Hard-Boiled (Woo, 1992)

I once considered this Woo extravaganza the best action film ever. It introduced me to Hong Kong cinema, Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung, and squibs. The problem with re-watching films you loved at an impressionable age is the impact this time around will inevitably be different, usually less positive than before. Hard-Boiled might not be the masterpiece I once thought, mainly because my tastes have changed and I expect something different from film nowadays. But Hard-Boiled is excellent, especially with the paralleled violence in the multiple camera shootouts and the relationship between Fat’s detective Tequila and Leung’s undercover cop Tony. Through the eyes of these two double gun toting supermen, Woo’s film is a visceral fireworks ballet of bullets and blood, one which knowingly supplants a logical narrative for extreme, layered action set pieces. Hard-Boiled turns out to be an entertaining comedy, using some seriously dark humor with two memorable characters and their necessary brutality to deconstruct the Buddy Film genre. In American films using the same components of genre as Hard-Boiled, works like Rush Hour or 48 Hours, we never see the innocent casualties of epic action sequences. All the civilians get out of the way in time to survive. Not so in John Woo’s world. As Tequila and Tony dive through windows, roll down corridors, ride gurneys, and jump seamlessly into the air, the death of innocent bystanders engulfs the space. Sometimes Woo’s heroes are even responsible for these deaths, transcending their characters into complex entities instead of seemingly simplistic cops. Woo bravely shows the action shootout as a war zone, housing all the same collateral damage one would expect from such a situation. Villains often do not care who lives or dies, as long as they retain power. Hard-Boiled brilliantly plays on this code of ethics (or lack thereof) with it’s heroes and villains. The extensive action sequences are visual explorations of this dichotomy, this battle between those who value human life and those who don’t. This sets Woo apart from many other action directors, because there’s a subtext to his madness and mayhem, and it’s one born out of male insecurity and angst. Maybe Hard-Boiled is indeed a masterpiece in it’s own right, just a different one than I remember.

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