1992, Movies

Hard-Boiled [辣手神探] (1992, John Woo)

I remember how much of a big deal it was when John Woo came to the US to make movies. I don’t really remember why I knew about him, given my age at the time and the fact that I’ve still never seen Hard Target all the way through, but I knew his reputation. I feel like, as a teenager, I didn’t mind Broken Arrow, regardless of what critics think. I was the right age for Face/Off when it came out, when my friends and I were talking about Michael Bay and the like as if they were auteurs. But then I remember the second Mission: Impossible was not what I was looking for and that, and ageing, made me lose interest. But I always assumed there was a reason he was so revered when he first came to Hollywood.

This is not a good movie. Maybe it’s The Killer (which I haven’t seen yet) that really is the one that made his reputation. Because, if this is the film, I’m sure what people were smoking. I guess in 1992 this was distinct and different than American action films and the heavy style of substance vibe was enough for people.

Here we have a clarinet-playing cop who, um, plays by his own rules. But, of course, by playing by his own rules all we really mean is he kills a lot of people, takes stupid risks and ignores his boss (who he shouts at!).

In the opening scene, he and his fellow cops shoot up a teahouse (that is full of birds, is that a thing?) and numerous civilians are killed. There’s tons of slow motion and some silly moments of violence, all of which feel rawer and rougher than when I first encountered Woo’s style in Hollywood. (It makes sense, he likely got a lot more money in Hollywood.) The whole thing feels incredibly indiscriminate and, even with all the slo-mo, I’d have to watch the scene again to confirm if all the civilians were killed by gangsters and not cops.

In the investigation of the library assassination, Woo doesn’t trust his audience enough for us to understand that the rectangular-shaped space with no blood is clue so he flashes back to the book briefly and then has Chow put a notebook into it. This is not a subtle movie.

A lot of the dialogue feels awkward or cliched. There was one moment in the police headquarters where I said out-loud to my dog “This isn’t a very good movie” after a particular brutal exchange. (I should have written it down.)

Chow’s character is obnoxious. He seems to think he’s some super cop and thinks the other cop is somehow immoral and beneath him because he has killed criminals. But Chow’s character does all the time!

And there’s this weird romantic subplot with one of Chow’s coworkers that I guess is supposed to add levity to what is a pretty serious movie the rest of the time, despite the style. Speaking of the love interest, does anyone understand what the computer’s purpose is for the codes? It’s just to make it so they don’t have use paper?

I think if you really scrutinize this film enough you’ll probably catch all sorts of things that “look cool” but otherwise don’t work. For example, in the raid by Wong’s men, the motorcyclists are literally driving in front and behind each other when they shoot, so somehow they are shooting through each other at their targets who are not moving and therefore able to aim better but die. And yet, miraculously, nobody on the bikes is shot. I suspect something dumb like this happened in the opening scene too but I was too busy wondering why there was slow motion.

When I was young, action movies with really high body counts often made me laugh. But the older I get, the more stupid I find them. Who exactly thinks that killing everyone is a good idea, whether morally or strategically? How many actual criminals who would be okay with massacring 300 innocent civilians just to, um, I don’t know…win? And how many henchmen would actually be okay with this? I don’t even know what they’re trying to accomplish! As with any movie with one of these scenes, the literal army would be called in if there were violence remotely on this level.

So anyway, I waited all movie for the scene with the baby and I gotta say it really illustrates the biggest problem I had with the film outside of the style over substance. Filmmakers have gotten so much better at fight scenes, including shootouts. These feel all feel like they are from another time and they haven’t held up. It’s just tons of gun fire, tons of noise and too much slo-mo. I had expectations about this scene, that it would make the whole thing more worthwhile, but I realize that I was expecting something modern, something with a lot more intensity and visceral feel than this.

5/10 because I assume it’s been influential

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