Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung
The influence of John Woo on modern pulp cinema can’t be ignored. Gun-totting actions films still overuse the Woo-signature double-gun shooting killing each other in slo-mo. After a series of Hong Kong actions film from “A Better Tomorrow” to “Bullet in the Head,” Woo, topped them all with his tour-de-force, Lawrence-of-Arabia-of-carnage, grand spectacle of bloodshed, “Hard Boiled.”
Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) is a Dirty Harry-type supercop with an itchy trigger finger and an I’ll-do-it-on-my-own attitude. Tony (Tony Leung) is a cop/rat who has infiltrated the triad mafia. Both cops are trying to take down a gang of mobsters responsible for running guns and making trouble throughout Hong Kong. Problem is Tequila is not aware of Tony’s identity and as a result he botches Tony’s plans to take them down from within. Eventually Tony’s cover is blown and is forced to team up with Tequila and attack the triads head-on.
Enough of the plot, the film is structured around 3 major action set-pieces. In fact, go ahead and fast forward to them if the dialogue gets boring. The first the ‘teahouse sequence’ which opens the film. Tequila and his partner have staked out some gangsters in a bird-themed Chinese café. When the action starts, unlike Hollywood, the bystanders actually get in the way and get killed as dramatically as the thugs. Tequila’s slide down the banister is unnecessary but fun. In fact half of the action is completely unnecessary from a storytelling point of view and instead exists, ‘just because it’s cool.’ But these ‘rules’ are established early and so are acceptable.
The next major sequence involves a confrontation between 2 rival triad groups in a warehouse. Tony’s crew enters via motorcycles with Uzis and proceeds to destroy everything in site. We also meet the triad henchman, Mad Dog (Philip Kwok), for the first time. He’s 100% badass and could wipe any Bond henchman of the screen in a second. Soon Tequila joins in the action and it becomes a Tequila vs. a hundred triads type of gun battle.
The third sequence is the 30min+ climax in a hospital. For some reason the triads have stashed their kitty of guns in the basement of a hospital (huh??), and Tequila and Tony decide to ambush the gang at this location. No doubt, hospital patients, doctors, and babies are caught in the cross fire. Woo’s famous single-shot long-take is a sublime piece of cinema – forget “Touch of Evil,” or “The Player,” or “Goodfellas,” on a technical level this one shot masterpiece trumps them all.
Here’s a portion:
One of the reasons Woo’s Hong Kong films work more than his Hollywood ones is the charisma of his stars. Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung exude silent intensities, unlike parody- performances of Nicholas Cage, John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
“Hard Boiled” turned out to be his last Hong Kong film, and though he’s had success in Hollywood, his action style still just doesn’t seem to fit as well over here. Perhaps it’s the overly emotive drama, which we forgive when its in Chinese, or the freedom to do pretty much anything on film Woo isn’t afforded in Hollywood? Either way, we’ll always have his Hong Kong films to marvel over. And who knows, maybe he’ll go back and reboot himself with another one later on down the road. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Hard Boiled - Criterion Collection