What's there to be said about John Woo's Hard-Boiled that hasn't already been said? What else is there to say about John Woo in general? His over-the-top and strangely balletic approach to action has been highly influential in the action genre, spawning copycats and rip-offs the world over for decades. Even today, long after Woo's last stylized action extravaganza hit theaters, directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodrigeuz (to name the most obvious ones) still mimic Woo's kinetic approach.
Hard-Boiled is Woo's last Hong Kong film before he emigrated to good ol' Hollywood, where his style was utilized with higher production values and restrictions Woo had never had to deal with before. Sure, he went back after a while, but things were never the same (or nearly as fun) after Hard-Boiled. His previous films, most of which starred Chow Yun-Fat, were all exercises in pretentious melodrama and frenetic gun violence.
It has all led to this. Hard-Boiled, also starring Chow Yun-Fat, cranks down the melodrama a few notches and kicks the gun violence into high gear. It's darker and has less heart than Woo's previous films, but Woo will still find a way to film a tragic scene in blurry slow motion from multiple angles, and he'll be damned if he doesn't add in the obligatory reaction shot of an emotional onlooker. No matter what movie it is, or what actor, it's always the same look in the John Woo Obligatory Reaction Shot. With emotional jazz music. Don't forget the emotional jazz music.
But we don't really watch John Woo's films for the silly melodrama, do we? No, not particularly. Woo's idea of drama is laughable and kind of childish. His dialogue is often just as stupid as his drama is over-the-top waterworks about loyalty and brotherhood and redemption and the like. The brotherly bonds Woo's protagonists share add to the overall appeal of his work and has been copied almost as often as his shootouts. In A Better Tomorrow, it was a cop brother dealing with the road his triad brother has taken--with Chow Yun-Fat kind of slapped in between them as the middle man who wants to keep them both together. A Better Tomorrow II was more of the same. The Killer was a hitman (also Chow) being pursued by and later becoming partners with a dedicated cop.
This time, it's Chow playing an angry cop named Sergeant "Tequila" Yuen, eventually teaming up with a triad named Tony, played by Tony Leung, who may or may not be an undercover. Of course, that answer is obvious, though Woo tries to lead us astray at first. They're both caught on the same side and also opposite sides in a triple-threat death match between two warring gangs and the police. Poor Tony gets mixed up with all three at once. Sooner or later, he'll have to pick a side and betray the other two.
Sound confusing? Not quite. It's one of those mixed bags where the film is executed in a more complicated fashion than the plot ought to allow. The plot is simplicity itself. Think if The Raid 2 was made in the early 1990's and had blazing guns instead of blurry fists and feet. A crazy gunrunner wants to expand his business and the cops don't want that. Plain and simple.
Aside from some decent acting from Leung and Chow--Leung for his emotional performance as a man torn by multiple loyalties, and Chow as a jaded cop who struggles to maintain control of his rage--the only other things worth mentioning are the higher production values and Woo's fantastic gun battles, since the soundtrack is wonky and hard on the ears when it isn't a sad jazzy melody, and the dialogue is a borderline joke at times, both in Cantonese with an English subtitle option AND with an English dub track (the latter of which makes this even more fun to watch just for the unintentionally comedic values it brings).
So why the 8/10 rating? I'll tell you why: Hard-Boiled knows what it is, and it is the best of both worlds. It's a dark, brooding crime saga and a highly stylized action feast with some good-natured dark humour and a surprising amount of camp sprinkled in for good measure. Sure, lots of films can get away with the argument that "they know what they are," but few are executed as well as Hard-Boiled was. Hard-Boiled is just a wide load of fun for everyone--or at least, every action fan who's tired of the sterile quick-cut-zoom-close-up saturation style that generally infects most Hollywood films. In this case, it's not the "why," but the "how" and the "what;" it's not the idea, but the execution of that idea. And Woo's execution of Hard-Boiled as a whole is both masterful and excessive. We're treated to wide shots, panning shots, and chaos in its most raw and balletic forms, and of course a two-minute continuous shot of our heroes rampaging through the corridors of a hospital swarming with flying cannon fodder. With Woo, no blank is spared, no explosive is abandoned, and not a single shot is wasted. And I mean EVERY shot--be it from a gun or a camera.
As excessive as it is, it's quite amazing that Woo managed to film these things with multiple cameras without so much as a boom mike being present within the frame. He manages this throughout the film, which is two hours, six minutes in total--approximately an hour and a half of which accommodates one of its three major action setpieces (and a fourth brief one somewhere in the middle). Each setpiece is crazier than the one before it, and by the finale, which goes on for a whopping forty minutes; the actors were practically blowing each other up for real. In fact, Woo DID blow up Chow for real (or singed him, at least...) when he reset the explosives for the sole purpose of getting a more authentic reaction from poor Chow.
This is basically The Wolf of Wall Street of action films minus the third hour, for both our sakes and, well, everyone else's. I don't think anyone could handle a third hour of this kind of mayhem--not even the best of us. We're out of breath by the second exhilarating hour. By the third, if such a thing existed, there would be nothing left of us but exhausted shells. Action fans looking for a quick fix would find themselves OD'ing three times in a single sitting on this.
Is John Woo's Hard-Boiled worthy of being called an action classic alongside films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon? It depends on who you ask. If you asked me, I would tell you the latter options have better characters and dialogue, but the former trumps both of them and several others combined for kinetic thrills and cartoonish mayhem.
I wouldn't, however, take Hard-Boiled as seriously.
1 out of 1 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.