REVIEW: DVD Release: Hard Boiled

Film: Hard Boiled
Release date: 27th September 2004
Certificate: 18
Running time: 122 mins
Director: John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller
Studio: Tartan
Format: DVD
Country: Hong Kong

Long before he was playing a bastardised version of Master Roshi in Hollywood's 'retelling' of Dragonball, Chow Yun-fat actually made films that mattered. As perhaps John Woo's best received film (by western critics at least), Hard Boiled tells the story of a maverick cop whose guns and clarinet are his only friends as he sets out to right the wrongs of ‘90s Hong Kong and kill hundreds of people along the way. Think Dirty Harry with more guns – a LOT more.

Hong Kong is a city being torn apart by gun-running gangs, as evidenced by the opening scene where civilians are forced to flee a tea room in terror as bullets and birds start flying in almost equal measure. Enter Tequila (Chow Yun-fat) who quite frankly seems to have had about enough of such nonsense, and proceeds to shoot first and ask questions later in the most unequivocal manner possible. One dead partner and some snappy dialogue with a former flame later, and we realise this man is pretty much Hong Kong's answer to John McClain. This is not a bad thing.

What follows is something that could charitably be called exposition, as we are made aware that much of the chaos within the city is the result of two rival gangs competing for leverage in the illegal arms trade. Tony Leung plays Tony, an undercover cop who has infiltrated the slightly more philanthropic of the gangs and become the heir-apparent; however, his obvious talents are coveted by the nefarious leader of the opposing gang: Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang).

A showdown – in the loosest sense possible, as it boils down to Tequila versus dozens of gangsters – in a warehouse changes the balance of power irreparably, introduces our two protagonists to one another, and sets up Wong as a man with a plan that will spell trouble for all of Hong Kong. However, Tequila's attitude problem and Tony's rapid descent into the criminal underworld place these two men who represent law and order's last line of defence on either side of a war that threatens to erupt at any moment…

Tequila, as a character, is probably a good place to start for any retrospective look at Hard Boiled because so much of what makes this film appealing relies on him. He's an every-man; a down-on-his luck cop who puts the job first, sacrifices personal relationships for his work, and goes outside of the rules when they can't get the job done. This is a stereotype of a stereotype - albeit one of the first – and a character built upon clich├ęs, but that doesn't stop him being unabashedly awesome. Part of this is due to Yun-fat's performance, which lends a perfect amount of smarmy indifference to how Tequila responds to violence. But a large part of what makes him great is down to Woo's decision to just make him do the most plainly ridiculous stuff because it looks great.

And indeed, the artistry of the gun-fighting in this film reaches far beyond its own celluloid boundaries. Modern attempts to recreate the brutal style and the visceral pace of Hard Boiled are numerous; from True Romance and Max Payne to Equilibrium and The Matrix, John Woo's influence has rippled outward from this film, even as far as that most impregnable of bastions - Hollywood action movies. And with good reason – Hard Boiled is a beautiful example of how to maintain grittiness and violence while utilising the kind of excessive acrobatics and bullet-time dives that would become so popular both in film and video games several years after its release.

With its commitment to its own visual glory, Hard Boiled seems to throw the script out of the window occasionally, but this doesn't really matter. Leung and Yun-fat deliver consistently good performances for what they have to work with, and in a film where getting to the next mind-blowing action sequence is the name of the game, words just get in the way. This might be a problem for some who tend to want a bit more depth from their film, but you shouldn't be deceived into thinking that these aren't well-layered characters. They prove from first to last to be likeable, cool and tough as nails.

If you fancy watching a film that is considered by many to be one of the greatest action films of all time then Hard Boiled is for you. It isn't the most subtle of beasts, but then subtlety is overrated anyway. Amazing action sequences interspersed with good acting and a cool story - watch this film. JD

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