Disclaimer: the word ‘badass’ will be overused throughout this text. Not appropriate for children.
Martial arts films have a lot to offer fans — from the comedic routines that are often thrown in by actors like Jackie Chan or through comic relief characters, to the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes that leave many of us inspired to go out and learn a martial art (or, just punch and kick at the air.) But one of the biggest things to get fans riled up is the simple levels of badassery displayed by the films‘ protagonists.
To do what these film heroes do, you have to be a high-level badass. In this list, some of the martial arts film genre’s greatest badass heroes will be given their rightful honors. Since hand-to-hand fighters will be the focus here, sword-fighters will be absent. Without further ado, here’s the first badass on the list.
1. Tien: Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3, played by Tony Jaa
Muy Thai is a martial arts style that simply lends itself to badassitude with its devastating elbow and knee blows. Tony Jaa brings the badass levels of Muy Thai to the silver screen without fail as Tien.
Tien is captured as a youth and forced into slavery, but that turned out to just be the beginning of his full-time career as a badass. He ends up killing a fully grown crocodile much bigger than himself to earn his freedom, then trains with a crew of elite badasses to become their leader. Unfortunately, this also makes him a villain for the time being, albeit a badass villain with a pet elephant. With his new skills, he gets revenge on the slavers from earlier — single-handedly and while highly drunk.
Later, he sneaks into a ruler’s palace to get revenge for the murder of his parents, and though he seems to succeed with ease, it’s later discovered that the ruler had armor. Hordes of minions attack him until he is finally overwhelmed. After having all his bones broken as punishment, he ends up freed. Once free, he fixes all of his own bones (like a badass) and then goes to get his revenge with ease. On top of it all, he’s not afraid to dance in public.
2. Kham: The Protector and The Protector 2, played by Tony Jaa
If Tien wasn’t badass enough, there’s always Kham — also played by Tony Jaa and with the same intensity as Muy Thai. In The Protector films, Kham’s elephants keep getting captured, and he does everything in his power to save them.
Though Kham is a badass in both movies, his badass levels are best displayed in the first film. Between diving knee-first into goons’ chests and breaking through people and doors at the same time — while also showing intense prowess in the numerous long-shots throughout the film — Kham is pure badass.
One scene toward the end demonstrates the badassitude of Kham when he’s beaten in circles by goons while he’s too busy crying about his dead elephant friend. When he’s stabbed, a switch turns on and takes out some forty-seven (by my count) thugs without falter, and then challenges 6’11″ Megaman Nathan Jones and a number of his giant wrestler friends with elephant bones strapped to his arms. To cement his badass belt, he leaps off a building to perform his signature double-knee chest-dive on the woman who stole his elephant as she tries to escape on a helicopter.
3. Zen: Chocolate, played by JeeJa Yanin
Chocolate is the story of the ill-conceived child of a Japanese Yakuza member and a Thai mobster’s girlfriend. The daughter, Zen, grows up with a unique form of autism that results in extremely heightened senses that give her lightning-fast reflexes. On top of that, she is able to learn martial arts simply from seeing them, like on TV or in movies.
When Zen’s mother is battling cancer, Zen and her adopted brother go around the city trying to collect debts people still owe to their mother. Though Zen is only a small, young girl, she goes on to battle hordes of grown men, armed fighters, gun-toting thugs, and the Thai mobster that started all of the trouble who then tries to kill her mother. She does it all with a badass style similar to that seen in Tony Jaa’s films, which is no surprise since the director is the same.
While most martial arts film’s lead protagonists are muscle-bound male badasses fighting hordes of other muscly men, Zen is a young badass girl who has barely hit puberty, and she doesn’t let that stand in her way for a second.
4. Yuda: Merantau, played by Iko Uwais
Travel a few thousand miles south of Thailand and you can find another totally badass martial arts style: Pencak Silat. Find actor Iko Uwais, and you’ll see that martial arts style in full badass form. His character, Yuda, travels from his home town to the big city in a fish-out-of-water story that pits him against ever-more-dangerous goons.
Throughout the movie, Yuda’s skill level increases from fight to fight, which gives him fast-learner badass points. He goes from being able to capably fight a handful of opponents at a time to laying down the hurt on a seemingly endless stream of goons, and then still have the stamina to take on the two lead baddies who have been working together for years.
Though Yuda doesn’t have all the ease of some of his contemporary badasses, he gets extra badass credit for being purely righteous and selfless. His efforts are all made to help a child who initially robbed him and a woman who initially scorned him. In the end, he saves a crate-full of women who were going to be sold into slavery and prostitution. Bravo, Yuda.
5. Rama: The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 played by Iko Uwais
Many characters are only as badass as the actor that plays them, and Uwais lends a heavy hand to making his characters badass. Just as he did in Merantau, Uwais makes his character in The Raid, Rama, an unquestionable badass.
Rama is a green-behind-the-ears S.W.A.T. agent thrust into a corrupt raid on a drug lord’s apartment building. In no time at all, most of the team is gunned down, as the building is full of the drug lord’s goons, including his right-hand men, Andy and Mad Dog. Rama battles through it all, beating gun men, deftly defeating machete wielding maniacs, and jumping through windows with enemies so he doesn’t have to take the stairs.
Though Rama’s badass levels might not be incredibly high through the film — as he does have trouble fighting the final bad guy, Mad Dog, even though he has the help of his brother — the sequel gives Rama a major bump in badass points. Don’t miss either films, as they are the pinnacle of modern martial arts films.
Honorable mention goes to Mad Dog, played by Yayan Ruhian, who is hands down the baddest ass in the film. While a film’s final fight often pits the hero against overwhelming odds — in the form of numerous villains – The Raid instead pits Mad Dog against Rama and his brother. Mad Dog deals with them easily, and probably would have beat them both if he wasn’t so obsessed with breaking necks. He’d easily make it onto this list if it weren’t for one thing: he’s a villain. Ruhian also makes an appearance in The Raid 2, and he lends no less badass-ocity to the role.
6. Ricky Ho: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, played by Siu-Wong Fan
Whether you call him Ricky, Riki, Riki-Oh, or Riki-Oh Saiga, Ricky is a total badass. Any fan of the kung fu film genre has probably heard tales of the legendary Ricky. Although the film has probably the lowest quality martial arts of any of the other films mentioned in this list, it still fits the genre, and Ricky is still a badass.
Ricky was too much of a badass for his character to fight real actors for many scenes, and instead, he can be scene punching holes through dummies that replace the actors for the shots. In fact, that pretty much sums it up: Ricky punches holes through everything. There are very few opponents through whom Ricky doesn’t punch a whole or body parts off of.
On top of it all, he manages to keep his spirit unbroken when everyone he gets involved with seems to end up dead, he’s a talented flute player capable of playing music on a simple leaf, he can put together broken toys, and he does it all with five bullets still in his chest, which he calls “souvenirs” — like a badass. This only touches the tip of the iceberg that is Ricky’s badassitude. See the film if you need more proof.
7. Yutaka Daimon: Karate Robo Zaborgar, played by Yasuhisa Furuhara and Itsuji Itao
Yutaka Daimon comes into the category out of left field, as Karate Robo Zaborgar could probably fit better into the spoof comedy genre than the martial arts film genre. However, Daimon shows his prowess and badass bona fides when he fights alongside his transforming cyborg motorcycle brother — and no, that’s not a typo.
Daimon became a talented martial artist at a young age after his father is killed by the evil cyborg organization, Sigma. Throughout the film, Diamon shows his stuff as he battles hordes of minions and cyborgs, even though he has to do it all with his 100 percent human body.
To prove the extent of his badassness, Daimon dodges and catches bullets fired at him by police officers trying to test his skills by catching him off guard, he can handle making love to a cyborg, and he doesn’t let old age stop him. To top it off, he smacks an unrighteous politician with his “justice strikes” without hesitation, and he gives an explanation of diabetes in the middle of a battle as he injects himself with insulin to continue fighting. What a badass.
8. Wong Fei-Hung: Drunken Master and The Legend of Drunken Master, played by Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan plays plenty of badass characters, and many of them could be worthy of this list — but his drunken character, Wong Fei-Hung, is particularly badass. With his drunken boxing fighting style, Wong actually fights better while drunk, and he’s capable of drinking almost anyone under the table — if he wasn’t busy kicking them off it.
The first mentioned film follows Wong learning the drunken boxing style from a master, and in the end, he defeats his opponent at the same time as he defeats his own embarrassment. This entails him using a special drunken boxing style called “Miss Ho,” with special techniques like “fat old woman on a toilet,” and “pretty girl looks in her glass.” That Wong is able to defeat a master while at the same time essentially mocking him with silly moves is pure badass.
Wong continues the badassery in pure Jackie Chan style in The Legend of Drunken Master. These two films are not the only ones in which the Wong character has appeared, and he may be racking up even more badass points in other films. IMDB counts eighty-nine videos featuring the character Wong Fei-Hung.
9. Chen Zhen: Numerous movies and actors
Chen Zhen may be the most prolific badass on this list. While many of the badasses appear in one or two films with one actor playing them, Chen Zhen is so badass that he couldn’t be limited to one film, while one actor would never be able to keep it up long enough. Among Chen Zhen’s feats are fighting the Japanese occupational forces in China, fighting the Germans in World War I, challenges dojos packed full of karate black-belts, and defeating Japanese assassins.
Some of his greatest depictions have been in The Chinese Connection, Fist of Legend, and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. He’s been played by Donnie Yen, Jet Li, and Bruce Lee. So he gets badass points for being played by badass actors, and even more badass points for surviving as a popular film protagonist for so many years.
Honorable mentions go to Cordell Walker of Walk, Texas Ranger for being played by martial arts legend Chuck Norris, and Dae-su Oh of Oldboy for being a fighting badass outside of the martial arts genre.
Though the heroes listed here should be considered undeniably among the most badass, they are by no means the only badasses to grace the genre. Let us know who you would have included through Twitter.
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