The first feature film from critically worshipped Hong Kong director John Woo to receive more than a cursory release in the UK, this is an explosively visceral, operatic tour de force of breath-takingly choreographed violence and blistering ballistic pyrotechnics that begins over-the-top with a tea-house shoot-out that leaves at least 30 people dead, and then escalates into a succession of even more outrageous action set pieces.
In Hong Kong, on the eve of the Communist takeover and the relinquishment of British rule, police detective Yuen (Yun Fat) loses his partner in the tea-house slaughter, and against the advice of his superior, Chan, continues his own investigation into an illegal arms consortium, determined to nail those responsible for his partner's death. Following up a brutal hit, Yuen crosses paths with an undercover cop, Tony (Leung), who, posing as a hit man, has infiltrated the gun-running operation and who, unbeknown to Yuen, passes coded messages back to Chan. When Tony is forced to betray his boss and defect to a rival gang headed by sadistic young pretender Johnny, Yuen uncovers Tony's secret.
Upon learning that a city hospital is the site of Johnny's arsenal, the pair team up for a showdown that culminates in a maelstrom of bullets and delirious destruction. With a body count well into three figures, more firepower than you can shake an Uzi at, and imaginatively realised, adrenaline-pumping action sequences to turn Hollywood's action directors green, this was Woo's most outrageous two hours to date, mixing the frenzied pacing of kung fu flicks with a plethora of cinematic tricks slow-motion, freeze-frames, wipes Woo has elevated the action movie into the realm of art. Infinitely more exciting than a dozen Die Hards, action cinema doesn't come any better than this.