Yippee ki yay! ‘Tis the season for Die Hard, folks. But what’s ‘better than a dozen Die Hards’? Well, it’s John Woo’s 1992 film Hard Boiled (not a film about eggs), and this is saying a lot because the original Die Hard is one of the greatest action films of all time. Hard Boiled stars Chow Yun-Fat as a hard boiled cop nicknamed Tequila and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Alan, an undercover cop masking as a Triad, and it’s in the same vein as A Better Tomorrow and The Killer, but better. Woo really ups the ante for this – I mean, where else can you watch an epic thirty-minute shootout in a hospital? The choreography in this film is amazing. Apparently Woo really wanted to create his own Dirty Harry with this film, and while it isn’t Dirty Harry, you can see stylistic traces of it, and for me, Hard Boiled is so much more – ruthless, raw, gritty, compelling, and a visual feast of bullets and explosions. Woo’s trademark gun fu choreography is fully realised here – in one of my favourite scenes, Tequila slides down a banister firing two guns and demolishes everything in his path. It’s everything you want your action movie to be.
The plot is also pretty great, and you’re vaulted into action from the get go with an incredible shootout between Tequila and a Triad boss in a teahouse. Alan is an undercover cop who becomes a trusted member of the Triad’s inner circle. Tension ensues when he and Tequila join forces – Tequila is reluctant to take on a partner and he doesn’t really stick to the rules, and Alan is crushed when he has to betray his boss to Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong), the head of the Triads (then a warehouse shootout ensues). Arguably one of the best characters in the film is Mad Dog, a one-eyed ‘silent killer’ who works for Johnny. In short, all this leads to an epic shootout in a hospital where everyone meets their fate and action adrenaline reaches its peak. And in the amazing end sequence, Alan makes it to Antarctica, his life-long goal.
Hard Boiled has it all: epic gunfights, a great storyline, dialogue, and it’s so much fun. I love everything about this movie, and I could probably watch it a dozen times. As I’ve mentioned, Woo really perfects the gun fu technique here; we also see it done well but to a lesser extent in Face/Off and some of his earlier Hong Kong films. There’s just something so much fun about this stylised destruction and destructible environments – maybe it’s a subversion of the mundane and everyday order. I guess everyone loves a bit of chaos.
In an interesting homage (or rip-off?) to Hard Boiled, there’s actually a scene in Live Free or Die Hard (a very good Die Hard sequel) where a character shoots through himself to kill the bad guy – this is clearly taken directly from Hard Boiled. On a final note, Midway Games released a video game sequel called Stranglehold a few years ago, and it’s pretty good (super destructible environments too, which is always fun). The plot is much more surreal than Hard Boiled (the sequel is not Riki-Oh craziness or anything), but it’s definitely worth playing if you can find a copy.
I think Hard Boiled is Woo’s masterpiece and it’s essential action movie watching. While it’s not exactly holiday viewing, it’s still a great action counterpart to Die Hard, if not better. Believe it: the hype is real!
Here are my top ten favourite films of 2016 (I still want to watch Tale of Tales and Raw, but managed to see most of the good ones):
Into the Inferno
Hell or High Water
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Everybody Wants Some
10 Cloverfield Lane
I, Daniel Blake
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them