What, does this really need an introduction? Do any of you think that this movie may be about eggs? Come on.
It’s about babies.
Free on Youtube. Approximately 128 minutes.
Tequila is…what everyone calls him. Anyways, Tequila is an inspector who likes to play the clarinet at a jazz bar on his off time. Unfortunately for him, off time is off the table. He is tasked with taking part in a sting operation against a group of gun smugglers in a restaurant. Amusingly enough, the smugglers have hidden the guns in the bird cages that they brought (bird cages are all around the restaurant), but talk openly and explicitly about guns in their conversation without resorting to codewords. Unfortunately for Tequila again, the operation goes badly. Who knew that a bunch of gun smugglers would resist arrest using guns? The gangsters try to shoot their way out of the restaurant, killing around two dozen innocent people. Tequila and his partner manage to kill off most of the gangsters, but not before his partner gets shot. Unfortunate for Tequila’s partner…who definitely had a wife and child. So, dead cops, dead civilians, dead gangsters, no arrests. Tequila is upset over the death of his partner, but Superintendent Pang is really upset that Tequila shot all of the gangsters instead of bringing in potential witnesses. Pang takes Tequila off of the case…which seems like somewhat light punishment given the bloody fiasco.
The movie switches over to Alan. Alan is a gangster, with an expensive car and a sailboat and all of that, in contrast to Tequila’s struggle to find an apartment. And while this little detail is not made explicit until around halfway through the movie, it is telegraphed fairly early on that he is an undercover cop. He also has an overly elaborate method of doing things. First, we see him track down a criminal at a library, find a gun hidden in one of the library books, and kill the man with that gun. I am not sure whether actual undercover cops in Hong Kong were allowed to do something like that, but whatever. Additionally, his method of sending messages to his boss, Superintendent Pang, is to send flowers to Teresa (another police officer and Tequila’s girlfriend…or ex-girlfriend) along with a card with song lyrics on them. The notes of the song (do-re-mi) correspond with numbers, which Pang has to input into a computer to decode. How Alan would know the meaning of the codes and not Pang or why he went through all of this trouble is beyond me, but the actor who plays Pang used to manage undercover cops, so what do I know.
Alan is working for an elderly triad boss named Mr. Hoi, but he gets himself poached by the young up-and-comer, Johnny. Johnny is a gun smuggler whose ambitions are stifled by Hoi undercutting him with low prices. Johnny also happens to be the boss of those guys from the restaurant. When cop Tequila comes around to coppingly harass Johnny and point a cop gun at him, Alan takes the opportunity to prove himself by assaulting Tequila, though he prevents Johnny from killing Tequila in public.
Thanks to his informant in Johnny’s gang, Tequila learns that Johnny is going to attack Hoi’s weapons cache at the docks. Meanwhile, Alan sends Pang another flower message, telling him to reign in Tequila. A still vengeful Tequila, however, is not happy to be reassigned, and the two of them get into a shouting match. Will the cops all find a way to get along and work together to take down the criminals? You will have to watch the movie to see…the violent results.
While I will eventually get around to John Woo’s first big breakthrough in Hong Kong, this was pretty much his last hurrah to Hong Kong before moving to Hollywood. While this movie did not have the manic bloody chaos of a certain scenes from previous movies, it had all of Woo’s previous movies beat in terms of consistent violence, and had a bodycount that he would not surpass until his first actual war movie ten years later. There are six main action scenes in this movie (along with a couple of minor ones), and only the two of them constitute what could be considered a normal-sized action scene. Three of them (including the opening one at the restaurant) could very well be considered a climactic action scene in any movie not directed by John Woo. As for the final action scene…well, it is more like a series of action scenes, strung together by the story. And that whole thing adds up to around thirty minutes. Yep. That may seem a bit exhausting, but it is quite exhilarating all of the way through.
There are threads connecting this film with Woo’s earlier works. There is organized crime, and the theme of a violent new generation trying to overthrow the old guard. There is the dark loneliness of the criminal life. There is the abusive cowboy cop. There is the brotherhood of violence between men. And lots of gunplay. It has been argued that this movie is a bit lacking in terms of character development in comparison to Woo’s earlier films. I would say that character development was never really his strong suit; even his bleak epic Bullet in the Head had some characterization problems. What I want in a John Woo movie is action. And this one has it. And even if the characters are weaker here than in other movies of Woo, at least there was no one whom I really had a problem with. There are some questionable decisions made, but none of the characters were total morons. I had some questions about Alan’s more outright murderous methods (apparently, his character was originally a bad guy bent on poisoning babies, which would be fine for Category III Hong Kong exploitation director, but probably not for someone who was trying to break into Hollywood), but I could overlook that stuff. The character of Teresa was actually useful and able to both think for herself and take charge as opposed to being annoying deadweight or a constant liability as in most of Woo’s earlier female characters (though who knows what the character would have been like had the movie stuck with the original choice of actress, Michelle Yeoh). The clash between the two main characters is not really about methods or who is by the book. And the bromantic aspect of their relationship is not sudden or overdone. They are pretty much still snapping at each other even when they decide to team up. It is only during a five minute sequence around two thirds of the way through when they are trying to open a door (FIVE MINUTES) that they finally find themselves on the same wavelength. Yeah there was a bit towards the end that seemed made merely to get from point A to point and shoot, but I did not mind that either.
And BABIES!!! Babies not being poisoned.
Hard Boiled was better received overseas than in Hong Kong, but maybe that was all for the best. There is a bit of an implication in the movie that emigration is an act of survival, with, among other things, both Hoi and Tequila’s partner dying after stating their intentions to stay. Somewhat ironically, and maybe deliberately so, Tequila’s partner states that the food at the restaurant is better than anywhere else and a reason why he would never leave Hong Kong. In real life, that restaurant was scheduled for demolition, so Woo was free to destroy as much as he felt like during the gun battle scene. Sure, Tequila’s partner probably did not literally mean the food just at that particular restaurant, but the metaphor still works. There may have been other reasons, such as the alleged favoring of violence over characterization and relationship-building. Maybe it was because of the somewhat more stripped down storyline or the extended climax that took up a quarter of a film that is already long for a Hong Kong movie. Whatever the reason was, I am one of those who absolutely loves this movie.
WTF ASIA 6: Hellcats (South Korea: 2008, approx. 112 minutes)
WTF ASIA 7: Audition (Japan: 1999, approx 115 minutes)