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HARD BOILED

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Anthony Wong, Philip Kwok
Director: John Woo
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital Mono, English Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: WinStar Home Video
Features: See Review
Length: 126 Minutes
Release Date: October 3, 2000

Film ****

Every genre has its master, and John Woo is to action what Brian De Palma is to suspense. See where I’m getting at? Woo has made his mark here in the states with the action film classics Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2, and if those movies got your adrenaline rushing with its dose of high velocity action, they actually pale in comparison to the amount of action that you’ll find the director’s numerous imports from his native country of Hong Kong. Two of his imports have now become dynamite cult classics. The Killer, released in 1989, is what many fans and critics consider to be Woo’s masterpiece, but I actually think his other imported cult classic, Hard-Boiled, is the director’s best film before crossing over to the States. It’s a brilliant illustration of what can be done in movies overseas, and what is completely forbidden to show in American movies. I thought I had seen my share of high body counts in movies like True Romance and Natural Born Killers, but Hard-Boiled is a mile of head of those two movies easily. If you were to ask me how many characters were killed in the movie by gunfire, I would honestly be unable to tell you. I’d probably respond with “Uh, everybody but the hero, hehe”, which is just about the way it plays out.

The star of the movie, Chow Yun-Fat, who some consider a legendary icon of action movies, ranking with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, is a remarkable presence. He has now crossed over to the States, like Woo, appearing in such movies as The Corruptor and most recently Anna and the King. Here, he explodes onto the screen as a Hong Kong supercop, though is name not Kevin Chan, of course. He’s the other Hong Kong supercop! Chow plays a cop by the unique name of Tequila. As the movie begins, Tequila is at a teahouse, enjoying himself and even participating in the clubhouse music band. Soon, all hell breaks loose, and when I say hell, I mean H-E-L-L! A drug raid invades the teahouse, and the first of many outrageous shoot-out sequences begins. Guns appear everywhere, from normal gun holsters to the bottom of wooden birdcages. Tequila’s partner is killed during this raid. His boss is not in favor of the cop’s maverick methods, and blames him for his partner’s death, but Tequila is still nonetheless persistent in his personal vendetta to bring an end to the drug gang responsible for killing his partner.

A twist soon presents itself when Tequila discovers that the two rival drug gangs are vying for the services of a hit man named Tony (Tony Leung). Tequila intends to hunt Tony down, only to find out that he is an undercover cop looking to put away the rival gangs as well. So the two would be enemies join forces to end the gang’s gun blazing battle for superiority in the city. This leads to more and more amazing, quite awe-inspiring action sequences, featuring some unique acrobatic stunts that is one of the great trademarks of John Woo’s movies.

Watching this film, there will probably be points when you might feel like pausing the film just so you can catch your breath. Take the film’s last 35 minutes, which is an extended gun battle that takes place in none other than a hospital. Remember what I mentioned earlier about the high body count of the movie? That’s right, even people in the worst kind of medical condition will be able to escape the bullet. That’s how jaw dropping the violence is in this movie. It also ranks among the most amazing action set pieces I’ve ever seen. Woo’s a master of staging wonderful action scenes for the film’s end, like with the motorboat chase in Face/Off and the motorcycle chase/hand to hand combat climax of M:I-2, and Hard-Boiled definitely packs a wallop in it’s final moments.

Being a huge lover of Woo’s Face/Off, I noticed that many of the action scenes in Hard-Boiled later inspired some of the ones in Woo’s later project. Many of the scenes of two-fisted, gravity defying gunplay that was present in Face/Off resemble that of what is seen in this film. It’s very interesting to see a director make an amazing film in one country, then cross over to the States to re-invent his style and present it to a whole new audience.

Video **

I was never able to get a glimpse of the now out-of-print Criterion release of this film, and I am uncertain if this disc is any different from it, but the image quality could’ve used a trimming or two. This is the first disc I’ve seen from WinStar, and I haven’t seen that many foreign movies on DVD, and I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the kind of film stock that is used overseas, but the picture was packed with static for most of the viewing. It’s also deprived of an anamorphic transfer, which doesn’t help either.

Audio **1/2

The film is presented with an English Dolby Digital Mono track, as well as an audio track in Cantonese for the quality of the original film. With a mono track, you can’t really do much in terms of sound enhancement, unless you’re watching a really old movie. I really wished that a surround sound track was used for the purpose that there is so much gunfire in this movie, hence an opportunity to showcase to serious sound quality.

Features **1/2

Not of grand use, but certainly not deprived of anything. The main extra feature is that of a running commentary from John Woo and producer Terence Chang. Also included are trailers for this film and The Killer, and some notes of the making of the film. I also give credit to the design of the menus, which was more than I expected, frankly.

Summary:

Hard-Boiled simply has to be seen to be believed. This really is an action movie lover’s dream come true, and monumental point in the career of today’s greatest action movie maestro, John Woo.