DISCOVER--the superior violent action films of Chow Yun Fatby jonabbott56 | created - 31 Jul 2013 | updated - 22 Jan 2016 | Public
Is this the coolest guy since Elvis, or what? After you've been introduced to Chinese gangster films, you have been irretrievably spoiled. You can never go back to Hollywood action films, especially since box office considerations toned down the violence. In these films, *nobody* gets out alive, and when they feature Chow Yun Fat, you get a charismatic performance thrown in as well, from a real actor. Don't take my word for it, get stuck in to these films, and you'll never be satisfied with CGI again.
Note: I feel familiar enough with this guy's work to justify this list (nearly two dozen titles), but there are still a fair number of Chow Yun-Fat films I've yet to track down and/or see. It seems only right that I should restrict my list those I already have. Consider this a good starting point.
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1. Hong Kong 1941 (1984)
R | 100 min | Action, War
Years later, a woman narrates her personal story of the Japanese takeover of Hong Kong in 1941. She's Nam, young, attractive, daughter of a wealthy rice merchant, and prey to painful, ... See full summary »
This is more drama than action, but well worth a look. Known as Hong Kong 1941.
2. A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Not Rated | 95 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A reforming ex-gangster tries to reconcile with his estranged policeman brother, but the ties to his former gang are difficult to break.
The film that made Chow's reputation as king of the Chinese gangster film.
3. City on Fire (1987)
R | 101 min | Action, Crime, Drama
An undercover cop infiltrates a gang of thieves who plan to rob a jewelry store.
Supposedly the film that inspired Reservoir Dogs, this has its moments, but in my opinion is one of his least interesting from this period.
4. Rich and Famous (1987)
R | 104 min | Action, Crime, Drama
To pay off his debt as a gambler, a man drags his sister and step-brother into a life of crimeand a violent war between rival gang lords.
This is Rich and Famous.
5. Tragic Hero (1987)
R | 97 min | Action, Crime, Drama
After being released from prison, Tang Kat Yung exacts revenge on Li Ah Chai, in this sequel to Rich and Famous.
This is Tragic Hero, the follow-up to Rich and Famous.
6. Flaming Brothers (1987)
Unrated | 99 min | Action, Crime, Romance
A tale between two brothers: One has left the triads and gone legit, the other has decided to stay and keep the triad from going to the ways of drugs and gun running.
This is Flaming Brothers, an interesting mix of humour, melodrama and extreme violence.
8. A Better Tomorrow II (1987)
Not Rated | 105 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A restauranteur teams up with a police officer and his ex-con brother to avenge the death of a friend's daughter.
This is the disappointing sequel to A Better Tomorrow. Some good sequences, but the fast forward needed on subsequent viewings.
9. Tiger on Beat (1988)
TV-MA | 88 min | Action, Comedy, Crime
A seasoned cop and his rookie partner are a pair of mismatched partners in this Hong Kong action-comedy in the style of 'Lethal Weapon'. The wacky twosome are up in arms as they try to solve the murder of a heroin trafficker.
This is the light-hearted Tiger on the Beat, with non-stop and very creative violence.
10. The Killer (1989)
R | 111 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A disillusioned assassin accepts one last hit in hopes of using his earnings to restore vision to a singer he accidentally blinded, only to be double-crossed by his boss.
John Woo's classic, with Chow at his best.
11. Wild Search (1989)
98 min | Action
The police are staking out a Hong Kong flat, waiting to catch some major gun-dealers. While the suppliers are conducting their deal, they move in. Both buyers are killed in the gunfire, but... See full summary »
This is Wild Search, a more laid-back entry in Chow's police dramas.
13. Once a Thief (1991)
R | 108 min | Action, Comedy, Crime
A romantic and action packed story of three best friends, a group of high end art thieves, who come into trouble when a love-triangle forms between them.
Chow and Woo's caper movie. Different, and fun. Don't go in expecting the usual gangster mayhem, and you'll enjoy it.
14. Hard Boiled (1992)
R | 128 min | Action, Crime, Thriller
A tough-as-nails cop teams up with an undercover agent to shut down a sinister mobster and his crew.
Non-stop insanity as only the Chinese can do it. Ruthless gangsters run amok in a hospital. Remember not to stop breathing while watching...
15. Full Contact (1992)
R | 96 min | Action, Crime, Drama
Two disreputable friends get tied in with a group of criminals who turn out to be excessively violent and deceptive.
Story revolves around bad guys, but plenty of comeuppance as the bodies pile up...
16. The Return of the God of Gamblers (1994)
126 min | Action, Drama
Ko Chun vows to keep his identity hidden while looking for the gangsters who murdered his pregnant wife, in Wong Jing's sequel to his action/comedy classic.
17. Treasure Hunt (1994)
Not Rated | 111 min | Action, Fantasy, Romance
A C.I.A. agent is assigned to go to Beijing to look for a hidden "treasure," which turns out to be a woman who has supernatural powers, and is the National Treasure of China.
Intriguing mix of violence, romance, and the supernatural.
18. Peace Hotel (1995)
89 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A retired old west killer sets up a hotel for vagrants and wayward souls called Peace Hotel. When a woman with a gang on her tail attempts to hide there the owner of the hotel must revert to his old ways to protect his hotel.
This is a rather strange but watchable attempt to do The Killer as an Italian western!
19. The Replacement Killers (1998)
R | 87 min | Action, Crime, Thriller
A troubled hitman seeks aid from a forger to help him get papers to China. However, the drug lord has hired replacements to finish the job, and kill the hitman.
Votes: 25,904 | Gross: $18.97M
Inevitably, Chow went to America, and they did this to him. It's an Americanised version of his trademark persona, but watered down of course. He's only allowed one gun though, because one in each hand would be too violent. Really.
20. The Corruptor (1999)
R | 110 min | Action, Crime, Drama
With the aid from a New York City policeman, a top immigrant cop tries to stop drug-trafficking and corruption by immigrant Chinese Triads, but things get complicated when the Triads try to bribe the policeman.
Votes: 16,831 | Gross: $15.16M
Another American thriller, slightly more original than the previous one, but still paint by numbers. At least they didn't try and put him in a remake of The King And I... Oh, wait...
21. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
PG-13 | 120 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy
A young Chinese warrior steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of romantic adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation.
Votes: 242,672 | Gross: $128.08M
Teamed with Michelle Yeoh at last, although a contemporary setting would have been nice.
22. Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
R | 114 min | Action, Drama, Romance
During China's Tang dynasty the emperor has taken the princess of a neighboring province as wife. She has borne him two sons and raised his eldest. Now his control over his dominion is complete, including the royal family itself.
Votes: 40,662 | Gross: $6.57M
As Chow matures physically, his range of roles will naturally expand into character parts such as this one. Although 2010's Confucius was a crashing bore and disappointment, it was indicative of where this great actor might now go.
Postscript: You'll notice that 2003's Bulletproof Monk isn't on this list. This is because it's absolutely awful, the only really bad film I've ever seen him in, and so it is, of course, the one shown on television all the time. Thanks, Channel Five.
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Obsessed with the popular culture of the 1960s and surrounding decades, Jon Abbott has been writing about film and TV for over thirty years in around two dozen different publications, trade, populist, and specialist. He is the author of several books, including
Irwin Allen Television Productions 1964-1970, Stephen J. Cannell Television Productions: A History of All Series and Pilots, The Elvis Films, Cool TV of the 1960s: Three Shows That Changed the World, and Strange New World: Sex Films of the 1970s.
See his Amazon author's page, and his other lists on the IMDB, all under the pre-fix DISCOVER.