The Construction of Justice in John Woo’s Films: Culturally Specific or Ethically Universal?


2016 marks the 30th anniversary of John Woo’s 1986 classic A Better Tomorrow, a gangster film which not only cemented the fame of the director himself, but also made profound impact on world cinema especially on the action/crime-thriller genre. In his more than three decades of film directing, Woo has constantly probed the depth of some traditional values: honesty and loyalty, family and relationships, and most importantly, passion for justice. For Woo, moral justice, rather than legal justice, is one of the dominant themes, through which he communicates with the audience the complexities of human nature and human emotion. The construction of crime and justice in Woo’s films, on the one hand, shares particular content conventions and genre forms. On the other hand, some conflicting signatures are also frequently identified in the portrayal of justice within these films. As a result, considerations of genre alone are inadequate to examine the spectacle of justice and its meaning in Woo’s films. An intertextual approach seems more promising to offer interpretations in keeping with the director’s cross-cultural personal and professional experience. This article will cover selected works directed by John Woo, including titles produced in Hong Kong, Hollywood, and mainland China, to discuss the questions: is moral justice culturally specific or ethically universal?

Author Information
Mengshu Wang, Waseda University, Graduate School of International Culture and Communication Studies, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: MediAsia2016
Stream: Film

This paper is part of the MediAsia2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon