Every single person who visits this site fancies themselves a film fan. From the nameless readers who don’t interact to the regular Chewers on the Boards to every single person on the staff – we love film. We live for it. We watch as much of it as we can. But, sadly, we’ll never be able to see everything. We’ve missed a lot over the years and sometimes we’ll miss one of the big ones. One of the classics or cult favorites that has had everyone talking and proclaiming their love for years. That’s what this column is all about – the big ones that we‘ve missed. Every week a different member of the CHUD Crew is gonna play their own little game of catch-up and tell you about it here. Maybe it’ll get you to rewatch an old favorite you haven’t seen in years, maybe it’ll get you to catch up on your own list of shamefully neglected films. Either way, we hope you enjoy it.
I’ve seen a few action movies in my day. I’ve also seen a few ultra-violent crime dramas. I’ve seen bad guys taken out in a haze of bullets and one-liners, good guys limp away with enough spunk left to sass the chief before the credits roll and a whole slew of bullet-riddled detectives who just had one more day left until retirement (“MENDOOOOZAAAAAA!”). What I had not seen, however, is the good guy stop in the middle of an over the top gunfight with what seems like the entirety of the Hong Kong Triad family to put cotton balls in a bunch of newborn babies’ ears. And then kill the remaining bad guys (and take a bullet to the chest!) while holding one of those babies and singing it a lullaby to calm it down…until now.
I just watched my first John Woo movie.
Hard Boiled (1992) – Buy it from CHUD
So, in essence, I guess you could say that I’m late to the party on John Woo as well, but I’m not prepared to write an entire article on the man with only this one film under my belt. I know all the trademarks and John Woo/Chow Yun Fat is certainly a duo that has been on my awareness radar for awhile, but, for whatever reason, I just hadn’t ever sat down to catch up. I certainly didn’t go in unprepared – Hard Boiled obviously has a reputation and I’d heard its insanity talked up for quite awhile (especially from the dude who lent it to me) but even so – I don’t know if one can ever be fully prepared for their first time through.
After an opening sequence that was rather on the nose (our guy drinks hard and mixes his cocktails by banging his glass on the table like a man, but he plays jazz so smooth – two dimensions!) I found myself wondering what I was gonna be in for. Streets bathed in neon, two cops sharing clichéd cop banter about how the one cop has a real good wife at home and he needs to hang on to her? This surely wasn’t the most auspicious of starts and when the prevalent adjective thrown at the flick is “INSANE” I was a little incredulous. When is the insanity gonna start?
And then we got to the tea house. Hell, even before the guns came out I perked up a little. The whole set-up to that shootout was almost impeccably directed. The flow of traffic through the scene, the way Woo moved the camera in, out and around everything – the best word that comes to mind is kinetic. It was a crowded scene and even though Woo seemed to have a tendency to let some people (including the viewer) get lost in the crowd, there was no denying the palpable intensity that came with how everything flowed. And THEN the guns came out. And then I sat the fuck up. Now, again, I’m used to hyper-violence. But, just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean I don’t love it. And even though there was something…familiar and cozy about the insanity of the tea-house shootout, I still loved it. Hell, if this is what the movie was going to deliver for the rest of the running time I’m on board. Maybe I don’t quite get all the fuss (it got a Criterion release?), but I’m on board.
It’s important to note that those were the things I was thinking at THAT time. Because I kept watching and after I sat through the talky cop nonsense (you could have replaced the scenes with Tequila and the Chief with any scene between McBain and HIS chief and it would have been almost essentially seamless) and the talky Triad nonsense, we build up to the warehouse raid. And while the tea house shootout was familiar and cozy, the raid decided to trade a little of the familiar in for some good, old-fashioned “holy shit.” Captain Eye Patch (I found out later his name was Mad Dog) clearing out a teency office with a hand grenade or two? Guys on motorcycles with uzis skidding around a slick warehouse floor, dropping bodies by the dozen while cars explode in every direction? And then (AND THEN) once the raid happens and is successful and the young gangster who’s primed to take over the world kills his old boss (and guns down his entire crew in a blaze of fury) here comes Tequila who single-handedly kills everygoddamnedthing. Holy shit. And again – the direction! There was so much going on in that scene – from the organization of all the vehicles ahead of time, to the stunt choreography to the flow of traffic through the frame – Woo sexed the whole thing up. And for someone who wasn’t familiar with Woo’s brand of sexin, I was in awe.
But, once we finish with that set piece, we’re back to talky exposition. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love talky exposition when it’s interesting. Here? Not exactly the case. Turns out our young hotshot gangster is actually an undercover cop and Tequila and the Chief STILL don’t get along but he and the new guy are gonna reluctantly work together to bring the bad guys down. It’s suitable and it doesn’t particularly kill the momentum (though that’s mainly because Fat and Leung have enough charisma to elevate the “2+2=4!” dramatic dialogue they have to deliver) but you do kind of find yourself waiting for the next big set piece. ALSO – this is where it kind of dawned on me that this entire movie was a video game come to life, complete with almost threadbare cut scenes in between levels (and bonus – the song note code device is your minigame!). I dunno if that was Woo’s intention (doubtful, even though Hard Boiled WAS sequelized in videogame form with Stranglehold, so, who knows), but it certainly made me appreciate the slower moments leading up to the Big Final Level.
And Big Final Level is a terribly, horribly gross understatement. The hospital shootout may be one of the most elaborate, violent, over-the-top things ever committed to film. Maybe not, as there’s a lot I haven’t seen, but still – Jesus H. Macy. It starts in the most amazing way possible – after discovering that the bad guys have their weapons cache in the basement of the hospital, Tequila and Alan make their way down incognito – Tequila as an orderly and Alan as a dead guy on a gurney. They walk through the door, Tequila slings the gurney towards the guard across the room, kills the guard standing in front of him while Alan pops out from under his sheet and kicks the other guard in the face. Once again – I sat the fuck up. It didn’t immediately kick off into high gear – we had a few minute delay while Tequila and Alan try to figure out to short-circuit the electric lock on a giant sliding metal “bad guy door” (seriously – all the bad guys have doors that look like that…well, bad guys and government agencies), which culminates in Tequila quick-drawing a bullseye shot that sends a bullet out of his gun directly into ANOTHER BULLET (hey – another minigame!). It doesn’t work so Alan just ELECTROCUTES HIMSELF so the doors open. This is when shit goes down for real – the doctors and cops try to evacuate the hospital but the gun runners ain’t havin’ none of THAT shit and start killing everybody. There comes a point in the middle of it where it’s almost sensory overload. You kind of start to go numb. EVERYBODY is up for grabs. Oh, you’re a random, scared, old person? Fuck you – dead. Oh, you’re on crutches and can’t escape? Fuck you – dead. Oh, you’re a doctor and you can help all of these incapacitated people? Fuck you – dead. Oh, y’all are a bunch of newborn babies? F…NOPE. Not only does Woo not kill the babies (because honestly, that would run everything off the rails), he actually ONE UPS that (yeah, I didn’t think it was possible either) and has Tequila stop his relentless pursuit of killing gun runners to help his girlfriend put cotton balls in the babies’ ears so the incessant screams, cries and automatic gunfire don’t scare them and he has beat cops start a bucket line to deliver all the little guys out of the window and down to safety. That’s amazing. AMAZING. And then, when one of the infants gets accidentally left behind, Tequila finds him, picks him up and sings him a lullaby…while shooting terrorists. I know, I mentioned that before, but HOLY SHIT.
And none of this even mentions Leung – while Tequila is off on his adventures in babysitting, Alan is busy leaping all over town, jumping over gurneys and through doors and in between columns and walls, killing terrorists. In the meantime Johnny, the Big Crime Boss (who looks like a silly, Asian, Jonathan Silverman) has started planting C4 all over the building. Some more people die, Captain Eye Patch (er, Mad Dog) decides that killing innocent people is going too far and shoots Johnny in the pancreas or something. Dude’s in point-blank range and doesn’t shoot him in the face? The fuck, Mad Dog? Anyway, Johnny shoots HIM in the face for his troubles. “This is how you kill somebody, douche bag.” He doesn’t actually say that, but subtext! AT ANY RATE – all this culminates in Tequila’s escaping the hospital before it goes up in a giant fireball. Alan and Johnny didn’t make it apparently – except that they DID and Johnny comes out holding a gun to Alan’s head. In true over-indulgent bad guy fashion, rather than just shoot some people and tear ass, he decides to have a little fun with Tequila – makes him slap himself and get down on his knees. Tequila obliges, gets Johnny to let his guard down, Alan distracts him and Tequila quick-draws and puts a bullet through Johnny’s eye socket. Alan takes a bullet for his troubles, Tequila mourns the loss, credits roll.
And then there I am, awestruck, amazed and needing a cigarette. I don’t know much about Stranglehold as a game (except that there’s some sort of aiming device where you can target people’s testicles?) but now I have to play it. I also need to go ahead and get around to The Killer, which, apparently, is Hard Boiled’s artier cousin. But for now? Hi John Woo, I’m Jeremy and you just kicked my ass right out from under me.
And I love you for it.