**Note: This film contains coarse language and is permeated with intense violence.**
Number 2 of 100 movies reviewed.
Like many of the movies on Yahoo!’s “100 Modern Classics You Must See Before You Die” List, I’ve heard of John Woo’s Hard Boiled before, and I’ve seen it around the library where I work–but that’s it.
This is what I know going in: 1992 sports Hard Boiled (Lat sau san taam) stars Yun-Fat Chow (Also, known as Chow Yun-Fat, he is the star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which I’ll discuss later, as it appears on the “must see” list; but more importantly, he also starred in the epic Bulletproof Monk, aside Seann William Scott–I have no idea why that didn’t make it on the list…). He’s a gritty policeman out to kick some butt while chewing on a toothpick. It’s directed by John Woo (the master behind Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and Mission: Impossible II) whose trademark flying doves appear in many of his movies–including this one?
We shall see…
I’ve been slowly, but enjoyably, getting into Asian cinema. I’ve grown up intermittently watching Bruce Lee, but more consistently watching Jackie Chan‘s movies (Oh, the many, many Jackie Chan adventures I’ve witnessed–what a master! I can’t wait for the new Karate Kid…), and Jet Li as well. More recently, I’ve started to bring Akira Kurosawa into the mix with Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai, and once I learned that he also adapted some Shakespearean plays (or at least was greatly influence by The Bard), I knew I’d keep that up. I’ve watched the first in the Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, followed by Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), which I appreciated for its uniqueness, but wasn’t completely drawn in by a crazy and often somewhat disjointed plot.
Anyway, that’s all for the moment, but I’m starting Hard Boiled, and I’ll try it Stream of Consciousness style again!
*Waits 1:45 minutes…*
…and we begin with a jazz clarinet! Unfortunately for Mr. Chow, playing Inspector “Tequila” Yuen, I can see that he’s not actually playing–one of my pet peeves with filmmaking: don’t show your characters playing an instrument when they really can’t play. When the music is fast and their fingers are going slow, my suspension of disbelief is no longer suspended. Some movies and shows do this VERY well. For example, in House, M.D., Hugh Laurie’s character, Dr. Gregory House, plays piano because Mr. Laurie is trained; That Thing You Do!, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, is about a one hit wonder band (The Wonders)–the actors were all trained to play their instruments so it wouldn’t look fake!
I understand that the budget for this was likely not huge, but still, if you can’t do it right, don’t show his fingers (or get a finger double to reinforce the charade and let me keep my suspension of disbelief in place!).
Anyway, we’re moving on to headlines of newspapers, as well as shots of guns–ominous! The setting: Hong Kong.
Oh, snap! We have a sting operation that I sense is about to go down…in a bird/tea shop! Could there be a better place for an illegal arms deal? I think not!
Slow motion gun fighting! Pure, well-choreographed chaos.
OK, I will forgive cheesy clarinet playing, because we have a fantastic gunfight happening now, fully loaded with superb stunt work, including Tequila sliding down a banister while taking out a roomful of bad guys.
Cue fast sports car music and bad 80’s music–even though we’re in the 90’s–which doesn’t stop, even when our unidentified friend is walking through a library. That is, until he takes his super-hip sunglasses off, pulls a gun out of a hollowed-out library book (The Complete Works of William Shakespeare), and caps a mobster! I’m totally going to inspect every library book closely–I wonder what hidden treasures I can find!
So, we have a new bad guy, Mad Dog, who I think will be “the nemesis,” definitely final showdown material here–he wears black leather, strolls calmly through carnage, has one eye, and lights his cigarette from the flames of a burning car.
There’s some intense personality conflicts between our hero and his jerk, tone-deaf boss. It’s basically the office pastime to watch them scream at each other.
Following closely on the heels of their yelling match, we have fierce, bloody, but well executed (do NOT pardon the pun!) gang vs. gang action in a warehouse with Tequila sporting a gigantic shotgun. A hostile takeover, if you will.
Noir permeates this movie, as far as the music, the tortured soul cop with nothing to lose. I’m really enjoying it!
The character of Inspector Tequila (#33 on Empire magazine’s “100 Greatest Movie Characters” list) is certainly influenced by “tough-as-nails” cops like Dirty Harry (which, sadly, I’ve never seen any of those movies. A mistake which must be rectified.), Martin Riggs, or John McClane. Like them (or at least the last two, who I have seen in action), he’s also got depth of emotion alongside his tough, action hero exterior. We see that, in the heat of battle, he really gets lost in the moment, going on automatic, nearly killing one of his own men who gets in his way.
Alan, an undercover police officer, really demonstrates conflict with what he does. It’s not easy, fun, or glamorous to infiltrate the Triad, and he’s torn by what he must do in the line of duty (he makes a paper crane for each person he must kill). There’s a great scene on his boat, after doing something he just can’t live with, where he goes into the middle of the harbor and just screams, racked with guilt. Crazy emotional impact.
I spot a John Woo cameo! He’s the bartender at the Jazz Club where Tequila plays his sick Jazz Clarinet!
Massive gunfight and mayhem in a hospital–wild!
You should understand that these are fully excessive, hyperbolic shootouts. There is an unbelievable body count, both good guys, bad guys, and innocents.
The unbelievable juxtaposition of Tequila carrying–and caring for–a baby left behind after the hospital was evacuated really drives home the dichotomy of his character (mouthful, eh?). He’s hard core and will get the job done without mercy or qualms, but he’s tender enough to watch over a lone, innocent baby in the midst of the carnage of a cops vs. gang war.
Really, this is an excellent movie. John Woo lifts what would be, in most other directors’ hands, a run-of-the-mill cop story into a strong, moving film–even Mad Dog has more depth to his character than just a plain old bad guy. It’s intense, violent, and bloody, but it’s well-crafted. Yun-Fat Chow delivers a brooding performance and, with the exception of his one clarinet-playing scene, comes across as one scary dude.
“Give this guy a gun and he’s Superman. Give him two and he’s God!”
–Said just after Tequila slides down a staircase banister with both guns blazing.
“Listen up, punk!”
It’s often quoted in jest, but it just happened here, folks.
Verdict: It belongs on the list for being a landmark, mind-blowing gunfight scenes–I think, rivaled only by the office building shootout in The Matrix (which I’ll talk more about later on, when I review it as part of the list).
See my previous review: Thelma & Louise