The Best Fight-Heavy Action Movies You’ve Never Seen

Re: Born (2016)

Toshiro was once a legend on the field of battle singlehandedly dispatching dozens of enemies before they even knew he was there, but one day he gave it all up for a far simpler life. He’s forced back into the life of death when people from his past come calling. Big mistake for them. Huge.

Tak Sakaguchi’s most famous role remains in 2000’s Versus, but his latest is the far better watch. It’s still an action movie hung on an extremely simple plot, but there’s a reason the setup is so familiar – it’s incredibly effective despite its one-note nature. Action movies are about the action, and this one delivers plenty of stellar sequences guaranteed to delight genre fans looking for kinetic thrills. Toshiro takes on lots of bad guys, many of them during a thirty-minute assault up a hillside that is a thing of beauty.

Part of the film’s appeal is the new style of fighting that Sakaguchi brings to the screen called Zero Range Combat. Does it mean something more than close quarters fighting? I don’t know, but its use of small blades for fast, vicious strikes is mesmerizing and thrilling in equal measure. He’s the real deal, and while he’s a better fighter than actor he’s never less than a charismatic and captivating stunner.

ReBorn is not currently available.

Skin Trade (2014)

The actions of a Serbian gangster draw the wrath of two police officers from different parts of the world, and neither will rest until the big guy’s dead. One is an American cop seeking vengeance for the murder of his wife and daughter, and the other is a Thai detective intent on fighting human trafficking on his beat. They’re bad-asses on their own and unbeatable together.

Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa take the lead here while Ron Perlman and Michael Jai White play backup, and the result is something pretty great for action fans. White gets some licks in – not enough, but we’ll take what we can get – but it’s Jaa who shines like the goddamn action star that he is. His knees and elbows get a brutal workout when he’s not busy punching, kicking, and spinning through the air to collide with bad guys, and he’s still a blast to watch in action.

The film’s heavy on fights and action set-pieces, but there’s also a surprisingly heavy aspect to the plot that’s treated with respect rather than an eye for exploitation. Fighting human trafficking is apparently a cause close to Lundgren’s heart which led him to getting this movie made, and from its harrowing opening to an ending that satisfies while still respecting the real pain and suffering endured by victims it’s a movie deserving of more eyeballs. And I’m not just saying that because I desperately want the sequel setup so beautifully in its final minutes.

Skin Trade is available on Blu-ray/DVD and to stream.

We Will Not Die Tonight (2018)

Kray is a stuntwoman barely making ends meet, but when a reunion with childhood friends reminds her of the trouble they used to get into together it’s enough to convince her to go along with a “sure thing” guaranteed to net her some real cash. They agree to deliver some drugs, but the thugs change their minds at the last minute and raise the stakes to involve abducted kids. Kray and her friends refuse and are soon forced to fight their way out of enemy territory.

This action flick from the Philippines riffs on familiar hits like The Warriors (1979), Trespass (1992), and Judgment Night (1993), but it finds its own voice and personality thanks in large part to its lead. She doesn’t talk much, but Erich Gonzales is the film’s heart as her character pushes forward with raw intensity and determination. It’s clear she’s no martial artist, but she displays a strong physical presence that makes her a convincing scrapper when necessary.

And by “when necessary” I mean the entirety of the last hour. Fists, guns, knives, hatchets, and more come into play through a steady stream of action beats, fights, and barbarity. This is no stylized action movie – an exception on this list – as the fights are all about survival with people slicing and dicing their way through anyone in their way. It’s ugly and often mean-spirited, and the entirety is layered in grit, sweat, and blood. As traditionally unattractive as the violence is, though, writer/director Richard Somes crafts a visually engaging tale with fates spelled out between the shadows. You’ll want more from both Somes and Gonzales.

We Will Not Die Tonight is not currently available.

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