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The Best Movie You Never Saw: Hard Boiled

10.18.2013

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be examining John Woo’s HARD BOILED!

THE STORY:

A hard-edged cop teams up with an undercover officer to take down a vicious mobster and his gang of ruthless thugs.

THE PLAYERS:

Written by John Woo and Barry Wong, the film was directed by Woo and starred his go-to guy, Chow Yun Fat as Inspector “Tequila” Yuen and Tony Leung as the undercover cop, Tony. Many of Hong Kong cinema’s favorite players make appearances as well, including Anthony Wong, Philip Chan, and Teresa Mo.

THE HISTORY:

After completing the much-loved stylized action flicks A BETTER TOMORROW (1 & 2), BULLET IN THE HEAD, and perhaps his most famous Hong Kong film, THE KILLER, Woo decided to venture into new territory with HARD BOILED. After criticism that he portrayed gangsters as good guys, Woo decided to create a heroic tale with a lead that embodied his favorite classic cops like Clint Eastwood’s DIRTY HARRY or Steve McQueen’s BULLITT, almost as an answer to the real-life rise in violence in Hong Kong at the time.

Woo cast his go-to star Chow Yun Fat as Tequila, a cop that built upon the Western tropes of the rogue, badass police officer. Working with writing partner Barry Wong, they originally devised a plot that would have Tequila go up against a psychopath who poisoned babies (again based on a real-life event), but they later abandoned the idea as too repugnant for Tony Leung’s character. This led to a production shutdown to find a new angle on the story, at which time screenwriter Barry Wong suddenly died, leaving the script half-finished.

The story then took on very different life, becoming more of a buddy-cop action flick as opposed to a DIRTY HARRY style crime film.  The film shot for 123 days and continued to encounter issues throughout that time. Characters were cut, modified, and added throughout. Tequila’s relationship with Teresa Mo’s character was considerably cut down, while Philip Kwok took on the role of Mad Dog, a role created during filming to give Tequila and Tony a stronger villain to fight.

The film opened at TIFF in 1992, generating a massive buzz for the film, leading to a wider release in other markets. Most U.S. audiences didn’t discover the film until it’s DVD release in the late ‘90’s, which followed on the heels of Woo’s transition to Hollywood films HARD TARGET, BROKEN ARROW, and FACE/OFF.

HARD BOILED wasn’t as big a success in Hong Kong as some of Woo’s previous films, but became a critically acclaimed cult hit for western audiences. It currently sits at 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a film that eventually makes it’s was to burgeoning film geeks, often viewed as a staple of that diet, although is generally unknown to everyday viewers.

WHY IT’S GREAT:

Most of you have seen John Woo’s American films. Probably you enjoyed a few and probably you thought some of them were shit. I tend to agree there. I’m sure there’s a decent amount of you that may have seen THE KILLER as it was one of the first films to really garner him some notoriety. While many film geeks have seen HARD BOILED, it can be typically overlooked as many are more familiar with his U.S. films and simply "don't get" his allure as a result. We all know that Woo's signature has been ripped off by many a filmmaker since and it's important to recognize the origin of where it all began and, subsequently, came to full bloom.

I first discovered John Woo while watching MTV’s The Big Picture with Chris Connelly in 1993 where they talked about Woo’s first American film HARD TARGET. They showed a bunch of clips from HARD BOILED while discussing HARD TARGET and my mind was blown. These were the days before Internet or DVD (yep, I’m old) and all I wanted was to see this fantastic display of action artistry and I had nowhere to find such a thing. Years and years passed until I was finally able to see HARD BOILED on that new-fangled DVD technology and I was thoroughly changed from that point on.

By then, I’d already seen HARD TARGET (an underrated cheesy action gem, if you ask me) as well as BROKEN ARROW and FACE/OFF so I was already familiar with Woo’s style. However, nothing could have prepared me for the absolute rawness of HARD BOILED. It was unabashedly over the top and choreographed with the most beautiful display of action acrobatics I’d ever seen, far from the often scaled down versions we get in standard Hollywood action flicks.

The story is, in all honesty, merely a device that serves the action. Some may feel there’s more to it than that and I’m positive that a lot of the subtitled dialogue leaves some meaning lost in translation, but in the end it’s just a serviceable plot that revolves around Woo’s typical male-bonding shtick.  And it’s fine. Chow Yun Fat squints like Dirty Harry, a toothpick in his mouth for most of the film and an attitude that rivals every rogue cop you’ve ever seen. But, it works perfectly on that level and opens the door for what we’re really there to see.

"Hey, x-rated action!" - Tequila (Chow Yun Fat), after shooting a bad guy while holding a baby.

The heart and soul of HARD BOILED and what makes it a stand out over the vast majority of action films is it’s unrelenting cavalcade of action scenes that never seem to run out of steam. Usually in the case of “too much action” you just start looking at your watch and wait for it to end. With HARD BOILED, it’s put on display like an action opera, Woo’s signature slow-mo sequences crafted with precision, leaving you mesmerized by the dancing of shell casings and debris with every gunshot and explosion.

If that sounds like I’m romanticizing it, well, I am. It’s the most romantic of all action movies, but not in a sexual way. This is the fantasy action movie that most of us made up in our heads when playing guns as kids: that time before you grew up and let reality slay your imagination, before you scoffed at the “that could never happen” moments and reveled in the pure bliss that is an action lover’s dream.  HARD BOILED will entertain you in ways that most modern action films couldn’t touch for miles.

"Give a guy a gun, he thinks he's Superman. Give him two and he thinks he's God." - Superintendant Pang (Philip Chan)

When it comes to John Woo movies, HARD BOILED is king. I know some will argue for THE KILLER or possibly FACE/OFF. Those aren’t bad choices, either, but for me, HARD BOILED represents the absolute standard of his work, the complete and fully realized John Woo film. Even with big Hollywood budgets and stars Woo never catapulted beyond what he was able to accomplish with HARD BOILED. And, in truth, he didn’t have to. Although I’d love to see him return to the genre, I am happy to settle with HARD BOILED. Woo has already been scared away from U.S. films and seems wrapped up in making Hong Kong epics with swords instead of guns. And, that’s just fine, because at the end of the day he’s already put his crowning achievement in the bag. And it’s HARD BOILED.

BEST SCENE:

The two key standout scenes in HARD BOILED are the warehouse battle and the hospital showdown at the end, which lasts for well over 40 minutes. It’s an exhaustive, relentless, and beautifully crafted series of action scenes. One such scene is a continuous shot sequence with Tequila and Tony, who go from one floor to an elevator and then down another hallways, encountering numerous bad guys. It’s one of many great scenes, but a perfect example of what to expect in the film for those who haven’t seen it yet.

SEE IT:

HARD BOILED is available on blu-ray and DVD in a couple different variations. I recently picked up the blu-ray version and it’s a decent transfer with some solid additional features that provide more insight into the film. Get it here!

PARTING SHOT:

“HARD BOILED is one of my favorite films. I love all the action and I love the characters. But, I never realized that it was so popular. The movie made a lot of money and a lot of fame. I’m so glad that people love the movie. Y’know, since my prior movie, BULLET IN THE HEAD was a total failure and it didn’t make any money and it didn’t draw much attention, so HARD BOILED seems to be payback, so I am so glad." - John Woo (from an interview on the HARD BOILED blu-ray)

Extra Tidbit: The director's cut of Hard Target is a tremendous example of how Hollywood can castrate a filmmaker from his/her vision. I actually love the final product, but the director's cut of the film is way more Hard Boiled than you could imagine. If you're ever able to track it down you'll be in for a treat!
Source: JoBlo.com

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6:11AM on 10/24/2013
Love this movie and loved Stranglehold, the video game sequel. Tequila Bomb!
Love this movie and loved Stranglehold, the video game sequel. Tequila Bomb!
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7:51PM on 10/21/2013

Next week's article

The Best Movie You Never Saw: Pulp Fiction
The Best Movie You Never Saw: Pulp Fiction
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+0
4:05AM on 10/21/2013
It seems like they are making these items for ppl who don't even visit sites like these. I've yet to see one movie I haven't seen and enjoyed or loved. And this is the worst one bc unlike the frighteners, this is a straight up classic
It seems like they are making these items for ppl who don't even visit sites like these. I've yet to see one movie I haven't seen and enjoyed or loved. And this is the worst one bc unlike the frighteners, this is a straight up classic
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+2
9:32AM on 10/19/2013

Again with mis-leading column

I'm voting thumps because this movie kicked ass, but MOST OF US HAS ALREADY SEEN IT!!! HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A MOVIE NERD AND NOT SEE THIS MOVIE??? This is one of the seminal works of action flicks ever. Change the title of this column to "Great Movies You Need to Watch Again!!" Come on!!
I'm voting thumps because this movie kicked ass, but MOST OF US HAS ALREADY SEEN IT!!! HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A MOVIE NERD AND NOT SEE THIS MOVIE??? This is one of the seminal works of action flicks ever. Change the title of this column to "Great Movies You Need to Watch Again!!" Come on!!
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7:56PM on 10/19/2013
No.
No.
10:16PM on 10/19/2013
Not everyone has your (non-existent) social schedule and ability to watch any movie you want at any time. But congratulations on finding the Caps Lock key; I'm sure your mother is very proud.
Not everyone has your (non-existent) social schedule and ability to watch any movie you want at any time. But congratulations on finding the Caps Lock key; I'm sure your mother is very proud.
11:11AM on 10/21/2013
Fully agree w/ you. This is JoBlo.com....not EW or Hollywood Reporter, most everyone here has probably seen this movie.
Fully agree w/ you. This is JoBlo.com....not EW or Hollywood Reporter, most everyone here has probably seen this movie.
10:51PM on 10/18/2013
This movie exudes old school awesome. Ive seen it too many times to count. Chow Yun Fat is forever the king of the dual guns.
This movie exudes old school awesome. Ive seen it too many times to count. Chow Yun Fat is forever the king of the dual guns.
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9:20PM on 10/18/2013

Tiger on Beat

While were on the subject of Chow Yun Fat, have you guys seen TIGER ON BEAT? It's an 80's buddy cop film and pretty awesome/ hilarious.
While were on the subject of Chow Yun Fat, have you guys seen TIGER ON BEAT? It's an 80's buddy cop film and pretty awesome/ hilarious.
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9:18PM on 10/18/2013
Puts today's action to shame. Discovered it after playing Max Payne on my PlayStation 2.

Puts today's action to shame. Discovered it after playing Max Payne on my PlayStation 2.

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8:32PM on 10/18/2013
Everyone on this site should have seen this by now, pretty much essential viewing. The Killer and a Better Tomorrow are a little lesser known. Also if your a fan of the movie and own a ps3 there is a sequel game called Stranglehold, thats pretty fun. You can probably find it used for about five bucks and the game comes with Hard Boiled on it!!!
Everyone on this site should have seen this by now, pretty much essential viewing. The Killer and a Better Tomorrow are a little lesser known. Also if your a fan of the movie and own a ps3 there is a sequel game called Stranglehold, thats pretty fun. You can probably find it used for about five bucks and the game comes with Hard Boiled on it!!!
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+1
3:01PM on 10/18/2013

Hooray for Hard-Boiled!

While I still think The Killer is Woo's most classic film, Hard-Boiled is still a better action flick than most of what comes out of Hollywood today. Incidentally, Hard-Boiled definitely has a much more Hollywood feel than his previous movies.

Like the author, I first became aware of John Woo while they were advertizing Hard Target. I saw a blip about Woo being a famous action director while they showed clips from The Killer, and I still remember thinking "If he's that famous, I need to
While I still think The Killer is Woo's most classic film, Hard-Boiled is still a better action flick than most of what comes out of Hollywood today. Incidentally, Hard-Boiled definitely has a much more Hollywood feel than his previous movies.

Like the author, I first became aware of John Woo while they were advertizing Hard Target. I saw a blip about Woo being a famous action director while they showed clips from The Killer, and I still remember thinking "If he's that famous, I need to see what the fuss is about!" Of course there was no DVD back then, and it's not like the local Blockbuster carried little known foreign movies at the time. However because I lived in the Seattle area (at the time), I had the good fortune of discovering Scarecrow Video, a locally owned video rental place that specialized in offering every movie ever (the place was a trip, I can't really do it justice in this description). That was were I began my obsession with The Killer, Hard-Boiled, and lots of other Hong Kong kung fu flicks. I eventually bought Hard-Boiled on VHS twice, one dubbed and one subtitled. I could experience either, depending on my mood. (I always found the dubbed version of this movie funny because they clearly hired Australian voice actors do to really poor American accents.)

Woo's style and scripts have been hamstrung ever since he came to Hollywood for real. None of the efforts he's put out in the States even come close to the awesomeness of The Killer and Hard-Boiled.
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2:53PM on 10/18/2013

Loves me some HARD BOILED!

Pay no attention to the nay-sayers who claim, "Everybody (meaning 'I') has seen this movie. Why is it in this column?" This is a great column, please keep it going.

As for HARD BOILED, yes I prefer THE KILLER but there are some incredible sequences in this movie: the opening gun battle and the hospital fight at the end. It was so sad that John Woo wasn't allowed to make his mark in Hollywood the same way he did in HK.
Pay no attention to the nay-sayers who claim, "Everybody (meaning 'I') has seen this movie. Why is it in this column?" This is a great column, please keep it going.

As for HARD BOILED, yes I prefer THE KILLER but there are some incredible sequences in this movie: the opening gun battle and the hospital fight at the end. It was so sad that John Woo wasn't allowed to make his mark in Hollywood the same way he did in HK.
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1:40PM on 10/18/2013

Great Movie

Picked this up on blu ray about 6 months ago at a used place because I had heard it was awesome and it indeed was! I have the blu ray version of the one linked in the article Its a decent transfer but far from a good transfer. Hope theres a better one soon!
Picked this up on blu ray about 6 months ago at a used place because I had heard it was awesome and it indeed was! I have the blu ray version of the one linked in the article Its a decent transfer but far from a good transfer. Hope theres a better one soon!
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1:28PM on 10/18/2013

I miss this John Woo

Loved Hard Boiled, when I first seen it, it really diminished my feelings for the action film product we were subjected to stateside in the mid 90's
Loved Hard Boiled, when I first seen it, it really diminished my feelings for the action film product we were subjected to stateside in the mid 90's
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1:09PM on 10/18/2013

Chow and Woo both future Good/Bad/Badass columns

Absolutely love this movie. Saw it on the Canadian version of HBO when I was eleven. I think my balls dropped right then. During my [link] days I went on a rampage through both guys' careers. I ended up buying piles of VCD's (a pre-DVD format popular in Asia) and watching a ton of great films. I marginally prefer The Killer. Bullet in the Head is another masterpiece teaming Woo and Leung. Once a Thief is fun. A better Tomorrow is great, and A Better Tomorrow 2 has one of the best action
Absolutely love this movie. Saw it on the Canadian version of HBO when I was eleven. I think my balls dropped right then. During my [link] days I went on a rampage through both guys' careers. I ended up buying piles of VCD's (a pre-DVD format popular in Asia) and watching a ton of great films. I marginally prefer The Killer. Bullet in the Head is another masterpiece teaming Woo and Leung. Once a Thief is fun. A better Tomorrow is great, and A Better Tomorrow 2 has one of the best action sequences ever shot. For Chow Yun Fat, outside Woo I highly reccomend God Of Gamblers (like an action movie version of Rain Man), and Full Contact.
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11:57AM on 10/18/2013
This is in my "Top 10 Movies You Must See To Pass Puberty" list for men.
This is in my "Top 10 Movies You Must See To Pass Puberty" list for men.
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+11
11:49AM on 10/18/2013
Best movie we never saw?
This is essential John Woo, I'd be surprised if anyone that comes to this site hasn't see it!
Best movie we never saw?
This is essential John Woo, I'd be surprised if anyone that comes to this site hasn't see it!
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11:43AM on 10/18/2013

Its superb

I love this movie. One of the best action films ever.
I love this movie. One of the best action films ever.
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11:36AM on 10/18/2013
Of all John Woo's movies, this is my favorite. It's really hard to choose the best action scene in the movie but I'm gonna go with the raid at the tea house at the beginning of the movie - Talking about a great opening!
Of all John Woo's movies, this is my favorite. It's really hard to choose the best action scene in the movie but I'm gonna go with the raid at the tea house at the beginning of the movie - Talking about a great opening!
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11:33AM on 10/18/2013
This is the one movie that started my love affair with Jonh Woo, and Hong Kong action films in general. I really wish John Woo revisits his "gun-porn" days in the near future.
This is the one movie that started my love affair with Jonh Woo, and Hong Kong action films in general. I really wish John Woo revisits his "gun-porn" days in the near future.
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11:22AM on 10/18/2013

Best movie we've never seen?

I'm sure the majority of the users on this site have seen this. It's like essential Woo/Fat. But great movie, wouldn't mind seeing a remake of this someday though.
I'm sure the majority of the users on this site have seen this. It's like essential Woo/Fat. But great movie, wouldn't mind seeing a remake of this someday though.
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10:52AM on 10/18/2013
Fact: This is one of only 4 Blu Rays I own. 200% worth it.
Fact: This is one of only 4 Blu Rays I own. 200% worth it.
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