films seen
35
average score
2.61*
nationality
China - 76 years old
status
Alive and kicking
more info

Hong Kong ambassador and undisputed king of gun-fu cinema. Woo is also one of the few Hong Kong directors who managed to cross over to Hollywood. If you're in the mood for some kick-ass action, Woo has you covered.

The good stuff

Reign of Assassins

Jianyu
2010 / 117m - China
Fantasy
Reign of Assassins poster

If you're looking for a quality martial arts epic, look no further because this film has everything to quench your thirst.

Hard Boiled

Lat Sau San Taam
1992 / 128m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime
Hard Boiled poster

John Woo's gun-fu/heroic bloodshed masterpiece. The balance between the melodrama and action is perfect here (read very little of the former, tons of the latter), the acting talent is tremendous, the action scenes are simply baffling. The second hour is an almost endless barrage of superbly shot and choreographed gun fights, by far one of the best pieces of film in Woo's rich and varied oeuvre. An epic film, even 30 years later.

Solid pieces

Red Cliff: Part II

Chi Bi Part II: Jue Zhan Tian Xia
2009 / 142m - China
Action, War
3.5*/5.0*
Red Cliff: Part II poster

Face/Off

1997 / 138m - USA
Sci-fi, Action, Thriller, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Face/Off poster

An old favorite of mine. After rewatching Hard Boiled last year I had good hopes for Face/Off, but it seems John Woo's US work is a bit more prone to aging. It's not even the practical effects or the action scenes, but everything in between that pulls the rest of the film down. And since there's quite a bit of that in this 140-minute film, the overall appeal took a small hit.

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The concept is still simple but genius. The feud between a hardened criminal and a devoted cop gets a fun twist when they swap faces (and thus identities), without the people around them being aware of the switch. It's a little headfuck that turns a basic action flick into a something slightly nastier.

While the premise is cool, it does mean that Cage is forced to play a softer character, whereas Travolta has to strain himself to play a badass criminal. The action scenes are still cool as ever and Cage really fits well into Woo's universe, the rest of the cast is noticeably weaker and fails to bring the cool. The drama in between is also pretty daft. If you'd trim the film down to 90 minutes it could still be a masterpiece, but at 140 minutes there are just too many weaker moments.

The Killer

Dip Huet Seung Hung
1989 / 111m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Thriller, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
The Killer poster

The Killer is no doubt one of John Woo's most iconic films. It's the poster child of his bullet ballet aesthetic and the heroic bloodshed niche. The first time I'd watched the film, I did love it quite a bit, but the balance between impressive action and somewhat cheesy drama was already a small issue. Rewatching it now, that certainly hasn't improved.

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Jeff is a contract killer with a conscience. He wants to get out of the job, but during his last hit, a nightclub singer is accidentally injured by his doing. She loses her sight, Jeff feels responsible for her and wants to help out. To pay for a corona transplant, he decides to take on one final job.

Fat is solid, and the action scenes are still a hoot. It's just that everything that surround it is not that great. The other actors lack charisma, the soundtrack is pretty dim, and the overzealous drama really gets in the way of the action. Woo would further improve his formula, and a film like Hard-Boiled still stands proud today. The Killer, on the other hand, has inevitably lost some of its original shine.

Heroes Shed No Tears

Ying Xiong Wu Lei
1986 / 82m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, War
3.5*/5.0*
Heroes Shed No Tears poster

Run Tiger, Run

Liang Zhi Lao Hu
1985 / 91m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Fantasy
3.5*/5.0*
Run Tiger, Run poster

Laughing Times

Hua Ji Shi Dai
1981 / 101m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Action
3.5*/5.0*
Laughing Times poster

The inoffensive

Manhunt

Zhuibu
2017 / 106m - China
Action, Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Manhunt poster

Manhunt feels like the remnant of a great film that died on the editing table. It's so incredibly hasty that it's like watching a 105 minute highlight reel. Some wooly English dialogue doesn't help either, luckily Woo still shoots a mean action scene and there's no time to get bored.

The Crossing 2

Taiping Lun - Bian
2015 / 131m - China
Drama, Romance
3.0*/5.0*
The Crossing 2 poster

The Crossing

Tai Ping Lun
2014 / 129m - China
Drama, Romance
3.0*/5.0*
The Crossing poster

Red Cliff

Chi Bi
2008 / 148m - China
Action, War, Adventure
3.0*/5.0*
Red Cliff poster

Once a Thief

Zong Heng Si Hai
1991 / 108m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Action, Thriller, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Once a Thief poster

Bullet in the Head

Die Xue Jie Tou
1990 / 136m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Bullet in the Head poster

Just Heroes

Yi Dan Qun Ying
1989 / 97m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Just Heroes poster

A Better Tomorrow

Ying Hung Boon Sik
1986 / 95m - Hong Kong
Action, Thriller, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
A Better Tomorrow poster

The Time You Need a Friend

Xiao Jiang
1984 / 91m - Taiwan
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
The Time You Need a Friend poster

To Hell with the Devil

Mo Deng Tian Shi
1981 / 88m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
3.0*/5.0*
To Hell with the Devil poster

From Riches to Rags

Qian Zuo Guai
1980 / 101m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Action, Adventure
3.0*/5.0*
From Riches to Rags poster

Worthy but flawed

Plain Jane to the Rescue

Ba Cai Lin Ya Zhen
1982 / 86m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Action
2.5*/5.0*
Plain Jane to the Rescue poster

Last Hurrah For Chivalry

Hao Xia
1979 / 106m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action
2.5*/5.0*
Last Hurrah For Chivalry poster

Countdown in Kung Fu

Shao Lin Men
1976 / 95m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action
2.5*/5.0*
Countdown in Kung Fu poster

The Young Dragons

Tie Han Rou Qing
1974 / 95m - Hong Kong
Action
2.5*/5.0*
The Young Dragons poster

Dubious filler

Wind Talkers

Windtalkers
2002 / 134m - USA
Drama, Action, War
2.0*/5.0*
Wind Talkers poster

Mission: Impossible 2

2000 / 123m - USA
Action, Thriller, Adventure
2.0*/5.0*
Mission: Impossible 2 poster

Blackjack

1998 / 112m - USA
Action, Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Blackjack poster

Broken Arrow

1996 / 108m - USA
Action, Thriller, Adventure
2.0*/5.0*
Broken Arrow poster

A Better Tomorrow II

Ying Hung Boon Sik II
1987 / 105m - Hong Kong
Action, Thriller, Crime
2.0*/5.0*
A Better Tomorrow II poster

Money Crazy

Fa Qian Han
1977 / 92m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Action, Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Money Crazy poster

Plain forgettable

Princess Chang Ping

Dinu Hua
1976 / 102m - Hong Kong
Romance, Musical
1.5*/5.0*
Princess Chang Ping poster

John Woo doing Chinese opera sounds intriguing, but the result is mostly just grating and tiresome. The film looks nice enough and the romantic plot is sufficient, but the music is ever-present and did get on my nerves after a while. Unless you're a big fan of Chinese opera, or a Woo completist, you might think twice about watching this one.

The Dragon Tamers

Nu Zi Tai Quan Qun Ying Hui
1975 / 107m - Hong Kong
Action
1.5*/5.0*
The Dragon Tamers poster

John Woo took a rather hesitant start to his career, but that is not uncommon for a Hong Kong director. The Dragon Tamers is a basic martial arts film that features one of two decent fight scenes, but fails on pretty much every other level. Woo's signature is also completely absent, but that shouldn't come as a surprise.

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The plot is nothing special. A righteous martial art students vows to stop a criminal organization from taking over the martial schools in Korea, but before he can make a real difference he needs to be humbled first. If you've seen a couple of these oldskool martial arts flick, you've probably seen this plot a thousand times before.

The actors are mediocre and the fight choreographies are tame, especially when you compare them to Shaw Bros films from that time. The drama is very poor and the first half doesn't nearly have enough fight scenes to overcome that. Luckily the ending is quite action-packed, but it's not good enough to save this film.

Big nopes

Paycheck

2003 / 119m - USA
Action, Thriller
1.0*/5.0*
Paycheck poster

Once a Thief

1996 / 92m - Canada
Action, Thriller, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
Once a Thief poster

Hard Target

1993 / 97m - USA
Drama, Action, Thriller, Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
Hard Target poster