John Woo did not just direct Tom Cruise from a big rock in Mission Impossible:2, nor EVERY recent action movie with featuring either Nicolas Cage or John Travolta. He was only a name you heard about whenever the hot director of the moment (Quentin Tarantino comes to mind) talked about their film influences. Woo was recognized as a top directing talent before his move to the West, and is the one name people consistently mention when talking about the Hong Kong crime/action film genre. This fi…m was his last before coming to the US, his American debut was Hard Target, and following that were several other action films. His creativity and action sequences seemed to resuscitate the American action film, which, until that point, had stagnated for a few years. One can only subject oneself to so many Chuck Norris 80’s action films without losing sanity.
Tequila (Chou Yun-fat) is your typical bitter at the system but talented enough to put crooks away detective. He’s your Far Eastern version of Dirty Harry, plain and simple. In fact, the films literal Chinese title is “Hot Handed God of Cops”. In the evenings, he plays at a jazz bar (where you can spot Woo playing piano). Tequila’s main talent? Why, it’s extending the Woo traditions of leading action men, of course. Shootouts with guns in both hands? Check. Slow motion action sequences? Check. And since it’s a Woo movie, you also fulfill the quota of doves here as well. I don’t mean to be sound cynical about the film, as Chou plays the role with a good balance of ferocity, and tenderness when it calls for it. Combined with his roles in other Woo films, The Killer being the most noticeable, as well as in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Chou has developed into a talent over the years, and personally I would be curious to see a reunion with Woo in an American feature in the future.
Back to the topic at hand. Tequila is looking to bust up the Hong Kong Triads. He unwittingly meets up with an undercover agent in the organization, as Tony (Tony Leung) has joined the Triads and gradually gains the respect and trust of the bosses. Tony is sometimes forced to prove his loyalty to the bosses in ways that would dishonor him and his livelihood as a cop, but he still carries them out. These events culminate in an action sequence in a hospital, which is admittedly quite exciting. One chapter on the disc is simply called “Two minutes, forty-two seconds”, which is one long, slow motion shot winding through the hospital, as Tequila kills bad guys The timing of everyone involved in the scene is definitely commendable, considering the stunts and action involved during the sequence. It seemed as if everyone in Hong Kong knew Woo’s departure was imminent, and some brief scenes in the movie lead to this conclusion also.
We’re talking about a VERY early Criterion release, a 6 or 7 year old DVD (and over 10 year old movie) with 1 channel Cantonese goodness, of COURSE there’s going to be a lot more they should have done with it! But, to get a Woo film done the Criterion way, I suppose beggars can’t be choosers, moreso since the disc is out of print now.
Despite Hard Boiled being presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio, I wasn’t impressed with the picture quality here, with jumps and defects in the print, sometimes quite noticeable, and a overall grainy picture. Considering the source material, I shouldn’t be surprised by the quality involved here, but by setting the standard they have, one should expect at least a relatively clear picture with 2.0 sound from a older Criterion title. Perhaps the strides that the major studios have made in their audio and video efforts have also spoiled me as well. Sooner or later, I hope someone can give Woo’s Hong Kong films the attention (and restoration) that they deserve.
To give you an idea of just how old this disc is, this was Criterion’s 9th release on DVD. Criterion has the reputation as a studio that primarily brings critically acclaimed movies to the digital format and supplying a good amount of supplemental material with them. Discs such as these enhance their reputation in this area. I think this disc provides the average movie fan a good insight into the overall Hong Kong genre. You have Hard Boiled production notes, which provide the usual behind the scenes detail in making the film. There is also a guide to Hong Kong crime films on the disc that is set up like the production notes, where you use your remote control to “turn the pages.” The guide is fairly comprehensive without getting exhaustive and longwinded, and provides some good information into the genre. Also included is a John Woo student filmed called Accidentally, which clocks in at just under the 10 minute, 30 second mark. It has no sound, is a black and white film, and, in Woo’s words, is “about a young man who meets a girl on the street, and falls in love, so he ties her up and keeps her, and feeds her with blood, or something. And then the girl dies, and the young man goes searching for another target.” Sure, it’s not the cheeriest of concepts, but it’s interesting to view. The trailers to Woo’s Hong Kong works are included also, everything from the standard kung fu fare of Hand of Death to a Cantonese opera work called Princess Chang Ping. Worth checking out to see the range of material Woo has helmed. The commentary recorded features Woo, producer Terence Chang, filmmaker (and Tarentino associate) Roger Avary, and film critic Dave Kehr. The participants were edited together, so there is little space for dead air on the track. On this disc, as well as other early discs Criterion issued (Silence of the Lambs being another example of this), a narrator introduced the voices during the disc, to help one differentiate between one and the other, which proves helpful particularly if the commentary track was chock full of drivel. The commentary track is OK here, with Woo and Chang providing the usual film trivia in terms of the production (Chang’s experience of dealing with the Hong Kong gangs for “protection” on the set being among those). Kehr also provides a good idea of Woo’s influence and American debuts, and Woo also mentions influence on his career as well.
From a collector’s point of view, or diehard Woo fans, or even fans of Hong Kong action films, I’d recommend picking this up if you can find it. A while back, I was lucky enough to stumble on this long, out of print Criterion version (not the barebones re-release which was put out 2 years later) at a used bookstore I frequent. I suppose my Mom was right, good things come to those who wait. Casual fans should check it out as a rental first before deciding to explore a purchase.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- John Woo Hong Kong Film Trailers
- John Woo Student Film
- Hong Kong Crime Film Guide
- Production Notes