A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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August 8, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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