HARD BOILED, 1992
Cast: Yun-Fat Chow, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang
Mobsters are smuggling guns into Hong Kong. The police orchestrate a raid at a teahouse where an ace detective loses his partner. Meanwhile, the two main gun smugglers are having a war over territory, and a young new gun is enlisted to wipe out informants and overcome barriers to growth. The detective, acting from inside sources, gets closer to the ring leaders and eventually must work with the inside man directly.
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Hard Boiled was John Woo’s final film in Hong Kong, before Jean Claude Van Damme abducted him, and brought him over to the states. It also still remains Woo’s most visceral, and exciting film as well. Up until his recent triumphant return to form with Red Cliff, Hard Boiled was his last true film with a real emotional journey, and dramatic weight. Face Off flitted with this, but remains simply a very enjoyable action film. Much like Woo’s best film, The Killer, Hard Boiled is a mixture of stylised gunplay, heroic bloodshed, doves (dunno why, but the Woo loves his doves) and drama. Featuring in this film are who many call China’s De Niro and Pacino, Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung. Both have charisma, and between each other, a wonderful chemistry. Truly all elements combine here, to make this one of the greatest action films ever made.
What we have here is hard boiled cop, Chow Yun Fat who’s partner gets gunned down by gun smugglers in a raid gone bad. He discovers that there’s an undercover cop working on the inside (Leung) and they team up to take down the bad guys, headed by Anthony Wong. Woo keeps the plot chugging along nicely, but it’s the characters that really hold our attention, with Yun-Fat excellent as the hard-bitten cop, plagued by guilt, and driven by pride to get the job done. However, Tony Leung’s performance as the undercover cop on the edge, driven a little too far into the criminal underworld, is mesmerising. Leung is the finest actor of his generation from Asia. Elsewhere, the support cast are superb.
Stylistically, Woo owes much to Peckinpah, and Scorsese. The film looks fantastic, and it’s beautifully shot. Woo’s meticulous in what he wants, and how he wants his camera moving, and everything feels timed to perfection as the camera, and the cutting meld sublimely. Woo overseas the cutting, aided by long time collaborator, David Wu, and this film is a marvel of editing achievement. The films pacing is spot on, and the intense, complex action scenes are perfectly cut. Given the amount of carnage ensuing, to have the film so rhythmically precise, is amazing.
Indeed what most people will probably remember of the film, is the stunning shootouts. The film itself was shot for very little money in comparison to Hollywood counterparts, but the mayhem is planned to within an inch of its life here. Delivered to your screen are action sequences immense in scale, and on screen destruction. From the opening tea-house shootout, to the warehouse gun-battle, to the all out balls to the wall, hospital battle royale, your jaw remains firmly on the floor in simple, gormless awe. Stunt men defy gravity, every bullet fired, seems to have a connecting squib firing off somewhere, to signify contact on a person, or wall, or window, or whatever. This is attention to detail to microscopic detail, from Woo, the effects team, the stunt team, the cameramen and the cinematographer. It’s all exceptional.
But…Woo is unrelenting, and in his infinite wisdom, the man decided to throw in something, almost unfathomable to most. Given the intricacy of these action sequences, and all the practical effects required, you’d think filming 10 seconds at a time was difficult enough, but Woo goes for an uninterrupted near 3 minute take. By some accounts there’s a sneaky cut in the
Hardboiled is also blessed with a pulsating and atmospheric score. It adds even more nuance to the brilliant performances, while it punches in brilliantly for the action sequences. Composer Michael Gibbs does a fantastic job, in an area where Hong Kong cinema isn’t always renowned for taking its time. But he manages to deliver the best score that’s ever accompanied a John Woo film.
However it would be a tragedy to purely marvel on the technical standpoints, and the action scenes, and forget there’s a really top quality thriller beneath all the surface chaos. Whilst die-hard fans of Woo, will continue to revisit this, and his other Hong Kong pinnacles, and perhaps mourning the visit of a certain Belgian kickboxer, to casa-dey-Woo. To see the artistry of Hard Boiled, and then see the gut-wrenchingly lifeless, and vapid Hollywood stink fest, Paycheck (aptly titled) you’d be forgiven for thinking there are two John Woo’s out there directing films. The polarity is astonishing.