There was a time when kung fu and other martial arts movies were truly great since they didn’t rely on CGI, green screens, or any other method that pulled away from the story and made people flock to them in droves. A lot of American films are absent from a list like this since back in the 60s the idea of martial arts films was still something that was on the horizon and had yet to fully take root. This era saw a return to the wuxia style of film making, which had been suppressed in the 30s and 40s and contains a great deal of fantasy and history that sets the tone for the movie while sticking to traditional fighting methods and implements. The special effects of this time period was very limited since there wasn’t a high demand for it yet and the storytelling element was still the strongest part of the movie.
Here are some of the best kung fu/martial arts movies from the 60s.
5. Trail of the Broken Blade
When a disgraced knight seeks a way to escape his past and finds his own sanctuary he gives up everything in order to simply disappear. But when another person needs to hide from their past as they’re being chased by those that seek him harm he comes to Li’s place of sanctuary and brings a whole heap of ruin on Li’s head in the form of those that remind him that he too still has a checkered past. A lot of these old films dealt with revenge, honor, and the price that a lot of people paid to keep it or regain it before their lives were over. In many ways the movies of today do this as well, but in a much more roundabout fashion.
Kill! is actually a comedy detailing what life is life as a samurai in a very over the top manner. When a single samurai becomes disillusioned about his life and eventually becomes a Yakuza member he meets up with a farmer that wants to be a samurai to get away from the humdrum existence he knows. The two of them end up being targeted by the same clan after the chancellor is murdered and have to find a way to either clear their names or just survive. You don’t often think of a samurai movie as being a comedy but there are always exceptions to the rule and this movie was obviously one of them.
3. Dragon Inn
When a general is bested and then beheaded his children are then targeted as the next victims by the emperor even after they were given assurances that they would be allowed to go into exile. It’s kind of apparent that emperors didn’t think much about killing one’s entire family to make certain that no one would challenge them later. But the inn keeper where the kids are sequestered takes it upon himself to summon a very noted martial artist and fighter to protect the children as they are no doubt bound to be important some day and must be kept alive in order to prove this later on.
2. Come Drink With Me
A general’s son is taken hostage and the only way he’s going to be rescued is the combined might of Golden Swallow and Fan Da-Pei. The only problem is that when the bandits holding her brother ally with an abbot that has turned to evil Fan is reluctant to fight since the abbot treated him well when he was still an orphan, taking him in and teaching him how to fight. But eventually things break down and there’s no choice but to fight as Fan takes on and overcomes the abbot, who is also a very powerful kung fu master. Golden Swallow’s brother is rescued and the day is saved by the end of the movie.
1. The One-Armed Swordsman
If you think kids can be cruel then you have no idea since Fang gets his arm cut off and then falls from a bridge into a young woman’s boat. He becomes sorely depressed until she gives him a book that details how to fight and shows him how he can still be a great sworsdman with just one arm. When his former master is about to decide who will succeed him as he wishes to retire, two old enemies surface and attempt to destroy him , thereby breaking any line of succession. The only real downfall of this attempt is that Fang decides to come back and show the enemies just how strong he is. Of course, by the end he decides to not to take the position of master and instead wishes to become a farmer.
Martial arts movies back in the day had a lot more passion to them than they do now it seems. It’s become too many effects and cool fight scenes and not enough substance.