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!

Bodyguards And Assassins

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A wonderfully shot film with a strong cast and some nicely choreographed fight and action sequences, Teddy Chan’s historical drama doesn’t quite match up to the likes of Ip Man and struggles while trying to maintain realism in light of all the fantastic elements. Set in 1905 Hong Kong, it is a time of revolution and intrigue, with various murders and power struggles shaping the course of history. Sun Wen, an influential politician opposed to the Qing Dynasty, is coming to Hong Kong to discuss plans to overthrow the dynasty, but the Emperor sends multiple assassins to kill Sun and put an end to his uprising. The Emperor’s power is overwhelming and given that the British Colonials do not wish to become involved in internal struggles, Sun, along with Chen Shaobai – a revolutionary and newspaper editor – and his businessman friend Li Yutang, try to prevent the assassination by bringing together a group of bodyguards a la The Magnificent Seven. 

The film features big hitters such as Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Tony Leung (Ka Fai), and Lin Bingbing in a large ensemble cast. The basic story is simple, but the plot becomes unnecessarily overblown with each character having their own minor arc which in most cases only confuses matters rather than helping to expand upon the character. I mistakenly thought this was going to be a primarily led Donnie Yen movie, and while Yen does feature heavily, especially in the various action set-pieces, this is more of an ensemble piece. I can’t say I’m remotely familiar with the period the film is covering, but the constant over the top action clashes with the realism of the film. This is usually fine, but the film sets itself out to be a serious historical drama rather than a fantasy based retelling like Ip Man. Hong Kong does look beautifully authentic, with bustling multi-national alleys filled with rickshaws and market stalls, and there is a sense of revolution and paranoia in the air. The costumes, the setting, the choreography are all strong, and most of the set-pieces, while not memorable or outstanding, do get the heart pumping. With an exciting finale where many of our heroes are dispatched, it is a film that is worth a watch for fans of Hong Kong action, but be prepared for more drama that you may have expected.

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Have you seen Bodyguards And Assassins? How does it rate against other historical martial arts epics? Let us know in the comments!