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Heroic Bloodshed

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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

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.


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.


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  


  • 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.
  • The Big Hit - Mixes several of the usual Heroic Bloodshed tropes with wacky comedy.
  • Black Butler
  • Bullet in the Head - directed by John Woo, and featuring Tony Leung, Jacky Cheung, and Simon Yam.
  • The Crow - This movie has many elements of Heroic Bloodshed, particularly in the boardroom and church shootouts. Brandon Lee's final movie.
  • 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.
  • Equilibrium - Kurt Wimmer pays homage to the genre by means of inventing a new gunplay-based martial art.
  • Face/Off - John Woo's best American flick, starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage as both hero and villain.
  • Hard Boiled - directed by John Woo, featuring Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
  • 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.
    • Arguably 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.
  • Hard Target - John Woo's first American movie, starring the "Muscles from Brussels," Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • Broken Arrow (1996) - directed by John Woo, starring John Travolta and Christian Slater.
  • Heroic Trio follows this genre to the letter with the possible exception of gunplay. Only one of the girls uses guns.
  • Hit Team
  • 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 Killer - directed by John Woo, and starring Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee.
  • Mission: Impossible II - directed by John Woo, starring Tom Cruise.
  • The Matrix - The Wachowskis pay homage to the genre in a big way, particularly in the first movie.
  • 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.
  • No Tears for the Dead
  • The Raid and its continuation, Berandal - directed by Gareth Evans. In recent years, probably one of the best-known films of this genre, at least for Western audiences.
  • The Replacement Killers - directed by Antoine Fuqua and produced by John Woo. Stars Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino.
  • Heroes Shed No Tears - the first gunplay movie directed by John Woo, released after A Better Tomorrow.
  • Hero of Tomorrow - directed by Poon Man Kit starring Max Mok.
  • Dragon Family - directed by Lau Kar Leung and starring Alan Tam, O Chun Hung and Max Mok.
  • Legacy of Rage - directed by Ronny Yu, noted for being Brandon Lee's first movie.
  • City on Fire - directed by Ringo Lam, starring Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee, noted for inspiring Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.
  • Killer's Romance - directed by Phillip Ko Fei and starring Simon Yam. Based on Crying Freeman.
  • 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.
  • Just Heroes - directed by John Woo, with none of Woo's previous stars, though Danny Lee, who plays in this one, would go on to appear in The Killer.
  • Once a Thief - directed by John Woo, starring Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cheri Chung.
  • Full Contact - directed by Ringo Lam, starring Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam and Anthony Wong.
  • Exiled - directed by Johnnie To, starring Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet 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.
  • American Yakuza, directed by Frank Cappello and starring Viggo Mortensen, Ryo Ishibashi and Michael Nouri.

     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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