Surely many will remember Hard Boiled as John Woo’s last film made in his native country (Hong Kong), as well as believing that Hard Boiled was some sort of letter of introduction to Hollywood. But today, that perspective has already changed, since in 2008 John Woo returned to his homeland to shoot Red Cliff (2008), and there he has stayed all these past years. Little can be said about Hard Boiled that hasn’t already been said, and this is something more than obvious: Hard Boiled puts most recent action movies to shame. Very few reach this level of spectacularity (The Raid 2 from 2014 for example), and this is not something coming from this particular movie, but from almost all of John Woo’s action films. See A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989) or Bullet in the Head (1990) for example. John Woo has a unique vision and a unique mastery, and that’s something that is patent in Hard Boiled from the first frame.
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The story follows our favorite hero: Chow Yun Fat, who is playing Inspector Tequilla, a tough policeman in charge of stopping a weapon smuggling operation, and also in desire of finding his partner and faithful friend’s killer who was killed during an operation. On the other hand, we have the character of Tony Leung Chiu Wai, which is an undercover cop infiltrated in this criminal gang which Inspector Tequilla is chasing, so their faces will be on the road; and although at first they find conflict between them, but from now on they will begin to collaborate together for the greater good.
The story is the least in this movie, because the action sequences are so explosive, frantic and brilliant, that they captivate you from the beginning. The story is good enough for your characters to matter, each of them being very well represented and differentiated from the rest, especially Alan, the character played by Tony Leung. Although Chow Yun Fat is the main character and is his charisma one of the true stars of the film, it is the excellent performance and credibility of Tony Leung that gives a special touch to Hard Boiled. A tormented character trapped in a worldhe is wishing to destroy, the one of the criminal gangs. Obliged to be acting daily in something that he repudiates, and it is his charisma and Tony Leung’s extraordinary talent that gives life to this character; also supported by the great chemistry that Chow and Tony have together. It’s just nice to see them together.
The rest of the cast is great: Anthony Wong, Teresa Mo, Philip Kwok, Philip Chan… They are just great. On of the things that John Woo does so well is to give some humanity to their characters, even on the bad guys. This is reflected on Hoi-San Kwan’s character Hoi and on Mad dog, played by Philip Kwok. They are on the bad side, but they have some codes ad morality inside them that makes them special. Those are the small details that make a character memorable.
Now let’s think about the film’s structure. It is no coincidence that Hard Boiled has been listed as the best action film on various sites, or one of the best action movies of all time. It is not only because of its brilliant action scenes, or because of its impeccable style. It’s more because of its structure and its script written by Barry Wong. Just from the beggining, we have the famous teahouse gunfight, a big action sequence that serves us not only to see how the film is going to be from here on, but to know how protagonist Tequilla really is. It also acts as an introduction to the rest of action scenes of the movie, because Hard Boiled has something like a video game mechanic, not meaning it in a bad way, but just the opposite.
First we have the teahouse gunfight, which is something like the tutorial; then the one at the warehouse, which continues the same mechanics but with more development and more spectacularity; and, finally, everything that has to do with the hospital, which would be the final boss. The great challenge. And that’s where the spectator witnesses the great and spectacular end of the trip. All this supported by an amazing editing.
To tell the truth, Hard Boiled is a tribute film to all of John Woo’s filmography and his usual themes: Cops, gangsters, honor, identity loss and sacrifice. Because what Hard Boiled really is above all, outside of its amazing action spectacle; even if the violence sometimes prevents it from seeing it, is a true tale of friendship and honor.