Hard Boiled


I first saw “Hard-Boiled” in the mid to late ’90s, in the defining period of my development as a cinéphile. I’ve always loved movies but as a kid, it was mostly mainstream Hollywood action flicks and comedies. Then came “Pulp Fiction”, which made me realize that film was an art form, not “just” entertainment. Thanks to Tarantino’s non-stop raving about his influences, this led me to years of avid watching of Tarantino-approved pictures. Some of those were disappointments but John Woo and Chow Yun Fat‘s Hong Kong classics were nothing but joy. Though their best collaboration has got to be “The Killer”, which has a more romantic, operatic quality I respond to immensely, “Hard Boiled” is right behind it.

I must have seen the film 4 or 5 times over the years, but always on crappy VHS, even though Criterion put it out at some point (it’s now long discontinued). Anyway, the important thing is that it’s now being re-released in an all-new 2-disc edition from Dragon Dynasty which, in a neat instance of things coming full circle, is a DVD label advised in some capacity by, yes, Tarantino.

In case you’ve somehow never seen this masterpiece of action cinema, it has Chow starring as Tequila, the most badass of all badass cops. “Give him a gun, he’s Superman. Give him two, he’s God!” Toothpick in mouth, he blasts off countless made guys from the triads. Then there’s Alan (Tony Leung), who’s even deeper in his war against the Mob. He works undercover, so he’s got to do dirty work and get into danger more than he’d like too. Tequila and Alan are on the same side, but they don’t even know it. The film plays on the eternal dichotomy between cops and criminals, which isn’t that black and white in Woo’s movies. More conventional is stuff like the asshole chief who thinks the hero cop is out of control, the partner who dies minutes after showing pictures of his kid, etc. Clichés, but fun clichés.

The film’s first half feels pretty much like Woo’s previous gangster flicks. That would already make the film real good, thanks to splendid performances from the leads, inspired direction and a bunch of awesome shoot-outs right from the opening (well, the scene following Tequila’s clarinet solo in the jazz bar!), in which Tequila raids a teahouse and performs that awesome banister slide trick (I dare you not to go “Fuck Yeah!” while watching it). And what about the meeting in a warehouse between two crime families which Tequila crashes, falling from the skies like a lethal angel packing a shotgun! I also love the boat scene, which might be on a smaller scale but is still brilliantly crafted.

But then, halfway through, the movie forgets about almost all storytelling and turns into one gargantuesque action sequence, packed with more gunfire, explosions and violence than 10 Hollywood shoot-em-ups put together! That’s what makes “Hard Boiled” (aka “Lat sau san taam”, which translates as “Hot-Handed God of Cops”!) the ultimate action film. Usually, a showdown lasts 10 or 15 minutes, but here it takes almost an hour, as in half the film! Tequila and Alan, now a team, discover the Triad’s secret weapons stash, which happens to be in the basement of a huge hospital. And then, things go awfully wrong, and darn exciting, too! I didn’t count it, but the bodycount must be in the three figures! The bad guys have no heart, and they shoot patients as well as cops. Highlights of that extended finale include a 2 minutes, 42 seconds long take shoot-out, a few Mexican stand-offs, what seems like numerous homages to “Die Hard” and much more. My favorite bit is when Tequila guns down bad guys while holding a baby. That’s one unforgettable lullaby!

DVD Special Features:
· Feature Length Audio Commentary By Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
· A Baptism Of Fire: A Featurette With Iconic Director, John Woo
· Partner In Crime: An Interview With Producer, Terence Chang
· Art Imitates Life: An Interview With Co-Star, Philip Chan
· Hard Boiled Location Guide
· Mad Dog Bites Again: An Interview With Leading Villain, Kwok Choi
· Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer & US Promotional Trailer