Saturday, 14 February 2015

Hard Boiled (1992)

One day, when I was in film school, I remember lamenting about some bad blockbuster movies and one that came up was Mission: Impossible II, which I think is a horrible action film with a paper thin plot and cartoony action sequences. But one of my peers jumped to the defence of John Woo, the Chinese director of the film who came to America to make some Hollywood films. He told me of a Chinese action film by Woo called Hard Boiled that he thought was really good. And I was willing to give Mr. Woo a chance, after all, I did enjoy Face/Off, ridiculous as it was. He is able to deliver in the action department. And Hard Boiled was his last Chinese film before moving to work in Hollywood, so at this point he is a seasoned director, having been making films since the 1970's.

The film follows Inspector 'Tequila' Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat), a cowboy cop who, in a case gone awry, loses his partner in a brutal shoot out. But now he's on the trail of one of the biggest crime lords in the city, Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong). But Johnny Wong has become more powerful than ever, toppling over an older crime boss by taking on one of his most trusted men, Tony (Tony Leung) who takes his top combat skills into new territory. But it seems that Tony has some secrets of his own.

After receiving a fair bit of criticism for the last few movies before this one, some felt that they were glorifying gangster, Woo decided to make a film that would do the same thing, but for police officers. Sure, why not? I'm not sure if it makes that much of a difference if there is still loads of violence and blood splatter, but I guess they felt it was better to cheer for the other team for once.

I will certainly confess that Hard Boiled is a very sturdy crime drama for most of the film, having very action packed sequences that are a real spectacle, thrilling and imaginative. John Woo knows and loves his action. There are some very long and exciting action sequences, my favourite being the one where Johnny Wong's gang goes in and obliterates the old crime lord's operation. It's intense, crucial to the plot, and at times kind of funny. There are a few amusing clichés though, like Tequila being chastised by his boss for killing key witnesses and being pulled off the case and all that typical stuff, but it works because... well, I don't know why it works. Maybe it's because they're Chinese. It could also be that Chow Yun-Fat is a charismatic lead, both able to carry the film through the personal and emotional sequences, while meeting the extreme physical demands of the role.

But one of the critical errors that John Woo makes in this movie, apart from writing in a cameo of himself as the wise bartender Mr. Woo, was the sheer ridiculous length of the third act. And looking back to the movies of his I had seen before, this is something that is a regular problem. Face/Off was a fun ride, but I remember the climax of the movie just exhausting me. And with Mission: Impossible II, I was already done with the flick before the climax came around. Hard Boiled plays out very well, taking dramatic turns and building tension before the final shoot out in the hospital, but then once the gangsters actually take over the hospital, it starts to become accidentally hilarious. Just because of the length and scope of it all, the movie becomes more and more difficult to take seriously.

Our two heroes are going from section to section blowing all the bad guys away with all the guns they can get their hands on and it's all tense and exciting, but it starts to deviate away from that sort of format and suddenly whole new elements are added in that actually wind up being more distracting. One of the cops decides that she needs to clear out the nursery where there are tons of new born babies from the hospital and try and get them all outside to safety. Now, this wouldn't be a bad scene to show a little bit of that struggle, in fact, it might alleviate the thoughts of viewers who were wondering that. But out of nowhere, that becomes a story on its own. There are just way too many scenes of police officers saving babies. I get the idea of raising the stakes in a movie, but they're already in a hospital with tons of hostages. Lives are already on the line. It was good enough. All that baby stuff, plus the absurd long run time of the climax left me feeling... worn out. It stopped being exciting and just felt like I was running a marathon, waiting for a chance to just relax. The movie stopped being fun.

I do the film credit for a really good set up, I just would have liked that the whole ending be given a bit of an overhaul because I feel that it really takes away from the end product. It's kind of a shame. And please, don't take away from this that I hate babies. I think babies are pretty alright. I just don't feel that they need to intercept the story and take all the attention when there is a perfectly good movie that I'm watching.

Would I make a bad parent?

3 Stars

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