Directed by John Woo (Ng Yu Sum)
Produced by Linda Kuk Mei Lai & Terence Chang Kar Yan
Starring Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Anthony Wong Chau Sang, Teresa Mo Sun Kwan, Philip Kwok Chan Fung, Philip Chan Yan Kin, Stephen Tung Wai, Kwan Hoi Sang
Hong Kong 1997. Post-Handover the triads wield more power than the police, the former British colony having been flooded by Mainland criminals with designs of making the Asian territory their own. The only thing that stands between mob boss Johnny Wong (Wong) and his army of triad heavies taking a city for ransom, is one man. That man is solo juggernaut super-cop Tequila (Chow), and the film is John Woo's Hong Kong swansong "Hard-boiled".
Copping the heat from his superiors, as well as harbouring a deep-rooted grudge against high-tech terrorist Wong, Tequila is a force to be reckoned with. In the interim, rising new comer and undercover cop Tony (Leung) is engineering a fiery power struggle between the region's two most foremost crime families. In a spectacular showdown amidst Hong Kong's docks, Wong snatches the balance of power from his opposition, the elderly Hui, taking control of the arms smuggling market. Tequila and Tony cross paths, much to the disdain of Tequila's superior Pang (Chan), and the scene is set for THE most explosive climax in cinema history. A climax so explosive it runs nearly forty minutes! You ain't gonna see this many rounds of ammo fired off in cinema ever again!
Words cannot describe the experience of seeing Woo's film for the first time, suffice to say that you will not see another production of the epic ballistic magnitude (and bullet laden carnage) of "Hardboiled" anywhere else in World Cinema. Woo's film is the pinnacle of the modern action genre, so crazed and frenetic that its path of destruction take on a surrealistic video game scale of excess. Its onscreen bodycount would unquestionably set some sort of cinematic record, its opening scene alone tallies more bullets and bodies than the climaxes of any of its Western counterparts. From that opening ten minutes its cartoon intensity explodes into a wild ride that is so far over the top that by its finale you can barely see it through the clouds. Yeah, I love this movie…
Technically, there is very little I can fault with Woo's final Hong Kong film as, with his previous "The Killer", it is a work whose sum of its parts adds up to much more than its total. It is the action film launched into video game excess, with its two leads blazing their way through literally hundreds of adversaries to get to the top man. Former Shaw Brothers player, and member of the legendary "Venom" quintet, Philip Kwok engineers firefights and action scenes that will leave your jaw on the floor of your living room (Yeah, they're that good!). The cast is uniformly excellent, charismatic Leung outshining Chow on occasions, and John Woo & Barry Wong's (with an uncredited Gordon Chan) script intelligently plotted. It is a film that actually lives up to its hype, in that it truly is "better than a dozen Die Hards"!
Oh well, hyperbole aside, on to Tartan's disc. There has been considerable criticism of this disc but, although it is not a perfect presentation of Woo's masterwork, it is not without its merits. The film is correctly letterboxed at its cinema ratio of 35mm Spherical 1.85 and anamorphically enhanced (the only version of "Hardboiled" that is!). On the downside, the print appears to be the same one that Tartan released on VHS sometime back, with burned-in subtitles and a plethora of noticeable print damage (the worst of these comes in an early passage of the film when the image loses horizontal stability for a few seconds). And, although considerably benefited by the detail inherent with an anamorphic transfer, the print is exceptionally dark leaving shadow detail almost non-existent in many of the film's darker scenes. Nevertheless, I soldiered on regardless with the quiet acceptance that foreign films seldom receive the same pristine transfers that their big-budget studio cousins are afforded. Watching this disc on the back of re-watching Columbia's near perfect "Charlie's Angel" disc was probably a big mistake. But I'm not to get on my soapbox over Tartan's disc; they've probably done the best they could with the materials they were supplied.
Extras-wise, the discs contains two cinema trailers (the Hong Kong trailer & the UK cinema trailer, which are virtually identical), filmographies and biographies for the lead actors and John Woo, as well as a brief Cut/Uncut Scene feature. The censorship feature is more or less redundant, as the film only suffered 5 seconds of cuts for its UK release and differences between the two scenes (Stephen Tung's beating) is negligible. The big plus for fans, is a half-hour interview with John Woo lifted from Taiwanese television (also featured on Tartan's VHS version). It is an affable overview of Woo's background, his film work, and his thought processes. It is presented in Mandarin with non-removable Chinese & English subtitles. Thankfully, Tartan has left the film's original soundtrack alone, retaining the feature's original monaural release audio in two channel Dolby mono. Some have decried the lack of a full 5.1 remix being available for "Hard-boiled" but I personally feel that unless it could be handled as subtly as Universe's mix for "The Killer", then it really isn't worth doing. Short of a complete overhaul of the sound elements, any half-arsed attempt would come off sounding artificial. I'll take plain old mono any day, over something that sounds gimmicky…Oh yeah, nice animated menus, guys!
What can I say? Even a VCD of this film would keep me happy! Tartan's disc is not without its flaws (the primary being the darkness of the print), but it is nowhere near as bad as many would have you believe. In fact, I'm more than happy with it. Guess I'm just a bit less a perfectionist than many of my peers. The lack of a commentary track is a minor bugbear (I'll listen to them once or twice, several times if they're really good per David Warbeck's humorous reflections on "The Beyond" disc), but until some enterprising team really go to the expense of completely overhauling this masterpiece this will do me quite nicely.
*Although promoted as the "Complete uncut" version by Tartan, the R2 disc is actually more complete than many would imagine! Even though it directly mirrors the US R1 disc for feature content, it is 7 minutes longer than the version that originally screened at cinemas in Asian & Australasian territories. The restored footage is too numerous to list here, but essentially virtually every sequence involving gunplay cranks out much longer in this extended version. The original version that played Hong Kong cinemas (and Australian Chinese language theatres) clocked in at just over 121 minutes.
Review by M.C.Thomason
|Released by Metro Tartan|
|Classified 18 (uncut) - Region 0|
|Running time - 128m|
|Ratio - Widescreen 1.85 (16x9 enhanced)|
|Audio - Dolby 2.0|
|John Woo interview; Trailers; Cut/Uncut Scene comparison; Cast & Crew biographies|