Hard Boiled was released in 1992. I probably first saw it in college or soon thereafter, and I probably disliked it because of how violent and over-the-top it is. At the time, I probably thought it was gratuitously violent. Its defenders called the violence “balletic” and said that John Woo was a visionary director, but I probably disagreed.
It’s been about 15 years, and I’ve seen a lot of movies since then. Standards have changed, and I have changed. And while I wouldn’t recommend Hard Boiled to my mother or to squeamish friends, I have come around.
The gun violence in Hard Boiled is strong, pervasive, and often graphic. And yet, John Woo really is a visionary. His style of action choreography really is balletic. If Hard Boiled is not Woo’s masterpiece, it certainly represents him well.
R for pervasive violence, some language
- Audio commentary
- Interviews with producer, director, action choreographer
- Hong Kong location tour video
Chow Yun-Fat is a Hong Kong cop on the trail of a gang of gun smugglers. He keeps running into Tony Leung, who midway through the movie changes loyalties from the old honor-bound gang to the new sociopathic gang; his true loyalties lie elsewhere, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out where.
There are three epic battles in the movie, fought between cops, thugs, and rival gangs. The grand finale is a long and complex shootout at a hospital. As if that weren’t enough, the hospital is on fire, and the newborns from the maternity ward on the second floor have to be rescued between the bullets.
At the center, Hard Boiled is an over-the-top action movie. From there, Woo adds layers of visual artistry and meticulous choreography. Finally, he adds the visceral punch of innocents in harm’s way. Mix it together and you have the perfect recipe for a John Woo movie. It’s not for all tastes, but for what it is, it’s outstanding.
The most informative extra feature on this Dragon Dynasty DVD is the audio commentary by “Hong Kong Cinema Expert” Bey Logan. Logan is a non-stop talker, and it’s not just that he loves the sound of his voice. He starts the commentary strong with a mix of backgrounds on the actors, on the Chinese language (including some Chinese etymology), on filming locations in Hong Kong, and on the relationship between Woo and Chow Yun-Fat. Woo’s opening sequence is a rapid-fire burst of adrenaline, and Logan completely keeps pace. By the end, Logan has repeated himself once or twice — he gets stuck on the fact that this is the only movie to feature both Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung — and I have to wonder if 100% of Logan’s assertions would survive a fact-check. But still, he’s an amazing guide to the movie and to the careers of all involved. If only the DVD would explain who Logan is and how he knows what he knows, I’d feel much more confident in his expertise.
Disc two has a batch of long video interviews with the cast and crew. Woo gets 40 minutes; producer Terence Chang gets 25; Actor Philip Chan — a former undercover cop, now an actor — gets 15; and Kwok Choi, an action coordinator and rugged villain, gets 25. These interviews will please die-hard fans, but for those of us who watch the film once every fifteen years, it’s probably more information than it’s worth.
There is also a video tour of Hong Kong, hosted by a pretty, young, peppy Chinese travel-channel tour guide, featuring locations from the film. If you’re one of the dozens of people planning a John-Woo-themed trip to Hong Kong, then this is the perfect featurette for you.
Picture and Sound
The film is fifteen years old, so picture and sound quality is uneven. Most of the time, the picture is very clean and well timed. There are a few scenes where the picture is grainy, particularly when the picture is very dark. These are more likely in the source material than in this transfer to DVD.
The audio is probably as good as can be expected, although it hasn’t aged as well as the picture. The dubbing and foley are fine, but if you listen closely, you can often hear the artificiality of a recording booth that doesn’t match the sound of the location. Again, if there’s a problem, it’s in the source material and not the DVD.
How to Use This DVD
There are two essential features: the movie itself, and the audio commentary. I happened to watch the commentary first, and I think Logan’s knowledge and enthusiasm made me appreciate the movie more than I would have otherwise. On the other hand, I think I would have liked the movie even without the commentary, so if you don’t want to “spoil” anything, you could watch the movie first and the commentary second.
The stuff on disc two can be skipped by all but the most rabid of fans.