John Woo and Hong Kong New Wave

         In 1977, Hong Kong became the venue for an annual film festival. This festival developed an interest in the films of Hong Kong. At the same time, the television industry began to thrive. Out of this industry, a number of personnel who would be future film makers got their training. Most of these people also had a Western education, and were familiar with American cinema. These film makers, who had had their training in television, entered the film industry and joined the ranks of a number of up and coming directors already in the industry. Together these people brought about a boom in Hong Kong cinema in the 80's and early 90's. This was dubbed… the Hong Kong New Wave.

         Among the directors present in the film industry throughout these changes was John Woo. John Woo worked for a number of years as an assistant on kung fu movies and also made a number of comedies in the 1970's. After the quick changes of the new wave, Woo also changed directions. He started making movies that showed a real Hong Kong, the one people lived in, not the ancient world of kung fu films. After being influenced by such Western film makers as Sergio Leone (director of A Fistful of Dollars, and For a Few Dollars More), Jean Pierre-Melville (director of Le Circle Rouge, and Le Samourai), and most heavily by Sam Peckinpah (director of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and The Wild Bunch), Woo wanted to make films that contained not only action, but also very rich existential or moral themes. In doing so, he wanted to also incorporate the choreographed action that is present in the martial-arts films he had worked on before. The result was a number of films that contain not only great action sequences, but also very rich emotion themes as well. Some of these films include A Better Tomorrow I and II, The Killer, and Hard-Boiled. The Killer became his big international success that brought him offers from Hollywood and his own place in the action genre of Hollywood.

         A Better Tomorrow and its sequel were the big breakout films in Hong Kong for Woo. After a couple other films he really started to reach a point of balance in his style. However, these films were a bit too sappy and tried way too hard to bring the audience to tears. While they did have wonderful action sequences, the drama felt stretched. He improved on this, though; and his later works were better; they managed to incorporate rich emotional moments with orgasmic, montage-style action scenes.

         In The Killer, a professional killer accidentally blinds a woman during a shootout. To right his wrong he decides to take one last job and get the money to get her a cornea transplant. He spends much time with her; and, since she is now blind, she is unaware that her blindness was at his hands. Stuff gets out of control, when the criminals who hired him for his last job decide it would be better to kill him off than pay him. The cop who is hot on his trail, finds that while they are on opposite sides of the law, they both actually share a lot of virtues. The action in this film (as well as Woo's other films) is astonishing when one sees it for the first time. The rhythm of the shootouts is priceless; he builds up to moments throughout. These moments are set out from the chaos of the rest of the action usual with a number of methods. The editing through most of the action is fast-paced and hectic. Every time a shot is fired something gets destroyed, and stuff is constantly flying through the air. When I saw it, I thought it looked almost as though someone had taken handfuls of paper shreds and thrown them into the shots. He then works in slow motion, where the brutal impact of the bullets can really be enjoyed. There are many several second slow-motion shots of just people getting filled with bullets and writhing in agony. Blood is splattered everywhere and explodes from every wound as it is made. The cinematography is also exhilarating because Woo works in a number of different angles and vantages throughout every scene.

         This style of film making has been very influential in number of contemporary directors. While John Woo himself has had a serious decline in the quality of his work after coming to the US, as seen in a number of films--Windtalkers , Paycheck, and Mission Impossible 2--, his legacy will live on.

Jacob Carl Nerney

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