10 Action Films That Changed Everything

'A Better Tomorrow'
Chinese filmmaker John Woo is awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 67th Venice Film Festival on Sept. 3, 2010. "A Better Tomorrow" would be the first in a string of successful films for Woo. © Huang Xiaozhe/Xinhua Press/Corbis

John Woo is best known in the U.S. for his blockbuster action movies like "Face/Off" and "Hard Target." It was the first part of Woo's career, in Hong Kong, where he truly made his mark on action movies. Back in 1986, "A Better Tomorrow" was Woo's first successful film, and the one where he established his unique style of shooting action scenes.

That style is instantly recognizable -- ultra slow-motion shots that display the violence of gun battles with slow grace, shell casings tumbling through the air. The heroes almost always wield two guns at the same time, often while diving headlong across a room, trigger fingers pumping. Woo's Hong Kong style never translated well to his Hollywood movies, but movies like "A Better Tomorrow," "Hard-Boiled" and "The Killer" caught the attention of prominent American directors. The Wachowskis used several of Woo's visual elements in "The Matrix," while Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" stands as practically a John Woo homage [source: Marx].

Of course, Woo was heavily influenced by Kurosawa. It's impossible to escape "Seven Samurai."