Director John Woo’s bullet-riddled, blood-soaked farewell to Hong Kong cinema, Hard Boiled, received a richly-deserved and well-put-together DVD release as part of The Weinstein Company’s Dragon Dynasty series. Now that same DVD is being re-packaged along with The Killer in some king of a Dragon Dynasty/John Woo value pack that is one that action fans will want to get their hands on.
John Woo (The Killer, Face/Off) knew going in that Hard Boiled would be his final Hong Kong film, determined as he was to break into the North American market, and he let everything hang out in this 1992 action masterpiece. Everything we’ve come to expect in a Woo film is included in Hard Boiled, from the balletic slow motion gun battles to the over-the-top ultra-violence, from the bent-on-destruction villains to the tortured-soul heroes. Hard Boiled is the story of ‘Tequila’ Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat, The Killer, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), a hard-nosed detective who’s determined to bring down a ring of gun smugglers responsible for his partner’s death. He teams up with undercover agent Tony (Tony Leung, Infernal Affairs) in an effort to infiltrate the gang and deliver justice. As far as plot goes, that’s pretty much all you need to know about this film; that, and the fact that Hard Boiled is chock full of some of the greatest action sequences ever committed to celluloid. When thinking of a John Woo film, what comes to mind first are the extended gun battles and fight sequences, and there are plenty of these to go around in this one. But what distinguishes Hard Boiled from most of his other efforts (except for maybe The Killer, also starring Chow Yun-Fat) is the charm and wit that Yun-Fat brings to his role as Tequila, a jazz-playing detective with nothing left to lose after his partner is murdered before his eyes. Tony Leung is no slouch either, infusing his character with plenty of menace in scenes where he’s undercover but also displaying a lost puppy look when he’s on his own, alone with his thoughts.
There are a couple of landmark action sequences in the film, including an early epic gun battle in a tea house, replete with patrons bringing their caged birds (John Woo loves putting birds in his movies) in for a cup of tea, common practise in Hong Kong until the avian flu epidemic came along. But the ultimate scene in Hard Boiled is the climactic sequence in a hospital that is doubling as the smuggling ring’s base of operations. It is in this scene that Woo’s brilliance in the genre shines through. The viewer is treated to, among other things, a single-shot sequence of a gun battle through a hospital hallway and a Mexican-style standoff between Tony and Mad Dog (famed Hong Kong action co-ordinator Kwok Choi), with nothing between them except for a large group of panicked and helpless patients. And, just when you think the action can’t get any more intense, Woo tweaks it up a notch with a scene where Tequila is shooting at (and being shot at by) a series of bad guys while holding and trying to protect a newborn infant. Chow Yun-Fat plays the scene with just the right mix of intensity and tenderness, bringing it to the brink of campiness but never quite crossing the line. This is the mark of a couple of true action professionals.
The Weinstein Company is doing a great thing with their Dragon Dynasty series, bringing some hard-to-find and lesser-known Asian martial arts and action films to a North American audience. But they don’t stop at just releasing a DVD of the film. They are putting together packages with all new features and interviews, and Hard Boiled is quite possibly the best one yet. On top of an excellent video transfer and audio track that includes both a well-done English dub and the original Cantonese with English subtitles (as good as a dub can be, there’s just something wrong with watching a film in any language other than that in which it was originally shot), this two-disc package features four different sit-down interviews that are each at least fifteen minutes long. While the John Woo and producer Terence Chang interviews contain a lot of the same information, the interview with Philip Chan, who plays the superintendent of police, is a great one where he talks about how he was actually a police officer before taking up acting. Kwok Choi discusses how he met John Woo and started working with him, and also explains how he got the role of Mad Dog in the film after he was hired as action co-ordinator. There’s a Hard Boiled location guide, where a cute and perky hostess gives viewers a tour of the different places the film was shot, including some interesting tidbits about the locations, like the fact that they didn’t even have a script before filming the tea house scene but that they had to do it right away, as the tea house was set to be torn down within a few days. There’s a great short featurette about a direct-to-videogame (did I just coin a new term?) sequel to Hard Boiled called Stranglehold, which looks like a great game, especially considering that John Woo has given it his blessing and Chow Yun-Fat actually reprises his role in a voiceover as Tequila. The feature commentary is provided by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, who once again proves that he knows a lot about these kinds of movies by barely stopping for breath over the course of two-plus hours. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as he offers a lot of insight into the history of the genre, the film itself, and just about every single person involved in the film. Oh, and one other thing: I defy anyone to show me a movie trailer that contains as many bullets as the original Hong Kong trailer featured in this two-disc (truly) ultimate edition of Hard Boiled.
Some fans may say that the Criterion Collection release of Hard Boiled was better than this Dragon Dynasty version, but I say that’s splitting hairs. Not having seen the Criterion release, I couldn’t say which is better, but there’s enough new stuff in this package to satisfy fans who may already own or have seen the Criterion version. Regardless of which one you can get your hands on, the film itself is the prize. If you consider yourself a fan of action movies and have never seen Hard Boiled, what are you waiting for? Go out and get it…now!