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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Retro Review: Hard Boiled (1992) #Hongkongcinema

Hard Boiled (Lat Sau San Taam)
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Chiu- Wai, Anthony Wong
Genre: Action
Hong Kong Box Office Gross: over $19 million 

Plot: A cop who loses his partner in a shoot-out with smugglers goes on a mission to catch them. In order to get closer to the ringleaders, he joins forces with an undercover cop, who is posing as a gangster hit-man. They use all means of excessive force to find them 

'Hong Kong Action Cult Classic'

Watching Hard Boiled, this is a pure unadulterated action fest that lets rip with ballistic and exhilarating gunplay from all quarters. Funnily enough, I'd never seen it before until recently after reading all the positive comments and critical appraisal, and I have to say, this is a phenomenal action movie from one of the greats, John Woo. It never became a bigger and viable commercial success in its native country as it deserves to be, but thanks to the release of Face/Off, Hard Target and Broken Arrow, it literately opened the door for Western audiences to take a shot at this film and to give it a chance to see what all the fuss was about with regards to Woo as an action filmmaker, and thankfully it worked. Hard Boiled reigned as a critical cult hit and much to rave reviews.  

Strangely for a Hong Kong Chinese film, there is spoken and written English and a lot of dialogue and characters speaking for an action film. 

There are three big major shoot-out scenes: one in the tea room at the beginning, one in a warehouse on motorbikes and the last one in the hospital. The last one is extremely long, yet so engrossing and action-packed and suspenseful. The story is highly gripping right from the start, the action sequences are incredible and just relentless, & for all of the action and though a lot of people won't care for the story, I do for this movie, & this was really intriguing & intense in places, with twists thrown in. 

The tearoom scene where the guys blast each other with guns is reminiscent of the scene in Face-Off between Nicolas Cage and John Travolta and in watching this movie I could see his influences from it in Face-Off and Hard Target. Hard Boiled is unashamedly over-the-top in its gun violence: like all of Woo's movies for the exception of Hard Target, it features less of the Kung Fu martial arts fighting scenes that one would expect in say a Jackie Chan and Jet Li movie, and thus operates more so like a standardised U.S action movie with lots of ammo and guns. 

The narrative serves as a means of support for the action scenes and though a lot of people may not care for the spoken Cantonese dialogue and may not feel it's of interest, for me personally, and being a Canto speaker, it's good to hear that dialogue and understanding the emotions and feelings of the characters. I feel it's worth cherishing movies such as Hard Boiled, Police Story to name but many as they were movies that promoted the usage of Cantonese, and not just being known for their violent action. Some may find the translated dialogue in English to be not as well interpreted as it is, depending on how you see it on screen. But if you can get over this hitch, then you will enjoy this movie for what it offers and achieves. 

But what it all boils down to - see what I did there - for Hard Boiled is the relentless, unscrupulous surge of action scenes; 99% of them involving firearms, that never seem to run out of steam. With some, or be it most action movies, there can be too much action that it suddenly becomes repetitive and tiresome, - yet here, this is an exception because the action is so varied from scene after scene; even with the characters using guns, it's never the same as the other. I'm not usually a fan of guns in real life, but here Woo makes the scenes look balletic-like and not too overly gratuitous. Yet it's so over-the-top, yet fluid in its movement, it is visually stylistic. Also, the performances are excellent throughout and particularly from stars, Chow-Yun Fat and Tony Leung. Chow has never been greater here, probably since The Killer and had it not been for him, his co-star Leung would have run away with this movie. His turn as a cop whose loyalties have been tested kind of reminds me in a way of Matt Damon's character in The Departed. Which was a Hollywood remake of a Hong Kong movie. Though eventually, he sides with Fat's character, Tequilla but as the film progresses, it doesn't go as well as planned. 

Whilst Chow-Yun Fat has had moderate success in the U.S with his Stateside efforts, unfortunately, he hasn't had the type of impact or success that Jackie Chan or even Jet Li have built up, over the decades in America. I think this is down to the movies he chooses to do, but in addition, the Western efforts don't really take advantage of his star power that he has in Hong Kong and further utilise his talents. & that is a shame because he is a great actor and as an Asian action movie star, he could've been the next in line to be as great as his contemporaries in Jackie, Jet Li and Bruce Lee. 

Its trademark ''Gun-fu'' sequences are what makes this film so memorable in the eyes of fans who appreciate it. And for all the controversy and criticism about guns in general, Hard Boiled doesn't glorify gun violence or tries to do so. But merely the violence serves its purpose as a plot device in an action movie, and in this movie especially. It's like seeing a modern-day Hong Kong Western film come to life.  

Hard Boiled is a violent-yet entertaining showcase of John Woo's directorial efforts that have had such a resounding and even profounding influence on other Western action movies, rather more so than for its box-office success and critical acclaim in Hong Kong. But for the somewhat weak leading antagonist character, as well played as he was by Anthony Wong, there is also a tonal style in Hard Boiled that goes much more deeper than it comes across, visually. It has complex and well-crafted characterisations that are ably supported by great performances, all- round. Though it is known for its gun scenes, there is more to Hard Boiled than just that and being your standard, middle-of-the-road ''shoot-em-up'' affair. 

Final Verdict:

Hard Boiled appropriately earns its status as a cult classic and thus, its legacy set an unprecedented standard in action movies in not just Hong Kong and Asia specifically, but globally in general that a few of them have managed to achieve. & in one of the greatest directors of this genre in John Woo, coupled with great leads in Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung and an equally great supporting cast, after seeing this film from beginning to end, I could totally understand and see his influences in the likes of Broken Arrow, Hard Target and Face/Off. I'd have loved it had he directed Con Air. Undoubtedly, he would have brought a lot more to that movie, which I also enjoyed. 

This movie clearly has everything you want and expect in an action movie: violence, charismatic protagonists, outrageous and OTT action and unbelievable stunts. The bloodshed here is on par - if not as extreme as with anything you have seen in say 1987's Robocop and Reservoir Dogs: it is that gory. Combined with a great cast, impressive performances that hold up and are as good as the action sequences themselves, Hard Boiled is an action movie tailor-made for action movie fans that one would be missing out on, just by overlooking or ignoring this gem.


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