Hard Boiled

Movie Information

In Brief: It may not quite be the "X-rated action" that the film itself claims, but John Woo's Hard Boiled is certainly two solid hours of almost nonstop, hard, R-rated action. It's also a bracing reminder of how good John Woo was before he was lured to Hollywood. Yes, it's extremely violent and more than a little preposterous in its ceaseless gunplay, but that's really the point of the whole thing — to be bigger and badder than anything yet seen (in 1992). Mostly, it works — thanks in no small part to the chemistry between Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung. The only thing that dates the film is its 1980s musical score.
Genre: Action Crime Drama
Director: John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok, Hoi-Shan Kwan
Rated: R

Hard Boiled is certainly an apt name for John Woo’s 1992 actioner. I had forgotten how much utterly absurd fun Woo’s classic action movies are. Let me be clear on this, however, we’re still talking violent—even brutally violent—and sometimes bloody movies, so it’s not the kind of fun that’s for the faint of heart. And it’s certainly not for anyone who objects to over-the-top movie violence as entertainment. That’s a whole separate can of worms—and one that’s another discussion for another time. What we have here is a fairly standard police thriller—two cops (one deeply undercover) working to bring down a crime syndicate, girlfriend trouble, irritable police captain, you know the drill—taken to new and ever more preposterous heights by John Woo. Now, I’ve never quite bought into the idea that this is all in the service of depicting the “poetry of violence” (whatever that means) or anything of the sort. No, it’s just wildly entertaining, first-rate action movie nonsense taken to new extremes by a filmmaker who either doesn’t know when to stop, or just isn’t interested in it.

This is hardcore action filmmaking built around the personalities and chemistry of its stars—Chow Yun-Fat (looking incredibly young) and Tony Leung—a convoluted plot that doesn’t bear much scrutiny, and an absolutely amazing series of action set-pieces. Oh, yes, and you have to accept that it all takes place in a world where guns run out of bullets only when it suits the plot. (Realism is not high on the list of priorities here.) What the film is rightly famous for is its extended climax—about 45 minutes of mayhem in a hospital. It’s not exactly one long action scene—it’s better paced than that—but it feels like it, not in the least because of the sheer lunacy of the ideas. We’re talking about a movie that wants us to believe in a secret chamber of armaments hidden behind a couple of drawers in the hospital morgue. (No one ever wondered why those drawers were always locked?) For that matter, we’re asked to swallow the business of a nursery full of babies being rescued one at a time by cops sliding down ropes while bad guys lean out windows and try to pick them off. The amazing thing is that while it’s onscreen Woo makes it all work. Afterwards, well, you can’t say he didn’t show you an exciting time while it was happening. Now, if only Woo would go back and replace that God-awful 1980s soundtrack.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Hard Boiled Friday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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