A Film Festival of Kick Ass Kung Fu/Martial Arts Films in the Public Domain

Every­one remem­bers their first kung-fu movie — or every­one remem­bers their first wave of kung-fu movies, any­way. For some, they came late at night on the less-explored fre­quen­cies of the tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing spec­trum; for oth­ers, they came on sparse­ly attend­ed dou­ble- and triple-bills at the local dis­count the­ater. They looked fad­ed and mud­dy, but some­how still vivid; they felt cheap­ly pro­duced, yet full of life and ener­gy; and as for how they sound­ed, time has turned their both hol­low and the­atri­cal Eng­lish-lan­guage dub­bing into an art form with con­nois­seurs of its own. They came from far­away lands, which ren­dered them exot­ic, but we expe­ri­enced them almost as dreams, prod­ucts of anoth­er real­i­ty alto­geth­er. And some of them you can expe­ri­ence again as pub­lic domain films.

We still call them “kung fu movies” even though, hav­ing grown old­er and wis­er — or at least more cul­tur­al­ly aware — we now know their heroes did­n’t always defeat their ene­mies with the Chi­nese mar­tial arts cov­ered by that umbrel­la term. But the label applies well enough to 1977’s Leg­end of Shaolin, the Hong Kong-made epic at the top of the post set in the 13th-cen­tu­ry Yuan Dynasty and deal­ing with that most kung-fu of all themes, revenge. But such his­tor­i­cal “kung fu” pic­tures could also come from coun­tries like Japan, an exam­ple of which you can thrill to just above: 1983’s Leg­end of the Eight Samu­rai fea­tures Son­ny Chi­ba, liv­ing embod­i­ment of the 1970s mar­tial-arts film, under the direc­tion of the pro­lif­ic and respect­ed provo­ca­teur Kin­ji Fukasaku, best known today as the mak­er of the con­tro­ver­sial Bat­tle Royale.

Next in this pub­lic-domain mar­tial-arts marathon, we have anoth­er Hong Kong movie, Guy with the Secret Kung Fu from 1981, whose title alone strikes me as rec­om­men­da­tion enough. And for our final selec­tion, we move to a more con­tem­po­rary set­ting with 1987’s Four Rob­bers, where­in the tit­u­lar quartet—pursued by both the police and a malev­o­lent crime syn­di­cate that at first wants to recruit them and lat­er wants revenge against them—have to flee from Hong Kong to Thai­land with­out gam­bling away the fruits of their labor or com­pro­mis­ing their prin­ci­ples. This movie, and many oth­ers of its kind, give the lie to the notion that there’s no hon­or among thieves. Most all of the wan­der­ers, samu­rai, rebels, aris­to­crats, cops, and rob­bers you see in them have one kind of hon­or or anoth­er — but when they come into con­flict, it tends to take some old-fash­ioned kung-fu fight­ing to set­tle things. You can find these films added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More, which includes more 23 Free Kung Fu and Mar­tial Arts Movies Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

700 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

Rad­i­cal French Phi­los­o­phy Meets Kung-Fu Cin­e­ma in Can Dialec­tics Break Bricks? (1973)

The Five Best North Kore­an Movies: Watch Them Free Online

The 5 Best Noir Films in the Pub­lic Domain: From Fritz Lang’s Scar­let Street to Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hik­er

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • childofparker says:

    Decent chore­o­graphed fight scenes. Terrible/hilarious voice over­dub.

  • Asiatic Melvin says:

    I have been doing research on Pub­lic Domain Movies and TV shows to Broad­cast on my chan­nel, I found your site by google. My ques­tion Pub­lic Domain movie are sup­pose to be free of copy­right to broad­cast why are peo­ple charg­ing to get the movies & TV show to broad­cast? And do your com­pa­ny do the same if so how much. I am most­ly look­ing for Kung Fu movies a few TV shows and Movie to fill my Sat­ur­day and Sun­day Broad­cast on my Net­work, Please give me a call (929) 484‑6909 Asi­at­ic Melvin or email me the info my chan­nel is a Roku TV app with Live TV broad­cast­ing I cur­rent­ly have my show Ama­sia Music Videos Broad­cast­ing hour by hour.

  • jack buck says:

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the issue and found most peo­ple will con­sent with your site.

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