Gun fights have been a staple of action films since the emergence of cinema, and later, home entertainment. Be it in classic westerns, gangster films, war pictures, cop dramas, or spy thrillers – mainly the James Bond films – there’s nothing like a little gunplay to add to the thrills and tension between the film’s heroes and villains.
As exciting as they are, gunfights proved to be a sedentary affair compared to fight action, especially when martial arts cinema kicked and punched its way onto the big screen thanks to Bruce Lee.
In Hong Kong cinema the two rarely mixed until legendary filmmaker, John Woo combined kung fu- style action with the classic gun fight giving birth to the ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre -of which he remains its Godfather- and ‘Gun Fu’.
Like Akira Kurosawa, Woo’s influence on Hollywood action is prevalent to this day with many big league screenwriters and directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Albert Pyun (“Cyborg”), and the Wachowski sisters, citing both as their main influence.
Again, as with Kurosawa (whose films were influenced by American westerns), Woo cites American filmmaker Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”) as his inspiration, and in doing so, started a world-wide action genre revolution.
This not only paved the way for gun fu to ‘go Hollywood’ but also inspired the next generation of action stars and filmmakers to take gun fu to the next level in films such as The Matrix trilogy, the John Wick saga, and the Kick-Ass, and Kingsman films.
It is now a regular staple of modern cinema, and with the release of “The Matrix Resurrections” and “The King’s Man” recently at Christmas, and with “John Wick 4” this year, it’s time to look at the most explosive, balletic, bullet-action coupled with bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat to give us some of the very best of the genre.
So, without further ado, let’s load up and dive deep into Gun Fu Fighting: 10 of The Most Exciting & Explosive Scenes Ever Made!
10. Desperado — Bar Shootout
We fire our first shot at the gun fu target with the film that brought some explosive ‘Latin heat’ to Hollywood with this darkly comic and action packed revenge thriller, “Desperado”.
The film, a sequel to writer/director Robert Rodriguez’s indie hit “El Mariachi”, simultaneously launched the mainstream careers of Rodriguez and his star Antonio Banderas, both making an impact on the action cinema scene.
Banderas plays the battle scarred mariachi on a bloody mission to rid Mexico of crime lord Bucho (Joaquin de Almeida) whom he holds responsible for the death of his love.
Cue a well-paced action thriller, a haunting Latin guitar soundtrack (courtesy of Los Lobos), romance, dark humour, and high-flying bloody gun action all in a dusty Mexican setting…!
‘Desperado’ is loaded with abundant action and comedy but it is this bar scene that embodies that finessed ‘gun fu’ quality – a balance of physical combat with a traditional gunfight.
9. Equilibrium — Preston Saves The Puppy
What do you get if you cross “The Matrix” with Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic “Fahrenheit 451”? The answer is this dark, science-fiction tale written and directed by Kurt Wimmer (“Ultraviolet”).
Set in the year 2072, humans are controlled by the drug, Prozium, that surpreses all semblance of empathy and emotion. All books and artworks are considered contraband and it is the job of state enforcers called ‘Clerics’ to locate and destroy them; anyone caught in possession of them is executed.
Christian Bale plays Cleric John Preston, who, after accidentally breaking his vials of Prozium, begins to feel his suppressed emotions returning and revolts against the state.
The action here is truly unique and possibly the only film to feature a gun fu fighting system. The ‘gun kata’ used in the film was devised by Kurt Wimmer himself (later used in “Ultraviolet”) modified by the film’s fight choreographer and Wing Chun specialist Jim Vickers.
The result is a firearm-based fighting style, of which we get a glimpse at the start during a raid, and a gun kata training practice.
In this scene, a precursor to “John Wick”, we see it in full-on action, with some incredible non-wire assisted high-flying acrobatics and a nail-biting close-quarters gun battle.
The hand movements resemble strikes and parries, effectively blending smooth, beautiful martial arts movements with explosive gun chaos.
8. John Wick — Nightclub Shootout
It’s been more than seven years since Keanu Reeves debuted as John Wick aka ‘Baba Yaga’ on the big screen. A character who, as Williams from “Enter The Dragon” would say, “comes right out of a comic book”, Wick is the embodiment of a deadly, almost superhuman assassin that has graced the pages of many a ‘pulp fiction’.
On a personal mission to avenge the destruction of his favourite car and the shooting of his dog (a gift from his late wife), Wick calls upon his lethal skills on a path of explosive, and bloody vengeance.
Chad Stahelski and the team at 87 Eleven Action Design introduced us to the dark and deadly art of Gun-Jitsu. Having already seen Wick in action earlier, this is the definitive moment when Judo and Jiu Jitsu blend organically with his lightning firearms skills.
Watching Reeves in action employing bone-crunching arm locks, wrist turns, throws, and leg locks before emptying a gun clip into his attackers is breathtaking, and bizarre. It also signified that gun fu in movies was about to undergo something of a revolution.
7. The Matrix — Rescuing Morpheus (Lobby Scene)
If you revisit the films, in particular this scene in the first film, you see the John Woo influence. Producer Joel Silver borrowed much from Woo’s films and if you don’t believe us check out “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon” for evidence of Woo-inspired gun play!
The rescue scene in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) rescue Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) features the perfect elements of gun fu for a Hollywood film; frenetic-chaotic gun play, and hand-to-hand combat interwoven with some stunning wire-fu all played out in what is now classic slo-mo.
Western audiences who had never really experienced Hong Kong action before were left open-mouthed in awe, heralding an action renaissance in Hollywood through two epic sequels.
Add in “The Matrix Resurrections” and we think it’s worth putting a cushion on the floor to soften your chin’s fall!
6. The Killer — Church Shootout
Legendary Hong Kong director, John Woo brought gun fu to action cinema with “A Better Tomorrow” in 1986. With the bar already set high, Woo then upped the ante with his follow up “The Killer”.
His long time collaborator, Chow Yun-fat, plays the assassin with a conscience, Ah Jong, hunted by ‘hard boiled’ cop Li played by Danny Lee. These two diametrically opposite players team up to protect a witness from gangsters looking to silence her…permanently.
If you ever wondered when the phrase ‘high-octane’ was coined, it was with the release of this epically-explosive action thriller.
Packed with drama, and featuring some incredible performances from the two leads, it gave us even more of the action teased in previous films, only this time with visceral elements and gun fu notched up to the max!
5. Kingsman: The Secret Service — Harry Goes Crazy
What would a British version of gun fu look like? Well, look no further than “Kingsman: The Secret Service“. Mark Millar’s acclaimed, graphic novel series was given the live-action treatment by the British writer / director collaborative duo of Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn – who also gave us the ‘Kick Ass’ films, “Kingsman; The Golden Circle“, and “X-Men: First Class”.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” looks and feels like a live-action graphic novel with its mix of over-the-top cartoony zaniness and dark, brutal action. The jaw-dropping combat scenes remain very much the talk of the town and were brought to the screen courtesy of the late, action great, Brad Allan.
With the third film, “The King’s Man” just having recently hit the big screen on Boxing Day (December 26th), it’s worth revisiting this classic, entertaining spy thriller which, at times, made me wonder if this is what Austin Powers would look like as a serious film.
To this point, we’ve seen Colin Firth’s gentleman superspy in action with some high-flying displays of ‘Bartitsu’ but things turn truly deadly when Hart, whilst investigating the maniacal Valentine’s (Samuel Jackson), links to a local hate group, falls under the villain’s signal, setting the church’s inhabitants against one another.
Thus ensues a bloody and brutal battle as faces are pummelled, bones are broken and Harry unsheathes his loaded weapon in true ‘John Wick’ fashion. The chaos unleashed is so utterly bizarre that you finds yourself horrified one minute, and laughing uproariously the next!
All the Hong Kong, gun fu tropes are present making this a real stopper with that special tinge of British humour.
4. Equilibrium — Final Fight
For this entry we go ‘back to the future’ and the rebellious cleric, John Preston (played by Christian Bale), where in this scene, he takes the fight to the establishment itself.
The scene is chock full of WTF moments that haven’t diminished over time. All the components of the gun kata, teased, bit by bit throughout the film, come together in a virtually non-stop, intense finale leaving you breathless by the end. It will leave you hitting the rewind key just to be certain of what you actually just saw!
3. Hard Boiled — Warehouse Shootout
This follow up from Hong Kong action’s dynamic duo, Chow Yun-fat and John Woo, excelled so much that it remains the very definition of hi-octane action. The story’s partnership of Chow Yun-fat’s ‘hard boiled’ cop ‘Tequila’ – cool name – and ‘Tony’ Leung Chiu-wai’s undercover cop in over his head, is simply electric.
Both actors light up the screen exuding super cool charisma to deliver exhilarating, gun fu fun cocked and loaded with an eclectic weapons cache.
Our no. 3 entry here sees Tequila storm the site of an arms operation gone wrong, when top cop, Alan (Tony Leung) working undercover to bring down Triad leader Johnny (‘Anthony’ Chau-Sang Wong), massacres an old-time boss and his men to prove his credentials.
Tequila swoops in unleashing his deadly arsenal of devastating shotgun blasts and sharp shooting handgun skills, leaping and flying to kill anyone in his sights.
Credit should go to action coordinator ‘Philip’ Chung-Fung Kwok (who also features as Johnny’s unstoppable henchman ‘Mad Dog’) who set up some incredible action sequences from the start which get better as the film progresses.
Here we see the dynamic, quintessential characteristics of gun fu in action and just to add an extra layer of danger, the pyrotechnics are set off dangerously close to the players – check out Alan leaping out of an exploding car – the very definition of a close call!
2. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Escaping Casablanca
Just when you thought they couldn’t get any more action packed, deadly and brutal, along comes Chad Stahelski and the 87 Eleven Action crew to ramp up the action dial past 11, and into full blown sonic boom.
Picking up the story from where the second film left off, Chapter 3 sees underworld, super-assassin, John Wick, declared ‘excommunicado’ by the High Table of the underworld.
Literally fighting for his life, John turns to various friends for help, one of them Sofia, a former friend and manager of the Continental Hotel in Casablanca.
She takes him to her former boss, Berrada (Jerome Flynn, “Game of Thrones”) who advises him on how to find the Elder whose authority exceeds the High Table. Discussions turn violent leaving John and Sofia to escape Berrada’s kasbah, with a little help from Sofia’s Belgian Malinois.
When Halle Berry’s casting was announced, fans waited with baited breath to see how she would measure up alongside Keanu Reeves. The pairing did not disappoint and Berry proved to be as fast and agile as her co-star, and shine just as bright.
The deadly duo kick, punch, lock, throw and stab through a never-ending onslaught of ‘redcoats’, rocking Berrada’s kasbah with bloodspattered gun play.
Humour comes courtesy more so from the Malinois hounds taking out the guards for their mistress in a manner that will have most men crossing their legs in vicarious anguish!
The 87 Eleven team’s gun jitsu is packed with the sort of explosive energy, and kinetic chaos of a John Woo film, a perfect homage to the Godfather of Heroic Bloodshed.
…And in at number 1 is….
Hard Boiled — Hospital Siege
When it comes to epic gun fu the man who fathered it all gave us an epic, cop thriller with an intense, explosive showdown, the perfect end to his Hong Kong career before making the move to Hollywood.
We follow the crime-busting pair of Tequila and Alan uncover Triad gunrunner Johnny Wong’s operation located in a hospital, and, packed with their weapons of choice, begin taking it down.
The whole scene takes up the film’s final 40 minutes with a carefully-paced build up culminating in an explosive finale that has yet to be beaten even though gun fu has since evolved into mainstream cinema over the last three decades.
There’s barely a chance to take breath as Hong Kong’s finest, and the bad guys turn the hospital into a war zone.
The film’s visceral and dramatic action pull you in, and the heroes risk factor is heightened with a building full of vulnerable patients used as human shields and cannon fodder by Johnny Wong’s men.
However it’s the gun fu action that keeps you on tenterhooks as Chow Yun-fat, Leung Chiu-wai and Chung-Fung Kwok, leading his action team, put on an explosion-packed show that thrills and entertains from start to finish.
The mix of high-flying leaps, rolls, twists, and turns is the best and most exciting put to film, and with each gunshot, devastates everything that’s hit, be it tissue, bone, mortar or glass.
Hong Kong gun fu is best represented in this moment exemplifying its basic requirements, whilst simultaneously taking it to new heights with a heady mix of short cuts, and long shots that never tires on repeated viewing. Empire magazine said “Hard Boiled”, is “more entertaining than a dozen Die Hards”. It’s not hard to see why!