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Modern Martial Arts: 5 Movies Since 1990 That Shaped The Genre

By    |   Tuesday, 16 Feb 2016 08:58 PM

Technology was a game changer for the martial arts genre after 1990, with computer and camera tricks augmenting already incredible fight choreography. There was still room, though, for cinematic artistry and martial arts history.

Here are five modern movies that helped shape martial arts films into the modern day:

1. "Once Upon A Time In China" (1991)

The story of Hong Kong folk hero Wong Fei-hung is moved forward a century to the 1990s. It’s the movie that unleashed Jet Li on the Western movie scene. “What this film chiefly provides is dazzling, colorful, kinetic, epic, pre-CGI spectacle,” said The Guardian.

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2. "The Matrix" (1999)

No single martial arts film benefited from modern technology more so than "The Matrix." The dystopic technothriller employed a new slow-motion special effects trick that became part of the moviegoer's lexicon called "bullet time," which made characters seem as if the moved faster than bullets.

'''The Matrix' makes particular virtues out of eerily inhuman lighting effects, lightning-fast virtual scene changes ... and the martial arts stunts that are its single strongest selling point," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times.


3. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000)

There's a reason why this film won four Oscars and nominated for Best Film of the Year, it was one of the most graceful martial arts movies ever filmed. The balletic wire work resulted in fluidly choreographed fight scenes, and the beautiful and daring cinematography gave the movie mythic dimensions.

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"Words cannot truly evoke the marvelous spectacle of [characters] running across water like wingless cranes, or the remarkable martial arts ballet ... from the top of a towering bamboo plant (that could hardly bear the weight of a panda). [Director Ang] Lee has made more than an exotic yarn. He has liberated conventional moviemaking," wrote Desson Howe of The Washington Post.

4. "Ong Bak" (2003)

The fighting art of Muay Thai takes center stage in this story of a humble peasant sent to recover a village’s stolen Buddha head. The intricate and violent fight scenes used no special effects or stunt doubles; blinding speed and technique are the key. “Ong Bak's prime objective is to say, ‘Can you believe this guy?’ and it more than succeeds in that," the Guardian said.

5. "Ip Man" (2008)

In this semibiographical movie set in pre-World War II China, Ip Man is his town’s undisputed kung fu champion, but all he wants to do is live peacefully with his family.

Nonetheless, everyone wants to challenge him, from the neighborhood kung fu masters to the invading Japanese.

As a showcase for Ip Man’s Wing Chun style of kung fu, the movie is “exemplary,” says Film4.com, though many of the film’s fight pieces seem modeled on the movies of the real Ip Man’s star student, Bruce Lee.

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Technology was a game changer for the martial arts genre after 1990, with computer and camera tricks augmenting already incredible fight choreography. There was still room, though, for cinematic artistry and martial arts history. Here are five modern movies that helped shape martial arts films.
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