The secret to Asian action films' superiority to their American counterparts over the past 10 or 15 years is simple: Would you rather watch Bruce Willis huffing and puffing his way through a fight sequence--mostly just shooting everyone in sight and squinting too much--or Jackie Chan using any and every available object to defeat his foes, looking and acting (and hey, kicking ass) like a man half his age? It's not like Asian action flicks are more believable than American ones. In fact, they're even less plausible, and maybe that's why they are so much better. There is an element of fantasy to Asian action films, especially in the work of director John Woo, an operatic quality to the almost incessant violence. Asian action films aren't about how many people are killed; they're about how many people are killed.
Fantasy is an element American action films are sorely lacking, even though every new entry in the genre is about as believable as an e-mail chain letter. For the last decade, audiences have been asked to believe people like Willis can single-handedly vanquish a small army of terrorists every Christmas. Even the best action sequences in American movies are merely rip-offs of scenes that have already appeared in Asian films. The scene that pops up in almost every Quentin Tarantino film, you know, the big standoff, the one where several characters pull guns on each other all at once? Watch 1992's A Better Tomorrow or 1986's Hard Boiled (both directed by Woo), and you'll see the same scene, only done much better. At least Tarantino acknowledged his debt to Woo and other products of the Hong Kong film community by setting up a boutique production company to release Asian films stateside.
Now that Asian directors and actors are starting to make inroads in Hollywood--Woo will helm the Mission: Impossible sequel due later this year--their earlier work is benefiting from additional spotlight. But Asian cinema has always had a home in the art-house venues like the Inwood Theatre, so every weekend in February, the Inwood will host an Asian Film Festival, beginning this weekend with the 1986 comedy Tampopo and A Better Tomorrow. You'll never look at American films the same way again. Maybe you'll never want to.