Hard Boiled (1992)

Hard Boiled (1992)

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To say he’d overdone it a little in the cocaine factory would be a massive understatement.

Twitter Plot Summary: A tough cop joins forces with an undercover agent to take down a mob gangster. With lots of guns.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller

Director: John Woo

Key Cast: Yun-Fat Chow, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang,

Five Point Summary:

1. What’s with the doves, man? WHAT’S WITH THE DOVES?!
2. Is that bad guy actually Asian? I can’t tell.
3. That’s an epic use of timpani.
4. Apparently even if you get shot, you just keep going. Like a Duracell battery.
5. Save the babies, lest they die in a pyre of flame!

The opening is a sign of things to come – the action kicks off immediately and doesn’t relent until the closing credits. It’s an epic gunfight in a tea house. People are shot. Things blow up. More people get shot. People look cool by doing acrobatics whilst firing guns. There’s slow motion. There’s more violence. There’s more cool stuff. And then there’s even more. Moving from set-piece to set-piece, we follow the hard boiled cop of the title, Inspector “Tequila” Yuen as he teams up with undercover cop Tony to take down Johnny Wong, the big sinister kingpin. He’s so sinister and evil he even shoots people in cold blood and threatens babies. Handbags at the ready!

The soundtrack is rife with Commando-style jingly-janglyness, not quite at the same level as James Horner’s steel drums, but not far off. Throw in a bit of sultry sax and you’ve got a soundtrack that’s so entrenched in 80s cheese it works anyway. There’s also an epic use of cymbals throughout, almost to a laughable degree. You could easily turn it into a drinking game, especially if you also take a shot every time somebody’s er… shot. The problem with this idea though is you’d be absolutely smashed after 15 minutes, so perhaps the Hard Boiled drinking game is best left to hardier souls, like Geordies.

"Squeal for me, piggie."
“Squeal for me, piggie.”

There’s the occasional smattering of English when characters get angry or emotional, both adding to the weight of their words, and simultaneously making it incredibly funny. I’m of the opinion that this might have been a deliberate move by Woo, used to both punctuate the character’s opinions and also, on occasion, to act as comic relief from the ridiculous amount of violence that takes place throughout the 2 hour run time. It’s even more disconcerting when you stop paying attention to the screen for a second, then someone says something in English – cue puzzlement.

The final third is a cavalcade of violence, gunplay and explosions. And it is fantastic. It doesn’t matter that the rest of the film, and the film stock itself, look like it was made for £3.50, nor does it matter that they HAVE to save the babies despite being shot at by a ridiculous number of bad guys. No, what matters is people fly about the place, firing off their weapons left, right and centre, and lots of people being killed indiscriminately. The practical effects are something to be marveled at, cool and stylish. You also never suffer from “Bay-ness”, whereby you have no idea what’s going on. Woo knows his stuff when choreographing an action scene, oh yes.

John Woo, who I’m sure you’re well aware of, switched to the Hollywood system after this film and made the likes of Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2 (other John Woo films are available), but it will always be his pre-Hollywood phase that draws the keen cinema auteur’s eye, and I for one will be seeking out some of his earlier films. I’ll also give Strangehold a go, the video game sequel, even if the gameplay isn’t supposed to be that brilliant.

Hard Boiled was Woo’s attempt at showing the police in a more positive light after his earlier films seemed to glorify violence and the gangster lifestyle. Some of the actions taken by our characters could be deemed questionable, but there is an honourable centre to it. And that, in essence, is what the core of this film is all about – honour, redemption, all that jazz. Some characters kill indiscriminately – the aforementioned big bad Johnny Wong – others such as classic henchman Mad Dog have a code of honour but he’s still a nasty son of a gun.

As Woo’s last big hurrah before joining the Western big leagues, it’s fantastic stuff, and certainly holds its own against more recent action/thriller fare, and is arguably much better than Woo’s own films post-Hollywood relocation.

Favourite scene: Sliding down a bannister firing your guns at bad guys is effortlessly cool.

Quote: “Give a guy a gun, he thinks he’s Superman. Give him two and he thinks he’s God.”

Silly Moment: Gunfire whilst protecting a baby. It gets blood in its face, and Yun-Fat Chow raps at it.

Score: 4/5

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