1992, Movie, NR, 126 mins


Released in the US just as director John Woo was himself venturing to Hollywood, HARD-BOILED takes Woo's signature gunplay to even more hyperbolic extremes than he had previously achieved. HARD-BOILED doesn't have quite the melodramatic kick of THE KILLER, but the same themes of loyalty, honor and violence are explored to nearly the same impact.

Woo's perennial leading man Chow Yun-fat stars as police inspector Yuen, nicknamed "Tequila," who is first seen moonlighting as a jazz musician in a Hong Kong club. We're soon plunged into the more violent side of Tequila's world, as he and his partner (Bowie Lam) battle a gang of gunrunners in a restaurant. His partner is killed, and Tequila is subsequently browbeaten by his commander, Pang (Philip Chan), who has become increasingly frustrated with Tequila's overly violent tactics. Meanwhile, Tequila is trying to rekindle a relationship with coworker Teresa (Teresa Mo), who has been receiving frequent gifts of white roses. As it happens, the flowers come with coded messages from an undercover gangland source that Teresa passes on to Pang. The usual complications, and elaborately choreographed battles, ensue...

In a sort of reverse move on THE KILLER, this time it's Chow Yun-fat who plays the cop while his costar is the hitman but, as before, the lines are not so easily defined. Tequila, like many American cop heroes, disdains the rules that keep him from doing his job effectively, while Tony is actually a policeman who finds himself increasingly unable to cope with the violent demands of his undercover work. (Reportedly, the cop angle of his character was not originally part of the film as planned, but was added in deference to actor Leung's pop-idol status in Hong Kong.)

The incredible action sequences in HARD-BOILED leave no doubt that Woo is in top form. The opening gunfight in the restaurant is worthy of the climax of any American actioner, and the entire last 40 minutes of the film is one long, breathtaking set piece in the hospital, with one tense confrontation and shootout after another. There's one Steadicam shot, following Tequila and Tony from one floor of the hospital, into an elevator, onto another floor and into another gunfight, that's truly stunning.

The cut of HARD-BOILED that played Chinese-language theaters in America is a slightly trimmed version of Woo's original director's cut (shown at the 1992 Toronto Festival of Festivals), shorn of several minutes for violence and running-time concerns. leave a comment

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