On Re-Viewing Hard Boiled Ten Years Later
I remembered Hard Boiled (John Woo's last Hong Kong film) as starting with the shootout in the birdcage-Dim Sum restaurant; instead, it begins with Chow Yun Fat playing a clarinet solo over the credits. Is it really him playing? Hell, I don't know. All I know is, where once I would have hemmed and hawed about it, I can say with certainty that he looks hot doing it. The fact that seconds later he's aiming for the kneecaps, sliding down banisters taking out bad guys with the trademark Woo one-automatic-in-each-hand, capping the guy who shot his partner in a cold-blooded, flour-coated rage . . . well, if I swung in that direction I'd be hard pressed to find a sexier man. I've said for a long time that the three coolest men in movies are Chow, Johnny Depp and Samuel L. Jackson. (I'm not sure if Samuel L. still has it, to be honest. Coach Carter seems like a pretty extraordinary dude, but on the coolness factor? Larry Fishburne would be in the pantheon if he hadn't started calling himself Laurence and left behind his Jimmy Jump days. Don't even talk to me about that Matrix crap. Seriously. Perhaps the upcoming remake of Assault on Precinct 13 will redeem him? But I digress.)
For those of you young'uns who haven't had the pleasure of viewing the Woo or the Fat before they left Hong Kong in the dust (to the detriment of Fat's career; he used to make ten flicks a year, and since coming to the U.S. ten years ago, he's made seven, though he's probably getting paid a lot more), this is the first stop. The Killer has many virtues, no doubt--the signature Woo doves (see the needlessly maligned Hard Target; yes, it's Van Damme, but it's the best Van Damme ever made--and keep your eyes peeled for Kasi Lemmons, writer/director of Eve's Bayou and other gems, as the police detective) the mad gunplay, the melodramatic tandem blind crawling (watch the flick, you'll get what I'm saying)--and the action in A Better Tomorrow is just as batshit crazy (although the story gets a bit tough to follow, even by Woo standards). But Hard Boiled is the shizzat. Some of the best bits are the throwaways; the secret compartments in the birdcage, the John Woo cameos, the gun hidden in the library book, the origami cranes, the beef jerky, Saliva Sammy. Just wait 'til the warehouse gunfight between Chow, Philip Kwok as Mad Dog, and tortured pretty boy Tony Leung. Or the rematch in the hospital. (Don't you dare call it "Die Hard in a hospital"! Die Hard is a great film, you understand, and Woo's certainly not above cribbing from American action movies, but 1) the entire hospital sequence is only the third act of this film: 2) in Die Hard there are, what, seven terrorists? Whereas in Hard Boiled the bad guys are as limitless as the bullets: 3) the boys in Hong Kong weren't fazed by a little bit of broken glass. No unions, you know.) None of it can really be taken seriously, of course, but that's the beauty of it--it's an update of the historical martial arts epic, with guns instead of swords. And no one does gun fu like John Woo.