Martial arts have appeared in American movies since the days of Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan, but English-language martial arts films as a genre did not develop until the 1970s, with the breakthrough success of Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon
. They've since proliferated enormously, encompassing every level of filmmaking quality, employing every martial arts system known, and spawning a cadre of action superstars known for their ability to kick butt more than for their talent as actors. Low budgets, straight-to-video releases, and a lack of critical respect have not lessened their influence, and they remain hugely popular and continue to inform the work of the leading lights of American cinema, from Coppola to Stone to Tarantino.
This history of American martial arts films, from major features to direct-to-video releases, examines English-language martial arts films in terms of both their historical development and their critical relevance. The first section describes the most common martial arts techniques, the history of martial arts in America, and gives a global overview of the history of martial arts films. Heavily illustrated chapters discuss early trend-setting movies, the first appearances of martial arts in American movies; the influence of Chinese kung fu film imports; martial arts on television and the films' proliferation; the explosive growth of the genre in the 80s; and recent releases, trends, and the direction of English-language martial arts movies. There is a selected filmography of 300 movies.