Film Recommendation of the Day 2/04: John Woo’s Hard Boiled (1992)

The films of Chinese director John Woo have been vastly celebrated for their ingrained passion, which drive the majority of visual choices and well choreographed violence that are at the center of each film. Throughout his fim career in Hong Kong John Woo made highly praised action thrillers with such acclaimed titles as The Killer, Bullet in the Head, and A Better Tomorrow. And while all of these films can be combined as a guiding reference to John Woo’s chosen style it was actually his last Hong Kong film, Hard Boiled, that deviated from his previous projects in regards to emotionality. In doing so, Hard Boiled became the high mark of John Woo’s career in the sense that it set his standard by combining all of his strengths: an impressive display of choreographed action sequences, multi-layered characters with varying motives, and a use of cinematic tone that successfully balanced a mixture of beauty and detachment in a world of crime. Hard Boiled can be coined as an artistic action film, a type of film that had miniscul attempts at the height of American action films and is never attempted in Hollywood today. John Woo offered characters that were complex in motivation by giving them moral layers, especially with Tony Leung’s character Tony who is an undercover cop who kills when he has to in order to preserve the higher goal of bringing down the corrupt criminal organization. In the realm of the action film intriguing and sympathetic characters that are beyond known archtypes is so uncommon that it really allows you to appreciate the films that embrace this incredibly rare, but emotionally gripping, element. At the heart of the film is Chow Yun-Fat’s rogue cop Tequila who is bound by his own sense of justice driven by vengeance and honor. Tequila as an action hero possesses a great amount of charm and determination that it’s incredibly easy to get involved with his mission.

But what audience’s look for in a John Woo film is the signature action sequences and there really isn’t a film in the genre that delivers it better than Hard Boiled. From the opening shoot out in the uniquely designed bird cage restaurant to the 3-minute long tracking shot shoot out in a hostage filled hospital, John Woo allows his action to be all encompassing for the audience through pure adrenaline and passionately choreographed violence (look to the clip below for a taste). While all of John Woo’s films possess these kinds of sequences, Hard Boiled remains one of the more flawless uses of organized violence that it demonstrates an artist in the genre that thrives off of precision and elegance. But this action isn’t a separate element. The action is beautifully parralleled to the situations that guide the characters choices, putting them into a hellish arsenal of chaos. For those who can appreciate the idea that action creates or reveals the true identity of a character (much like in other action masterpieces such as Die Hard or Leon: The Professional) will find a great admiration of John Woo’s films especially his true action masterpiece Hard Boiled. And as an auteur of cinema, where Woo’s films have messages or intentions that compiment his own life’s perceptions, Hard Boiled has an undercurrent theme of escape for the main character Tequila that can certainly be associated to Woo’s desire to leave Hong Kong for America. This was a dream of escape that came to light right after the completion of this epic action masterpiece.

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