Features and Columns · Movies

The Birth and the Rise of Gun-Fu

Does punching your gun forward make the bullet hit harder? Who cares, it looks cool.
Equilibrium gun fu
Dimension Films
By  · Published on October 29th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the birth and modern rise of the sub-genre known as gun-fu.


Gun-fu is a great name for a sub-genre because it tells you everything you need to know upfront. It is kung-fu with guns. Right? Well, basically, yes. But when you dig into its history, the relationships between the sub-genre and both martial arts and firearms are a lot more complex than you’d expect.

Together, the two video essays below work as an introductory course to the origins of gun-fu and its modern permutations in Western cinema. The first video focuses on the birth of the sub-genre in the films of director John Woo, who developed the big-brained idea of choreographing gunfights like sword fights over the course of several films, including Hard-Boiled.

The essay keenly notes the debt that gun-fu has to wuxia, the genre of Chinese fiction that focuses on martial artists in ancient China. John Woo essentially single-handedly invented the sub-genre by endowing guns with the identity and flare of a wuxia weapon. This involved stylish details like bullets being “flung” forward, clarity of action, and an emphasis on pain and impact.

Those elements informed and mutated into the Hollywood version of gun-fu. As explained in the second video essay, this approach has a debt to its Hong Kong forebearers. But it is, fundamentally, very much its own thing. Hollywood gun-fu is much colder, emotionally. The best example of this is Equilibrium, which places a value on precision over the brutality of the gun itself.

What is gained and lost between the two approaches? That’s for you to decide.

Watch “The Birth of Gun Fu”:

Watch “The Rise of Gun Fu”:


Who made this?

These videos on the birth and the rise of gun-fu are by Accented Cinema, a Canadian-based YouTube video essay series with a focus on foreign cinema. You can subscribe to Accented Cinema for bi-weekly uploads here. You can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).