6 of the Best Movies Directed by John Woo, Ranked

Visual Cult Magazine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Few action film filmmakers have become as well-known as Hong Kong’s John Woo. His films, widely regarded as the originators of the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre, overflow with intensity and ingenuity. John Woo’s trademark slow motion, frenzied action, and suspenseful standoffs have established standards in the action film industry. Here, we look at some of John Woo’s finest films, praising him as a laureate of action cinema for his numerous invulnerable genre gems.

If you are in a rush here are the top 3 best John Woo movies you have to watch!

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Find out more about the released films and how to watch them below.

1. The Killer (1989)

The Killer
  • The Killer - DVD Brand New
  • Yun-Fat Chow, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh (Actors)
  • John Woo (Director) - John Woo (Writer)
  • English, Spanish (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Most of Woo’s films center on a central concept of honor across action. His protagonists are often anti-heroes or damaged individuals who must prove their virtue through heroism.

As the title so plainly insinuates, The Killer is a 1989 classic action-thriller film about a mob assassin, Ah Jhong (Chow Yun-Fat). Jhong, guilt-ridden about accidentally blinding a singer named Jennie (Sally Yeh) in a shootout, decides to help her earn enough money for eye surgery through one last job, after which he will retire.

In his quest to procure the said money, he’s then double-crossed and has to team up with police detective Li Ying (Danny Lee) to take down a crime syndicate that’s hunting them down.

The Killer, in simpler terms, is the quintessential John Woo film. Everything is turned up to eleven, including the action, emotion, and gun violence. Yet, unlike Woo’s American mimics, the film’s visual elements all serve the narrative.

With its dynamic combination of Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee, The Killer succeeds admirably as the definitive bromance picture in the vein of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Woo expertly evokes the spirit of legends in which men band together to stop evil and do noble exploits. His earliest “bullet ballet” films are all tragic cinematic poetry on film. Nonetheless, The Killer is the most stylish because of its captivating camerawork, stunning locations, and vibraphonic tune. Moreover, John Woo finally disproved the notion that assassins are bland beings.

2. Hard Boiled (1992)

Hard Boiled
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Teresa Mo (Actors)
  • John Woo (Director) - John Woo (Writer) - Terence Chang (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The 1992 John Woo picture “Hard Boiled” is a nonstop slugfest. Chow Yun-Fat stars as the ruthless Hong Kong police officer Tequila Yuen, who slips undercover to investigate a group of weapons traffickers in this action flick.

When Yuen investigates the group’s actions more thoroughly, he joins forces with an undercover officer called Alan (Tony Leung) to take down the group. Together, they take part in a series of high-stakes gunfights at recognizable spots across Hong Kong, such as a tea restaurant, hospitals, and a shipping yard.

The film’s narrative has epic action scenes, high-speed pursuits, and substantial gunplay. John Woo’s trademark mesmerizing shootouts, emotionally powerful storyline, and larger-than-life players are all present in this historic picture.

One of the most talked about aspects of the movie is a three-minute-long event shot in one continuous take in a hospital. Tequila and Alan are fending off dozens of thugs in the maternity ward, attempting to safeguard the hospital’s patients and newborn infants.

It is generally agreed that “Hard Boiled” is one of John Woo’s finest works and is a must-see for all enthusiasts of action movies. With one gigantic bullet storm after another, shot on an incredible scale and with a degree of detail that is unfathomable, the action choreography is the greatest Woo has ever produced. And the ending of the picture, a slow-mo destruction of everything and everyone, is the finest action scene in cinematic history and will remain such forever.

3. A Better Tomorrow (1986)

A Better Tomorrow [Blu-ray]
  • English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

In 1986, John Woo released his crime drama “A Better Future.” It follows Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung as the criminally-inclined brothers Sung Tse-Ho (Ti Lung) and Sung Tse-Kit (Leslie Cheung).

Sung Tse-Ho is a former thug who has cleaned up his act and established a respectable business. His younger brother Tse-Kit, meanwhile, remains dangerously entangled in the criminal underground. Tse-Ho, upon learning of his brother’s predicament, risks his own life and reputation in an attempt to protect him.

The climactic warehouse battle is among the most famous moments in Hong Kong’s cinematic history. The Sung brothers face off against a band of vicious criminals, and Tse-Ho, himself a former member of the underworld, uses his experience to great use.

This gangster gem made a name out of John Woo. It sparked a wave of flicks like Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, greatly influencing Tarantino’s numerous groundbreaking works. There was no folklore, fantasy, or exquisite wuxia-driven art; there was also no dramedy furious combat; instead, the picture was full of vicious, gruesome action sequences directed with Woo’s trademark choreographic precision.

4. Face/Off (1997)

Face/Off
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • John Travolta, Nicholas Cage, Joan Allen (Actors)
  • John Woo (Director) - Michael Colleary (Writer) - David Permut (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Last update on 2024-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

John Woo has dabbled in Hollywood, as have many other Chinese filmmakers. His creation Face/Off remains a favorite among his many Hollywood action flicks.

For many years, John Travolta’s tormented FBI agent Sean Archer has been involved in a war of wits with Nicolas Cage’s deranged pervert terrorist Caster Troy. The opening titles reveal that Troy killed Archer’s son in a botched assassination attempt.

Once Archer throws Troy into a coma, it seems like the war has ended. Nevertheless, after learning that a massive bomb is hidden somewhere in Los Angeles, Archer chooses to surgically graft Troy’s face to his own. This would allow him to pose as the career criminal and infiltrate Troy’s gang to learn the bomb’s whereabouts. Eventually, however, Troy comes out of his coma, takes Archer’s face, and sets the world on fire.

This movie is well-known for its high-concept narrative, exciting action scenes, and the over-the-top acting of both Travolta and Cage. John Woo’s trademark use of slow motion, dramatic gunfights, and intensely emotional narrative are all there.

After the early expository sequences, which are handled so fast as to almost seem apologetic, this ludicrous idea is developed in a succession of ways that are, at worst, theatrically intriguing and, at best, actually ingenious.

5. Red Cliff (2008)

Red Cliff (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang (Actors)
  • John Woo (Director) - Terence Chang (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Last update on 2024-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

In 2008, amid his hiatus from Western media, John Woo delivered one of his more recent films, Red Cliff. It’s based on the legendary Battle of Red Cliffs that took place in China during the Three Kingdoms era (about the year 300 AD). Woo made a war picture that runs about five hours long and is split into two parts that work together well.

The film’s plot is both exciting and historically grounded. Critics and audiences alike praised the film for its seamless blending of spectacular action sequences with a narrative about the decline of the Han Dynasty. Woo usually doesn’t direct historical epics, making this film all the more interesting.

The movies easily shift from dramatic moments to philosophical discussions and intense fighting scenes. The film’s epic fight scenes are also well-staged and filmed, adding to the movie’s impressive production values. It has slow-motion action scenes, theatrical music compositions, and complex characterization that are John Woo’s trademarks.

In a few instances, the heroism is a little exaggerated. Yet it doesn’t matter since the big showdown is so intense, thrilling, and majestic that it makes the fights in Braveheart and Gladiator appear as a preschool class orchestrated.

6. Bullet in the Head (1990)

Sale
Bullet in the Head [Blu-ray]
  • Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Waise Lee (Actors)
  • John Woo (Director)
  • Chinese, English (Subtitles)

Last update on 2024-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

John Woo’s first Rotten Tomatoes-perfect film was Bullet in the Head. In addition to being credited as the film’s director, John Woo also had a minor role in the picture as a policeman.

Unlike Woo’s previous 1980s action movies, Bullet in the Head is another beast. In this story about three friends whose hopes are crushed, the sorrow and despair give way to a darker tone. Their bleak and fluorescent tale begins as gangsters in Hong Kong, continues as they create a smuggling company in war-torn Saigon, and ends with them traumatized by the horrors of war upon their homecoming to Hong Kong.

John Woo takes the “bromance concept” he’s used before. He reimagines it as a war narrative in the vein of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” It’s a thrilling plot with exciting action scenes that move things along well. Unlike in Woo’s earlier movies from the period, the gunfights here are well orchestrated and filled with raw violence.

Because it competed with Tsui Hark’s “A Better Future III,” “Bullet in the Head” is not as well known as other John Woo films, but not because it is terrible. However, it was not commercially successful, and John Woo went on to make more traditional action films like “Once a Thief” and “Hard Boiled.”

Final Thoughts

When making action movies, John Woo is up there with the best. His films are among the most celebrated and influential in their category because of his unique blend of breathtaking visuals, multifaceted characters, and intense narrative.

If you haven’t seen them before, you owe it to yourself to seek out these and the many other fantastic films John Woo has directed.