Director John Woo’s Hard Boiled (1992) became the most creative and full-on action thriller ever committed to celluloid and cemented Woo as the foremost action director of the 1990’s. Hard Boiled became Woo’s final film for the Hong Kong market before his emigration to the USA to continue his career in movies once China had taken back Hong Kong in 1997. Hard Boiled is a true example of he Heroic Bloodshed films that perpetuated Hong Kong cinema throughout the 1990’s, with Woo being one of the main creator of he genre, along with luminaries Ringo Lam and Tusi Hark. With leading man Chow Yun Fat, a six-foot tall rather elegant leading man, Woo had created his own ‘Alain Delon’, as Woo was an admirer of Jean-Pierre Melville and especially the French auteur’s film Le Samouraï (1967) which Woo is very fond of. Hard Boiled is pretty much the high benchmark of action film, from the beginning scenes in a tea house, where full on gun play leads to a myriad of deaths and a cool Chow Yun Fat playing Sergeant Yuen aka ‘Tequila’ who’s insane gun play deals death to the Triads and adds significant numbers to the dead body count. This opening sequence would normally be seen as the grand finale of most Western action films, but no, this was only in the first ten minutes of the film! Each action scene became bigger and more bullet ridden till the final action scene set in and around a Hong Kong hospital with more bullets & explosions than your average war movie, you might get a very good idea of what Had Boiled is all about. Though the film is not only a series of high executed action scenes, there are also exploration of male bonding, loyalty in the shape of both the police and Triads and even a small but frivolous nod to romantic entanglements between Tequila and Teresa Chang a police inspector.
The story revolves around Sergeant ‘Tequila’ Yuen(Chow Yun Fat) a jazz playing police officer who is tasked with bringing down a notorious Triad gun-runner Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong) who is ruthless and an evil killer hell bent on bring in the biggest arms deal in Hong Kong. In the midst of all this is Alan (Tong Leung) a highly respected Triad killer who is convinced to work with Wong to eliminate his old boss Mr Hoi (Hoi-San Kwan) and join Wong in his more powerful Triad gang. Tequila suspects there is more to Alan than meets the eye and when the two first meet, Alan knocks Tequila to the ground as Wong and his men try to attack him, thus saving him from a much worse fate. Tequila suspects that Alan maybe a cop undercover, so decides to find out, all the time giving Wong a hard time and trying to bring him to justice, dead or alive! Eventually Tequila and Alan join forces as they respectfully acknowledge each others position and with their joint efforts, uncover a huge arms caché in an uptown hospital, leading the duo into a final showdown with Wong and his men as the hospital is being destroyed around them.
From the first action scene in the tea house in downtown Hong Kong (a scene so well made that it would be a fitting final reel in any western action film) to the pyrotechnic finale of the hospital battleground, woo’s mastery of action choreography is second to none. Even twenty odd years later, Hard Boiled still is a template that all action films should and do try to follow. From two handed gun-play, to explosions that send stunt men flying all over the screen, Hard Boiled is an unshakable template for the action film. The moral aspects of the characters in Hard Boiled are as layered as the action sequences themselves. Tequila is poised between the angry avenging policeman who disobeys all the orders for his superior, but has a very soft side as we see him try to re-kindle his relationship with Teresa (Teresa Mo) through a series of western love songs and bickering about their past. Alan on the other hand is on the verges of burn-out after being undercover for so long and having to kill his old Triad boss to prove loyalty to Wong, this makes Alan more and more alienated, which explains his place that he lives in is a yacht where he can disappear and never be seen. A true loner in all senses. Wong is ambiguously nasty, willing to sacrifice his men and bend & break any moral standings, including destroying a hospital just so that he can eliminate his arms caché and annoying policemen. In neon noir style, these characters collide in spectacular fashion and I do not mean in just the elaborate action sequences, but also in their like/dislike for one another which also drives the story along. Woo has created a classic in the action genre and a high point in the Heroic Bloodshed series of Hong kong films. The lasting effect of Hard Boiled is the way the film has translated across the film globe, a true testament to Woo’s directorial and story telling skills.
It is interesting to note that when Woo left Hong Kong to work in America in the late 90’s, his directorial action style was very much muted down for the Western audience. With his debut first American cinema feature Hard Target (1993) starring Jean Claude Van Damme had traces of his kinetic action style, but it took his tour-de-force Face Off (1997) starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta to actually translate many of Woo’s stylistic directorial flourishes and establish Woo as both a Hong Kong and American director of merit.
Hard Boiled is a film that has to be seen to be believed. Never has so many set piece action scenes been cleverly interwoven into a an action thriller like this one. Though the Hong Kong lineage of action movies is very well documented and respected globally, Hard Boiled has sen fit to seal this islands rich film history and as an example of how to create an ultimate action movie, the Hard Boiled has everything in full bloodied, bullet ridden spades. Watch this film and be amazed…
Quote “Give the guy a gun and he’s a Superman. Give him two and he’s God.”