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Top 12 Martial Arts Actors

Here are a dozen kick-ass martial arts stars that make us love the genre even more.

21 June 14:29

M-Net Movies is bringing you ass-kicking entertainment with the latest pop-up channel. Two of this week’s Sunday night movie selections are contributing to our martial arts’ obsession, so we thought it was high time we looked at the top martial arts actors in the business. 

  1. Bruce Lee

When you can do finger-and-thumbs press-ups, you definitely deserve a spot on this list. Of course, it was way more than this impressive feat that made Lee one of the greatest martial arts actors in history. Not only did he create his own martial art, known as Jeet Kune Do, he boosted the status of martial arts films in Hollywood. Sadly, this legend was lost far too early, passing away at the age of 32.

Watch the documentary The Real Bruce Lee on Friday 30 June at 20:00 on M-Net Movies Black Belt pop-up channel 109.

  1. Chuck Norris

He may be the star of cheesy action, Internet memes, and countless jokes, but there’s no denying the prowess and skill of the actor who has three black belts, was a world karate champion, and invented his own martial art (Chun Kuk Do).

Tune into the Chuck Norris weekend, 8 and 9 July, or watch him every morning and evening on Walker, Texas Ranger, all on M-Net Movies Black Belt pop-up channel 109.

  1. Donnie Yen

Renowned for portraying Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun master in Ip Man, Yen has dabbled in Tai chi chuan, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Taekwondo, karate, muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, judo, and wushu. He has an impressive array of martial arts movie titles behind his name, and recently joined the Star Wars universe with his portrayal of Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One.

  1. Gal Gadot

Strictly speaking, she hasn’t made any martial arts movies, but as an Israeli national she was conscripted to the Israeli Defense Forces where she learnt Krav Maga. Her skills have been put to good use in action movies such as three (technically four) Fast & Furious films and, of course, Wonder Woman, so we felt she deserved a spot.

Watch Gadot’s LallaLand interview about Wonder Woman here.

  1. Jackie Chan

Not only did Chan elevate the status of martial arts movies in Hollywood after his roaring success in Hong Kong, he also expertly blended the genre with comedy. As if his expertise in Hapkido, kung fu, karate, judo, Jeet Kune Do, and Taekwondo weren’t impressive enough, he even has his own stunt team and is a successful pop star.

Tune into the Jackie Chan weekend, 24 and 25 June, on M-Net Movies Black Belt pop-up channel 109.

  1. Jason Statham

A skilled diver, the Stath was part of Britain’s National Diving Squad for over a decade. But it wasn’t long before he turned to martial arts and movies. Having studied kung fu, karate, and kickboxing, he applied his prodigious skill to movies like The Transporter (1, 2 and 3), War, The Expendables (1, 2 and 3), and Wild Card.

Watch Jason Statham in Mechanic: Resurrection, your Sunday night movie on 25 June at 20:05 on M-Net.

  1. Jean-Claude Van Damme

With kickboxing, muay Thai, karate, Taekwondo, and ballet under his (black) belt, there’s no denying the muscles from Brussel’s talent. From his flexibility (those splits) and combination kicks to a string of martial art movie classics (Bloodsport! Kickboxer!) Van Damme has cemented his place in in the genre.

Watch Van Damme in Kickboxer: Vengeance, your Sunday night movie on 25 June at 20:30 on M-Net Movies Premiere.

Tune into the Jean-Claude Van Damme weekend, 30 June and 2 July, on M-Net Movies Black Belt pop-up channel 109.

  1. Jet Li

He made the move to Hollywood when he was cast as the villain in Lethal Weapon 4, but was already a big martial arts star in Hong Kong. As a wushu champion once asked by Richard Nixon to be his personal bodyguard, it’s easy to understand his success. His film accomplishments continue as he skillfully plies his art to everything from sweeping epics to action blockbusters.

Watch Li in The One on Saturday 24 June at 21:51 on M-Net Movies Black Belt pop-up channel 109.

Make sure you don’t miss him go toe to toe with Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom on Sunday 2 July at 12:03 on M-Net Movies Black Belt pop-up channel 109.

  1. Sonny Chiba

A devoted athlete at school, it wasn’t long before Chiba became interested in martial arts. Starting a prolific film career in his native Japan, he soon made a name for himself internationally with the Street Fighter films. With more than a 100 movies behind him and six black belts, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Watch Chiba in Kill Bill: Volume 1 on Saturday 24 June at 20:00 on M-Net Movies Black Belt pop-up channel 109.

  1. Tony Jaa

He’s gritty, he’s hardcore, and skilled in Taekwondo, muay Thai, Aikido, judo, and jiu-jitsu, not to mention he’s deft with a sword. Leaping to fame with the film Ong-bak, his talent and toughness secure his place in the annals of martial arts’ movie history.

  1.  Zhang Ziyi

The Chinese actress has displayed her grace and grit in everything from comedies like Rush Hour 2 to wuxia classics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. With no formal training in martial arts, it was her background in dance that helped her master the moves, soon turning her into an acclaimed martial arts movie star.

  1. Zoë Bell

Having doubled for several of Quentin Tarantino’s leading ladies, as well as for Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess, the Taekwondo-trained New Zealand stuntwoman is one tough lady. Her next project? Doubling for Cate Blanchett on Thor: Ragnarok.

Remember: Two of the actors on our list feature in your Sunday night movie selections.

On M-Net at 20:05, watch Jason Statham in Mechanic: Resurrection. Check out our top 10 Jason Statham movies here.

On M-Net Movies at 20:30, watch Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer: Vengeance.

Not mad about martial arts? Norway ups the ante on the disaster movie genre with The Wave at 22:25 on M-Net. Check out our top 10 Hollywood (natural) disaster movies here.

Share you favourite martial arts movie star using #MMBlackBelt and tell us your #SundayNightMovie selection using the hashtag.

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