This is the last of the John Woo
Hong Kongs. Woo has proved himself a Hollywood heavy hitter with action flicks like Face-Off,
Broken Arrow and the latest Cruise control actioner, Mission Impossible II. Hard
Boiled is a one dimensional primer in the art of screen pyrotechnics delivered in a
non-stop explosive assault on the senses. For more than two hours, the spark highlighted machine
pistol bullets of Woo alternate with pump gun blasts in creating a sea of blood. How appropriate
that director Woo chooses a hospital as the venue for his final "tour-de-blast." In the
spirit of conservation, hospital crews could be collecting from the blood spilled corridors every
last puddle of plasma and recycling them into convenient vials for later real life hospital
|Out-Wooing himself. ©Winstar
Still, while it lacks the sentimental
juxtapositions that worked so well in The Killer, the mountain of massed mayhem in Hard
Boiled is striking enough to continually engage the audience on a visual level. That is fails
to create a visceral link between characters and viewers prevents the film from breaking out of its
The tale of mixed loyalties and undercover roles, at times confusing, is carried
equally on the shoulders of its two stars, Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung, who twist and bound between
the bullets. The lack of emphasis on character is the chief weakness of Hard Boiled and
leaves the two actors subordinate to the technique that dominates the film. When Woo subordinates
his technical skill to story, he is at his best, but that is not the case here.
The transfer is a huge let-down. Woo's spectacular shoot-outs, flashy
beyond belief, deserve crisp, clear images to reveal all the details in the frame. Hard Boiled
in DVD has multiple problems. First and foremost, the black levels are outrageously mismanaged.
Blacks lack luster and appear more charcoal gray. You cannot fix the problem by simply dropping
brightness down. I tried watching at a number of different settings and while the picture was
better with significantly reduced black level, the frame lost detail and looked muddy. Color is a
mixed bag, but black level affects all the colors, so that's no surprise. Overall, there is a lack
of high end resolution. Details are smeared and lack depth. The mono Cantonese soundtrack lacks
dimension. Dynamic range is thin. Yellow English subtitles appear on the bottom of the image and
slightly into the black letterbox area. You can turn off the subtitles and try the English dub, but
it won't take you long to decide that those are note the voices and delivery you would associate
with any of the actors.
Fans of Woo might want the DVD simply for the audio commentary provided on a
separate English track. Woo and his producing partner Terrence Chang provide observations on the
production and character motivation. Woo is free with his personal philosophy. I like the
description of how Chow's bandage came about, inspired by Chinatown.
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