"Hard Boiled" "See This!" - by Andrew Llewellyn (New Zealand)

From the Web 1.0 days I bring you The Forum. To preserve them for posterity as Geocities can no longer be found but also it's fun to re-read some of them.

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24th April, 2001

Hard Boiled

Hong Kong, 1992
Directed by John Woo
With: Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung
Running length: 2 hours 7 minutes

Funny story to this one... due to circumstances beyond the control of mere men (squeamish co-viewer). This time round I only saw about 20 minutes of the movie. But nevermind, that's enough to give you the flavour, and anyway, I've seen it several times before.

So what have we got.... the movie opens peacefully, with a visit to a teahouse. Hong Kong tea houses are gentle, civilised places where citizens meet to philosophise & generally chill out over a few cups of char. Enter the Hong Kong police force, staking out a bunch of gangsters suspected of doing their business from the premises.

While I didn't time it, I estimate that Hard Boiled remains peaceful for approximately 2 minutes - before the shooting starts. You know something's up - from all the cruel, dodgy looking characters, suspiciously sipping their tea & covertly scanning the premises. And that's just the police, led by Uber-cool guy Chow Yun Fat. He's called Tequila for reasons way to trivial to even remember, let alone recount. Let's face it, we're not here for the convoluted, or otherwise, plot. Tequila, for the record, makes Dirty Harry look like a liberal pansy do-gooder. Plus, he's got no time for snappy "Make my day" one-liners, he's a shoot first, shoot more later kind of guy.

The stakeout doesn't go smoothly, and in fairly rapid order, everyone who's not trying to flee the teahouse with their lives, is up on their feet, under the furniture, on the furniture, sliding down bannisters, running back up stairs, destroying the kitchen - shooting each other. Many times. It seems that dozens of civilians get shot, hundreds of gangsters, not a few policemen - and it only looked like there were 30 or so people there in the first place. Thousands of rounds are fired from handguns. I'd actually forgotten how violent this one is - think Sonny Corleone getting it at the tollbooth. Think the final scene of Bonnie & Clyde. And multiply it by several factors of 10.

Anyhow, we get Chow, covered in flour, and spattered with gangster blood, getting a bollocking for starting WW3. To top it off, his partner was killed (this is called "motivation" for what follows. Look - it's not Shakespeare, OK?)

Cut to... Tony Leung. Hip, cool, arrogant gangster - called... "Tony". He offs a rival baddie in a library - funnily enough, with the aid of William Shakespeare.

Oh hey, did I mention everyone walks, runs, twists & dives about in slow motion? If John Woo ever makes a musical, it'll be called Twist & Shoot (yuk yuk).

Cut to... Tequila's girlfriend, also a police officer, receiving white roses from someone who ain't Tequila. While Tequila may not get it, it's clear to the rest of us that the roses are some sort of covert reporting device from an undercover officer in the Triad.

Cut to... Tony. He's done a deal to betray his current gangster boss & set him up for execution. Which happens in an empty factory/warehouse. Cue fairly extensive massacre of everyone but Tony - he's got a new boss. A reptilian fellow, with an even more reptilian offsider. These guys are BAD. They're really, really bad.

Luckliy, Tequila's watching from the skylight. He's come across Tony before, and doesn't like him. Despite warnings from his girlfriend & boss (why they didn't just say "Tony's an undercover cop" and save approximately 10,000 shootings is beyond me.) So Tequila's defied orders, checked out more weaponry from the police armoury than appeared in all the John Wayne movies combined, and abseils in slow motion (3 times - we get replays) into the midst of about 200 gangsters. Of course, they don't stand a chance. Except for the two Reptile Men & Tony. They escape - after all, there's a lot more shooting & slo mo to come. These guys seem to have an unlimited supply of inept, expendable cohorts for Tequila & Tony to kill time with before the final reckoning though.

It's quite a battle, and although the odds are against them, the Triad give Tequila a run for his money. In fact, he's dead lucky on a couple of occasions - when he's not leaping over downed motorbikes sliding in slow motion towards him, to blow the motorcyclist behind away. But no matter how slow they move, Tequila moves slower & with the aid of every prop available (derelict cars, offices etc) manages to evade being shot or killed. It's here that the penny starts to drop... why would Tony let him live, when he had him cold...? Duh.

And that's about as far as I got as my viewing partner announced "That's it! I can't watch anymore....". Which was a pity, the tape I'd rented - get this - was the letterboxed, director's cut (presumably, an extra 5000 shootings were restored). But what the hey.. here's what follows....

Tequila & Tony make up, and bond - there's lots of male bonding in John Woo films... if they ever make a Chinese version of the Celluloid Closet, he'll be a shoo-in for more than a couple of clips.... Then, following several more major shootouts filmed in glorious slow motion, the film concludes with a MEGA battle in a public hospital of all places. While Tequila (carrying a baby - "No peeping, X-rated violence...") & Tony stalk through the wards treating hundreds of no-goodniks with lead therapy, the local SWAT teams are scaling the walls outside helping to evacuate the patients - look, I swear, they toss the babies out the maternity ward windows - 3 or 4 storeys up, for the SWAT guys to catch outside...

Hard Boiled makes Die Hard look like Sleepless in Seattle. If you've never seen a John Woo bullet-ballet before, you'll realise where all the flashy moves (this business of toting two guns at once for instance, and firing them accurately, while spinning through the air in slo mo) that have enriched the action genre for the last 10 years came from. Quentin Tarantino was a Woo fan before he made his first movie even. I was about to say take a look at Face-Off & Mission Impossible 2 for graphic illustration of this, but I just remembered they were both directed by Woo anyway. Although the reckless carnage is somewhat watered down in comparison. That's Hollywood for you. See the real thing.

Actually, if you like Hard Boiled, I'd recommend you check out a slightly earlier Woo flick called The Killer. In this one, Chow plays a master hitman called "Jeff" (love those names :-). Who has one more job to carry out before he retires. Problem is, during the course of this routine mega-rubout (in which Chow slaughters the gangster denizens of a nightclub in acrobatic slo-mo, without getting a single drop of blood on his gleaming white suit) he accidentally blinds the innocent young singer who works there. And so he has to return to work to raise money for her sight-restoring operation (no kidding). Meanwhile there's a Hong Kong policeman on his trail.... I won't go into the details here, but as film festival notes from several years ago said, "The Killer starts out over the top, and then blasts through the roof." It's true.

Gripes & accolades can be sent to apllewellyn@yahoo.com

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