I tagged this on because of the Bullet in the head mention-- anyone who liked the Matrix because of the cool action sequences, and not particularly because of the cyber-yaddayadda, you should watch the following John Woo movies immediately, to see what the real thing is like. :-)
Ratings will be highly personal, and only relevant when compared with other John Woo movies. Max is [*****].
Hard Boiled [*****]
IMO, the definitive Woo. If you only watch one, make it this one. From the ass-kicking guns-in-the-birdcages opener, through the character developing canto-pop soaked middle, to the final, forty five minute long hospital shootout finale, this is to John Woo movies what Everclear is to alcohol. General idea: imagine the "rescue Morpheus" scene, only three times as long, involving an entire hospital, and directed by the genius that the Wachovsky's were impersonating to begin with.
The Killer [*****]
As good as Hard Boiled, only slightly less so. This one was earlier, and Woo hadn't quite peaked yet, but was clearly on his way. The canonical hero/villain duality is there, as is the "hope for the future" theme (Woo has admitted to being a great big flower child at heart, note the doves in all his movies), and, of course, the "1,000 bullets" of the promotional tag-line. The scope of The Killer is somewhat smaller than Hard Boiled, but it's a more manageable storyline, especially if it's your first Woo (BTW, always go for subtitles. The English dubs suck tremendously).
A Better Tomorrow [****]
The film that made Chow Yun Fat the massive star that Americans are only just starting to realize he is, ABT is the same basic story as all Woo movies: Good guy == Bad guy, and this time they're brothers. It delves into more moral issues than a lot of his movies, especially things like when is it ethically correct to let your family members get away with various mob-related crimes, and can the bad guy ever make good? Kind of brooding.
A Better Tomorrow II [***]
Still kicks ass, but takes fewer names than the first one.
Bullet in the Head [***]
Holy crap, is this a depressing movie. Woo's take on the War Movie, it involves black market operations in Saigon during the war. Nevertheless, powerful and a hell of a lot more moving than any war movie I've seen from Hollywood. Not to be watched on a lark though-- this is heavy stuff.
Frankly, this is better seen as a Nick Cage movie than as a John Woo movie. As a Nicholas Cage movie, it's just splendid. As a Woo, though, it isn't up to his Hong Kong standards, but is the only Hollywood movie he's made so far that's worth watching. Classic Woo theme of good-guy mirrors bad-guy is exploited and literalized, as the good and bad guys trade lives and become each other. Hokey, but it worked for me. Plus you have two bad guys, who are of course brothers (Castor and Pollux, natch), so that whole theme is pretty much on overdrive here. Not enough gunfights, too much heavy equipment wreckage, but a pretty fun film, nonetheless.
Woo's Other American-made Movies [-**]
Hard Boiled finally got the attention of the American Movie Bosses. First, they made him do the obligatory Van Damme movie (Hard Target) which sucked more than words can even say. The came "Travolta as action star" vehicle Broken Arrow, which also had Christian Slater (playing, surprisingly, the "whiny prick". Ok, not that surprising), and sucked less than Hard Target. M:I-2 was very nearly Woo parodying himself, and was really just kind of sad and hard to watch, if you were familiar with his other work. On the whole, skip it. I don't know if Woo is dead and gone now that the Hollywood money factory's got him, but he hasn't shown any real signs of recuperating yet. It will be sad if we've seen the best Woo has to offer, but still, he's done more for action movies than any other director in history, hands down. When people talk about making "post-Matrix" action flicks, what they're aiming for is going to end up looking exactly like Hard Boiled.
Not the real rusty
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