As John Wick Chapter Two has hit Sweden like a ton of bricks, I thought it would be proper to pay respect to the director that influenced the style of action. the director´s name is John Woo and his stylized gun violence has most certainly made an impact on the Wicks. The directors Chad Stahelski and David Laitch have mentioned in several interviews how Hong Kong Action cinema and John Woo in particular was inspiration for their action saga.
As an easily influenced teenager, John Woo was,(followed by Robert Rodriguez Woo-influenced Desperado), the best thing, that ever happaned to me. The Killer is one of the greatest film experiences I have ever seen ( and that was on a VHS tape, mind you) and even his lesser Hollywood-works like Broken Arrow and Mission Impossible II I have fond memories of watching. Good stuff
John Woo started off working in the highly influential Shaw Brother studios and directing a number of kung fu films. One of those was the early Jackie Chan vehicle Hand of Death, one of the few in which Jackies chacter dies. He made several more films (including the abandoned Heroes shed no tears that was later re-edited and released after Woo became a success) before his breakthrough hit A Better Tomorrow.
A Better Tomorrow was a milestone in Hong Kong action cinema. Not only was Woo re- inventing a genre. He also created a new style of action sequences. He was the originator of what is now referred to in the West as "Gun Fu", in which the guns are an extension of the feet and fists of the characters.
A Better Tomorrow is also considered the first in asubgenre known as "heroic bloodshed" When crafting A Better Tomorrow Woo sought to re-invent the swordplay movie in modern times, using the same themes of chivalry and heroism in a more poetic urban gangster setting. Swordsmen who lived by a code turned into triad gangsters. The code of honor among John Woo´s heroes in these films and to the extent they follow that path leads to their demise. Tragic heroes. So Woo transferred a lot of ideas from the swordplay movie, exhanged the swords for guns, hence the heroic bloodshed and later culturally revised into the american actionfilm as the "Gun Fu".
The story focuses on the friendship and malebonding between three protagonists. Chow Yun-Fat plays Mark Gor, a slick well spoken awesome Triad-dude with a high sense of dignity. .Ti Lung plays Ho, his best friend but also the brother of Kit ( leslie Cheung) who is a cop ( sounds awkward)
Ho and Kit are brothers very close to one another, despite on different side of the law. Hos loyalty to it and his struggling loyalty to the Triads and his best friend gets in the way. Mark and Ho are a different kind of brothers. They are sworn blood brothers by the code of the Triads.
The two worlds clash when a drug affair goes wrong and Kit and Ho´s father falls victim because of Ho´s ties to the Triads. Mark goes on a revenge spree while Kit completely disowns his brother and Ho seeks to redeem himself in the eyes of his brother by giving up his life. and turns himself in to the police, serves time and when he comes out he is hoping his brother has forgiven him. Fat chance. Kit is more determined than ever to bring down the Triads. And Ho with it if possible.
The heightened reality and the strong melodrama of the piece might be a bit alien to people these days. In the West, restrained emotions are looked upon as far more genuine artistic expressions. This type of raw emotions may come across as silly and over the top. But the writing is good and the performances are powerful to make it work. And it ws unusual to have this kind of action film have emotions. The themes of friendship, betrayal and brotherhood are all there in place and the emotions really are worn on the sleeves.
It was at the time when the film was released in the West unusual with a violent actionfilm to have a great story, emotions and deep symbolic imagery in an era dominated with explosions and exaggerated muscular masculinity. The masculinity on display here, is more concerned with a much higher degree of emotional expressions unlike the American counterpart that was so influenced by the american traditions of stoic emotionless and cynical portrayals of how a man should act.
The film also launched the career of Chow Yun-Fat as Mark. His cool charisma and charm made action fans fell in love with him. I mean look at this:
Those last shots are from the films most iconic scene , in which Mark enters a restaurant,plants guns in vases. And as he shoots a bunch of dudes he makes good uses of the guns he has placed. Fucking phenomenal.
Chow Yun-Fat made two-gun fisted action cool. Kids nowadays call it dual wielding. For me it has more of a Western connotation. The gunslinger with two guns, like Hopalong Cassidy. This is somethng Chow Yun-Fat as an actor had to deal with for a long time. He became so synonomous with this gangster persona that the jobs he was offered was the type that fitted the Mark character of A Better Tomorrow or the later films he made with John Woo.
There were films that tried to break that persona or at least play with it. Ringo Lams City on Fire and Full Contact were highlights that tried to work with his gun fu persona in a bit different way. City on Fire has more in common with French Connection, with its more direct cinema approach than the highly stylized world of heroic bloodshed that we are presneted with here. Full Contact however was fullblown heroic bloodshed-style but an incredible revenge film in which Chow Yun-Fat got to show some different strokes as a physical actor as he played a bouncer rather than a suave looking dude in a suit.
A Better Tomorrow is not John Woos best work. It suffers from an uneven style in terms of actionscenes. The shootout in the restaurant is such a classic piece of stylistic editing and use of slow motion that the rest of the action- sequences fall short because of it. Most of the action sequences are just shot without any real stylistic flourishes to them. Watch The Killer. The restaurant scene sums that film up and Woo elaborated on what he accomplished on that sequence in an entire fucking film.
Here is the legdendary scene, pay close attention to the editing.: