Hard Boiled (1992) Review

"Hard Boiled" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Hard Boiled" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: John Woo
Writer: Chim Heung Yeung, Barry Wong, John Woo
Producer: Terence Chang, Linda Kuk
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Philip Chan, Teresa Mo, Kwan Hoi San, Philip Kwok, Stephen Tung, Bowie Lam, John Woo, Bobby Au-Yeung Jan Wa, Ching Siu Lung
Running Time: 122 min.

By Joseph Kuby

As far as gun battles go, this is the best action film of all time!

Cinematically speaking, it doesn’t hold a candle to Bullet In The Head or The Killer for that matter, but it still has a level of depth in the plotting, dialogue and characterizations which is ignored by not only the filmmakers who make these kinds of movies but by the audiences alike.

I’ve read much criticism where everyone is accusing this movie of brainless entertainment just because the action scenes stand out so much that they are truly riveting with awesome dynamics and amazing sense of danger.

The perception among people is that if a film has exceedingly fantastic action set-pieces then that supposedly means there’s no story or cinematic merit to speak of what so ever. It’s very easy to think that if a film has hypnotically spellbinding action sequences that any attempt at artistic eminence is pretentious and silly or non-existent but that’s very common when someone has a cynical pre-conception of what this kind of movie is like.

It still doesn’t change the fact that the dialogue and cinematography (with John Woo’s highly engrossing usage of metaphors) is better than most action films. Plus, the acting is infinitely superior with Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung Chiu Wai showing a great sense of vulnerability and pathos. Not to mention that the script has an unseen level of humanity rarely depicted in Hollywood non-action movies, let alone action films in general!

Even though films like Desperado, The Matrix, Equilibrium, Once Upon A Time In Mexico and Bad Boys 2 aim to imitate and surpass Hard Boiled for sheer trigger-happy mayhem and colossal destruction, all of these films have failed – disappointing when considering the budget for Hard Boiled. It just goes to show you that budget means hardly a nickle (pardon the somewhat obvious pun) when you have genuine talent waiting to be painted onto a canvas – and in John’s case he really paints the screen with vibrantly violent colours (again, pardon the pun).

This film is so influential that it even inspired one of the Usagi Yojimbo stories drawn (by Stan Sakai) with the usage of paper animals to symbolize a deceased living being.

If you want to find out information concerning the alternate uncut Taiwanese version and where to purchase it, ask this guy here.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 9.5/10

By Joe909

Not to state the obvious, but I think John Woo likes guns. I mean, he really, really likes them. Kind of like the way Jimi Hendrix liked guitars. Hard Boiled, then, comes off as John Woo’s love letter to guns. But that’s fine, because I like guns, too.

One of those “near future” thrillers (released in ’92, set in ’97), Hard Boiled looked dated as soon as it was released, with its “Miami Vice” fashions and jazzy score. It didn’t do very well in the Hong Kong box office, which isn’t very surprising when you consider how “Hollywood” it is (this was, of course, well before HK movies became as glossy as Hollywood productions, themselves). In some ways, Hard Boiled seems like Woo’s demo reel for Hollywood producers, sort of like a “look what I can do” project. Every gun fight is stretched to its limit, explosions are aplenty, and everything from the lenses used to the angles chosen seem more like something framed by a Western director than Hong Kong’s finest. But beyond all of this, I think Hard Boiled is one of the best action movies ever made, if not THE best.

Sure, the story isn’t too involving, the drama isn’t as gripping as “The Killer” (which, movie-wise, is the superior film, but the action scenes in Hard Boiled are just staged better), and in some instances it’s just too chaotic for its own good, but if you crave action (and by that I mean countless gun fights, slow-motion escapes from death, possibly the coolest henchman in film history, masked and armed SDU guys adding to the chaotic mix, and two lead heroes who kill more people than the average dictator), then Hard Boiled is the perfect fix.

Tony Leung pulls off one of the most impressive acting jobs I’ve ever seen. The image that has always most struck me about Hard Boiled is the slow-motion facial expression Leung goes through after killing his kind-hearted boss, as he walks by Anthony Wong. Chow Yun-Fat doesn’t get as much room to show off his skill as he did in other Woo films, but still he’s effective as the superheroic cop Tequila. Anthony Wong goes over the top as the villain, and Kuo Choi is probably my favorite character in the movie; Woo further proved his genius by having Kuo, who was always the hero in Shaw Brothers movies, play Wong’s deadly henchman Mad Dog. I’d say my favorite action scene in Hard Boiled is the warehouse attack, mostly because we get to see Kuo drive around on a motorcycle and blast guys apart with his Mac-10.

The gun battles are staged with a lover’s care. No detail is spared. Another thing I’ve always liked about Woo is that he’s never limited himself to just showing one type of gun in his movies. Most heroic bloodsheds feature guys who only carry around handguns; very rarely will you see any heavy duty equipment. But just about every gun (from single-shot to automatic to missile launcher) is employed in Hard Boiled. I like it.

I’ve read online speculation that Tony Leung’s character dies in the end, and the mock funeral Tequila et al have for him in the police station is the real thing (in fact, they’re just having a funeral for Leung the cop, not Leung the man, who’s started a new life). So according to this speculation, the shots we see at the very end, of the bandaged Leung at sea, are apparently glimpses of Leung in Heaven. But let me ask you this: why would you wear bandages in Heaven?

Joe909’s Rating: 9.5/10

By Numskull

Yeah, baby.

Hard Boiled…aaahh. It has just the right mix of Die Hard-style action and the “heroic bloodshed” sensibilities that John Woo’s HK films are famous for. It’s Woo at his most visceral, turning the character development and “honor among thieves” philosophizing down just a tiny bit and kicking the frenzied shootouts into hyper-megadeath mode. It has a higher body count than a small war and is the most super-charged, over-the-top, take-no-prisoners action movie I have ever seen.

Some people might complain that the plot is too complicated. These people are fools with the attention spans of dyslexic goldfish. Hard Boiled has a well-told story and the American release from Fox Lorber has great subtitles with accurate English incorporating slang, puns, the technically incomplete sentences that we use so often, and plenty of good old-fashioned cussin’.

We all know that Chow Yun-Fat is a superb actor, but he sure as hell ain’t the only one. Tony Leung, who holds his own just fine in the presence of his more famous co-star, is super-cool as the undercover cop. His screen chemistry with Yun-Fat is even better than Danny Lee’s in The Killer.

But what would great stars be without great co-stars? The supporting cast is truly outstanding. There’s Teresa, Tequila’s (Chow’s) vaguely dissatisfied girlfriend; Phillip Chan as the “I don’t need to explain myself to the likes of you” police chief (whose exchanges with Tequila are among the most engaging dramatic scenes in the film); Foxy, the “damn I’m smooth” informer who pledges allegiance to no man; Johhny, the big scumfuck gangster with the garishly-colored suits; John Woo himself as a retired cop who dispenses sagelike advice from behind a bar; and, best of all, Philip Kwok as the henchman Mad Dog. Here’s a fucker who takes on Tequila and Tony simultaneously, armed with a stylish handgun that holds just one bullet at a time, while defending the big weapons storage room which has all the assault rifles and submachine guns a guy could want. He can get away with this sort of thing because he is just THAT MUCH of a badass.

As for the action, let’s put it this way: if it’s true that certain people “get off” on violence, then this movie is the equivalent of hardcore porn for the NRA. The opening sequence in the restaurant, the slaughter in Mr. Hui’s warehouse, and the brief cat-and-mouse game on Tony’s boat are beautifully shot (pun absolutely intended). But the real big-ass pot of gold at the end of the blood-stained rainbow is the magnificent symphony of destruction in the hospital; the orchestra is huge and Mr. Woo is a fine conductor. As with all of the shootouts here, the amount of preparation and forethought required to ensure the smoothness we’ve come to expect from him is staggering, but the sense of spontaneity and total fucking mayhem is never lost. You wanna send Joe Lieberman to an early grave (and who in their right mind doesn’t)? Strap him down, force him to watch this movie Clockwork Orange-style, and wait for the heart attack. Of particular interest is the segment in which Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung, in a disgusting attempt to corrupt our children, blast their way through the hospital’s hallways, opening fire on anything that moves. It has a certain DOOM (the video game) quality to it that would make those fascist “concerned parents” groups shit their pants. Thank God those two Columbine fuckheads apparently didn’t know about this movie.

Suspending your disbelief for our two dauntless heroes mowing down everyone in sight and not getting caught in a crossfire or tagged by a stray bullet is one thing, but suspending your disbelief for a couple of plot points here is something else entirely. First, Tequila manages to find the library book with the gun inside almost immediately upon arriving at the scene. Yeah, it was jutting out a little and yeah, there was some blood on it, but isn’t it an extraordinary coincidence that the first aisle he checks out just happens to be the one hiding the murder weapon? We’re given the impression that the library is pretty big. Big enough to kill somebody in and not get caught in the act, anyway. For shame. Also, Tony managing to shoot a cigarette lighter that he can’t even see AFTER roughing Foxy up (thus presumably causing the lighter to bounce around in his pocket a little) is enough to make you stand up and yell “Bullshit!”

To hell with that, though. Hard Boiled succeeds on every level; good story, good acting, sensational action. Watch it or die ignorant.

Numskull’s Rating: 9/10

By Alvin George

“Hard-Boiled” is a noisy, overrated crime thriller filled with wall-to-wall violence and mayhem. This was the first Chow Yun-Fat movie I ever saw. I know who he looks like NOW, having since seen “The Replacement Killers” and “A Better Tomorrow,” but I couldn’t pick him out here. How come? At least from my point of view, the characterizations and plot developments are overwhelmed by shootouts that go on forever. The shootouts are well-choreographed, but the movie gives us WAY too much of a good thing. And all the action seemed to consist of just shootouts. Why not throw in a few car chases? For fans of movies starring Chow Yun-Fat and directed by John Woo, enjoy this movie. For me, the movie had practically numbed me to death by the time the closing credits came around.

Alvin George’s Rating: 6/10

By Vic Nguyen

John Woo’s final ode to Hong Kong Cinema contains some of the director’s most exhilirating, hyper-violent action sequences to date. Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung Chiu-wai turn in fantastic performances as the 2 leasds, while Shaw Brothers veteran Philip Kwok (who also serves as action director) is great as the ultra slick mob henchman. The final 45 minute, no-holds-barred hospital assault contains more action than many Hollywood films in their entirety. This violent masterpiece has yet to fail whenever I try to introduce my friends to the Hong Kong movie world, which is an acheivment in itself, since many of those silly bastards refuse to view anything that is not from the Hollywood factory. Required viewing for any serious HK movie fan.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 10/10


John Woo’s last piece of work in Hong Kong, Hard-Boiled showcases his most inspiring visuals in a tight and concise “cops and robbers” storyline. Tequila (Chow) is a street-hardened cop in this caper, masterfully directed and containing supercharged action pieces as well as strong scenes of characterization. The visuals never let up, and, coupled with Michael Gibbs’ stylishly wild jazz, mix to create the ultimate action film. Truly awe-inspiring, this film puts Hollywood’s attempts at action to shame. A must-see.

S!DM’S Rating: 10/10

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