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South Korean Action!

(left to right) Jackie Chan Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, in "Wheels on Meals" (1984) Image via Orange Sky Golden Harvest

Wheels On Meals Vs. Bloodhounds

There is no language more universal than action. Comedy is relative and the setup to a joke may not make sense to certain audiences. Dramas and romance are often character-driven with tons of dialogue, so not knowing exactly what’s being said will leave most viewers frustrated and disconnected from the characters. Action, however, needs no translation as two people duking it out can be appreciated regardless of language. 

That’s why a comically violent cartoon like Tom & Jerry is still so beloved to this day. No specific language is required to appreciate a cat and mouse beating each other up. While there’s no shortage of classic American action flicks (Rocky, Commando, Missing In Action, etc.), no country did action like Hong Kong. 

While crazy explosions and death-defying stunts have always been staples in action, Hong Kong was in a league of its own. With stuntmen often coming off as superheroes, viewers would watch these brave men and women getting tossed off high-story buildings, set on fire, and more for entertainment. The choreography was also beyond impressive, feeling like actual pieces of art being performed. 

While Hong Kong may sadly no longer be the action mecca of the world, that doesn’t mean the action genre as a whole has lost its way. South Korea is a prime example of this with an incredible selection of action films and shows that differentiate it from Western cinema, similar to Hong Kong cinema all those years ago. 

This article aims to show the parallels between the two cinemas by dissecting one film from each respective industry and analyzing specific action scenes that make these so unique within the action realm.

Wheels On Meals

In the realm of martial arts films, there exists a certain subgenre of buddy action films, aka “bromance”. As the name would suggest, these films follow characters that are friends and kick ass. They might initially start off as enemies or rivals but they eventually become inseparable.  The chemistry in these films is crucial to how the entire film pans out. Try to imagine the monumental blockbuster hit Rush Hour except the two main characters, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, have no chemistry whatsoever. Instead of being a masterclass in action comedy, it would just feel like an action film with awkward racial stereotypes. 

Speaking of Jackie Chan, the legendary stuntman has a long list of great action films under his belt including buddy films. Though one film in particular, Wheels on Meals, sees him starring alongside other notable Hong Kong action legends Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. Known as the “Three Dragons”, these three stars were considered Hong Kong’s own version of the Three Stooges.  Having studied under the same troupe in the Peking Opera School. 

Considering their history together, it’s no surprise that their chemistry on screen is so believable. Wheels on Meals is the best showcase of this chemistry with each actor perfectly playing off of the others. Chan and Biao play cousins who own a food truck in Spain. Chan is talented but lazy whereas Biao is diligent yet naive. Then there’s Hung who plays a clueless private detective. Despite these different personalities, their chemistry is undeniable.

(left to right) Jackie Chan Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, in "Wheels on Meals" (1984) Image via Orange Sky Golden Harvest

The Action

The film is filled with spectacular stunts and car chases with a food truck literally flying over a bridge. The last quarter of this film, however, is what cements this film as an excellent example of Hong Kong action cinema when in the last quarter of the film they must infiltrate a Spanish castle. 

They split up and each uses a method unique to their personalities. Chans uses his incredible acrobatic skill to climb up. Biao uses a grappling hook to climb up the castle like some sort of nerdy Batman. Meanwhile, Hung manages to get through via dumb luck and money. They inevitably get caught and one of the best-choreographed fight scenes in Hong Kong cinema ensues. All three characters get their opponent and each fight is as thrilling as the next but the fight between Jackie and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez is what will stand out to many people. 

With evidence of the previous fight still present in the room (broken chairs, and unconscious bodies in the background) Jackie and Benny have their showdown and it feels like an intense unpredictable match-up. These two seemed evenly matched and watching them go at it will likely make the viewers sweat just from watching. 

From impressive judo throws and takedowns to beautiful spinning hoof kicks that blow out candles, this fight scene will likely be burned into the retinas of whoever watches. Of course, that’s not to say that Biao and Hung don’t also shine. Biao plays a violent game of tag while showing his impressive acrobatic skills and Hung has a sword duel with the head honcho. Could there possibly be a modern equivalent to this amazing bromance film? South Korea’s answer to this comes in the form of Bloodhounds.

(left to right) Jackie Chan Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, in "Wheels on Meals" (1984) Image via Orange Sky Golden Harvest

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Bloodhounds

A Netflix original, the series follows a boxing duo who enter the world of loan sharks and debt collecting. Initially meeting through a boxing match, the two quickly bond through a shared military service history. They are also joined by an experienced collector who takes shit from nobody. Their personalities match perfectly together to create amazing moments of action and comedy. 

Kim Geon-woo (played by Woo Do-hwan) is a good-natured and naive boxer who stoically plays things by the book. His partner in crime is Hong Woo-jin (played by Lee Sang-yi), with a mouth bigger than his counter. Joining this duo on their journey is Cha Hyun-joo (Kim Sae-Ron) who is constantly stone-faced regardless of the situation. 

Half of the fun comes from watching these three strangers grow into what feels like a family. That’s not to say that the action doesn’t pack a punch. Don’t be mistaken, the amazingly choreographed fight scenes are what makes this series stand out. The reason why the series is so unique as a buddy action piece is because of how well their chemistry translates to the action scenes. These two both served in the Marines and it shows as they take down armies of thugs.

(Left to right) Woo Do-hwan as Kim Geon-woo and Lee Sang-yi as Hong Woo-jin in "Bloodhounds" Image via Netflix

The Action

Arguably one of the craziest fights in the series goes down in a subway (not the Jared Fogle one). Surrounded by dozens of thugs armed with bats and pipes, the scene initially feels like something out of Worldstar Hip Hop or LiveLeaks. Despite the dim situation, the duo is set on taking them all on back-to-back. 

Each fighter, however, is quickly surrounded by crowds of thugs, separating the duo from each other. This is where viewers get to see the difference in fighting styles between the two characters. At no point does Kim Geon-woo even attempt to use anything but his fists to defend himself. 

While the better boxer of the two, this detail makes sense as he is overly kind and even in such a situation cannot bring himself to hurt someone beyond what is necessary. Hong Woo-jin, on the other hand, doesn’t hesitate to get his hands on a weapon in order to defend himself. At times, he even feels like more of a street fighter rather than a boxer as he’ll even head butt someone if he has to. Watching this scene, it becomes evident that The Raid Redemption had a huge impact on this series (and every other modern action film nowadays).

The way in which the camera moves and cuts are used to keep up with the action makes it feel more fast-paced and chaotic. Whenever one of them starts to get overwhelmed, the other one comes to the rescue. Right before the scene ends, viewers get to see the final results of this crazy brawl with a majority of the assailants unconscious and on the ground or too winded to keep up. A truly spectacular way to end an outstanding fight scene.

(Left to right) Woo Do-hwan as Kim Geon-woo and Lee Sang-yi as Hong Woo-jin in "Bloodhounds" Image via Netflix

Action Over Words

South Korea has always held a reputation for their K-Dramas and with good reason. These shows and films have mastered the ability to hook viewers with unique characters and plots. It only makes sense that this would eventually carry over into the action genre as well. 

Where Hong Kong specializes in action comedies, South Korea seems to specialize in action dramas. Bloodhounds is just one example of this mix between action and drama. There are other films and shows that do a great job of balancing drama with action in order to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. One quick example is All Of Us Are Dead which follows a group of high school students as they try to survive the zombie apocalypse and the ensuing drama within the group.

“Bloodhounds” Ep. 4 Clip Official Netflix K-Content

Source: Dead Talk Live

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A lover of gore and over the top violence, no movie can make my stomach squirm. The only thing better than a bloody death scene is a well choreographed stunt. Whether it be action or horror, if it has blood in it, then I've likely already seen it.
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Omid Rad is a freelance writer, movie lover and overall geek.