Judge Daryl Loomis is always over-easy.
Everything goes in and out of style, except war.
I never had too much love for '80s Hollywood action, but when I first saw the genre entries imported from Hong Kong, I found something I could sink my teeth into. Call it Bullet Ballet, Heroic Bloodshed, or whatever you want, the action choreography was like nothing I'd ever seen. The stunts amidst ridiculous hails of bullets were so much more exciting than anything America could offer until director John Woo (Hard Target), the man who started it all, crossed the Pacific to work in Hollywood, to very mixed results. His early films starring Chow Yun-Fat (A Better Tomorrow) never get old, though, and Hard Boiled, arguably the best of the lot, is finally out in a Blu-ray edition. From Vivendi under the Dragon Dynasty moniker, I'm sad to report that the results are unfortunately similar to the standard definition Ultimate Edition, released way back in '07.
Facts of the Case
Tequila (Yun-Fat) is a tough cop with a big heart investigating a gun-smuggling ring. When his partner is killed during a tea house sting operation gone bad, his sense of justice and thirst for revenge combine to turn Tequila into an unstoppable killing machine. With the help of an undercover agent (Tony Leung, Infernal Affairs), he must stop the ringleader before he can see through with his plan to blow up a hospital filled with babies.
Let's play the Hard Boiled drinking game. Every time somebody dies from a bullet wound, you take a drink. Meanwhile, I'll get on the horn with the ER, so just let me know when I need to send for the ambulance (Seriously, don't do this). I'm sure somebody has added up the body count of this movie, but I don't think I could keep track. The mayhem starts with the amazing teahouse shootout and doesn't let up until a baby extinguishes a flaming cop by peeing down his leg. Kids'll do the darndest things.
It's tough to beat Hard Boiled. People can argue that A Better Tomorrow or The Killer are faster paced or more exciting, but John Woo had grown quite a bit as a director, as had his relationship with long time stars Yun-Fat and Leung. This comes out onscreen, and there's no doubt that Hard Boiled is Woo's most complete Hong Kong film (at least to that point, Red Cliff is pretty dang cool). It's always easy to place where the characters are in relation to each other in the scene, no matter how fast the action moves or how over the top it gets. That's no easy feat, but the choreography is basically perfect and the direction is tight as it could possibly be. Emotionally, not a lot is asked of the stars, but their stunt acting is phenomenal and, most importantly, Yun-Fat and Leung simply ooze cool. Action movies don't get much better than this.
I was very excited to see Hard Boiled released on Blu-ray, deeply wanting to see Wang Wing-Heng's phenomenal action cinematography in crystal clear high definition, but the results are sadly not up to expectations. It's little more than a rehash of the Ultimate Edition released in 2007. The image transfer looks decent, but it's a sparse upgrade on Blu-ray from the standard definition version. There is grain everywhere and more damage to the print than should exist, but nothing has been done to clean up the image. The colors are pretty good overall, though, with good contrast and, in a film that takes place primarily at night, nice black levels. The sound is considerably better depending on the track you choose. The Cantonese 5.1 surround track is excellent, completely clear with nice separation and good use of all channels for the terrible late-80s/early-90s soundtrack that infests the film. The sound on the English track is good, but the dubbing is as bad as you would expect. Whether it's better is debatable. Woo has said that he likes it better, but I prefer the Cantonese. The problem with it is the subtitling, which is an exact copy of the dubbing, so there's no accurate indication of what anybody says at any point. The Cantonese mono track is for purists only.
Extras on the disc may all come from the old release of the film, but they're still as good as ever. The audio commentary with Bey Logan, who lends comment on a number of the films in the Dragon Dynasty series, is a little too dry for a film this fun, but he has a ton of valuable information and it's a good listen. A location guide takes us on a tour of Hong Kong, to many of the places used in the film, much of which has changed dramatically. The remainder of the supplements are interviews, but they've all been given names to make them look more special than they are, though each is informative and enjoyable, so I can't really complain. "A Baptism of Fire" is an excellent discussion with John Woo that runs just shy of forty minutes. Even if it's years old, Woo is a good interview and a font of information. An update would have been nice, since he has returned to Hong Kong to good success, but I could say the same about all the interviews. "Art Imitates Life" is a fifteen minute interview with Philip Chan, the police officer turned actor who has lent credibility to many, many cop roles. As both an actor and an expert in the field, his perspective is especially valuable to hear. Finally, "Mad Dog Bites Again," with main villain Kwok Choi, runs nearly thirty minutes. Choi also directed some of the action, so he brings his own unique perspective. Another interview, a trailer, and a making-of featurette on the video game sequel were on the SD version and are listed on the packaging, but are not present on the disc, making it feel like even less of a value.
Hard Boiled is awesome, Hong Kong action at its very best. Chow Yun-Fat is phenomenal and John Woo knows how to direct gunplay better than almost anyone in history. The Blu-ray is a simple port from the standard definition Ultimate Edition that came out a few years ago, and that's plain lame. This should have been the definitive edition of the film fans have waited for, but it's not. Instead, it's a very marginal upgrade. If you have the old version and it isn't too scratched up, you're probably wasting your money.
The film is not guilty, but this disc really should have been better.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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