In the West, Hong Kong action cinema is mostly known from modern films such as Ang Lee’s wire-fuelled fantastical melodrama ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and a few highly notable directors and actors who have migrated to Hollywood either for a time or indefinitely. In this article I will explore the two Hong Kong films ‘Hardboiled’ and ‘Ip Man’ which respectively stars Chow Yun-Fat and Donnie Yen.
Early on, in fact in the very first action set piece of ‘Hardboiled’ Chow Yun-Fat’s character, Inspector Tequila, is hot on the heels of triad gun smugglers, who indiscriminately shoot their way down a stairwell through a panicked crowd. As he barely dodges the incoming fire, Tequila jumps on the stairwell’s railing and, as he slides down, proceeds to pump the baffled criminals full of lead with a loaded .45 in each hand.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the epitome of cool. It is the crème de la crème of what the action genre can possibly offer distilled to its purest form. Even if you’ve never even heard of the film’s director, John Woo, or the Hong Kong film industry in general, you know what this scene looks like. It will forever be engrained in our shared pool of pop culture knowledge. And yet, it’s not even the climax of that particular action scene. Instead, the film just keeps escalating from the aforementioned firefight in a crowded downtown restaurant, ending in a viscous massacre at a major hospital.
This almost half-an-hour ending sequence is like a gruesome ballet with Death itself as both Chow and Tony Leung, who plays his put-upon partner, Alan, does their damndest to look as stoic and righteous as possible while saving infant babies, murdering dozens of triad henchmen and decimating the entire hospital all in the name of justice and honour. In an especially impressive display of visual trickery, Woo keeps the camera on the action for an entire five minutes without cutting once, as the two men murder bad guys, who swarm in and out of corridors.
Like the best of its kind, Hardboiled ultimately walks a ridiculously thin line between self parody and taking itself way too seriously. With its colourful cast of characters headed by the always charismatic Chow, its melodramatic, vaguely nonsensical plot which flies out the window as soon as the third act knocks on the door and a seemingly endless supply of limitless ammo cases, bad guys and exploding squibs, Hardboiled is a feast for both the eyes and the ears.
Ip Man (2008)
‘Ip Man’ is a kung-fu film, directed by Wilson Yip. As the name suggests, the film is about the martial-arts scholar, Ip Man, who famously challenged and defeated a Japanese general in a kung-fu tournament under their occupation of China from 1937-1945.
Playing the part of Ip Man is Donnie Yen, one of the 21st century’s more prominent martial-arts action stars. Outside of a few B-action movies where he has been the leading man, his roles in Hollywood have however mostly consisted of bit characters such as the blind Jedi, Chirrut, in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.’
However, after watching ‘Ip Man’ it is all too clear that Donnie Yen is an actor who commands the screen from the second he enters the fray. His calm, sympathetic demeanor combined with a steely-eyed gaze constantly keeps the audience in anticipation of what this master of martial-arts is going to do next.
Unlike its contemporary cousins such as ‘Hero’ and ‘House of Flying Daggers,’ ‘Ip Man’ throws the genre’s traditionally melodramatic storytelling structure to the wind in favour of a more social realistic one. Ip Man isn’t fighting because of a dead wife or parent, but to avenge the suffering of the Chinese civilian population under the iron fist of its Japanese suppressors. This in turn means that the stakes are so much higher than other kung-fu films such as ‘Drunken Master’ or ‘The Streetfighter.’
This dramatic change in tone is actually highlighted by the movie itself. The first act, which takes place just before the Japanese invasion, has plenty of tomfoolery and insane wire-stunts, while the rest of the film is much more visceral and gut punchingly real.
In a particular highpoint of the film, Ip Man is surrounded by ten Japanese kung-fu fighters whom he precedes to destroy in flair of devastating punches and kicks. Accompanied with the sounds of bones crunched and lungs pierced, there is not a second’s doubt that these adversaries are going, not to the sickbed, but the morgue.
It goes without saying for both of the films I’ve highlighted in this article that the stunt work and directing of these action scenes are impeccable, but even with such stiff competition, like Ip Man himself; ‘Ip Man’ outranks even the best of what the genre has to offer.
各位先生女士，這就叫做「型」了。這個場面無疑是讓動作電影錦上添花並提供了最純粹最高級的表現。即使您從來沒有聽過「吳宇森」這位導演的名字甚或至香港的電影工業，您總能夠想像這場面的景象 – 這場面已經深深的烙印在所有人對流行文化的共同回憶中。但這精彩的一幕亦不是電影的高潮，相對的這套電影在不斷地向上推進，由人滿為患的街邊餐廳前進之大醫院裡面的屠殺。
《辣手神探》的極致精彩遊走於角色誇演和認真之間。在永遠迷人的周潤發的出演之下，電影充滿劇情又帶點不通理的安排在無盡的彈藥、壞人和爆破場面下均已消散 – 這套電影肯定是視覺和聽覺的奢華享受。
跟它的近親電影《英雄》或者《十面埋伏》不一樣，《葉問》循著功夫電影固有的故事模式並帶有寫實的歷史背景。葉問的反擊並不是因為死去的妻子或家人，而是因為從日本霸權下拯救受苦受難的中國人 – 整個意義突然升華甚至超出其他諸如《醉拳》和《街頭霸王》等武打電影。