Before 1986, Hong Kong cinema was firmly rooted in two genres: the martial arts film and the comedy. Gunplay was not terribly popular because audiences had considered it boring. Thank God John Woo came onto the scene. His stylized action sequences were hip, fresh, and interesting. He slowed down the action to zero in on the gritty details of pain and violence, turning action into art. At some point in his movies, preferably during a key fight sequence, there must be birds, flying in what else.. slow motion. We celebrate this directors work with a definitive list of his best films. Kicking off the list with the number 10 selection:
John Travolta stars in this mindless thriller in which he steals a nuclear weapon and its up to Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis to save the world. Nothing got in my way of everlasting enjoyment of seeing people die, bombs going off and the baritone guitar instrumental. It just all clicks from the get-go. If your reading this you don’t need me to recycle the plot summary. It’s of a trivial nature. Good action, decent cast and a fun atmosphere go a long way with Travolta ultimately holding it all together. There are some plot holes, but suspend your disbelief and you’re in for a couple of hours of non-stop entertainment.
How can you not like a movie that starts out with a bloody street fight to an instrumental version of The Monkees “I’m a Believer”? This truly is John Woo’s Apocalypse Now. An unforgettable drama, not just because it’s a memorable, high quality, and entertaining film, but because of the emotional impact the events have on the characters and it’ll have on you. Woo is more than just an action director. This movie is the ultimate testament to this fact. He is as adept in showing characters interact in streets or even that beautiful shot of water flowing from the petal of a flower as he is in showing people getting bloodily shot.
The most expensive Chinese language picture ever, John Woo’s costume actioner, Red Cliff, scales the heights. John Woo makes a triumphant return to Asian cinema with Red Cliff, the excellent first film in his two film adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. All of Woo’s trademarks and themes are present, from beautiful slow motion action shots, emotion driven freeze frames, to the themes of brotherhood and honor. Red Cliff is a spectacular war epic based on a tumultuous time in China’s feuding warlords history, set just about and after the downfall of the Han dynasty.
The film thus starts of in old fashioned art heist territory but moves into daft comedy territory and the Woo style spectacular action. This piece delivers, and is still miles better than anything that could come out of Hollywood. Chow Yun-Fat is as bad-ass as ever, and you get to see him flirt and be very funny. Leslie shows off his ubiquitous tango skills. And at least 3 very good action scenes. All in all, this is one John Woo movie that’s also a date movie. You can even watch this with your Mom (OK, maybe not your Mom).
John woo is known for directing heart pounding action sequences and these are as heart pounding as they get the final shoot out in the church is tense and exciting. Without any special, visual or sound effects; it’s a high achievement on both sound and vision. It’s high on thematic values, but low on production values. While this film is not for the squeamish or those offended by excessive and rather graphic violence, if you are in any way a fan of action films – you mush see this movie. The only downfall of the American version of the film is the way the dubbing hurts an emotionally charged script. The Hong Kong flavor, and the immediacy of the violence are hard to get used to in a Hollywood dominated industry. Still, it very much re-defines the cops and robbers genre, and comes right off the screen at it most tense moments.
After so much criticism of the first movie’s overly-complicated plot, it’s no real surprise that Mission: Impossible 2 is dumber than lighting a match in a room full of dynamite. I am certain many readers will pick me apart for landing this film at #5, but Woo can do more with fewer words than any director I know, and in Cruise, Scott, and Newton, much of his cast do a marvelous job of acting without having to speak. Mission Impossible II is a movie I would definitely see twice. If you are an avid Tom Cruise fan and you enjoy action, you will like this film. The film not only offers suspense, but there is humor to be found also. The stunts are outstanding; many of which took my breath away. A definite must-see.
The adrenaline amount in Heroes Shed no Tears is incredible as it is hard to think a film more fierce and angry than this. The action scenes are totally unbelievable and Ultra violent, and I was totally stunned at the fight scene near the water/lake/river at the first part of the film. The mayhem is so over-the-top and something never found in Western film. Ching Ying Lam is very convincing as the cruel and sadistic Vietnamese officer. The torture scene involving Eddy Ko is the most brutal one ever done by Woo. Definitely worth taking a look at if you’re in the mood for some truly mindless violence, or if you’re a Woo completist.
A Better Tomorrow 2 features an excellent final gun battle scene between the triads and Ken, Lung and Ho. Everything about this scene just kicks ass! It’s kinetic, thrilling, dazzling and incredible. The heroes use guns, grenades and even a samurai sword to mow down the opposition and, by the end, there are more bodies than one can count. This is the first action set piece in which John Woo just decided to go completely berserk, though it would certainly not be the last. The action is a big step up from the first and some of the best ever filmed for its time. Chow Yun-Fat is once again cooler than ice, with his trademark sunglasses, trench coat, matchstick and dual pistols.
What can I say about Hard Boiled? Crowds of people are gunned down without explanation and the smallest things explode for little or no reason. The bad guys are massively exaggerated cutthroat caricatures and the good guys never miss. Scenes of Fat and Leung running down corridors are inexplicably shot in slow motion. And, for all of these reasons, it is amazing. It’s fast, it’s exciting, and it never lets up.
One of my favorite movies of all-time, Face/Off, in short, follows the tranformation of John Travolta’s FBI agent who is now Cage’s crazed criminal and vise versa. What follows is a wild and crazy thrill ride that is a bit hard to keep straight, but ultimately fun to watch and quite satisfying. Watching it brings out my emotions from start to finish and the action scenes were done with the style of a master director. The film is an adrenaline pumped action flick which shows a hail of bullets and blood, Travolta plays Castor with pure delight as he jumps around and does his one-liners, while Nicholas plays the man completely alone in the world. John Woo has made his best movie, and while Hard Boiled and A Better Tomorrow II come close, the rest of his Asian corpus of work is no comparison.
There you have it folks! Didn’t see your favorite film on the list or have your own Top 10? Sound off in the comment section!