Any all time list is going to be limited to what you've seen; what you can vouch for. Now I've seen nearly a hundred martial arts films so I'm pretty confident in my list, but we'll see. It's entirely possible that I could be embarrassed by one or two of my choices a few years from now. Martial arts films are exploding in popularity all over the world, and we're seeing more great films from places we've never seen them before. The last generation of big name martial artists are growing older and a new generation of talented fighters are hungry to take their places... which leads me to perhaps the most well recognized name in martial arts, Jackie Chan. No matter what you think of his current work, Jackie has made one of the biggest impacts on the medium, with a career spanning decades, creative talent that demands to push things to completely new places and a competitive spirit of one-upsmanship with his fellow Peking Opera graduates he is a perfect storm of talent, ability and motivation. This list could easily be the Top Ten List of Jackie Chan Movies That Could be Considered the Best Kung-fu Films of All Time, but it's far too long and far less catchy, so I tried to limit his influence on this list to three.
10: Kung-Fu Hustle
I love the axe gang. Forget Samuraui and Ninja and Shaolin; the Axe-Gang is my favorite all time Asian trope. A gang of kung-fu delinquents with axes? What's not to love?! Kung-fu Hustle marries Stephen Chow's fantastic comedy with brilliant special effects and a great reimagining of kung-fu on a mythological level. The fact that he can maintain Cantonese style comedy while keeping it funny for international audiences is nothing less than genius.
This is a movie about honor and about the dojo. A struggling Brazilian Ju-justsu dojo run by Chiwetel Ejiofo suffers a series of unfortunate events following a barfight in which he saves a movie star. The film is short of fighting and long on talking, but the fights punctuate the story in such a way that they have a lot more impact than many grander fights often have. David Mammet does a great job updating the themes of many old kung-fu movies into a contemporary setting
8: Police Story
One of the Chinese movies of it's time, there is some great martial arts, the stunt work is some of the all time greatest and the movie is just a lot of fun. It spawned three good sequels and three ok coattail runners (Crime Story, New Police Story, and Supercop 2.) This was one of the first Jackie Chan films that really had international appeal, and he was working extra hard to show up Sammo, and apologize to his fans for The Protector.
7: Ong Bok: The Muay Thai Warrior
Single-handedly caused the explosion in Thai cinema we see today. The stunt work and martial arts are both awe-inspiring. The plot isn't as strong as most of the other films on this list, but QUITE A BIT STRONGER than every other film Tony Jaa has done. Between the underground fighting circuit the roving gangs and the people Tony will only kick if his legs are set on fire, this movie is created a star, and that star is Thailand
6: Enter the Dragon
Bruce Lee couldn't NOT be on this list. But despite his now legendary skill in martial arts, many of his movies do not stand the test of time when put up against some the best the 80's and 90's has to offer. With his unfortunately limited filmography Bruce Lee is a lost promise of potential energy. Perhaps his death allowed Jackie Chan to exist, but the what could have been will always be a nagging question on any fan of the medium. Enter the Dragon is deservedly a classic with strong choreography a great story and villain, and heaping helpfuls of the philosophy that made Bruce the best.
5: Once Upon a Time in China
Jet Li's take on the most beloved character in Chinese history is now the accepted norm, at least internationally. This film has a phenomenal cast, wonderful fighting, a great story, and Jet Li portrays the character of Wong Fei Hung simply perfectly. This is a star studded high-budget epic that launched Jet Li into the very franchise that helped make Chinese A-list.
4: Drunken Master 2
Drunken Master 2 (The Legend of the Drunken Master to American audiences) still gives me goosebumps watching it. This movie his hilarious, with some of the finest drunken boxing you'll see anywhere, a strong message, and a great take on the Wong Fei Hung character. Oh and did I mention some of the finest drunken boxing you'll ever see, it's a form that seems to have been made for Jackie Chan.
Oh yeah, and I friggen love that axe gang ;)
Starring Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, this is probably the movie you're least likely to have heard about. If you've ever heard a kung-fu fan rave about how amazing Yuen Biao is, this movie is why. Yuen may not have the charisma of Jackie Chan, but his martial arts in this film, are some of the best you'll ever see. Throw in a fun story about a grifter turned martial artist and Sammo's brand of comedy and this is without a doubt one of the best Kung-fu movies ever
2: Fist of Legend
Anything Bruce Lee could do Jet Li can do better, aptly proved with this remake of The Chinese Connection (damned clerical errors!) The martial arts are fast and furious Japan meets China meets modern. With a great story about revenge and love and prejudice this is undoubtedly the best Jet Li movie and one of the best films ever made.
1: The Young Master
Snake in Eagles Shadow, Drunken Master, and Fearless Hyena were all made with the same low-budget film stock and staff as The Young Master. These were the first films where Jackie Chan could flex his muscles creatively, in addition to just the regular way. While they're all fantastic The Young Master stands above the pack for a number of reasons, the opening sequence is an extended lion dance that is fantastically entertaining. Yuen Biao shows up for some bench fighting. Jackie does a lot of great comedic fighting in addition to his amazing forms, and Hapkido Grandmaster Hwang Ing-Sik is one of the most imposing villains of all time.