It's time to lock up the pets and put on your best suit because #JohnWick returns to action this Friday (February 10th). The assassin is forced out of retirement when an old colleague calls in to repay a debt. With a bounty on his head, John Wick travels to Rome to clear his debt and face off with a guild of assassins.
A sequel to 2014's surprise hit, John Wick 2 is one of the most anticipated action movies of the year. One of the things that made the original such a hit was its distinct style. From the themes of revenge to the style it was filmed, John Wick felt different from most movies released in the United States. This isn't necessarily the case around the world though. In fact, there is an entire subgenre featuring these tropes dubbed "heroic bloodshed."
A term coined by Rick Baker of Eastern Heroes magazine, it is a part of the Hong Kong action scene that emerged in the mid-1980s. More known for firefights than martial arts, it is mainly associated with directors like John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam. They tend to focus on themes like honor, betrayal, redemption and have a heck of a lot of gunfire. Sound familiar? In fact John Wick directors #ChadStahelski and #DavidLeitch have gone on record that they were influenced by the genre and they aren't the only ones. Hit films like Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi and The Departed have all borrowed heavily from the Eastern film trend. So, if John Wick's trip to Rome isn’t enough for you, here are five heroic bloodshed movies to watch afterwards.
5. 'Hard Boiled'
- Director: John Woo
- Year Released: 1992
- Country: Hong Kong
There is no better place to start than with the godfather of heroic bloodshed, #JohnWoo. Doing a ton of these types of movies throughout his career, his magnum opus is Hard Boiled. Frequent collaborator Chow Yun-fat stars as Inspector Tequila, a hard-nosed detective out for revenge after his partner is killed. To get closer to the heroes, he teams up with Alan, an undercover cop posing as a hitman. Pretty much the heroic bloodshed template perfected, Hard Boiled is two hours of dazzling gunplay that still holds up today.
Scene You Have To See: The Hospital Shootout
Admittedly, picking out a single scene is tough since pretty much every scene is packed full of action. Nearly every other scene is a classic of Hong Kong cinema. The last 20 minutes or so are particularly great. With that said, one piece of it has to be a shootout in the middle of a hospital. Exiting an elevator, Inspector Tequila and Alan (Tony Leung) make their way through a hallway as guns go off around them and danger lurks around every corner.
The most fascinating part about this scene is that it was all a single tracking shot. Not only is it a fun action scene but it a technical marvel as well. It really solidifies John Woo's status as a great Hong Kong director.
4. 'The Man From Nowhere'
- Director: Lee Jung-beom
- Year Released: 2010
- Country: South Korea
In a Reddit AMA, directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch said they would watch South Korea's The Man from Nowhere while making John Wick, and the influence is obvious from the start. A lone pawn shop keeper Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) runs into trouble when he befriends his neighbor, So-mi, the daughter of a heroin addict. Owed money, crime lord Myung-gyu has So-mi and her mother kidnapped to harvest their organs. A former member of the South Korean Army, Tae-sik is on a mission to save So-mi. Part John Wick and part Taken, director Lee Jeong-beom takes this fairly basic premise and makes it an edge-of-your-seat thriller with brutal violence and stellar direction.
Scene You Have To See: The Knife Fight
Freeing slaves Tae-sik finally comes face to face with Myung-gyu. Starting as a ballistic "one vs. many" scene, it quickly becomes a fast-paced knife fight that is up there with what we saw in The Raid 2. What makes it stand out is the way it is filmed. Director Lee Jeong-beom and cinematographer Lee Tae-yoon do a great job mixing first person, shaky cam and wide shots that make for an exciting watch. Perfectly executed it features a nice blend of gritty atmosphere, expert film making and top-notch fight choreography.
3. 'City On Fire'
- Director: Ringo Lam
- Year Released: 1987
- Country: Hong Kong
Quentin Tarantino borrowing influences from Eastern films is nothing new. In fact, reinterpreting classic (and not so classic) movies is one of his biggest strengths. However, he may have gone a bit too far when it came to his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs. Renowned for its storytelling and pop-culture filled dialogue, it is basically a remake of 1987's City on Fire.
So much so, that a Michigan film student was able to create a short film comparing the two, Who Do You Think You're Fooling? From the failed heist to the Mexican standoff, it was all done in this Chow Yun-fat starring vehicle — maybe even better than Tarantino. For fans of Tarantino or Hong Kong action in general, City on Fire is must-see.
Scene You Have To See: The Jewel Heist
Just like Reservoir Dogs, one of the most exciting scenes is when the robbery goes awry. As the alarm goes off, criminal Fu (Danny Lee) kills an innocent jeweler. With the police on their tail, the group of criminals are chased through the streets of '80s Hong Kong. Part shootout and part chase scene, the scene keeps you at the edge of your seat.
2. 'Drug War'
- Director: Johnnie To
- Year Released: 2013
- Country: Hong Kong
One of the unsung heroes of the heroic bloodshed scene has been Johnnie To. Perhaps known more for Triad movies like Election and PTU, one of his best movies was 2013's Drug War. Captured after a police raid, cartel boss Choi Tin-ming (Louis Koo) is convinced to snitch on associates for a shortened sentence. Working with Captain Zhang Lei (Sun Honglei), the two form a team that may (or may not) work out. More dramatic than most, Johnnie To films bring a certain intelligence to the proceedings not typically seen in the genre.
Scene You Have To See: Choi's Escape
Chased by police and criminals alike, Choi lures both to a shootout outside of a school. No one is safe as the bullets start flying through the streets. This is the definition of grim and gritty in the best way possible. Reminiscent of a film like Heat, this epic shoot out leaves bodies on the floor and makes Choi the ultimate bastard.
1. 'Beast Stalker'
- Director: Dante Lam
- Year Released: 2008
- Country: Hong Kong
Another big Hong Kong action director worth knowing is Dante Lam. While his quality can vary from movie to movie, when he's on, Lam is one of the best to step behind the camera. One of his best films has to be Beast Stalker. Racked with guilt, Sergeant Tong (Nicolas Tse) has been dealing with the aftermath of a fatal chase with Cheung Yat-tung (Philip Keung). When prosecutor Ann Gao is threatened, it is up to Tong to keep Gao and the innocent Ling safe. What could be a typical genre effort stands out because of its explosive action scenes, excellent direction and small character bits that make it a cut above the rest.
Scene You Have To See: The Chase
Seeing Yat-tung, Tong chases them through the streets of China. Distracted, the pair are t-boned by an SUV before they trade shots. Filmed with a mix of handheld and steady cam, it is a brief but exciting chase scene with an absolute gut punch of a climax. All in all, a perfect setup for this award-winning police thriller.
For nearly 40 years heroic bloodshed movies have been a huge influence in not only its native China but across the globe. Even other countries like South Korea have expanded the style with great movies like The Man from Nowhere, A Company Man and The City of Violence. From the gun fu battles of The Matrix and John Wick to the nonstop flowing action of The Raid, this subgenre has changed the way action films are made. With John Wick 2 looking to do well and companies like WellGoUSA and Asian Crush making it easier to watch foreign action than ever, it looks like America's love affair with heroic bloodshed will be here for a long time.