Insomniac Movie Theater: Hard Boiled

by Trevan McGee on July 29, 2010

in Columns,Insomniac Movie Theater

Hard Boiled posterAbout 64 million people a year suffer from insomnia and every so often I am one of them. But rather than use the extra time I’ve been given during a given insomniac episode to be productive, balance my checkbook, study for the LSAT or exercise, I instead fool myself into thinking the time isn’t my own and can therefore guiltlessly waste it.

Netflix instant queue is the perfect response to this mentality as it gives me access to countless B and C movies all of which I willingly watch while everyone else is fast asleep. Enter Insomniac Movie Theater, where I subject myself to some of the worst, campiest and outright terrible movies the world has to offer … and the occasional cult classic.

Continuing last week’s trend of campy movies that don’t suck, is this week’s entry and the last good movie John Woo made: “Hard Boiled.” For those of you who haven’t seen Woo’s 1992 magnum opus, here’s the short version: It is nonsensical, rapid-fire, and one the best action movies ever made. Hands down.

Chow Yun Fat plays detective Tequila Yuen, a Japanese supercop whose power is never having to reload. Tequila and his partner, hot on the trail of a Triad gun smuggling ring end up in a teahouse where some serious shit goes down.

The choreography, fevered pace, and expert use of steadicam tracking shots are all signature Woo, but here the director attacks his subjects (and thereby the audience) in a way previously unseen in his work. He also deifies his leads, particularly Fat, who by the end of the teahouse scene is an untouchable god, capable of smiting all who oppose him with his twin .45s of righteousness. Dusted in flour, he looks like a ghost or, more appropriately, the spirit of vengeance for his recently deceased partner.

It’s soon revealed that unbeknownst to him, Tequila’s department has a man on the inside, the unassumingly named Alan, played by Tony Leung Chui-Wai. Alan’s no Tequila, but he’s no slouch when it comes to killing ubiquitous dudes with impunity. In one of the more tense scenes in the movie, Alan is forced to kill Hoi, his boss within the Triads. There’s no clip of this available online, so instead, enjoy the first part of the warehouse action scene. Keep an eye out for Alan (the one who doesn’t shoot anyone) and Mad Dog (the guy with the Uzi and grenades). Also, Wong, the movie’s central antagonist, is visible at the end. He’s the guy in the tan jacket.

It’s not long before Tequila makes an appearance and in grand fashion, crashing in from the skylight and swinging over the crowds of gangsters, raining down hot lead on his quarry. This time his magic pistols are replaced by a shotgun that not only has infinite ammo, but said ammo is explosive. Protip: Don’t try to charge a shotgun-equipped supercop while riding a dirt bike.

Soon after, Tequila and Alan realize they’re on the same side and form a reluctant partnership. An informant tells Tequila that Wong is using a hospital as his personal armory and the two set a plan in motion to take out the weapon stockpile and take down Wong and his cronies in the process. What follows is essentially one giant action sequence that stretches over the entire third act.

This clip doesn’t cut until around 2:45 when the camera enters the room before Alan and Tequila. When critics talk about Woo being a virtuoso, it’s scenes like this one they’re referring to.

There are more plot holes in “Hard Boiled” than warrant being mentioned, but the movie moves at such a frenetic pace that there really isn’t time to give it any consideration. Why does Alan continue to be undercover after he was clearly exposed by rival Triads? How does Tequila disappear so quickly after the fight on the houseboat? How is Tequila allowed to keep his badge and his guns despite killing millions of thugs, some of which were unarmed? None of these questions matter when Woo is in full force and Fat is being the charismatic badass he’s seemingly gone out of his way to distance himself from ever since.

“Hard Boiled” not only survives the 3 a.m. treatment, it thrives in it. It’s the crown jewel of Woo’s work and inspired action directors for years to come. The slow motion and steadicam work that Michael Bay implemented in “Bad Boys” and even the tongue-in-cheek promos for the upcoming “The Other Guys” both stand out as examples.

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