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Two Blood Brothers about to spill some more blood; both their own and their enemies'.

"Honor is his code. Vengeance is his mission. Bloodshed is his only option."
Tagline for John Woo Presents: Stranglehold
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Also known as Hong Kong Blood Opera, this is a genre of Hong Kong Action Cinema made popular by directors like John Woo and Ringo Lam and actors such as Chow Yun-fat. Heroic Bloodshed plots are primarily modern-day crime action pieces that focus on revenge, redemption or some kind of conflict between rivals or enemies on both sides of the law, with a special focus on gunplay. There's a very strong theme of honor, loyalty and betrayal in these movies, particularly those made by John Woo.

Characters spin, roll, and dive across the room while blasting away during shootouts, often with two guns at once. Often, a good dose of kung fu or other martial arts is also mixed in, especially when actors synonomous with that genre appear. Heroic Bloodshed films (as per the name) are also incredibly violent with lots of blood and high body counts before it's all over.

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Protagonists are usually honorable criminals or hard-boiled enforcers of either the police or the criminal variety, resulting in very morally ambiguous plots, which makes for some interesting parallels with Film Noir.

Not to be confused with old-style martial arts films, nor Wuxia which is Chinese classical fantasy about feuding knights errant using Magical Martial Arts. These films instead prefer the modern cop and gangster milieu, and the martial art of choice is Gun Fu. Except when it's a Feng Shui game, then it's pretty much the same.

For more information about the genre, see The Other Wiki's article.


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Common subtropes and related tropes:


Examples of this trope:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Hellsing, while not explicitly falling into this category, draws strongly from it, with cool gunfighting and heavy moral ambiguity.
  • Black Lagoon may seem to be this genre at first, but on closer observation, it plays the cynical subtropes straight while mercilessly demolishing the idealistic ones. Unlike true Heroic Bloodshed, the series holds absolutely no faith in honor, hope or fundamental human decency. Downplayed in the English dub, where The Western aesthetics are played up instead.
  • Noir and Madlax are Bee Train studio's loving, if distinctly feminine, tribute to a once distinctly masculine genre.
  • Cowboy Bebop, has plenty of bounty hunting, wacky hijinks and sci-fi action. But when the focus switches to Spike's clashes with the Red Dragon syndicate he was once part of and his former best friend/deadliest rival Vicious, this genre comes straight to the fore, with plenty of shootouts, bloodshed and tragic love abounding.
  • Sanctuary
  • Although short on gunplay, the extreme balletic violence and perversely honourable moral element of the blood opera was part and parcel of Crying Freeman — for the superpowered leader of a vastly powerful criminal conspiracy, Freeman Yoh spends a lot more time battling criminals and indirectly aiding the downtrodden than actually committing the kind of deeds which keep a crime syndicate afloat — it's like a mafia film which is all 'doing favours' and no 'collecting on debts'.
  • Gungrave, particularly the part that takes place in the past, is a quintessential Heroic Bloodshed anime (the present-day part is similar story-wise, but its style changes to account for various hypertech wonders).

     Comic Books  

     Film  

  • A Better Tomorrow - directed by John Woo. Stars Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung and Chow Yun-Fat in his breakout role.
    • A Better Tomorrow II - directed by John Woo. Stars Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Chow Yun-Fat and Dean Shek.
    • A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon - directed by Tsui Hark. Stars Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui and Tony Leung Ka-Fai.
  • A Better Tomorrow - the 2010 Korean remake of the Hong Kong film.
  • Yet another remake of A Better Tomorrow, this time from itsd native Hong Kong, premieres in 2018.
  • Ballistic Kiss is a more "artistic" take on this genre, starring Donnie Yen.
  • Bangkok Dangerous applies to both the original and the 2008 Nicolas Cage remake. Appropriate, since both movies actually have the same director, Oxide Pang.
  • Belly of the Beast is the closest Steven Seagal would get to this genre. Understandable, since the movie is directed by Hong Kong action veteran Ching Siu-tong.
  • The Big Heat (1988), not to be confused with the Hollywood movie below, is one of Johnnie To's earliest attempts at making a Heroic Bloodshed film influenced by Woo, but combined with To's usual trademarks of thriller and dramatic elements. The movie is known for its unusually infamous Troubled Production, which took 3 years for filming to be concluded.
  • The Big Hit - Mixes several of the usual Heroic Bloodshed tropes with wacky comedy.
  • The Black And White trilogy.
  • Black Butler
  • Blood Brothers (2007) starring Daniel Wu. John Woo serves as a producer of this film, and suffice to say several Heroic Bloodshed elements do show up.
  • Bloody Brothers, another tale of brotherhood and triads.
  • Blood Stained Tradewinds starring Waise Lee from A Better Tomorrow, but as the protagonist instead of main villain.
  • The Bodyguard From Beijing starring Jet Li have shades of this, including over-the-top gunplay, intense shootouts, and a massive body count.
  • Blackjack (1998), another one of John Woo's American films, starring Dolph Lundgren. Not the Dolphster's first foray into Heroic Bloodshed cinema.
  • Bloody Hero starring Alex Man.
  • The Blood Rules is an (honestly rather weak, but at least admirable) attempt to revive the genre in the year 2000. The main characters are a trio of thieves bound by a personal code of honor, and the leader (Michael Wong, another mainstay of the genre) uses dual pistols in both the shootouts he found himself in.
  • The Bodyguard (Thai) is a Thai comedy-action film that spoofs this genre.
  • The Brothers (1979) - the Shaw Brothers film that inspired John Woo.
  • Broken Arrow (1996) - directed by John Woo, starring John Travolta and Christian Slater.
  • Bullet in the Head - directed by John Woo, and featuring Tony Leung, Jacky Cheung, and Simon Yam.
    • Simon Yam is probably the second most reoccurring name in this list, after Chow Yun-fat, as you’ll see below.
  • Bullet For Hire starring Simon Yam and Jacky Cheung is a quasi-remake of Scarface with elements heavily influenced by heroic bloodshed.
  • The Butcher starring Eric Roberts as an aging ex-hitman dragged back into the mob. The film climaxes with a nightclub shootout scene that pays homage to old-school John Woo films.
  • China White starring Andy Lau, Alex Man and Carina Lau. It's interesting to note that this movie is produced by the triads, who back in the early 90s have a degree of control over the Hong Kong film industry through financing and producing films. In fact, Andy Lau was allegedly forced to act in this movie at gunpoint!
  • City On Fire 1988 - directed by Ringo Lam, starring Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee, noted for inspiring Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.
  • The City Of Violence is a Korean film that follows this genre with themes of brotherhood, gangsters, and honor.
  • City War reunites Chow Yun-fat and Ti Lung from A Better Tomorrow, and this time they are a pair of Cowboy Cop policemen and Bash Brothers forced to take the law into their own hands to avenge the murders of their loved ones.
  • Colour of the Truth, starring Anthony Wong and Raymond Wong, is a thriller similar to Infernal Affairs also on this list, but with more shootouts, double-crossings, and action.
    • Has two sequels titled Colour of the Loyalty and Colour of the Game. With different directors and cast though.
  • Coolie Killer may be the Ur-Example of Heroic Bloodshed, being a John Woo-style film that comes out 3 years before Woo’s iconic A Better Tomorrow.
  • Cop on a Mission starring Daniel Wu.
  • The Corruptor is Hollywood's attempt to recreate a heroic bloodshed drama with Chow Yun-fat as the titular role.
  • The Crow - This movie has many elements of Heroic Bloodshed, particularly in the boardroom and church shootouts. Brandon Lee's final movie.
  • Takashi Miike's Dead Or Alive trilogy, set in the Yakuza.
  • Dog Bite Dog starring Edison Chen. Possibly the most depressing and gut-wrenching examples of this genre
  • Double Impact starring Jean Claude Van Damme, as a pair of twins who takes on Hong Kong's biggest crime syndicate to avenge their parents.
  • The Dragon Family - directed by Lau Kar Leung and starring Alan Tam, Andy Lau and Max Mok.
  • Drug War by Johnnie To zig-zags this trope. The influence is obvious: At first glance it features many of the usual themes around loyalty, betrayal, family honour and Due to the Dead. However, it eschews the operatic style in favour of a far more gritty and realistic approach, both in regards to the gunplay and to the story in general. Prior to the last third of the movie, there are very few action scenes at all, and many of the main character's actions are motivated primarily by self-preservation rather than any higher ideals.
  • The Duel of the Brothers, much like Blood Brothers, Shanghai Grand and The Game Changer, is an installment set in 1940s Shanghai dealing with protagonists being screwed for rising in power with the triads.
  • El Gringo starring Scott Adkins pays homage to Woo in an action scene where Adkins wastes 40-odd mooks in a 5-minute shootout.
  • The El Mariachi trilogy is Robert Rodriguez's personal love letter to the genre (as well as Westerns), with its titular protagonist being a wandering Mariachi caught in a gang war.
  • Enter the Eagles, starring Michael Wong and Shannon Lee. Both of them are thieves and assassins with a code of honor, and the former is an expert in using dual pistols.
  • Equilibrium - Kurt Wimmer pays homage to the genre by means of inventing a new gunplay-based martial art.
  • Exiled directed by Johnnie To, starring Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet and Simon Yam.
  • Face/Off - John Woo's best American flick, starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage as both hero and villain.
  • Fallen Angels features Leon Lai as a heroic bloodshed-esque hitman with a code of honor, who kicks ass in a nice suit and wastes several people with dual pistols.
  • Family Honor, directed by Norman Law. Pretty much a rehash of A Better Tomorrow, complete with a shootout in a dock at night as its ending.
  • The Fatalist starring Ben Ng.
  • The Fifth Commandment starring Rick Yune.
  • Flaming Brothers - starring Alan Tang and Chow Yun-fat (for once, in a supporting role).
  • Full Contact - directed by Ringo Lam, starring Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam and Anthony Wong.
  • Fulltime Killer starring Andy Lau and Takeshi Sorimachi as opposing hitmen trying to out-gambit each other. Also featuring Simon Yam as a police investigator caught in between their standoff.
  • The Game Changer, set in the triad underworld of 1930s Shanghai, with plenty of shootouts as its poster implies.
  • Gangland Odyssey starring Michael Chan, Andy Lau and Alex Man have shades of this.
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai - Forest Whitaker plays a hitman with his own code of honour, following the rules of bushido, clearly paying homage to this genre.
  • Godfathers of Hong Kong starring Andy Lau.
  • Gun n' Rose reunites Alan Tang, Andy Lau and Simon Yam after their prior collaboration in Return Engagement.
  • Hard Boiled - directed by John Woo, featuring Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
  • Hard Justice, starring David Bradley, complete with plenty of Leap-and-Fire and dual-wielding action.
  • Hard Target - John Woo's first American movie, starring the "Muscles from Brussels," Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • Hero (1997), a 1997 remake of the Shaw Brothers martial arts film, Boxer From Shantung, starring Takeshi Kaneshiro and long-time Jackie Chan collaborator Yuen Biao.
  • A Hero Never Dies, directed by Johnnie To, starring Leon Lai and Lau Ching-wan.
  • Hero of Tomorrow - directed by Poon Man Kit starring Max Mok.
  • Heroic Brothers starring Alex Man and Lam Wai. The title is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Heroic Trio follows this genre to the letter with the possible exception of gunplay. Only one of the girls uses guns.
  • Heroes Shed No Tears - the first gunplay movie directed by John Woo, released after A Better Tomorrow.
  • Hitman, besides being an adaptation of the game, also have elements inspired by Heroic Bloodshed cinema.
  • Hit Team starring Daniel Wu.
  • Hong Kong Godfather follows this genre down to a T, with the exception that guns are almost never featured in its action scenes save for the final confrontation. Instead, what we have is every character Dual Wielding machetes, hatchets and axes slicing up hordes and hordes of extras, en masse, with bloody effects.
  • Hunting List is a subversion of the genre; despite sharing elements in its action scenes, the story being in a triad setting, the close bond between protagonists and having plenty of extras in slick black suits, both its main characters are anything BUT heroic.
  • The Infernal Affairs Trilogy - directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Andy Lau. One of the more cynical series.
  • The Iron Angels trilogy, a series of action films starring Moon Lee and Elaine Lui. Imagine heroic bloodshed with all action babes.
  • Iron Butterfly III: Tomorrow, a low budget film starring Tony Leung from Hard Boiled, where Leung is a reformed hitman wanted by his triad. Complete with the iconic corridor scene from Hard Boiled recreated in this movie.
  • Island of Fire starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Andy Lau. Its a prison movie that suddenly becomes a full-blown John Woo flick in a brutal shootout in the last 15 minutes of the movie.
  • John Wick - starring Keanu Reeves, a retired hitman takes down those who have wronged him, while wearing a nice suit, feats of gun fu and jujitsu? Definitely. It is something of a Reconstruction in that the movies show Heroic Bloodshed tropes work just as well on top of a more grounded (though still stylized) choreography.
  • Joshua Tree, or more popularly known from its international title Army of One starring Dolph Lundgren as a morally-ambiguous protagonist who gets to kick ass with dual guns in a massive shootout scene lifted straight from John Woo's library. Director Vic Armstrong is clearly inspired by John Woo while making this film.
    • During the premiere party of the film, Vic Armstrong was surprised to see John Woo in attendance. Vic quickly utters an apology for trying to rip-off Woo, leading to the following exchange:
    Vic Armstrong: "Sorry, John, I'm kind of ripping you off in one scene in this movie."
    John Woo: "Don't worry about it, Vic. I've been stealing from you for years."
  • Just Heroes, also directed by John Woo, but for once not starring Chow Yun-fat. Instead Chow's co-star from The Killer Danny Lee Sau-yin would play the lead role.
  • The Killer - directed by John Woo, and starring Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee, the quintessential example of Heroic Bloodshed cinema. Provides the page image.
  • Killer Angels and its sequel, Devil Hunters, starring Moon Lee. Even moreso for the latter with a subplot involving triads and shootouts using double guns.
  • A Killer's Blues starring Ti Lung. After the success of The Killer above, plenty of movies in this genre would find a way to cram the word "killer" in its title, though to be fair the protagonists are indeed hitmen and assassins.
  • Killer's Romance - directed by Phillip Ko Fei and starring Simon Yam. Based on Crying Freeman.
    • Dragon From Russia, yet another Hong Kong adaption of the Crying Freeman manga, which is incidentally released a few months after Killer's Romance.
  • King of Gambler reunites Alex Man and Lam Wai, with its second half being a non-stop shootout with enough deaths to rival Hard Boiled.
  • Last Man Standing starring Bruce Willis is a Heroic Bloodshed film set in 1930s Prohibition-era America.
  • The Last Tycoon also starring Chow Yun-fat, pays homage to the genre, complete with a massive church shootout.
  • Legacy of Rage - directed by Ronny Yu, starring Brandon Lee in his film debut. Contains similar elements to A Better Tomorrow, coincidentally released a few months prior.
  • The Long Arm of the Law series, a franchise of four films featuring gangsters, brotherhood, and triads.
  • Love, Guns & Glass starring Simon Yam is a heroic bloodshed romance movie. Yes, such a thing exists.
  • Man Wanted - Simon Yam is at it again, in a Cat-and-Mouse chase action film where Yam plays an undercover cop who must take down drug dealer and super-criminal Yu Rongguang.
  • The Matrix - The Wachowskis pay homage to the genre in a big way, particularly in the first movie.
  • Albert Pyun's Mean Guns, starring the Highlander among a group of professional killers, aiming to execute each other until only one survivor remains.
  • Merchant Of Death starring Michael Paré as the titular merchant, an arms dealer, who gets to use dual pistols against enemy mooks in several shootouts.
  • The Mission (1999) directed by Johnnie To. Notable for its extremely low budget and miniscule shooting period of 18 days.
  • Mission: Impossible II - directed by John Woo, starring Tom Cruise.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, takes this concept and asks the question, "What if the hitmen characters are a married couple?"
  • The Mummy Trilogy - Stephen Sommers just loves to pay homage to this genre, in particular the ranged combat style of the O'Connell family's men.
  • My Heart is That Eternal Rose starring Kenny Bee as an expert hitman and assassin, also co-starring Tony Leung as Bee's best friend reluctantly dragged into a triad war.
  • The Night Comes For Us, another Indonesian film in this genre, co-incidentally also starring the cast from The Raid.
  • No Tears for the Dead starring Jang Dong-gun.
  • Once a Thief - directed by John Woo, starring Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cheri Chung.
  • One In The Chamber starring Dolph Lundgren, who had to contend with rival hitman Cuba Gooding Jr.. Both hitmen uses dual pistols and becomes Blood Brothers who had to face a common enemy.
  • Powerful Four is a Hong Kong police drama mixed with an Ensemble Cast and Heroic Bloodshed elements, especially in the final shootout where the four heroes takes down a whole triad syndicate.
  • Princess Madam starring Moon Lee and Sharon Yeung, with an ending shootout clearly inspired by John Woo. Complete with both ladies kicking ass in Badass Longcoat and Guns Akimbo.
  • The Raid directed by Gareth Evans. In recent years, probably one of the best-known films of this genre, at least for Western audiences.
    • The sequel to The Raid, Berandal featuring the same director and actor.
  • The Replacement Killers - directed by Antoine Fuqua and produced by John Woo. Stars Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino.
  • Red Pirate, a mid-90s film of this genre starring Jonathan Ke Quan (Yes, Short Round and Data) where he teams up with a super-cop to take down legions of South-East Asian pirates. One scene even had Ke Quan sliding down a set of staircase railings while firing two guns simultaneously, ripping off Hard Boiled from 4 years ago.
  • Return Engagement starring Alan Tang from the aforementioned Flaming Brothers, Andy Lau and Simon Yam.
  • Return to a Better Tomorrow - Wong Jing's attempt to revive the franchise created by John Woo. Wong Jing being Wong Jing, however, he's not too successful.
  • Rich and Famous - directed by Taylor Wong and starring Chow Yun-Fat and Andy Lau.
    • Tragic Hero - directed by Taylor Wong and starring Chow Yun-Fat, Andy Lau and Alan Tam. Was intended as a sequel to Rich and Famous, but ended up getting released first.
  • Romancing Bullet starring Max Mok as a Chow Yun-fat Expy who wears trench coats, Cool Shades, and dual-wield pistols and takes on massive numbers of triads. Co-starring Danny Lee.
  • Safe (2012) have Jason Statham playing a former cage fighter-turned-sharpshooter, and a Badass in a Nice Suit, taking on the triads and mafia single-handedly.
  • Shanghai Grand starring Andy Lau and Leslie Cheung, itself a remake of the Heroic Bloodshed drama series Shanghai Bund, but with Tsui Hark's more fantastical elements peppered throughout.
  • Shoot 'em Up, with Mr. Smith dual-wielding pistols constantly and being a badass with a Dark and Troubled Past while carrying a baby with him. According to Word of God, the very premise of the movie is inspired directly by Hard Boiled.
  • Skin Traffik is a British DTV flick with various action scenes and plot elements lifted from John Woo's movies, including the protagonist being a Hitman with a Heart and The Atoner, characters diving aside while firing guns, scenes of the hero and villains in slick tuxedos and suits, and plenty of faceless mooks to be shot and killed in several action scenes. To hit the nail even deeper, an early scene in the movie have the protagonist making a confession in church, much like The Killer, before carrying out his first onscreen hit.
  • Slaughter in Xi'an directed by Shaw Brother’s Chang Cheh, one of his last movies, which combines Wuxia with Heroic Bloodshed elements. The protagonist is a police officer framed by the mob, and ends up wielding a belt-fed heavy machine gun and single-handedly killing loads and loads of white-clad extras (so yes, there’s a lot of red squibs going off throughout the last 5 minutes of the film).
  • Spy Gear, where a reformed hitman goes on a killing spree to avenge his wife's murder.
  • Thunder Cop, a Spiritual Successor to The Killer, about a reckless super-cop befriending a triad mobster who wants out of the triad syndicate only to have mobsters coming all over their tails.
  • Tian Di, also known as Chinese Untouchables, starring Andy Lau.
  • Undercover vs. Undercover is a more lighthearted take on the genre, on par with Once A Thief. Still contains the usual elements, though.
  • Viper a.k.a Bad Blood is a B-movie starring Lorenzo Lamas which also have a big shootout complete with Lamas dual-wiielding pistols, jumping and firing, and the main villain clad in a white suit.
  • Wanted, the main character being recruited by a shady organization of assassins, learns how to bend bullets and uses dual pistols throughout the film, is clearly influenced by this genre.
  • A War Named Desire starring Francis Ng and Daniel Chan.
  • War starring Jet Li and Jason Statham, directly inspired by Crying Freeman.
  • The White Storm and its sequel.
  • American Yakuza, directed by Frank Cappello and starring Viggo Mortensen, Ryo Ishibashi and Michael Nouri.
  • Yakuza Graveyard.

     Tabletop Games  

  • If a game in the modern juncture of Feng Shui doesn't focus on Martial Arts, it's most likely this.
  • The Gunplay genre from Hong Kong Action Theatre! covers both the Heroic Bloodshed genre and other movies that have their characters using guns a lot.
  • The German indie TRPG New Hong Kong Story covers several cinematic genres, with Heroic Bloodshed being the most prominent (after Wuxia, modern martial arts film, and Vietnam War drama). In a twist, the player characters are not framed as actual, in-story characters, but as actors playing roles in a movie of the particular genre, while the Game Master is framed as the director of said movie, making the game in many ways a Spiritual Successor to Hong Kong Action Theatre. While this invites large amounts of Rail Roading, it is completely justified by the Framing Device, and allows the players to focus on fluidly choreographed action scenes and stunts instead of trying to direct out the story.

     Video Games  

     Web Original  

  • Back in 2007, as part of the promotion for his new game Stranglehold, John Woo held a "True To John Woo" Short Film Contest in which he invited amateur filmmakers to make a short film in the Heroic Bloodshed style. Here's the link.

     Western Animation  


Alternative Title(s): Hong Kong Blood Opera

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