|Hard Boiled (1992)
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Bowie Lam
Director: John Woo
Once upon a time, director John Woo made entertaining films. This was, of course, before the Hong Kong native went all Hollywood with such forgettable duds as “Broken Arrow” and “Paycheck,” and unfortunate misfires like “Mission: Impossible II” and “Windtalkers.” Of the eight American features he has directed, only one (“Face/Off”) can be considered an actual success, which makes a movie like “Hard Boiled” such an interesting case. Filmed only a year before leaving for the West Coast and a lifetime of embarrassment, the director’s final collaboration with longtime pal Chow Yun-Fat isn’t only one of his best films ever made, but is also one of the greatest action movies of all time.
Supercop by day and aspiring jazz clarinetist by night, Chow Yun-Fat stars as Tequila Yuen, a hard-boiled detective hell-bent on bringing down a gang of gun smugglers responsible for his partner’s death. After his own near-death meeting with the gang's new hired gun (Tony Leung), Tequila discovers that the mystery man is actually an undercover cop. Together, the unlikely pair team up to take down a vicious crime boss (Anthony Wong) and clean up the streets of Hong Kong.
If the plot doesn’t sound too involved, it’s because it isn’t. Woo doesn’t mess around, and unlike most movies that promise non-stop action, “Hard Boiled” actually delivers. The action rarely lets up, either, and when it does, it’s usually only so the heroes can catch their breath before diving back in for more. And boy is there a lot of diving. When Tequila isn’t busy shooting his way through crowded teahouses and panicked hospitals, he’s jumping through windows and diving for cover. In all honesty, he probably wouldn’t have to do as much dodging if the weapons weren’t so over the top. Machine guns spray bullets faster than water from a garden hose, and Tequila’s own shotgun seems to be firing mini rockets that explode on impact. It’s all for show, of course, but it also makes the set pieces that much more enjoyable.
Putting aside the already impressive fact that a major action sequence appears every 20 minutes, it should also be noted that Woo’s set pieces are some of the coolest and most complex in the history of the genre. From the close-quarters teahouse shootout that opens the film, to the 30-minute hospital blow-up-a-thon that ends it, every action sequence is world class from start to finish. The boating attack feels like an abridged version of the teahouse scene, while the warehouse firefight truly proves that when you give Tequila one gun, “he thinks he’s Superman. Give him two, and he thinks he’s God.”Of course, when you’ve got a guy like Chow Yun-Fat in the role of the invincible supercop, you know you’re in for something special. Already an established action star under the guidance of Woo (“Better Luck Tomorrow” and “The Killer”), Yun-Fat’s performance ranks right up there with Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.” In fact, the film itself is a lot like the John McTiernan action-thriller, and though it’s not quite as complex, the John Woo masterpiece is more than content with just blowing shit up.
Two-Disc Ultimate Edition Review:
Dragon Dynasty’s re-release of the 1992 classic offers fans a digitally remastered print of the film, a brand new 5.1 DTS audio track and over two hours of bonus material. Along with a full-length audio commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, the two-disc effort also features lengthy interviews with director John Woo (“A Baptism of Fire”), producer Terence Chang (“Partner in Crime”), and co-stars Philip Chan (“Art Imitates Life”) and Kwok Choi (“Mad Dog Bites Again”). Rounding out the set is an eight-minute featurette on the locations of the film, as well as a mini making-of on the film’s unofficial video game sequel, “Stranglehold.”