Artist of the Year 2021: John Woo
Movies are listed in watch order
鐵漢柔情 The Young Dragons (1975)
女子跆拳群英會 The Dragon Tamers (1975)
Watched with pretty janky subtitles. Rarely incomprehensible, one could always feels the texture of Mandarin grammar beneath the English words. When so much of modern media is made easy to access, there was something nostalgic and exhilirating about watching something endearingly bootlegged.
帝女花 Princess Chang-Ping (1976)
少林門 Hand of Death (1976)
豪俠 Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979)
錢作怪 From Riches to Rags (1980)
Has exactly two good jokes in it, and they’re subtle enough that they might not have even been intentional.
摩登天師 To Hell with the Devil (1982)
八彩林亞珍 Plain Jane to the Rescue (1982)
The slapstick stuff doesn’t do much for me, but there’s a comedy of desperation throughout that’s biting and quite good. The tunnel scene alone, of people recognizing their power having stopped the machine of the city, and extracting mahjongg/pop concerts/free tunnel tolls for life is a particularly fun power fantasy to see on screen.
英雄無淚 Heroes Shed No Tears (1986)
英雄本色 A Better Tomorrow (1986)
A startling stylistic leap from Heroes Shed No Tears. I expected to see a more gradual discovery of style.
英雄本色2 A Better Tomorrow II (1987)
喋血雙雄 The Killer (1989)
義膽群英 Just Heroes (1989)
Having characters in your film talk about being fans of the movie you made 3 years ago is a bold move.
喋血街頭 Bullet in the Head (1990)
縱橫四海 Once a Thief (1991)
Woo is haunted by A Better Tomorrow’s Mark. Revived, then referred to as a known fictional character, and now found rolling across a kitchen on a skateboard. Mark is too fun of a character to not see his echoes everywhere.
辣手神探 Hard Boiled (1992)
The last Hong Kong film of Woo’s. The tracking shot through two floors’ of hallways is perhaps his best action scene so far. It smartly deemphasizes a key moment of friendly fire in the middle, a casualty of the fog of war.
Hard Target 1993
Thematically barren. Not unrelatedly, Woo didn’t write this (nor any of his other US or Canadian films). Late in the film, Henriksen lampshades and asks Van Damme why he meddled since this wasn’t his problem. Good question.
Broken Arrow 1996
Once a Thief 1996
Not nearly as bad as I expected. That might’ve been because I was less watching the movie, and more watching the space between this and the original. There are some interesting choices (making one of the “siblings” the villain) and some curious (not getting rid of the semi-incestuous romance).
I bought this for $5 since it’s not easy to track down otherwise. It has the saddest bootleg-looking DVD menu I’ve ever seen.
Mission: Impossible II 2000
Continuing a pattern in Woo’s Hollywood work, the action lives separate from the narrative. It’s only spectacle, filled with the iconography of Woo’s Hong Kong work but little else. A more integrated climactic fight might have spoke to Ambrose as a poor, more impulsive, substitute for Hunt. But instead it’s Hunt who ultimately “gets his gun off” to defeat him. Some nice Bruce Lee homage before that, though.
Cruise does seem to be the best suited actor for Woo that I’ve seen in this stretch.
The whole BMW short series helpfully juxtaposes Woo against contemporary Hollywood filmmakers. This period marks a transition from Intensified Continuity to Chaos Cinema, and Woo’s style is much more continuous and readable. Hostage shares a release year with The Bourne Identity, which is the poster child of this new style.
Contrary to what I wrote about Hostage, there is actually a dash of Chaos Cinema in here. But for that, and several other reasons, it never ends up feeling like a Woo film.
赤壁 Red Cliff (2008)
Watched as one 5 hour movie.
Thematically right in Woo’s wheelhouse, and it feels good to return to steady ground. The “romance” between Zhuge and Zhou Yu, temporary allies against a foe lacking in principles ties, it to Woo’s Hong Kong work. Having a passing familiarty with the historical event, and the fictional representations, provides the opportunity to see what Woo is adding: melodrama, and men standing far to close to each others’ faces.
太平轮（上） The Crossing (2014)
太平轮（下）：彼岸 The Crossing II (2015)
追捕 Manhunt (2017)