Heroic Bloodshed: A genre of Hong Kong action cinema revolving around stylized action sequences and dramatic themes such as brotherhood, duty, honour, redemption and violence. It has to be noted that while most Heroic Bloodshed titles use gun play there are some that use other weapons like swords. There are also titles that use stylized gun play but necessarily don't belong to Heroic Bloodshed. I will try to distinguish the several niches as much as possible or at least describe the style to a point that it becomes clear of what you can expect.
I have always preferred the films that featured stylized gun play or Gun fu. So let me give you another definition.
Gun fu: a portmanteau of gun and kung fu, is the style of sophisticated close-quarters gunplay seen in Hong Kong action cinema and in Western films influenced by it. It often resembles a martial arts battle played out with firearms instead of traditional weapons. It may also be described by other terms such as bullet ballet, Gun Kata, or gymnastic gunplay.
(Do keep in mind though that some movies have mixed so many genres that it becomes hard to distinguish them and that I will put them into a category that is most prominent.)
I thought it was time to pay a little attention to this genre especially for the action lovers among us. Because there is no doubt that the following titles I am going to discuss are one of the best action titles in existence. There is only one man who is the absolute king of the Heroic Bloodshed genre. And that is John Woo. With his movies like a Better Tomorrow 1 and 2, The Killer and Hard Boiled he introduced a style that has been copied many times but till date never has been surpassed. My absolute favourite movie of this genre is Hard Boiled. I can watch it over and over again and never get bored. A true action classic. So here a review of that movie and other titles made by John Woo.
"Heroic Bloodshed as it should be"
JOHN WOO IS GOD AND CHOW YAN FAT IS THE SON OF GOD!!! (Ok, this might be a little on the dramatic side but trust me you will be shouting to once you have seen this film.) This is an action movie for the fans. The first scenes will surprise you and seem chaotic. But if you watch it more often and carefully you will see a well choreographed action sequence which is just a sample of the rest of the movie. The sequences will improve and amaze you every minute. Fasten your seatbelt's and get ready for a roller-coaster ride. This one surpasses FACE OFF easily. Chow Yan Fat (Tequila) is the hard boiled cop who is trigger happy and brutal. But even then you just love the guy.Talk about charisma. As this wasn't the case with John Travolta (who was unconvincing as the good cop in FACE OFF). All the trademarks from John Woo's movies are represented, pigeons, jazz music, (speed)boats, friendship and shootouts (in slow motion), lot's of slow motion. If you liked the Matrix trilogy, then you will love Hard Boiled, because the action is far better (and without the digital effects, cgi). And if there was doubt this is one of the movies in the genre where the Warschowski brothers got their inspiration from. Max Payne (the video game) is a tribute to this movie and every movie John Woo made in the genre. Need I say more!
The Killer (1989)
As a big fan of John Woo and Chow Yan Fat I have to recommend this movie to people who haven't seen this already. It shows you action without the use of CGI and still manages to surprise you. There are lot of HK action movies who are compared and categorized in the same genre as The Killer. But to be honest a lot of these titles aren't in the same league. The action, (the most beautiful slowmo shootouts) in combination with the drama make this a classic of superior quality. The story isn't that interesting. The reason that this doesn't matter is Chow Yan Fat. He manages to carry this movie all by himself. His pain is our pain. He will get you involved in such a way that you really care about his character without any effort. His charisma is overwhelming. It is just a joy to see this man in action. The interactions between him and Danny Lee are also something to look out for. Like Hardboiled this is a roller-coaster ride. People who really love action movies have to have seen this movie at least once!
A Better Tomorrow (1986)
This is the movie that started it all. A new genre was born called Heroic Bloodshed. A Better Tomorrow seems like a typical Hong Kong gangster drama. It is not, it is much more thanks to John Woo. The story has it's moments. But like most of his movies it is about the action. The three main characters are Chow Yan Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung. Although Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung give good performances. Chow Yan fat steals the show by far. It is a joy to see him, no matter what scene it is. He is the embodiment of coolness in this movie. It is to bad such a fine and versatile actor doesn't get the chance to make really good movies in Hollywood.(Honestly the guy can do any genre you throw at him from drama to comedy. And yet they cast him in productions that are merely bad copies of those he starred in Hong Kong). As I mentioned before this movie is about the action. The slow mo shootouts are superb. The scene where Mark kills some bad guys after they betrayed Ti Lung is classic and is parodied very often. You will see why. The setup to this shootout is great. And if you never had seen any of Woo's movies you never would have expected it. There is also quite some melodrama going on. And I know that for some this will be the time that they fast forward to the action scenes. However I do think that it adds to the ultra violence displayed here. If the characters you care for get shot in slow motion that simply gets to you. Woo knew exactly how to emphasize these moments visually. The climax is nothing short of brilliance. So do yourself a favour and go watch this movie already if you haven't.
A Better Tomorrow 2 (1987)
Yes,this movie is a masterpiece! It has all of the trademarks John Woo is known for. And very important it has Chow Yan Fat. He is back as Mark's brother Ken. Maybe a bit to convenient,but who cares. Chow Yan Fat is extra cool in this movie. Is that possible? Yes, it is! Nice detail is the scene where Ken receives Mark's coat with the bullet holes (in which he got shot at the end of Better tomorrow 1). He uses these holes to put in grenades and guns.Like it was planned that way. There is more melodrama which in this case intensifies the action sequences. The shoot outs are bigger and better than the first movie.
*Spoiler* (Don't read beyond this if you never seen the movie before. However I think knowing the outcome doesn't change the enjoyment one bit.)
Every main (male) character dies at the end. Heroic Bloodshed to the maximum.
If you look closely to most of the scenes you will see where Quentin Tarantino got his ideas from (for example men in black suits with guns). Also a sequence is used in True Romance for which Quentin Tarantino wrote the screenplay. This movie is the best of the series and without a doubt the third best movie John Woo has made. With The Killer being the second best and Hard Boiled being his best all time! Watch it already.
Other Titles (Non John Woo):
a.k.a. Zai zhan jiang hu (1990)
Return Engagement (RA) is one of those bloodshed titles where the action is more important than the the story and drama. The action, especially the ending is one to watch over and over again. Being a fan of heroic bloodshed with gun play (in slow motion), I can't get enough of these titles. Compared to action movies made in US, this one is a gem. If they made more titles like this one than I would be in heaven. Alan Tang really does a good job as the father who tries to make a mends with his daughter. Simon Yam is the typical bad guy in these kind of movies, but still he delivers style to his acting. Andy Lau plays Alan's sidekick with flair. RA made in the eighties certainly is still enjoyable now. Watch it!
a.k.a. Yi dan hong chun (1988)
A movie containing Chow Yan Fat and Ti lung cannot go wrong and it doesn't. The chemistry between them is wonderful. You will laugh with them and cry with them. This movie is more about their friendship and actually has not much of a plot. For fans who expect a movie like "A Better Tomorrow", do not worry because the exploding finale makes the movie worth watching. Also there is not much style except for the action scenes. They are done superbly. Very surprisingly there is also a lot of humor and romance ,which shows the talent of Chow yan Fat. This movie can be described as an average heroic bloodshed title.
Review Flaming Brothers (1987)
This title doesn't do justice to the genre heroic bloodshed. Yes, there is bloodshed en yes it is heroic, but for the most part it is a story about a relationship between two friends (Alan Tang and Chow Yan Fat) who happen to be gangsters. Let's face it, compared to John Woo titles: Better Tomorrow series, Hard Boiled, the Killer. This movie doesn't have a chance! There is not enough action to make this worthwhile. But the acting is outstanding by Chow Yan Fat and Alan Tang. Furthermore there is not much of intrigue or excitement, so why should i watch this? Still Alan Tang really has potential for greater action drama's than this one. Return Engagement is a better example how they could combine drama in this fashion with action.
More titles for your consideration:
-Big Heat (Click on the title for the review)
-Expect the Unexpected
-Tiger on the Beat
-Hard Target (John Woo)
-Just Heroes (John Woo)
-Heroes Shed No Tears (John Woo)
-Rich and Famous
-Tragic Hero a.k.a. Black Vengeance (sequel to Rich and Famous)
-Big Bullet (Technically not Heroic Bloodshed but does feature
some awesome shootouts. Click on the title for the review.)
- Welcome to the Punch (Tribute to Heroic Bloodshed)
- China White (Heroic Bloodshed in Amsterdam)
- The Replacement Killers (Heroic Bloodshed A. Fuqua style)
- My Heart is that Eternal Rose (*sigh*)
- Crying Freeman (a classic)