Hong Kong’s film industry is one of the biggest in the world even though you may never have heard of any of its movies. If you are OK with subtitles or you can understand Cantonese, there are some of the best action movies ever made harkening from this little island. Many of the tropes of the bullet ballet were created and mastered in Hong Kong. John Woo is the ultimate director of this genre. The triad film or Chinese gangster film is the be all end all of HK action cinema. Relentlessly mined, it has been the go-to genre for the last 30 years. There have been a bunch of crap films made but every once in a while, a polished diamond rises from the ranks. Don’t expect perfection with all of these recommendations. However, excitement and glorious entertainment are sure to be found.
The Killer, Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow
Woo became so successful, he managed to have a short but reasonably bright film career in Hollywood. Hard Target and Face Off being his peak moments while in silver city. His best films are his 80’s and early 90’s HK outings and they are untouchable in their elite perfection of the bullet ballet genre. Heroic bloodshed being another term used to describe the hyper-buddy action style. Totally brilliant and amazing to behold.
Full-time Killer, The Mission, Election 1 and 2, PTU
What John Woo was to the 80’s and 90’s, Johnnie To was to the 2000’s to present. Though his style is not a massive as John Woo, some of his films have a smarter more poignant touch that gives them some soul. The Mission is essentially a modern version of a spaghetti western. All the recommendations are full of action and will satisfy your adrenaline fix.
Infernal Affairs, Young and Dangerous
Infernal Affairs was adapted into the Scorcese film The Departed. The original HK film was an excellent and original film in its own right. A sequel and prequel were also made but the sequel is utter trash whereas the prequel is decent. Young and Dangerous is a mid-90’s smash that spawned a gazillion other sequels… Low ranking triads never looked so well. A very cool movie loaded with action.
Once Upon a Time in China, Time and Tide, The Blade
Originally, better known as John Woo’s main producer, his action directing career really took off at the beginning of the 90’s. Once Upon a Time in China and its sequels are martial arts masterpieces that helped to make Jet Li hyper-famous. Time and Tide is a bullet ballet that uses tons of tricks to push the action to a new level. Picture two men repelling down a massive tenement while firing automatic machine guns at each other. Very sick.
SPL, Ip Man, Flash Point
SPL is considered one of the best of the modern triad films ever made. A great story with lots of action and some nice introspective moments. The Ip man series is for fans of the freshest martial arts action. Donnie Yen became super famous from these films. His punches are wicked fast. Flashpoint also has Donnie Yen but the film takes place in a modern setting. Some very cool martial arts action in this film as well.