WHEN IT COMES to working your way through the long list of Hong Kong action films, how do you separate the good from the bad and the very, very ugly? Heroic Bloodshed (No Exit Press $50), part of the now-extensive Pocket Essentials library, will give you a good place to start.
Editor Martin Fitzgerald kicks things off with an introduction to Hong Kong that is pointed more towards overseas readers. So locals can breeze past such 'insights' as 'basically, if you spot a man with a lot of tattoos over his body, the odds are that he is a triad soldier'.
He then presents an easy-to-read and informative breakdown of the careers of some of Hong Kong - and Chinese - cinema's major players - Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Yimou, and John Woo, whose The Killer, starring Chow Yun-fat (pictured left with Danny Lee), is featured on the cover.
While this will open the eyes of the uninitiated, the guide really hits the mark when it expands on the career of two 'big guns' of the Heroic Bloodshed genre ('used to distinguish between Hong Kong gangster gun operas and the traditional kung fu opuses') - Woo and Lam. A further chapter on Wong - including interviews with the director and his collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Doyle - does more to point the way forward for local cinema than address the genre itself.
But the guide's greatest selling points are the critical reviews that end each chapter, telling you what films to see and what to avoid. They include many productions left out of more traditional film guides, which is a bonus.