10 Underrated Wuxia Movies That Deserve More Love

Author

One of the world’s most beloved forms of action movies are wuxia films. Originating in East Asia, where Chinese is spoken, these movies originally began as a form of novels to be read. The evolution of films and technology, however, proliferated the possibilities of the genre in terms of on-screen storytelling. Wuxias typically pack in several different genres alongside the action, with the main characters going on a journey, physically and spiritually, and historical and fantasy elements bleeding into the narratives. While xianxia typically appears in Chinese fantasy dramas, the sweeping epic that is wuxia is mainly for the big screen. The biggest directors in the region, from Zhang Yimou to Wong Kar-wai, typically have tried to make a wuxia movie at least once.

MOVIEWEB VIDEO OF THE DAY

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

That being said, the English-speaking and Western world was generally unaware these movies existed until the smashing success of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. His film introduced the concept of wuxias to a broader global audience, and ever since, audiences haven’t had enough of these kinds of movies. While some have become classics and staples throughout the years, others have flown under the radar. If you haven’t seen these 10 underrated wuxia movies, then it’s time to add them to your to-watch list.

10 Shadow (2018)

Sun Li training as Xiao Ai in Shadow
Tencent Pictures

Released in 2018, Shadow is one of Zhang Yimou’s wuxia movies, and the film is based on real people and events that occurred in Chinese history. When a major kingdom loses a critical city in the midst of war, the king is furious about the commander’s actions. When he marries his sister off to the rival kingdom’s son, a more incredible plot is unearthed: as it turns out, the commander isn’t who he said he was.

Why It’s Great

A lot of wuxia movies have a plot that might make some viewers do a double take, and Shadow is one of them. With some incredible cinematography and action scenes throughout its running time, there is quite a bit of thrill within this movie. Of course, that doesn’t take away from the emotional core of its story as well. Stream on Tubi

9 Iron Monkey (1993)

Two men dressed in black strike a martial arts pose.
Golden Harvest

A Hong Kong action movie that came out in the early-1990s, Iron Monkey is not to be missed if one is a fan of the wuxia genre. Its protagonist is a martial artist who only goes out with a mask, and, as it turns out, the man known as Iron Monkey is pretty ordinary in his everyday life. But when night falls, he steals from the governor, putting him at the top of the police list to track down next. As a new martial artist arrives in town, things are about to get a lot spicier.

Why It’s Great

There isn’t a lot of fluff when it comes to Iron Monkey, and that plays in its favor. Starring Donnie Yen, audiences are going to love the straightforward plot and how fun this movie is, making it the ideal pick-me-up for a Friday action movie night. Rent on AppleTV

8 A Touch of Zen (1971)

Two martial artists engage in acrobatic combat in the forest.
Union Film

A Touch of Zen is technically a classic in the wuxia world at this point, but it still deserves more love when it comes to broader mainstream conversations about action movies. Set in the Ming period of Chinese history, the movie follows one unambitious scholar and monk as he meets a woman on the run. The more they get involved in each other’s affairs, the harder it becomes to untangle them from each other’s issues.

Why It’s Great

There’s a reason why A Touch of Zen has become a classic: it was a part of the new wave of Hong Kong cinema in the ’70s. It was unlike anything else that had come out before, and it was done really well, putting it on a trajectory to become one of the greatest wuxia movies ever released. Stream on The Criterion Channel

7 Come Drink With Me (1966)

Cheng Pei-Pei as Chang, fighting a horde of men with two daggers, in Come Drink With Me
Shaw Brothers Studio

The Shaw Brothers Studio came out with Come Drink With Me in 1966, and it was directed by the esteemed director King Hu. With a setting in the Ming Dynasty, the movie tells the story of how the governor’s son has been kidnapped by a well-known bandit. When his sister (Cheng Pei-Pei) sets out to go rescue him, it begins an epic journey where she busts out some of her best martial arts moves against anyone who gets in her way.

Why It’s Great

It’s always refreshing to see women leading action movies, and Come Drink With Me has a woman protagonist who’s willing to crack her knuckles when needed. With some drama woven into the mix, Come Drink With Me is the perfect mashup of several different genres. Rent on Prime Video

Related: 10 of the Best Chinese Action Movies of All Time

6 The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Gordon Liu as San Te in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Shaw Brothers Studio

Lar Keu-long directed The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which starred Kill Bill’s Gordon Liu. The 1978 movie opens with an impressionable student being recruited by his activist teacher to join a rebellion. But when the government finds out about it, they kill anyone who’s involved, including family members of the students acting out. The first student, Yude, escapes from the violence and swears revenge against the Manchu government because of it, taking up kung fu to take them down one person at a time.

Why It’s Great

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin features some of the greatest kung fu sequences of the era, delighting action fans all over the world in the decades since its release. With a main character featuring noble reasons for his revenge, there’s a heavy-handed hero’s journey involved with this film. Rent on Prime Video

5 The Blade (1995)

Vincent Zhao as Ding On in The Blade
Film Workshop

Vincent Zhao stars in 1995’s The Blade, which was directed by Tsui Hark. In the movie, its protagonist is Ding-on, a young blacksmith serving under a friend of his deceased father. When they spot thugs harassing a monk one day, he finds himself in a sticky situation. Despite surviving that encounter, it puts him in an even worse situation overall, setting him off on a completely different trajectory than he ever expected.

Why It’s Great

The Blade is an unusual entry to the wuxia world, but certainly a welcome one in the end. With unique decisions when it comes to cinematography and editing, The Blade stands out from the other movies within the genre almost immediately. Rent on Prime Video

4 Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung in Once Upon a Time in China
Golden Harvest

Tsui Hark’s 1991 movie Once Upon a Time in China is one of his best known film, and it stars Jet Li in the lead role. Set in the latter half of the Qing Dynasty, during the 1800s, a commander of a bandit group invites the famous Wong Fei-hung onto his ship. When the ship is attacked, Wong shows off his smooth moves when it comes to martial arts, and the movie follows his adventures in becoming a folk hero.

Why It’s Great

Once Upon a Time in China revived interest in the action and wuxia genres upon its release. The combination of Tsui Hark’s direction and Jet Li’s physical performance shined a new light on the possibilities of wuxia storytelling, effectively bringing the genre into a more modern stage of cinema. Stream on The Criterion Channel

Related: 10 Chinese Dramas Like The Untamed to Watch Next

3 A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

A Chinese Ghost Story crying scene
Film Workshop

A Chinese Ghost Story leans into the characteristics of both wuxia and xianxia, making it a bit unconventional to categorize. Leslie Cheung stars as Ning Choi-san, a debt collector who runs out of money when in a rural area. He stumbles into an abandoned temple at night to find refuge, but discovers a female ghost living there. He falls in love with her, but ends up on a strange journey in the process.

Why It’s Great

A cult classic in East Asia, A Chinese Ghost Story can be odd at times, but delightfully entertaining. With a unique storyline based on folklore and legends, there is no other movie like it in the world. Indeed, it’s one of the few wuxia films to dip its toes in horror genre territory, with one Rotten Tomatoes critic interestingly likening it to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Rent on Prime Video

2 The Assassin (2015)

The Assassin main character
Central Motion Pictures

Shu Qi and Chang Chen star in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, which came out in theaters back in 2015. Set in the 7th Century, somewhere in China, an assassin is hired by her nun and master to take out government officials. She takes her duty quite seriously, and when it is time to head out on her journey, she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.

Why It’s Great

Considered one of the best films of 2015, The Assassin is a wild ride throughout. With epic action scenes and Hou’s signature touch, The Assassin serves quite a unique role in the world of wuxia, utilizing the camera as a spectator of the story’s physical feats. It’s a deeply visual film that warrants rewatches. Stream on Viki

1 Dragon Gate Inn (1967)

A man and woman in ancient Chinese dress stare closely as each other.
Union Film Company

Released in 1967, Dragon Gate Inn was directed by the legendary King Hu in his heyday. The remake of the movie is more well known than the original, but this version is worth watching at least once, too. In it, a eunuch takes down a well-known general, and has his children exiled from the kingdom. But as he plots to have the children killed, too, another team of martial artists arrives to try and save the day before it’s too late.

Why It’s Great

This is a classic King Hu movie. While it may not be as memorable as his other films, it has the artistry needed to make a seamless wuxia stuffed full of action scenes that keep audiences at the edge of their seats. What’s especially remarkable about Dragon Gate Inn is how much it feels like a modern blockbuster, putting you in the midst of the action and allowing you to witness the sheer talent that went into crafting the fight scenes. Not Currently Available to Stream or Purchase

Share This Article
Leave a comment