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January 19th, 2009, 01:07
I've watched some of the earlier John Woo movies again over Christmas.

A Better Tomorrow (aka City Wolf)
The movie which invented the Heroic Bloodshed genre. Unfortunately it didn't age well. The story is too melodramatic, it has been copied hundreds of times and the typical Hong Kong overacting is almost unbearable. I suspect ABT should be watched in the original language with subtitles, to get at least the terrible translation out of the way.
A couple of emotionally touching scenes are very well done, and the shootouts are of course very good. Unfortunately they have been copied by Hollywood so often, with bigger budget, that they can no longer be considered outstanding.
Of course ABT's historic importance cannot be overestimated, so I still give it a C- for its fast forward appeal.

A Better Tomorrow 2 (aka City Wolf 2)
ABT 2 is basically the same movie. John Woo only made it because one his friends needed money. Although the critics consider it weaker than ABT I think it's actually better. It's faster, more precise and even more brutal. The showdown has to be seen to be believed. Maybe the 3rd best choreographed ultra-violent shootout in film history (#s 1 and 2 see next movie).
I give it a B- because one terrible sub-plot almost ruins it.

Hard Boiled
John Woo's masterpiece. The most spectacular action movie of its time. Approximately 30 people get shot in the restaurant shootout in the beginning alone. The finale in the hospital is really intense.
A-

All three movies have a couple of negative things in common:
The actors have a tendency for overacting, although they have shown their qualities in other films. Which hints that Woo was unable to lead them correctly. Most of them are charismatic and well cast though.
Character development doesn't follow Hollywood conventions. A exchanges 3 sentences with B. Then they are suddenly best friends. "Uncle" or "brother" is no indication for a part of the same family.
Many characters do outright stupid things. Logic and a sense for the own health are largely absent.
There are too many sentimental scenes.
Hard Boiled improves most of these things to a certain degree.

Still in the pipeline:
The Killer (I've seen it in cinema. It's great, and much more serious.)
Once a Thief
Bullet in the Head (I didn't like it the last time.)
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