A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 526 – Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled – August 8th, 2011

Would you look at that! It’s not a cheesy horror movie! Or a fantasy epic! Amazing! After a week of Harry Potter and a week of sharks, we are done with our two planned weeks of movies and back to picking and choosing off our list. I had to go back to work today after two weeks of vacation and I’ll just say that it didn’t take me long to want to go right back on vacation. So when we looked at the list tonight I went for something at least somewhat familiar, something subtitled (it’s been a while since we did subtitles) and something with a decent plot I could actually give a damn about. And I came up with this. Aside from feeling a wee bit dated and having a couple of explosions, it’s about as far as I could get without picking something more serious than I was really up for investing myself in.

Not that this movie is fluff. It’s got a serious core under all the action and shootouts and explosions. The plot involves gun smuggling and a cop named Tequila and I’ve got to admit, after reading some of the trivia about how the plot was originally a whole lot different and changed not long before the movie filmed, I’m pretty impressed. Not that I didn’t like the plot anyhow, but knowing it all came together after a plot involving poisoned baby formula was scrapped just makes it even better. In fact, I can’t imagine how that would have turned out, to be honest. It seems so strange to think of the movie that might have been, with the character of Tony a depraved killer out to poison babies. Instead, he’s part of the core of the movie, and not in a negative way. Of course, you don’t know that at first.

I apologize, because I will be spoiling some of the movie here. Not that the twist is terribly well hidden, but it’s still a bit of misdirection. The movie sets itself up as a face-off between Tequila, the cop who loses his partner early on and dedicates himself to bringing down the gun smugglers responsible (that would be all gun smugglers – he casts a broad net of blame), and Tony, a ruthless killer who works for one of the gangs in question. And for a goodly portion of the movie, that set-up holds true. Tony starts out by executing another guy in a library, after all. With a gun stashed in a big Shakespeare compilation, at that. And worse of all, he puts the book back all covered in blood! Some librarian must be so pissed about all that. We soon meet Tony’s gang, including the boss he works for, Mr. Hoi. And aside from being a gun smuggling triad boss, Mr. Hoi seems like an okay guy, taking care of his boys and running things sort of old school style.

Thing is, Mr. Hoi has competition and the competition wants someone to take care of him and that someone is Tony, lured from one gang to another before proving his new loyalties by gunning down his former boss and compatriots. Brutal, right? He’s constantly shown as a suave bad-ass living a somewhat glamorous gangster life. He is the complete opposite of Tequila, who lives in a tiny apartment and spends all his time working to catch gangsters like Tony. And that right there could well be a perfectly decent action movie set-up. But we’re not talking a decent action movie. We’re talking good action. So obviously there’s going to be a twist, right? And the twist is that Tony’s been a cop the whole time. A cop deep undercover, working for the triads and sending messages through coded cards with flower deliveries to a woman in the police department. It’s a cute little code, too, with the cards containing song lyrics, the notes for which are a key that unlocks a coded message. About half the movie goes on before this all gets revealed. We know something’s up with the flowers and the coded messages, but who they’re from and Tony’s true allegiance are left for a confrontation between him and Tequila.

It’s hard for me to describe the style of this movie without simply resorting to saying “It’s John Woo, okay?” There’s a very stylized feeling to many of the scenes, bolstered by the slow motion shots of People Being Badasses. That and the picture quality end up leaving me with the impression of a slightly dream-like movie, but with more gun fire than my dreams tend to have. Except after watching a John Woo movie. Then there’s plenty. But I’m not saying this as a criticism. I say it in admiration because it’s a difficult thing to have an action movie feel gritty and hard hitting and dream-like all at the same time.

The climax of the film, which takes place in a hospital full of patients and babies and gangsters, is fantastically well done, with Tequila and Tony working together to uncover a weapons cache and then get themselves out of the hospital. I do take a bit of issue with the female lead of the movie, played by Teresa Mo, being relegated to baby care, but I suppose someone had to save all those babies and it’s good that she was present for the climax instead of forgotten about after playing such a key role earlier on. I really do like the climax and how it morphs the movie from a story of rivals to a story of comrades-in-arms. My one real quibble would be the very end, which I understand was changed from the original concept. It’s not entirely clear to me and I suspect that was intentional, but I think I’d have rather had it be one way or the other, not left somewhat vague and open to interpretation.

After watching this, I realized that we don’t own The Killer. We did once, but it’s long gone now so we need to buy a replacement. I hadn’t seen this or that in so long, I hadn’t really given either one much thought, but this movie re-awakened my love for Woo’s movies and I’m sure Andy won’t mind if we buy more. They’re well-crafted and far more enjoyable than many a shoot-em-up action flick. A little dated. A little fuzzy. But neither of those really detract from this movie for me. It’s got far too many positives for that.

August 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Hard Boiled

August 8, 2011

Hard Boiled

I’ve seen quite a few of John Woo’s movies over the years. Why, I remember going to see his first American film in the theaters. Of course Hard Target, and indeed most of Woo’s other American movies lack the irascible charm and chaos of his earlier work. I do enjoy the intricate artistry of his later movies and seeing what he can do with a big budget, but when I think John Woo I think insane firefights in spectacular Eighties Chinese action movies. When I think John Woo I think The Killer and A Better Tomorrow and Bullet in the Head. I think Hard Boiled.

This was the pinnacle, the last, the greatest of Woo’s Chinese shoot-em-ups. It’s not big on plot, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense most of the time, but what it does have is more awesome and insane shootouts than just about any movie ever made.

The movie follows two characters for the most part. Super-cop “Tequila” Yuen is out to stop a triad gun smuggling operation, come hell or high water. It starts with a sting in a tea house that, predictably, goes horribly awry. Not only does Tequila’s partner die in the resulting shoot-out but a key informant is killed as well. (In point of fact Tequila shoots the informant point blank in the face, spraying his blood all over the place. This kind of pisses off his commanding officer, who spends the entire remainder of the film butting heads with out hero and stupidly not telling him about the other lead character.

Tony is introduced as a cold-blooded killer and loyal henchman of a kindly but old fashioned mob boss, but of course in reality he’s a cop deep, deep undercover who is trying to get close to a crazy young gun runner called Johnny Wong. His problem is that he’s basically a nice guy, even if he’s cool and slick as hell, but in order to make it into Johnny’s gang he has to turn on his benevolent boss Mr. Hoi and all his well-fed henchmen. He has done so many dark things that he doesn’t even see much light in himself any more.

Of course the two lead characters end up with guns pointed at each-other’s heads, and of course they resolve their differences so they can team up to take on Johnny Wong and kill hundreds of his goons. There are several great gunfights in this movie. In fact I’d say sixty percent of the movie is nothing but squibs and guns and explosions and stunts. There’s the initial tea-room shoot-out. Then there are three action scenes compressed into one when Wong’s gang shoots up Mr. Hoi’s shipping facility in a car factory, then the police ambush Wong, then Tequila, Tony and Wong’s right-hand-man Mad Dog have a three way duel with automatic pistols, shotguns and grenades. But it’s the hospital standoff that really defines the movie.

Wong has a giant cache of guns hidden under the morgue of a local hospital. When Tequila and Tony show up at the hospital and tip off the police as to where the guns are hidden all hell breaks loose. All the hospital security guards are Wong’s men, and he has more thugs with guns than you can shake a stick at, so when the police show up he closes off the hospital doors, sets snipers to shoot anybody trying to escape, blows up some ambulances and police cars for good measure, and takes all the patients and doctors (and a maternity ward full of newborns as well) hostage. Except that Tequila and Tony are already inside, and they have what appears to be an unlimited supply of ammunition. (That’s pretty much a given in a John Woo movie – nobody ever runs out of ammo. If there’s ever a break in the shooting it’s only a momentary break for dramatic effect before getting back to the constant gunfire.)

For at least twenty solid minutes this movie is nothing but gunfights as the police swat teams try to get into the hospital, Tony and Tequila try to shoot their way out, and a small handful of police dressed as doctors try to rescue the hostages. Oh, yeah, and there’s Tequila’s ex-girlfriend who spends the whole climax of the film trying to save the babies.

There’s just nothing out there like this movie. It has Chow Yun-Fat at his absolute prime as Tequila, flying through the air with a pistol in each hand and a toothpick clenched in the corner of his mouth. It has Tony Leung as Tony Being completely badass in his shades. It even has a cameo appearance from John Woo himself as Mr. Woo, the bartender. (I enjoy the fact that many of the actors play characters with similar names. It makes the film seem more personal somehow, more a labour of love.)

A couple years ago John Woo made a sequel to this movie. It was a video game called Stanglehold where you played as Tequila and you could slow the action down with “Tequila time” so as to more carefully place your shots and cause the most carnage. I had the demo on my 360 for a while although I never bought the game, and I was impressed by how perfectly it captured the mood of this movie. John Woo’s films feel like video games most of the time anyhow, and watching this again has made me very desperately want to go out and buy Stranglehold so that I can be a baddass like Tequila. Let’s face it. John Woo knows his shit.

August 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment