropped in 2015 as a loving, albeit thoroughly R-rated, send-up of the James Bond franchise, it delivered the same magic again with its 2017 sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”. Both films married the over-the-top insanity of the Sean Connery/Roger Moore era of the Bond franchise with the patently absurd violence of an “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoon, and treated audiences to such surreal sights as female assassins sailing through the air on bladed metallic legs. The “Kingsman” series is, to put it simply, “Looney Tunes” for grown-ups, with loads of martial arts action just this side of the bonkers antics of “Kung Fu Hustle”. Not much is known about “The Great Game” at the moment, aside from the fact that it’s a prequel depicting the founding of the “Kingsman” organization. In any case, two chapters into the “Kingsman” franchise, KFK is down for more!
Putting a stop to the illicit activities of elephant poachers won’t be Vidyut Jammwal’s only rodeo in 2019 (although “Junglee” certainly looks pretty sweet itself). Bollywood’s ‘King of Kalari’ will also step back into his signature role in the upcoming “Commando 3”. Vidyut made quite a splash in 2013’s “Commando: A One Man Army”, tackling the role of Indian super soldier, Karan Singh Dogra, and continued to up his game with the film’s 2017 sequel “Commando 2: The Black Money Trail”. The first ten minutes of “Commando 2” alone is one of the best opening action set pieces of the last half decade, and in each chapter of the “Commando” franchise, the ease with which Vidyut’s carried the film has been exceeded only by his infectious charisma and exceptional physicality. No trailer or plot synopsis (yet) so stay tuned for now, here’s Vidyut channeling Tony Jaa while showcasing the end result of decades’ of Kalaripayattu training in the first two films. And for the record, a team-up between those two seriously needs to happen!
Ex-Special Forces operative Carl Rizk, played by Scott Adkins, thought he’d found some peace and quiet in his new life in a small Oregon town. However, he soon finds the clock is ticking when his two children are kidnapped and a mysterious voice on the phone sends him on a wild mission to take out three different groups of criminals. That’s “Siezed” in a nutshell, and from the synopsis, it certainly sounds like a pulse-pounder of action and suspense set against a ticking-clock scenario. Aside from that, “Siezed” also reunites Scott Adkins with acclaimed filmmaker Isaac Florentine. Considering that theirs is a working relationship that gave us The Most Complete Fighter in the World (along with two “Ninja” movies, “Close Range”, and “Special Forces”), we’d recommend penciling “Siezed” into your calendar for 2019!
Has there ever been another action movie franchise (or really, a franchise of any genre) where one can infer from its latest trailer that it’s clearly Jumped the Shark….and it’s actually a COMPLIMENT to point that out? 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” kicked the series off essentially as “Point Break’ with street-racing”, and it more or less stayed in its lane (no pun intended) until 2011’s “Fast Five”. From that point on, the “Fast and Furious” series morphed into a cocktail of increasingly over-the-top stunts and borderline superheroic plotlines, and grew into the kind of popcorn spectacle that had only previously been thought possible in a fake trailer from 1993’s “Last Action Hero”. It also would see the pairing of two adversaries with The Rock’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. Beginning as enemies in 2015’s “Furious 7” (which itself showed just how much heart this series has in its emotional tribute to the late Paul Walker), Hobbs and Shaw would become reluctant allies in 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious”, with their buddy-chemistry leading to their eponymous spin-off. Just when you think the “Fast and Furious” movies can’t get any crazier, along comes Idris Elba in a mechanized battle suit, making him formidable enough that even The Rock and The Stath together may not be enough to stop him. Nevertheless, whether it’s throwing down in an office setting or a prison riot, Hobbs and Shaw have delivered the goods when they’ve gone mano-a-mano, so seeing them join forces, and under the direction of stunt veteran David Leitch, no less, is certain to be as out of this world as the “Fast and Furious” franchise itself!
The tale of the warrior woman is a trend that crosses cultural barriers around the world, and it’s grown into one of the defining trends of popular culture today (as you’ll see elsewhere on this very list). As one can clearly infer from the trailer, the Vietnamese martial arts thriller “Furie” is predicated on the basic emotion of maternal instinct, with our heroine battling to rescue her kidnapped daughter from a gang of South East Asian arms dealers. Veronica Ngo has come a long way from 2007’s “The Rebel” and 2010’s “Clash”, where despite lacking in formal training, she more than held her own alongside her far more experienced co-stars. You’d certainly never guess she spent the last two weeks of production on the former with her foot broken and in a cast. In any case, “Furie” marries loads of incredible action with a premise that could’ve come right out of “Max Mad: Fury Road”, with the trailer above seemingly indicating a few vehicular stunts of a comparable caliber. For lovers of action, “Furie” looks like an absolute blast!
Season Three of AMC’s martial arts drama “Into the Badlands” took an unusually large break after wrapping up the first eight episodes of its sixteen-episode third season. Indeed, with a gap of almost a full year before the latter eight episodes are set to air, one could arguably say they effectively form the show’s fourth season. However you count, these upcoming eight episodes will sadly prove to be show’s last, with “Into the Badlands” set to end its run after they’ve aired. Parting will certainly be such sweet sorrow for “Into the Badlands”, as the show has not only re-imagined the Chinese classic “Journey to the West” as a post-apocalyptic adventure, but also delivered some of the best martial arts action ever seen on the small screen. “Into the Badlands” may be coming to an end, but after three seasons of wuxia action rivaling anything you’d see on the big screen, it’s had one hell of a good run. “Into the Badlands” returns to AMC for its final eight episodes on March 24th. Martial arts fans would be advised to mark the date for what is sure to be one seriously grand finale!
Talk about good things coming to those who wait…it’s certainly not unusual for creative materials, whether books or screenplays, to finally be fully produced years after the passing of the original author. In the case Cinemax’s upcoming series “Warrior”, it’s produced posthumously by about four and a half decades. On top of that, the progenitor of the concept on which the series is based is none other than Bruce Lee! It’s been a long, long time coming, but “Warrior” is finally set to arrive this year and follow the adventures of Chinese immigrant, Ah Sahm, played by Andrew Koji, who arrives in San Francisco’s Chinatown right at the beginning of the Tong Wars. It’ll most certainly be nothing less than fascinating to see Bruce’s vision for “Warrior” brought to life at last, and the fact that it’s finally arriving now just goes to show that, decades after his death, Bruce Lee’s iconic, legendary star continues to rise driving impact in the martial arts world as well as in popular culture in equal measure!
Making the theatrical rounds as we speak, female-led action movies are all the rage these days, but they’ve also become commonplace enough that one cannot stand out from the pack on that attribute alone. Fortunately, that’s just one of many things “Alita: Battle Angel” has going for it. Based on Yukito Kishiro’s acclaimed manga and anime series “Gunnm”, “Alita: Battle Angel” is the long-gestating pet project of James Cameron. And, to be blunt, the trailers and marketing materials for the film have been absolutely breathtaking in bringing us into the post-apocalyptic future of the Twenty-Sixth Century. The film is also the latest in the growing trend of actors giving entire performances via motion capture, with Rosa Salazar donning a mo-cap suit to bring the cybernetic warrior Alita to life. Whether you’re already a fan of Alita’s adventures in the anime and manga that spawned her, or just looking for a hit of sci-fi and adventure before the summer movie season kicks in, “Alita: Battle Angel” is an absolute must. Even better, with its use of mo-cap to bring Alita to life, the film looks to be pushing the boundaries of superhuman martial arts action to the next level, as you can clearly see below!
When we last left the world’s deadliest assassin, John Wick, he was a marked man on the run after violating the sacred rules of The Continental. With his beloved dog by his side, John has one hour before every assassin in New York City declares open season on him for the $14 million bounty on his head. But, of course, we all know that even the most skilled of contract killers should probably think twice before going on the hunt for old “Baba Yaga”. Once again helmed by returning director and stunt veteran Chad Stahelski, the third chapter in the “John Wick” saga carries the subtitle “Parabellum” – Latin, for “Prepare for War”. And after blindsiding the world with two of the best action films of the last decade, “John Wick: Chapter 3” clearly aims to do just that. Boasting the longest running time of the franchise, not only is “Parabellum” massively upping the stakes and the scope of the series, but it’s also recruited a huge cavalry of action movie heavy hitters – namely, Mark Dacascos, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tiger Chen, Yayan Ruhian, and Cecep Arif Rahman. With that kind of action movie royalty now bearing membership cards to The Continental, “Parabellum” most assuredly has the skills to pay the bills!
For martial arts action lovers, Netflix has been absolutely smashing it these past couple of years. Indeed, Netflix has arguably been outright spoiling us since last fall, between the respective second and third seasons of “Iron Fist” and “Daredevil”, along with “The Night Comes for Us” and “Revenger” (and that’s without even bringing up their forthcoming live-action reboot of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”). Now, Netflix is preparing to pull out all the stops for their next original series, the upcoming “Wu Assassins”. The series will focus on a young man named Kai Jin, played by Iko Uwais, who discovers he’s the next incarnation of the supernatural warrior known as the “Wu Assassin”. After teaming up with a local police detective, Kai Jin finds himself tasked with cleaning up the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown while searching for an ancient triad relic. As you can see from the synopsis, the series will serve as a blend of Asian mythology and martial arts mysticism with supernatural elements. Additionally, Iko is also joined by an ensemble that includes, but is not limited to, Byron Mann, Mark Dacascos, Juju Chan, and Lewis Tan. When it comes to martial arts entertainment, Netflix has been on a major winning streak, and with a motley crew like that on board, there’s no reason to think that it won’t continue with “Wu Assassins”!
…and in at #1 is….
Ip Man 4
When “Ip Man” debuted all the way back in 2008, did anyone ever expect it would spawn one of the greatest martial arts movie series of all time? Perhaps not. Is anyone complaining that it has? Not on your life, Jack! After three previous instalments in the series (and one spin-off devoted to the break out character of “Ip Man 3”, “Master Z”), Donnie Yen is back in his iconic role of the famed Grandmaster of Wing Chun, and the mentor of the legendary Bruce Lee. Little is known at the moment about what Ip Man’s latest adventure will entail, aside from reuniting him with his most famous pupil as he establishes a Wing Chun school in Seattle. However, as has become commonplace with the “Ip Man” franchise, it’s the gweilo adversary of our hero that also piques our collective curiosity. “Ip Man 2” brought in the late Darren Shahlavi (RIP), while the third instalment saw our hero rock n’ roll with Mike Tyson. For “Ip Man 4”, it’s none other than Scott Adkins who’s set to be the gweilo that will bring the trouble our hero in his fourth adventure. The world may have missed out on Scott and Donnie sharing the screen for the first time when the latter sat out “The Expendables 2”, but as awesome as that would’ve been to see, it’s finally coming to pass in Donnie’s most iconic role. Better late than never!
And there we have it folks, KFK’s Top 15 Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies of 2019! Stay tuned as we’ll have more on each entry on the list as they make landfall throughout the year. Did any of your choices make the list, which contenders are you looking forward to the most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Surf the wave of this upcoming FU-nami of smashing great martial arts action madness this year with more Top 10’s, more giveaways and more exclusive specials, subscribe for videos too!)