Hard Boiled


May 11, 2009
Plot Outline: Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) is probably the toughest cop in all of Hong Kong. He isn’t exactly a legend, but actions speak for themselves. After a failed arms bust that results in both the death of an undercover cop and Tequilla’s close partner, he plans to enact revenge on those behind the crime. This ‘revenge’ basically means shoot any and every thing that moves on two feet. The man responsible for the shipment of guns is Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong), a ruthless gang leader who plans to take over all of Hong Kong. There are only two people standing in his way: Hui, a older and kinder mob boss who is more interested in supplying for his friends than breaching out and going global. The other man is Alan (Tony Leung), a stylish and professional assassin working for Hui at the moment. Unknown to everyone else, even Tequila himself, Alan is also an undercover cop. Only the higher ups know about his infiltrating the mob, and now that he’s teamed up with Johnny Wong, he’s going to have to deal with Tequila and his former allies!


The Review: Back when I first got the idea to do a site like this, the main intention was to review films like this one. Not particularly the heroic bloodshed genre, just the non-mainstream classics. The films that almost reach levels of pure perfection, and yet some kid out in Iowa who would love it, has never even heard the name. That was the plan for the site for a long time. I didn’t want it to be like houseofhorrors.com and set a certain group of films up on a shelf and ask people to marvel, but I wanted to give these films the proper respect. Well, that was about two years ago. Once I started writing for the site, which was about half a year before I even came up with a decent name for it, I had the same aesthetic. Then, when things finally came into fruition, I found I didn’t have the grapes. Luckily I actually wrote something decent for The Beyond way back before I actually had the site, and when you need content you need content. I learned my lesson with Five Deadly Venoms (which I still plan to revise, that was a terrible review) and I haven’t really been reviewing the ‘classics’ here lately. There have been a few, like the Dead or Alive and A Better Tomorrow films, but those are only the tip of the iceberg. I thought I would try and build up what I want to say, considering these classics have been wrote about a million other times by authors who are ten times the writer I am. Now though, I’m just going to go for it. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said a million times before. Why try and live up to some impossible dream I can never fulfill? All I can really say is, if you like action films and you’ve never seen Hard Boiled, then you don’t know action. How cliché is that though?

After sitting through the HORRENDOUS Bad Boys II this weekend, I had to unwind with something that wasn’t so grand. Something that featured plenty of explosions, much more violence and done with more true cinematic style than Michael Bay could ever magically cgi out of mid-air. It was a no-brainer, I popped in Hard Boiled and leaned back, preparing for what has come to be perhaps my favorite action film ever made. When I was a kid I used to could watch the same film repeatedly all night if I enjoyed it. When my friend first showed me Dazed and Confused, I watched it four times in a row until morning time. It seems as I get older perhaps my attention span is deteriorating, which seems like the complete opposite of the way it should be, but these days there are only two films I can think of off hand that I can still watch repeatedly and never grow tired of: Reservoir Dogs and this film right here, Hard Boiled. The Killer is arguably John Woo’s greatest ‘film’, but Hard Boiled is most definitely his greatest ‘movie’. It’s not quite as brimming with substance as The Killer and doesn’t seem to be as serious as that film, but don’t let it fool you, Hard Boiled isn’t just some slapdash action film thrown together with a large budget. The plot for the film for starters seems simple, yet after watching it the first time I didn’t catch how tied together everything is. There are things while watching for the first time that just flew completely over my head, and even some while on my second viewing. There’s no denying it’s an action film for action’s sake, but it’s not all action and that’s not all that matters. There are some great performances, it’s a tour de force as far as camera work goes (Woo outdid himself with the kinetic moving shots) and modern Hong Kong cinema still hasn’t duplicated anything quite as fantastic since Woo and co. left HK. This was John Woo’s love letter to the kingdom he created, and boy oh boy did he go out with a bang (pun very much intended).

The acting by all parts involved is stellar. Chow is just as charismatic as he ever was, perhaps even more so, but that’s debatable. There are also a lot of other familiar faces, Tony Leung puts in a great performance as the conflicted undercover agent. A part one would expect Chow to play, but his getting to play tequila gives him the chance to have more fun, while Tony shows more solidarity as a leading man and as a professional. John Woo shows up as a retired cop who owns a bar, giving Tequila advice. Not a big part, but it’s always fun catching the cameos. Philip Kwok (who you may know as Lizard from Five Deadly Venoms) shows up as the baddest character in the whole movie, Mad Dog. Sure the name might seem a bit unimaginative, but the guy is just completely and totally bombastic in the small amount of screen time given to him. Not too much martial arts is displayed (he’s getting older man!), but when he pulls out the pins of two grenades with his teeth, you pretty much forget he’s such a great martial artist. He was also the stunt coordinator for the film. Anthony Wong shows up as our lead villain, Johnny Wong. He gets to mug a little for the camera, but his character doesn’t exactly call for much other than being a slick criminal. Which, granted, he pulls off great. It’s really no wonder I didn’t recognize the guy when I first watched Beast Cops, he’s gained some serious weight over the years. Teresa Mo, whom I’m not too familiar with is great in her part. She’s a cute little thing, and she’s got just enough spunk to level out the attitude she has in the film. Still, this is an action film and not The Pianist so let’s move on. Most attention to action in the film will always focus on the TWENTY minute battle that is the conclusion of the film. A violent opus in a hospital owned by Johnny Wong. Chow and Tony basically go room to room looking for people to shoot, and what makes it so great, is they find them! Countless stuntmen line up to take a few slugs in the chest as they empty clip after clip, dropping body after body. How can someone not love the incessant violence? Even though this IS the best action sequence in the film and frankly it’s probably the best action sequence ever made, much less longest, but my personal favorite would be the motorcycle raid. Not for anything in particular, but when Johnny Wong’s mercenaries ride in on Uncle Hui’s arms factory, shooting everyone in sight while still riding (and even popping wheelies) their bikes, it’s truly a beautiful thing. The action should be a no brainer. If you’ve never seen a John Woo film (his Hollywood films don’t matter, not even Face/Off), and you’re wanting to see his most action packed, this is it right here. The Killer is heralded by all, but when it comes to things blowing up and people dying, nothing beats Hard Boiled.

If you’re one of those people who still hasn’t seen a John Woo film produced in Hong Kong, there might be better places to start than Hard Boiled, but if you want to taste the biggest and best he ever made you’re free to eat your deserts before dinner. It may spoil you, causing you to miss out on the subtle things you might pick up on in The Killer or A Better Tomorrow, but if action is what you’re looking for this is the right place. After watching Hard Boiled, I find it hard not to smile. It’s a film that I find impossible not to enjoy. It’s a film that is actually very dear to my heart. It would be a crime to give such a film anything other than the Stubbing. Watch it with a friend, watch it by yourself, heck, watch it with your grandmother or kids. Just for god’s sake man, watch it! (Note: pantsman cannot be held liable for overhyping the crap out of great films, so get out my face with all that!)