In our Bluffer’s Guide this month, we take a look at what action movies you need to watch to become an expert on the genre. It was hard to pick the chosen few, but here we go anyway!
Step 1: A classic
'Raiders of The Lost Ark trailer'
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)
The Story: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) goes in search of the Ark of the Covenant and must find it before the Nazis do.
Why: Inspired by 1930s action movies, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg combined forces to come up with a non-stop bundle of action that just never let up. Ford proved to be the perfect hero, who could be as much of a scoundrel as the bad guys, and the action set pieces, from the opening scene in a booby-trapped temple to a car chase across the desert, are just unforgettable.
Most memorable scene: Indiana nonchalantly shooting down the guy waving his sword around, supposedly because Harrison Ford was having a headache that day and just wasn’t up to a showdown.
Quote of the film: “I hate snakes, Jock! I hate ‘em!”
Step 2: The groundbreaker
'Die Hard trailer'
‘Die Hard’ (1988)
The Story: In Los Angeles, a bunch of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take Nakatomi Plaza. It’s up to New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) to stop them.
Why: This John McTiernan action feature redefined the action movie genre, and spawned a whole series of ‘terrorists in one building versus lone dude’ films. ‘Die Hard’ was also unique for an action film in that it made you care about the characters, had nasty and intelligent villains, plenty of twists and turns, and best of all, some totally amazing action sequences.
Most Memorable Scene: The rooftop sequence where McClane is mistaken for a terrorist, and uses a fire hose to get away as the whole roof blows up.
Quote of the film: “Yipikaiyay, M********!”
Step 3: The horrific
The Story: Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) goes along with a team of Space Marines to a planet where the aliens were first discovered to find out what happened to a colony.
Why: There’s no denying that James Cameron knows action, and the sequel to the horror film ‘Alien’ (1979) went in a totally different direction from its predecessor, with many more beetle-like aliens on screen to blow up. With guns blazing and the true, gruesome nature of these creatures gradually revealed, ‘Aliens’ was both shocking and action-packed, a roller-coaster of violence that never let go until the end credits. Shame how the next film in the series just undid almost everything about the movie.
Most Memorable Scene: Ripley versus the Alien Mother in the ultimate bitch fight.
Quote of the film: “Game over man. Game over!”
Step 4: The best choreographed
Once Upon a Time in China Part 2'
‘Once Upon a Time in China Part 2’ (1992)
The Story: Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li) faces The White Lotus society, a fanatical cult seeking to drive the Europeans out of China through violence, even if it means attacking Chinese. Wong must also defend Dr. Sun Yat Sen, a revolutionary, from the military and face off against Commander Lan (Donnie Yen), a warrior whose skills to match his own.
Why: Tsui Hark stamps his style on the kungfu movie, reinventing it with the ‘Once Upon a Time in China’ series. Tapping on the fighting skills of Jet Li, Tsui Hark built a franchise around the Wong Fei Hung legend, with some of the most stylish and involving action choreography ever seen, courtesy of Yuen Woo-Ping. It also revived the floundering martial arts film, which had been sidelined by more contemporary action films.
Most memorable Scene: Showdown between Jet Li and Donnie Yen ― one of the best martial art scenes ever.
Quote of the film: “No matter how good our kung-fu is, it will never defeat guns.”
Step 5: The John Woo
'Hard Boiled' hospital scene
‘Hard Boiled’ (1992)
The Story: A tough-as-nails cop (Chow Yuen Fatt) teams up with an undercover agent (Tony Leung) to shut down a sinister mobster and his crew.
Why: Hong Kong director John Woo has put his stamp on action movies, putting together great action films that showcase his great style and verve. With slow-motion ‘gun fu’ and stories of brotherhood, Woo is an inspiration to action aficionados, and this, along with works such as ‘The Killer’ and ‘A Better Tomorrow’, makes him one of the action film’s greatest proponents.
Most memorable scene: When Tony and Chow go on a rampage in the hospital in a single take.
Quote of the film: “Give a guy a gun, he thinks he’s Superman. Give him two and he thinks he’s God.”
Step 6: The new Bond
‘Casino Royale’ (2006)
The Story: James Bond (Daniel Craig) must stop Le Chiffre, a banker to the world’s terrorist organizations, from winning a high-stakes poker tournament at Casino Royale in Montenegro.
Why: They haven’t all been excellent, but the James Bond series has comprised decent action films. Recently, the franchise has been under assault by another character with the same initials; Jason Bourne. It’s still too early to say if Bourne will have the lasting power of Bond, but it’s clear that the Bourne movies have rubbed off on the older JB. He’s no longer the suave ladykiller who loves them and leaves them, and the gadgets have been toned down to a believable level. It’ll be interesting to see whether the latest Bond film ‘Skyfall’ will be able to beat Jeremy Renner’s ‘Bourne Legacy’ at the box office. But the bigger question is ― do Craig and Renner go to the same barber?
Most memorable scene: The Parkour chase in Madagascar. Something you can’t imagine the older Bond doing.
Quote of the film: “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”
Step 7: The non-Hollywood contender
The Story: Leon (Jean Reno), a professional assassin rescues a teenage girl whose parents were killed in a police raid.
Why: Frenchman Luc Besson pairs Jean Reno up with 12-year-old Natalie Portman for her attention-grabbing debut. The once-friendless Leon takes up her mission to get revenge on a group of corrupt DEA agents, led by villain extraordinaire Gary Oldman. This film is thick with action and is probably one of Besson’s best films. Like the recent Indonesian action-flick ‘The Raid: Redemption’, Thailand’s ‘Ong Bak’ or Korea’s ‘The Man from Nowhere’, it shows that Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on the action film.
Most memorable scene: When Leon breaks out of the apartment.
Quote of the film: “Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid?” Leon: “Always like this.”
Travis Wong is a film loving geek who got his start from frequenting video shops in JB. He frequented movie theaters more often than school, and received his cinematic epiphany when he watched 'Taxi Driver'. While not driving a cab, he haunts DVD shops, and he currently has the largest remaining collection of VHS tapes and Laserdiscs in the country.