Hard Boiled B-, B+
Was this the last of the John Woo Hong Kongs? Indeed, it is likely that the highly skilled filmmaker will stay put in Hollywood where perhaps post Hard Target efforts will afford him a greater freedom to express the true essence of Woo, whatever that may be. Hopefully, the true essence of Woo is not Hard Boiled, which 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 transfusions.
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 choreographed mold.
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.
This Criterion Collection edition provides a varied and enjoyable secondary audio commentary from director Woo, producer Terence Chang, filmmaker Roger Avery, who is collaborating on Woos next project, and film critic Dave Kehr. Though it takes time to get used to Woos English delivery, concentration is rewarded. Woos comments are consistently candid. The director states that he thinks he could have made Hard Boiled better given more time in the editing process. Woo points out that the shrine of General Kwing, who represents honor, loyalty and chivalry, is installed in all the police stations of Hong Kong, and ironically, is worshipped equally by both police and gangsters. The director is up front in stating that he regularly over-budgets his films to give himself more leeway during filming. Producer Chang observes that gangster pay-offs seem to be a way of life in Hong Kong and the sense of lawlessness in Hard Boiled is a reflection of the wild reality of Hong Kong. He further notes that there are many gangsters involved in the Hong Kong movie business. Critic Kehrs comments are often insightful. He notes that we tend to judge more harshly the work of a filmmaker we respect, when, in fact, the lesser work of a fine filmmaker is really much more satisfying than the best work of lesser filmmakers.
The pressing has been well done. The images are well resolved. There are a few scenes marred by speckles of dirt, but it is minor. The soundtrack is on the weak side and would have been enhanced by greater bass extension providing a tad more boom for the buck.