For the final week of Asian Crime Action month I’ll be looking at two classic films from China. First up is John Woo’s Hard Boiled (made in 1992). This is the magnum opus of chaotic gunfights, and proof that practical effects make for the best action sequences.
Chow Yun-fat stars as inspector Tequila, a tough as nails cop who doesn’t play by the rules. In order to get a notorious arms dealer in Hong Kong, Tequila teams up with Alan (Tony Leung), an undercover cop working for the arms dealer. Gunfire and mayhem ensue. The story is as simple as can be in a film that thrives on style and action. If you know John Woo’s work, you know to expect a lot of gunfights, over the top performances, and slow motion everything.
Tony Leung and Chow Yun-fat look like they are having a blast making this film. Chow Yun-fat is a jazz lovin’ cop with a penchant for violence, and my god, does he love a lot of a jazz and cause a lot of violence. Tony Leung gives a more subtle performance as a beat down cop going into dark territory as he gets in close with the arms dealer. These two protagonists are right on the cusp between cop and criminal. The rest of the cast is fine, but none can match the charisma and enthusiasm of Yun-fat or Leung….except Mad Dog.
Gareth Evans was heavily influenced by Hard Boiled when he made The Raid films. Hard Boiled’s Mad Dog prefers using guns to solve problems, unlike Yayan Ruhian’s Mad Dog in The Raid. They are both sadistic and violent killers that pose the biggest threat to the protagonists of each film. This Mad Dog, played by the film’s stunt coordinator Philip Kwok, carries more sympathy. He may shoot a lot of people and light a cigar on the burning wreckage of his dead enemies’ car (not an analogy), but he also knows compassion and tries to protect the innocent. When his boss starts gunning down civilians in a hospital, Mad Dog takes a stand to protect them, and proves himself to be a badass with a heart of gold.
The Raid is not the only action film to take influence from this movie. Tony Leung basically plays the same character in Infernal Affairs, and Rama plays Tony Leung’s character in The Raid 2. A lot of the plot points are very similar in these films, including Leung’s relationship to the chief of police and arms dealer being exactly the same as in Infernal Affairs. There are even some blatant scene for scene ripoffs, like the chief being the only one to remember Leung’s birthday and give him a present. Many films have been influenced by Hard Boiled. It’s one of those action films that inspired a generation and continues to inspire action filmmakers. It’s also another low budget action film that delivers much more thrills than many of the big budget US action films currently being made. I’m glad the US is finally getting its groove back with action movies like Dredd, Sabotage, John Wick, and Kingsman: The Secret Service. Finally we’re getting some well choreographed, hard hitting R rated action again, which has been missing for too long.
There is no CGI in Hard Boiled, only an infinite amount of blanks and squibs. The special effects are classic, and every action sequence is better because of it. John Woo like his gun fights to be as ballistic and kinetic as possible. Rapid fire bullets fly everywhere with visible sparks bursting from the guns. Squibs are exploding every second as people are getting pumped full of lead. When the guns miss there’s still ground around the actors that is shredded into rubble. Constant switches between slow motion, real time and freeze frames make the action very unpredictable, but Woo is smart enough to keep the subjects visible so we can see the scores of people being shot full of holes.
The film is comprised of three massive action sequences, and inbetween time that consists of fun character interaction or smaller scale action sequences (what more could you want). The first sequence starts the movie off right. Tequila and his partner walk into a restaurant they discover is filled with guns (all of which will be fired into people in the next minute). A massive exchange of bullets breaks out, and eradicates this restaurant, along with many of its shady patrons and Tequila’s partner. This gives Tequila all the incentive he needs to mercilessly hunt the weapons dealers no matter what the higher ups say. The next massive action sequence takes place in a warehouse as the gun dealing trade in Hong Kong comes under new management. This fight debuts the gruff badassery that is Mad Dog, as well as letting Tequila and Alan have their first legitimate interaction.
The final segment of the film is this insane gunfight that takes place in a hospital. By the end of this action sequence the entire hospital is turned into a portal to hell. This is the final showdown, with Alan and Tequila taking on the entirety of the gun dealers gang, while also trying to protect the people in the hospital. A portion of this sequence has Chow Yun-fat singing to a baby, while shooting up anyone who crosses his path. This action sequence also boasts some spectacular cinematography. There is a continuous take of Alan and Tequila moving across two floors of the hospital, shooting everyone in their way. This single take sequence is a spectacle of planning; it’s up there with the hallway fight from Oldboy, and the prison riot scene from The Raid 2. Hard Boiled also follows a popular action movie trend of taking place in a building. Films like Dredd, Die Hard, and of course The Raid do the same, and understand that utilizing an urban maze of confined space works well in establishing a suspenseful action sequence.
For a film that is mainly action and style, Hard Boiled knows how to keep the story churning. This is a long film that moves at a fast pace and hits you like a bullet to the head. Embrace it.
Favorite Scene: Tequila starts a one man assault on the warehouse. At one point a machine gun wielding motorcyclist pops a wheelie and heads straight for him. Tequila jumps in midair and blows the motorcycle up with a shotgun. A second motorcyclist attempts to take him out, and Tequila pulls the same stunt. It is just as awesome the second time around.
Watch this trailer to understand what Hard Boiled is about and why it’s a mandatory action film:
Written by Tyler Ducheneaux
Images from Hard Boiled