Let’s be honest, watching movies with a bit of butt-kicking can be extremely entertaining. From movies that are entirely focused on fighting (for example, Undisputed and Kickboxer) to movies that heavily include it (e.g. The Fast and The Furious franchise), there are actors with great fighting skills and fighters with brilliant acting skills and the audiences keep coming back for more blood and action.
Some might be surprised how many actors have an active background in martial arts/sports and many have taken advantage of this fact to offer audiences some impressive kicks and takedowns. Let us explore some of the lesser-known underground martial arts films and a few that should be more than familiar to fans of the genre.
10 Arena (2011)
In this arena, combatants fight each other to the death. The Deathgames are a gladiatorial contest for the modern times, taking place illegally from an undisclosed location and broadcasted live online.
David Lord, a fireman and paramedic, gets drunk in a bar while mourning the loss of his girlfriend, Lori, and gets into a fight with the bouncer, whom he easily subdues. Unfortunately, the fight is witnessed by Milla, a “recruiter” for the Deathgames who kidnaps David. Now, he must face dangerous foes, as well as the devilish game master, Logan (Samuel L. Jackson).
9 Never Surrender (2009)
This film featured many real-life mixed martial artists, like former UFC two-division champion Georges St-Pierre and former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. When an MMA international champion is ensnared into the illegal underbelly of underground cage fighting by a tenuous agent, he rapidly grasps that this is no ordinary fighting: it is all about survival.
In this world, some fight for acclaim and some fight for the thrills. He is fighting to get out alive. Here and now, in his extreme struggle to be number one, he can never quit, never be weak, never yield … never surrender.
8 Lady Bloodfight (2016)
Lady Bloodfight is a 2016 co-production between the U.S. and Hong Kong, directed by Chris Nahon and with Amy Johnston heading the cast. Jane Jones (Johnston) is a stunning but burdened American young woman who’s gone backpacking to Hong Kong.
When she effectively fights off three brutes trying to mug her, she greatly impresses Shu, a Wudang champion, who is enthralled by her visceral street fighting skills. Shu enlists Jane and coaches her to fight in the brutal, all-female, secretive martial arts contest they call “The Kumite.”
7 Female Fight Squad (2016)
Starring Amy Johnston, from the previous entry, this film also featured only female fighters. Holt (Dolph Lundgren) has found himself in prison because he took the fall for a crime committed by his daughter, Rebecca (Johnston).
Rebecca is a complex young woman, an ex MMA fighter who’s trying to start over, but she’s dragged back into illegal fighting when her sister is in debt to an underground MMA agent and winds up hospitalized because she can’t pay. Rebecca –once known as “Bex the Beast”– comes back with a vengeance to save her sister and simultaneously prove her father’s innocence – the blood-spattered journey to redemption begins.
6 The Raid (2011)
This film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and showcased the traditional Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat. In Jakarta, Indonesia, Lieutenant Wahyu arranges the raid of a block of flats: the safe house of the influential and vicious drug-lord Tama and his ring.
The SWAT squad breaks into the block, but one guard spots them and warns the gangsters, who proceed to trap the police on the seventh floor. The team finds out that Lt. Wahyu has not notified his supervisors about the raid. Now, the officers must clash with the armed criminals with only inadequate ammunition and their own fighting prowess.
5 Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011)
Former boxer Zack, gifted MMA fighter Tim, tormented record shop assistant Justin, and college wrestler Mike come from different circumstances, but they have one thing in common: a zeal for fighting.
They rapidly become devoted to their unconventional coach, Case (Michael Jai White), a talented former UFC Champion with his own demons. Case trains the young men for a fighting contest named The Beatdown, run by local fight promoter Max, while teaching them many valuable life lessons. When their trainer becomes entrapped by some corrupted police officers, the boys unite to uncover the traitor amongst them.
4 Blood And Bone (2009)
Here’s another entry with beloved fighter and actor, Michael Jay White. In this film, he plays Bone, a formidable fighter of nigh unmatched skill and a former convict.
Once released from prison, Bone goes to L.A. and aims to become involved in an underground fighting ring in order to keep a promise he made in prison. With the help of his new friend and manager, Pinball, he quickly makes a name for himself in the illegal MMA scene as the “knockout artist” and even defeats the previously undefeated Hammerman. This captures the attention of local mob boss, James, the man Bone sought to get close to all along.
3 Boyka: Undisputed (2017)
In the fourth installment of the Undisputed franchise, Scott Adkins reprises his role as Boyka, the extremely talented “most complete fighter in the world,” but also a psychologically tormented ex-prisoner. Several months after the end of Undisputed III: Redemption, Boyka is free and competes in the Ukrainian underground MMA scene, while he’s still wanted in Russia.
He accidentally kills an opponent, Victor, an act that he deeply regrets, which makes him re-evaluate his reasons for fighting. He travels to Russia, risking his freedom, to find Alma, Victor’s wife, and see if he can help her. Alma is essentially the prisoner of the local mob boss and MMA club owner, Zourab, because she owes him money. Boyka offers to fight in Zourab’s ring in exchange for Alma’s freedom and maybe even her forgiveness.
2 Bloodsport (1988)
Bloodsport is based on the supposedly true story of the martial artist, trainer, and former Marine, Frank Dux, although his claims are widely disputed. The film stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Frank, a U.S. Army Captain who has trained in ninjutsu almost his entire life under sensei Senzo Tanaka.
Senzo considers Frank a member of his clan and prepares him for the underground Kumite tournament in Hong Kong. However, when his superiors in the army refuse to give him leave to go and he goes anyway, he is followed to Hong Kong by two USACIDC officers. To add to his troubles, he discovers that the tournament is much more deadly than he had anticipated.
1 Ip Man (2008)
Ip Man is a 2008 Hong Kong martial arts biopic inspired by the life of Ip Man, a master of the martial art Wing Chun (a type of kung fu) and instructor of Bruce Lee. In 1935 in Foshan, southern China, martial arts schools pop up on every corner and martial arts masters compete against each other to determine who’s the best.
Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is the unofficial, but still undeniable, martial arts champion of the area, yet he has not dedicated himself to instruction. During the occupation of China by Japan, Ip Man and his family are forced to leave their home and lose their prosperity. With meager means of survival, Ip Man and the enduring residents of Foshan must find a way to hold on and resist.
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