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With: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Anthony Wong, Teresa Mo, Philip Kwok, Philip Chan, Bowie Lam, Kwan Hoi-shan, John Woo
Written by: John Woo, Barry Wong
Directed by: John Woo
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive violence and some language
Language: Cantonese with English subtitles
Running Time: 128
Date: 16/04/1992

Hard-Boiled (1992)

4 Stars (out of 4)

God of Cops

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Woo's final Hong Kong film before moving to Hollywood, Hard-Boiled is also his most Hollywood-ready, forgoing some of the more emotionally operatic moments inherent in A Better Tomorrow (1986) and The Killer (1989). Even the usual male bonding aspect has been beefed up.

Chow Yun-fat stars as Tequila, so named because of a special drink he mixes (it looks like white tequila and Schweppes). He's a cop who dreams of being a jazz musician. During a routine sting operation, he loses his partner and vows to bring down the evil triad gangster Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong) responsible. His efforts are complicated when he discovers the identity of a troubled undercover cop (Tony Leung) who pretends to work for the gangster. The two volatile cops team up to stop the baddie, who has loaded an entire hospital with guns and explosives.

The film begins with an astonishing shootout in a teahouse filled with gilded bird cages, and ends with an even more astonishing 30-minute action sequence as the heroes try to evacuate the hospital -- including a ward full of newborn babies -- stop the bad guys and save the day.

Unlike most other so-called action directors, Woo understands two things about sequences like this. He includes emotional rhythms so that the audience can get involved on more than just a visceral level. And he understands the geography of each sequence, so that he can move his camera through three-dimensional space without confusion. The action sequences here are less overtly beautiful than in his previous films, but they're far more complex and explosive. (This is the movie in which Chow slides down the staircase railing while firing two guns, one in each hand.) It's essential viewing.

The memorable Philip Kwok co-stars as the villain's right-hand man, "Mad Dog," and Woo himself appears in a couple of scenes as a former cop now working as a bartender.

Like many of Woo's other films, Hard-Boiled has lived a complicated life on video, getting released over and over again and always falling out of print. It was once even available in a beautiful Criterion Collection edition. At last, it looks like this new two-disc edition from the Weinstein's Dragon Dynasty label is the one. It comes with a commentary track by Hong Kong expert Bey Logan, as well as interviews with Woo and many of the actors. There's a little featurette about the Hong Kong locations as they appear today and a trailer gallery. Dragon Dynasty also released an earlier Woo feature, Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1978), which I haven't seen yet.

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