Viking Night: Hard Boiled
By Bruce Hall
March 5, 2013
Hard Boiled has a warm and fuzzy place in the hearts of action junkies, possibly because its sprawling, over the top set pieces take up nearly half the film. It also gets a lot of love from Asian cinephiles, as many consider this the movie that put Woo on the map in America (with mixed results, I might add). Woo had long admired American action films, and when he finally set about making one in the Hong Kong milieu you might say he created something that was both greater than, yet still somehow inferior to that which inspired it.
This movie is one part action, one part revenge thriller and all parts hyper-violent death opera - with a dash of superfluous romance thrown in. Sounds as American as apple pie, and why not? After becoming known for underworld morality plays like The Killer, Woo sought to outshine films like Lethal Weapon by ten megatons - and on the action side of the scale, he succeeds. Hard Boiled is little over two hours long, and almost half of it involves people flying through the air in slow motion, spewing hot lead from magic machine guns while everything around them explodes into billowing clouds of flame and smoke.
That's the exact same dream I have every night. But is it any good? Does it deserve the massive amounts of fawning nerd love that have been heaped on it over the ensuing decades?
Not exactly, but it sure has potential. Our hero is a gritty, cynical cop named Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat). He comes by his name honestly, pounding down shots of it while he indulges his off hours hobby - hand synching clarinet in a jazz band. And like most movie cops, Tequila is a shell of the man he once was. His rookie can-do idealism has long since been replaced by the jaded angst of someone who's given up on making a difference. Over time the system he swore to uphold has become riddled with graft and corruption. But being a cop is all he knows, so he deals with it the only way he knows how - by being a surly, defiant prick.
Somewhere, Clint Eastwood is smiling, and possibly screaming at a chair.
Tequila and his partner Benny (Bowie Lam) stake out a tea house where a gang of gun smugglers are making a deal. Things go bad when the third largest gunfight in the history of guns and fights breaks out. Not sure about the body count but it feels like 600, including Benny. Enraged, Tequila shoots the gang leader in the face instead of arresting him. This earns him an epic ass chewing from his boss, Superintendent Pang (Philip Chan). Tequila has cost the police their only source of information on a huge gun smuggling sting, so he’s busted off the case and warned to keep his nose clean, or else.
Somewhere, Danny Glover is not returning Mel Gibson’s phone calls.
Meanwhile, the man the cops are after is busy sizing up new blood. Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong) is currently the number two gun dealer in Hong Kong. He wants to be number one, but a rival named Uncle Hoi (Hoi-Shan Kwan) is in his way. Wong attempts to recruit Hoi's top lieutenant, a shadowy young man named Tony (Tony Leung). Tony is reluctant to switch sides, but Wong makes him a generous offer. In exchange for killing Hoi and handing over his merchandise, Tony becomes right hand man - complete with money, cars, women - whatever his black, twisted criminal heart desires. Intrigued, Tony leads Wong to Uncle Hoi's secret warehouse, where the violent power transfer is to take place.