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

Movie 438 – 5 Superfighters

5 Superfighters – May 12th, 2011

One might think that last night’s movie was truly the ultimate when it comes to movies with incredibly thin plots to allow for a truckload of fight scenes. One would be wrong. Oh so very wrong. Because movies like this one exist and I’ve got to admit, it’s hard to beat. This was yet another movie acquired from my coworker’s husband. We knew nothing about it when we got it other than that it was a kung fu movie. IMDB doesn’t even have a running time listed (it’s about an hour and a half, for anyone curious) so we figured out if it was watchable tonight by popping it in and forwarding to the end to see what the timer on the DVD player read. The disc has no options, the dubbing is patchy, the soundtrack cuts out oddly in a few places and there are VHS artifacts carried over to the DVD release. It was a mystery to us and oh, oh am I glad we own it.

This is not going to be a long review because really, what can I say about this movie? It’s fairly low budget and the plot is a thin shell around fight scene after fight scene. I can’t comment much on the acting both because of the dubbing and because of the lack of plot. I can talk about the fighting and the soundtrack, but that’s really about where we stand here. There’s just lot a whole lot of substance and that’s clearly by design, not accident. No one set out to make this movie an epic masterpiece of storytelling. But more than one person obviously set out to make it a little over ninety minutes of king fu fighting.

There’s a trope I’ve noticed in watching the kung fu movies we’ve done so far. It’s the hidden kung fu master. The true masters, the people who can beat anyone and teach the main character the necessary skills to beat the villain and whatnot? They aren’t running schools or taking on student after student. They don’t walk around announcing that, like Neo, they know kung fu. No. They live normal and mundane lives until some heroic type brings trouble to their doorstep. In this movie we have a drunken beggar, a fisherman and a bean curd maker. The only reason we find out that they can do kung fu in the first place (let alone that they’re masters) is because they get forced into defending themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a teacher and his three students, whom he took in and raised after finding them as orphans. Granted, he’s not running around preening about his skills, but he’s not hiding in plain sight or anything. And so when the villain, a kung fu master proclaiming that he is the master of correcting bad kung fu, shows up, he kicks said teacher’s ass. And he whoops all three students too. So off they go to find new teachers so they can learn how to beat this mysterious master to exact revenge for their first teacher’s humiliation.

If you’re thinking there’s anything more to this movie than the three students (and their teacher) all going out and finding new people to learn from? You are clearly expecting too much from this movie. Even the scenery is minimal at best. Each of the three students goes out to find a new teacher. One finds a woman who makes bean curd and kicks the snot out of four potential suitors who won’t take no for an answer. He ends up getting some bonus lessons from her blind father too. One finds a drunken beggar whose character is a pretty hideous stereotype, so I kind of found other things to do whenever he was on screen and talking. Fighting, on the other hand, well, he’s pretty kick-ass, which is the point. Then there’s the third student, who meets a fisherman who tosses a net over him, then takes him on as a student. They all have to convince their prospective teachers to take them on. They all fight and train and fight some more. Meanwhile at home the teacher gets a new teacher of his own. And there’s more fighting. And more fighting. And eventually everyone meets back up again and there’s a big climactic fight with the villain and the teacher and students tag each other in and out and use all the techniques they’ve learned in their time apart.

There’s certainly a lot of humor here, with tongue in cheek characterizations and lines. I wish I could hear the original delivery and read the translation subtitled because while I suspect that things like “Your method of instruction is lousy!” and “[I come] from a far away place… all the way from HELL!” were intended to be hilarious, I can’t quite tell if they’re faithful to the original. It’s all so very silly. But I would say the dubbing takes away from that. It changes the timing and delivery on lines and exchanges and I can’t say this is a problem exclusive to this movie, it certainly could have been done better.

One thing I do like about the soundtrack we have here is the music. Again, no clue if it’s in the original, but man is it fantastic. It runs the gamut from cheesy late 70s jazz to hilarious 80s synth. It’s an incongruous combination of music and movie and there’s something so perfect about it. It adds into the whole vibe of the movie and I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed it, dubbing and all. There’s just something fun and mindless about it. I didn’t even have to do any reading to enjoy this movie. I just sat back and enjoyed the fight scenes and humor and music and really, that seems to be the whole point of this movie.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment