John Woo Movies

Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Films Directed by John Woo

John Woo movies are a mixture of the elegant, the absurd, and the downright violent. For more than 40 years, he’s been entertaining audiences across the globe with a distinctive visual style that routinely includes the following: slow motions shootouts, Mexican standoffs, doves flying into the heavens, men wielding twin .45 pistols, and a healthy dose of Chow Yun-fat. Credited with single-handedly inventing the cinematic art of “gun-fu,” Woo has influenced a generation of American filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowski Brothers.

While his Hong Kong films maintain a legendary place in action movie history, Woo has also made the successful transition to Hollywood. In spite of constant interference from a studio system that seemed unaware of his previous works, Woo managed to turn out crowd-pleasing movies that included Face/Off, Broken Arrow, and Mission: Impossible II. In fact, he’s often viewed as the first Asian director to enjoy breakout success in the land of palm trees and Botox.

If you’d like to enjoy some classic action films from the comfort of your couch, be sure to become a Netflix member. Subscriptions start as low as $7.99 per month, and you can choose to watch via your PC, TV, or mobile device.

John Woo movies

If you enjoy John Woo movies, this is the man to thank.

In the summer of 2010, I journeyed to Hollywood for the first-ever installment of the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. While waiting in line with my friend Randy to see The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the big screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, we busied ourselves by checking out the famous hand and footprints left by celebrities. I noticed a group of Asian tourists who seemed especially fascinated by one such monument. Curious as to which Hollywood star would garner that level of admiration from people a world away, I moved in for a closer look. The hand and footprints belonged to John Woo.

The following list of films discusses both the John Woo movies I’ve already seen, as well as a few that I intend to see in the future. If you’re a hardcore fan of action cinema, you owe it to yourself to check out one or more of these films Trust me, shootouts will never seem the same.

John Woo Movies I Have Seen

This list is comprised of some of the John Woo movies I’ve watched over the years as well as a few thoughts on each. I’ve seen more films than the ones listed below, but these made the greatest impression.

A Better Tomorrow (1986) – A massive hit throughout Asia, this film marked John Woo’s ascension to the top of the action movie mountain. Chow Yun-fat is stellar as Ho, an honorable criminal who gets released from prison and tries to start a new life. But his police officer brother holds a grudge, his best friend is now a cripple, and a former co-worker rules the streets with an iron fist. Can Ho stay on the path of peace, or will these complications draw him back into a world of bloodshed? A Better Tomorrow is worth watching to learn the answer.

John Woo movies

John Woo movies don't get much better than The Killer.

The Killer (1989) – With his white suit and twin pistols, Chow Yun-fat’s noble hitman became an instant icon among action movie buffs. After causing the accidental blinding of a singer, he vows to pull one more job in order to pay for her surgery. But he’s betrayed by his employer and hounded by an honest cop (Danny Lee), which adds up to an especially lousy day. Woo’s cinematic style hit its stride with this release.

Bullet in the Head (1990) – During the Vietnam War, three pals from Hong Kong (Tony Leung, Jacky Cheung, and Waise Lee) get involved in weapons smuggling and undergo profound personality changes based on the violence they encounter. One of John Woo’s grittier projects, it features doomed sex slaves, urine drinking, and lots of executions by the Vietcong. My memory of the film has faded over the years, but I remember enjoying the dark subject matter and interplay between the lead actors.

Hard Boiled (1992) – Overrated in my book, this Hong Kong actioner still manages to provide plenty of thrills thanks to Chow Yun-fat’s cop nicknamed Tequila. The climactic shootout seems to last forever, although it does provide our hero with a memorable scene involving a running battle through a hospital maternity ward filled with cherub-faced Asian babies.

Hard Target (1993) – Woo made his American directorial debut thanks to the efforts of star Jean-Claude Van Damme. The latter stars as a Cajun resident of New Orleans who helps a young woman (Yancy Butler) search for her missing father. Before long, they run afoul of nasty Europeans (including Arnold Vosloo and Lance Henriksen) who run a service where the social elite can hunt the poor. The dialogue is hokey in places, but the action scenes deliver in a big way. This was my introduction to perpetual movie villain Vosloo, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Besides, who can resist a film where Wilford “Quaker Oats” Brimley dispatches bad guys with a bow and arrow?

Broken Arrow (1996) – John Travolta and Christian Slater butt heads in Woo’s first full-fledged American hit. It lacks that special Woo flair, but fans of mass destruction should still get a kick out of it. Thanks to his performance in the film, former NFL great Howie Long also had an action career for about 10 minutes (thanks to Firestorm).

John Woo moviesFace/Off (1997) – Nicolas Cage is a terrorist, and John Travolta is the federal agent trying to bring him to justice. Thanks to a bizarre scheme involving the kind of science you only find in Hollywood, the cop takes on the appearance of the criminal and seeks to infiltrate the bad guys. But when the tables are turned, our hero finds himself hunted by his former friends while the evildoer assumes his life and sleeps in his bed. Way over the top, but Woo’s commitment to the genre makes it work. The standout action sequence centers around a slow motion shootout set to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Mission: Impossible II (2000) – You won’t come away any smarter for having watched this collaboration between Woo and Tom Cruise, but you should be entertained by the high-octane action sequences. The opening is especially impressive, requiring Cruise’s Ethan Hunt to free climb a cliff without a safety net. Dougray Scott was a bit bland as the film’s villain, although he was a more credible physical menace that Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Windtalkers (2001) – An uneven effort starring Nicolas Cage as a WWII soldier tasked with keeping a Navajo code talker safe. The battle scenes were riddled with clichés, and it also drew heavy criticism for the decision to focus on the white characters instead of the Native Americans. As with many John Woo Hollywood projects, much of the problem can be chalked up to interference from dumbass studio executives.

Red Cliff (2008 and 2009) – This epic two-parter is my favorite work from John Woo, as it blends historical drama with beautiful cinematography, a rousing score, and enough battle scenes to satisfy even the most finicky action fan. It also doesn’t hurt that Lin Chi-ling and Zhao Wei–two of the great beauties in contemporary Asian cinema–are included in the cast. If you do decide to see this film about the famed Battle of Red Cliffs in 209 AD, be sure to watch the original two-part version instead of the heavily cut Western release.

John Woo Movies I Plan on Seeing

I haven’t seen these John Woo movies yet, but they’re on my list:

Hand of Death (1976) – Years before he rose to fame as a director, Woo helmed this martial arts flick featuring Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. If those three names aren’t enough to gain your interest, you should immediately stop referring to yourself as an action movie fan.

Paycheck (2003) – As of this writing, Paycheck is the last film John Woo has made in the United States. That might have something to do with the fact that it underwhelmed at the box office and got savaged by the critics. But no matter how disappointing it is, Paycheck is still a John Woo film, so it’s worth a rental from Netflix.

Reign of Assassins (2010) – Okay, Woo is only listed as a “co-director” here, but this film about a female assassin (Michelle Yeoh) code-named Drizzle sounds interesting. After falling in love, she turns her back on her former life, but villains with names like Wheel King and Turquoise Leaf just won’t leave her alone. More wacky Asian goodness, including a lethal eunuch, reversed bodily organs, and the mummified remains of an Indian monk.

Watch any of the John Woo movies on this list, and you should almost immediately be able to recognize the director by his legendary visuals and action sequences. And while the bulk of his projects are set in contemporary times, Woo has also demonstrated his proficiency at transporting viewers to far-away lands and times. In short: John Woo films are a must-see for any moviegoer seeking visceral thrills and superior action.

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 30th, 2011 at 12:10 pm and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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