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Fox Lorber presents
Hard Boiled (1992)

"Life should be about having fun."
- Tequilla (Chow Yun-Fat)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 29, 2000

Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung
Other Stars: Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Anthony Wong
Director: John Woo

Manufacturer: DVDI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extreme violence and language)
Run Time: 02h:07m:28s
Release Date: October 03, 2000
UPC: 720917522425
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Prior to 1997, Hong Kong was the source of an amazing film industry, one that produced a staggering amount of talent including the likes of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Ronnie Yu, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 forced many filmmakers to leave, most of whom came to the U.S., for fear that they would be limited in their art because of the Communist government. With this mass exodus, Chinese filmmakers and actors wound up making mediocre films in the US, many of which merely pale in comparison to their original field of work. A good example is director John Woo, whose hard-hitting, gritty crime thrillers are absolute hallmarks of Hong Kong cinema, but after arrival in America headed up mediocre projects like Broken Arrow. Friend and actor Chow Yun-Fat, the amazingly magnetic and suave leading man, was also reduced to co- actor/buddy roles like The Corruptor and The Replacement Killers. Hard Boiled was the final collaboration between Woo and Yun-Fat, and is an outstanding example of the wild brilliance of Hong Kong cinema.

Chow Yun-Fat portrays 'Tequilla', a no-nonsense cop who's working on an arms-dealing case along with most of the police force. After a bust goes bad, his partner is killed and he learns that the police force has been hiding too many secrets about where their undercover agents are. Tony Leung (usually a staple of swords-and-sorcery epics) plays Alan, an undercover cop who's so entrenched in the local Triad that he can hardly distinguish between his real life and his criminal one. Tequilla discovers that Alan is indeed a cop, but in the process exposes himself to the likes of Johnny Wong, the most vicious arms dealer of them all. Tired of playing the waiting game over what he can and can't do, Tequilla takes the law into his own hands and tries to team up with Alan in order to destroy the Johnny Wong by trying to discover his hidden cache of weapons.

The most obvious factor in a John Woo action film is the amazing action sequences. Filled with choreography and intense stuntwork, these sequences overshadow most of what American cinema puts out. Hard Boiled is definitely Woo's most ambitious film in that respect, foregoing his more detailed, emotional plots for all out action. That's not to say the film is without drama; Woo's typical, melodramatic dialogue and subplots are still present, adding dimension, while focusing on excitement. Action fans will simply melt over the sheer level of fantastic scenes here, some of which Woo duplicated in his first U.S. film, Hard Target. Of course, Yun-Fat hardly ever runs out of bullets, as is the same with most other characters.

The cast is, of course, extremely charismatic, especially with Chow Yun-Fat in the lead. His stream of action hero/silent tough guy roles in Hong Kong have earned him titles like "The Asian Clint Eastwood," and with good reason. John Woo himself makes a few short cameos in the film as "John Woo," the bartender of Tequilla's favorite jazz nightclub. The central villain is played by Anthony Wong who, though famous for his bizarre roles in many martial arts films, is even more popular as a television soap star in Hong Kong.

Gritty and violent, Hard Boiled is a film you experience, rather than simply watch. The amazing balance between story, drama, and pure action shows what an auteur John Woo is. His style undoubtedly influenced much of Chinese cinema, with martial arts film directors like Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark even chiming in with similar crime thrillers. In Hong Kong cinema lore, these ultra-violent action films with heart are often referred to as "heroic bloodshed," and perhaps there is no better example of this genre than this film.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox Lorber's VHS version of Hard Boiled was, in my opinion, the definitive version. The image had been improved over the exorbitantly priced Tai Seng versions, and even used credit sequences omitted from other releases. I am happy to report that the new DVD is, other than natural enhancements from the DVD medium, pretty much the same. The source print is damaged a bit, fairly typical for these Chinese films, but the transfer is very clean and sharp. Some of the muddier colors and grain bring out slight compression artifacts, but you really have to look for them. New, player-based English subtitles have been added. They are easy to read (yellow with black bordering) and are placed slightly below the image frame. Colors are slightly more natural and vibrant in this release, and there is better black level and overall sharpness. Bitrate seems to be pretty high throughout, resulting in an odd layer change only about 15 seconds into the film. While not everything one would hope for, in the changeover from VHS, the image didn't get WORSE. There is no anamorphic enhancement, unfortunately, which might turn off some viewers.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoCantonese, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: English and Cantonese, single channel Mono soundtracks are present here. Both are very crisp and clear, and sport much more range than one might expect from the typically flat Chinese mono soundtracks. Dialogue is good and, in general, this is very lively for a mono track. The English dub is, unfortunately, rather poor sounding. The voices don't really match-up too well with the characters and sound very cheesy.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Killer
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Woo and Terence Chang
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:00m:15s

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD-ROM Weblink.
Extras Review: I never saw the Criterion DVD of Hard Boiled, so I am not sure if the John Woo/Terence Chang commentary is the same one used on the Criterion release. Regardless, this commentary is a very good one, mostly moderated by Terence Chang (producer for Hard Boiled) who speaks far more conversational English than Woo does. They talk mostly about the formal aspects of making the film as well as touching upon how Woo carried his techniques over to the U.S. The commentary must be fairly new since they discuss Mission Impossible—II, Woo's latest work. Woo is a little hard to understand with his thick accent, but you get used to it after awhile, and Terence Chang does a good job feeling out how comfortable Woo is with certain subjects. The commentary tends to stop for long gaps, but I guess it's hard to joke around and take the commentary lightly when English is your second language. One thing I will mention, though, the actual movie audio is WAY out of sync with the picture in the commentary track.
Trailers for both this film and Woo's The Killer wrap up the disc, along with some production notes and bios for both Terence Chang and Woo. The menus are elaborately animated, which makes a nice change from the usual stiff Fox Lorber menus. The 30 chapter stops are adequate, though a bit thin at the beginning.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

This new DVD edition of Hard Boiled is pretty much what I had hoped it would be, and the commentary track makes a nice extra. Though this version lacks the supplimentals of the now out-of-print Criterion version, it's still a great addition to any John Woo collection and makes a nice upgrade of the original VHS. Highly recommended.


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