The word “wuxia” is a compound composed of the elements wu, “martial”, “military”, or “armed”, and xia, “honourable”, “chivalrous”, or “hero”. A martial artist who follows the code of xia is often referred to as a xiake (“follower of xia”) or youxia (wandering hero).
The earliest wuxia movies date back to the 1920’s. In the 1960’s King Hu and the Shaw Brothers Studio were producing films that featured sophisticated action choreography using wire and trampoline-assisted acrobatics combined with sped-up camera techniques. The storylines in the early films were loosely adapted from existing literature.
The first martial arts movie superstars such as Cheng Pei-pei, Jimmy Wang Yu and Connie Chan are among the better known early wuxia movie stars. During the modern era, stars including Jet Li, Brigitte Lin, Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi all made a name for themselves in wuxia movies. Producer and director Tsui Hark along with legendary action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping owe a large part of their success to their work in the wuxia genre.
In 2000, wuxia movies found a new and wider audience thanks to the success of Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“. It was a huge box office success and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning four. Its success in the west paved the way for films such as Zhang Yimou’s “Hero“, “House of Flying Daggers” and “Curse of the Golden Flower” to be released in international markets.
The genre continues to be popular with both Asian and Western audiences alike. In recent years Daniel Wu’s hit television series has taken the wuxia concept and updated it in his show “Into the Badlands“, which is now into its third season.
Take a look at our Top 10 Wuxia Movies (appearing in descending order) and let us know which is your favourite!