It would seem by looking at a lot o the 80s martial arts movies, they’re not all kung fu-oriented, that things were hitting kind of a crazy note as everything was overdone and over the top in ways that made a person either widen their eyes and wonder what was going on or cheer just because the only other thing to do would be to walk out. Seriously, some of the martial arts movies in this decade, the best ones, were just so far out there that looking at them now you might want to perform an epic face-palm as you wonder what you were thinking. But it was the time, the era, and the idea that this was what was cool back then and what we had, so it worked on many levels. When you look at how fight scenes are choreographed now it’s not a lot different save for the fact that a lot of fighters can’t possibly last as long as most of the people in the films you watch and obviously the hits are going to affect people in a much more profound way. But in the 80s that’s just how we rolled, we liked watching films that didn’t always conform to reality.
Here are some of the best martial arts films from the 80s.
5. The Karate Kid
There are still people that contend that Daniel was the aggressor in this film even after he was getting his butt kicked all over the place. The justification for this is sound in some respects but makes you wonder what in the hell people are thinking about when they say Johnny is the victim. In the new Cobra Kai series it’s easy to see that Johnny is down and out and it’s very easy to understand why he was such a jerk. But in this movie there’s no doubt that he and his Cobra Kai were in the wrong quite a few times not just because of their own aggression, but because it was what they were taught by their sadistic sensei.
4. The Last Dragon
If you wanted over the top this is it since the entire film is basically about Sho Nuff wanting to beat up on Leroy to prove that he’s the only master and Leroy wanting to find a way to reach the Last Level of his training so that he can attain the Glow. When a business mogul hires Sho Nuff to take Leroy out he obviously takes the job and begins a beatdown on Leroy that would finish most people in an instant, but of course Leroy is a martial arts master and eventually comes to realize that he’s had the final piece of the puzzle within him at all times. As he attains the Glow he proceeds to beat Sho Nuff without hesitation.
When his brother is paralyzed by Tong Po, Kirk decides that he’s going to take his revenge on the infamous Thai boxer and get even with him for his brother. Unfortunately Kirk is nowhere near ready for Tong Po and is made aware of this when he seeks training. The punishment he’s put through while training is absolutely intense as he’s given challenges that would break just about anyone else and yet strengthens him in a way that allows Kirk to finally challenge Tong Po to a fight that eventually sees him beaten, bloodied, and nearly broken, but not defeated. Kirk eventually uses Tong Po’s overconfidence against him as he quickly wears the bigger man down and finally puts him out of the fight.
2. Lone Wolf McQuade
McQuade is the kind of lawman that doesn’t want a partner, won’t take a partner, and probably wouldn’t be any good as a partner since he’s a lone wolf kind of person that likes to do things on his own and doesn’t want anyone else around trying to help him out. But when he’s assigned a partner and has to avenge the deaths of his fellow Rangers he takes on a couple of partners that eventually end up helping him out as they take on a villain that’s not only deadly with a firearm but excels in hand to hand combat as well, something that McQuade finds out firsthand. You don’t see Chuck Norris getting beaten up that often, so this was kind of a surprise.
We should all be able to agree that this was an awesome movie, but the real controversy of it is whether or not Frank Dux actually did what he said he did since the dates and the facts don’t really line up as they should. Jean Claude Van Damme’s credentials are pretty solid even if the guy has been kind of a jerk in some years. At the very least though he’s credible when it comes to his martial arts background. The fact that Dux has backtracked on so many things from his past however is kind of sketchy to say the least.
The 80s proved to be the ‘over the top’ decade for martial arts.