By John Smith
Action films may not be the most respected genre when it comes to film buffs. There are a lot of people that I know personally who believe that they exist solely for dumb, popcorn entertainment purposes. If that’s the case, how do you explain John Woo’s ultimate masterpiece, Hard Boiled? This film is iconic and funny, brutally stylistic and engagingly beautiful. It’s an action film that can also be considered a work of art.
Officer “Tequila” Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat) is exactly the kind of hero I want to see in an action film. He’s confident, cool, and always calm despite the madness that occurs around him on a pretty regular basis. After a shootout in a teahouse that results with Tequila accidentally shooting a fellow officer, he is on thin ice at work, constantly berated by his superiors. Meanwhile, Tony (Tony Leung) is an undercover cop working with the Triads who, through his time there, learns of an arsenal that is being held in a hidden vault in the Maple Group Hospital. Tequila’s and Tony’s paths eventually cross, and the two begin a two man war against Triad boss Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong) and his gang in the most inopportune of places: the Maple Group Hospital.
Saying Hard Boiled is iconic is almost an understatement. If I were to describe an action scene where it seems like the characters never reload and slow motion is used almost to an excess, I’d hope that some people’s minds would go to the filmmaking style of John Woo. It’s true that he didn’t invent slow motion action sequences or “bullet ballet” but, in my mind, he perfected it. Without a film like Hard Boiled, a series as important as The Matrix would have lost one of its main inspirations.
Truthfully, the story is nothing all that special. It breaks no new ground in plotting or suspense like action movies such as Die Hard did, but it broke ground when it came to how the action sequences were filmed. It’s hard to watch this movie without a sense of awe whenever the guns begin firing, squibs start exploding, and Yun-Fat begins jumping all around the room, miraculously dodging every round that is fired at him. The individual framing of these scenes allows the viewer to take in everything that’s happening while focusing on one major piece of action that’s occurring through all of the excess destruction happening at one time. That combined with the slow motion makes for some amazing moments of film history.
Being released in 1992, Hard Boiled was made in a time before heavy usage of CGI in action films, but that makes the film all the more impressive. Anytime you see a motorcycle explode, that’s actually happening with its stuntman rider really on fire. Then there’s one of the most amazing scenes in film history: a long take action sequences through the hospital hallways. While most action scenes would be quickly edited to increase intensity and kineticism, this particular one puts the viewer right there with Tequila and Tony with an uninterrupted shot of mayhem.
Hard Boiled isn’t just cheap entertainment. This is a film that is definitely entertaining and fun, but also one that can be appreciated and admired for the influence it’s had on films that came after it and the skill it took in making it. I believe Hard Boiled is one of the best action films ever made and rightfully deserves all of the praise from both critics and audiences that it has received over the years.
John Smith is a film student at Temple University with an interest in screenwriting. I do appreciate the classics and take the time to see as many as I can, but I will probably be more interested in a horror film that’s been dug out of the deepest hole in film history.
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