Features and Columns · Movies

There are Action Directors and Then There’s John Woo

Cue the doves.
John Woo action Hard Target Jcvd
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on August 18th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video that explores the action movie mastery of John Woo.


Every now and then you run into an over-edited action sequence. A punch ’em up (to bum a phrase from Amadeus) with “too many cuts.” There’s a scene in The Bourne Ultimatum that illustrates the worst of the trend: a fight to the death between two combat professionals that looks like it was shot by a concussed paparazzo. In theory, the sequence is cut to make us feel like we’re a part of the action; it’s frantic, full of adrenaline, and blinking in and out of consciousness. But in practice, it’s very difficult for the audience to tell what the heck is going on. Two men are fighting, sure. But how they are fighting is unclear.

Disdain for over-edited action puts forwards the idea that cuts are just a cheap way of obscuring sub-par choreography, that the best way to shoot action is with a long static shot that allows performers to show off their aerobic feats in-frame. This is, of course, a myopic view of what editing can contribute to action sequences. Just because something is heavily edited, that doesn’t mean its illegible. Case and point: John Woo, the Hong Kong action director whose name conjures up visions of gun-fu, repeat shots of exploding buildings, and slow-motion doves. Stylistically, Woo’s hand is heavy. But it’s always with the intent of clarifying action rather than obscuring it.

The video essay below takes a look at Woo’s first foray into Hollywood: Hard TargetDespite its lackluster reception upon release, revisiting the film more than proves Woo’s genius. Cue the doves.

Watch “How John Woo Intensifies Action“:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-t-vk3zxwE


Who made this?

This video essay was created by The Nerdwriter, a.k.a. Evan Puschak. The Nerdwriter covers everything in the realm of art, culture, philosophy, science, and politics. Which is to say, uh, just about anything. You can check out The Nerdwriter’s eclectic back catalog and subscribe to their YouTube channel here. And you can follow Puschak 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).