Hard Boiled (1992)
Release Date: April 16th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Woo Actors: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Kwok Chun-Feng, Anthony Wong, Kwan Hoi Sang, Tung Wai, Bowie Lam
he cast and title of “Hard Boiled” spill out onto the screen, intercut with foreshadowing images of a drink being prepared – which contrastingly leads into a performance of a jazz club saxophonist jovially puffing on his instrument. It’s the next scene, after a newspaper informs audiences that Chinese-made guns are being smuggled into Hong Kong, at the Wyndham Teahouse, where the film comes alive and shows its real purpose: intense, crime-oriented action/adventure. It becomes the setting for one of the most impressively edited, action-packed, exhilarating, destructive shootouts in motion picture history. In this over-the-top, bloody, carefully choreographed ballet of bullets, reloading is a fictional notion, collateral damage is constant, and the lead character can dodge gunfire and slide down a staircase, guns blazing, while never dropping the toothpick he so purposefully chews in his mouth.
Inspector “Tequila” Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat) lost his partner in the teahouse bloodbath, executed the key witness, and failed to stop the rampant gun importation ring. The operation was a disaster. But he’s still on the case and called in to investigate a fresh murder of an arms dealer in a public library. Old-time mob boss Mr. Hui (Hoi-Shan Kwan) employs highly skilled and always loyal hitman Alan (Tony Leung), the soldier behind the library assassination. When notoriously crazy crime syndicate leader Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong) tries to recruit Alan to raid Hoi’s large-scale smuggling operation, a betrayal is orchestrated and a shift in power becomes inevitable. But after the hostile takeover, Tequila shows up to foment further trouble (swinging into the warehouse on a cable like a modernized Tarzan).
“Hard Boiled” isn’t a movie with only one stunning action sequence. It’s inundated with action, essentially using the story of warring gangsters, the blurred lines of undercover operatives, and interdepartmental communicative quarreling to segue from one high-octane shootout to the next. As singular and unforgettable as the opening scene is, the climax doesn’t forget to be comparably dazzling, featuring lengthy, continuous shots of carnage, unequalled chaos, and a few borrowed ideas from “Die Hard.”
Like the gun stashed inside a book of the complete works of Shakespeare (used to dispatch a traitor), the film takes a poetic approach to the violence and fight choreography. Director John Woo possesses an obvious mastery of slow-motion, and has concocted creative ways to dispense gunfire and present complex action scenes that require multiple shots from varying camera angles to take it all in (fiery detonations are similarly repeated – instant replays – from different viewpoints for full effect). Not surprisingly, shotguns seem to cause miniature explosions (as if launching grenades), no one dies from a single shot (extreme overkill is standard practice), and the force of absorbing bullets is always enough to toss bodies around as if they were pillows.
“In this world, the man who holds the gun wins.” Undercover cops and regular policeman are indistinguishable from the gangsters; they all shoot first and ask questions later (or just unleash rounds without any intention of interrogating). But there’s still commentary on crossing the line of decency when it comes to sacrificing innocent hostages – for both the police and the crooks – notably with ruthless henchman Mad Dog (Kwok Chun-Feng), who undergoes a change of heart. Yun-Fat and Leung make an exceptional cinematic pairing, unloading ammo like drops of rain in a storm while displaying hot tempers, heroism, dedication, and exacting attitudes – as clever editing and catchy music supplement the nonstop mayhem. It’s perhaps over-stylized, occasionally excessive, certainly repetitive, and devoid of the love story “The Killer” utilized previously, but it’s still one of the most exhilarating action films of the decade.
– Mike Massie