Hard-Boiled

*Originally written in 2004

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One of the true ‘must see’ action films of the Nineties, not only because it was the first to fully establish John Woo as the master of action movies and Chow Yun Fat as a superstar (at least in the West), but because it has had a massive influence on every action movie made since, and is easily one of the most entertaining, over the top, gung-ho action movies ever. Slick, stylish, violent, funny, clever, with interesting characters, a superior plot which will keep you guessing, and filled with set pieces, explosions and chases, Hard-Boiled is a genuine classic.

Chow Yun Fat stars as Tequila, a cop with a love of Jazz, a man whose skills are never questioned, but whose methods are sometimes checked as they have a tendency to end in death and demolition. He also enjoys the odd bit of existential musing, and is always trying to win back his love, who happens to be a superior within the force. The film opens with a fight between cops and arms dealers which ends in the death of Tequila’s partner. Tequila kills all possible subjects so they are left with no evidence as to who the boss is. We meet Tony, played by Tony Leung, who is one the arms dealer’s lead men. He does his job flawlessly, and at all costs, but doesn’t want to see his boss harmed. However, when a rival with greater ambition wants to recruit him, Tony double-crosses his old boss. Tequila intervenes and many more are killed. Tony and Tequila continue to come into contact with each other, and we learn that Tony isn’t who he appeared to be. Soon Tequila works out where the massive armoury is, and a massive gunfight ensues, taking up the last 40 minutes of the film. Will Tequila get revenge, will any more twists enter the story, who will make it out alive?

The film is incredibly clever for an action film, with a twisting near-convoluted plot, but this is all the more astounding when you witness the level of action which takes place. The set-pieces are almost overwhelming, with so much going on at one time they beg to be re-watched repeatedly. Each actor is convincing, and it seems Fat and Leung were born for these roles. The final hospital scene has some of the best, most exhilarating action ever filmed, and no-one is safe as patients, doctors, kids, cops, and bad guys are slaughtered. Almost every window is smashed, all manner of guns are fired, and Woo is on top form. His slow-motion style and balletic gun play have never been better, and there is one Steadicam shot which goes into a lift, moves between floors, and features many deaths and explosions, plus dialogue -it’s one of the most awesome things you’ll ever see and must have been a nightmare to film. Few action movies can suck the viewer in like this does, so that we care about the characters and are not just watching vacantly. Hard-boiled succeeds on all levels, and must be seen by all action fans. It is the benchmark of the genre.

Jeepers, my old reviews were all plot, weren’t they? Let us know in the comments what you think of Hard-Boiled and how it ranks alongside John Woo’s other films!

Hard Target

Hard Target

Notable mainly for being John Woo’s first Western film after his massive success and excellent films in China. All his trademarks are here- slow motion action, stylish violence, tough but quiet male characters, and a ruthless bad guy. It is not up the standards of his early work, or as good as Broken Arrow, but with a strong cast it remains a solid action movie and very entertaining for people who like this sort of thing. Like me.

Van Damme stars as Chance, a tough drifter looking for some work. He sees a young woman being mugged by a gang of crooks and wades in, destroys them without breaking a sweat, and leaves. The young woman, Natasha, played by Yancy Butler is in town trying to find her father who has disappeared. She decides to hire Chance as a protector and help her find her father. They find out that he was homeless and in an attempt to gain some quick cash entered himself in a deadly game run by local sadist Emil Fouchan- Lance Henricksen. He has a team of criminals who are taking advantage of the lax policing in the area, and they hunt helpless humans for sport. He gives his victim the chance to get to a certain point in the city while he chases them with a gun. This is what happened to Natasha’s father, and when Chance becomes involved we know there is going to be fireworks.

Henriksen here hams everything as the bad guy but is still very good and enjoyable to watch. Van Damme tries to be more cool than any of his previous roles and Woo certainly gets good results from him. Butler is excellent as Natasha and steals most scenes, and the rest of the cast is adequate. The action is not as stylish as other Woo films, and we get the sense he is easing his way onto the Western audience. There are some wonderfully over-the-top scenes though, and everything works well. The simple story is also effective, leaving room for the main draw- guns, kicks, explosions, and killings. One of Van Damme’s best.

The DVD, apart from a trailer and cast notes has no extras, but it is cheap and should be part of every Van Damme fan’s collection. If you’re an action or martial arts fan, and you haven’t seen it, snap it up- for 4 quid you’d be a fool to be disappointed.

Feel free to comment- What did you make of this collaboration between Woo and Van Damme? Do you think this is Woo’s best American Movie?