Hard Boiled directed by John Woo is a Hong Kong crime action film revolving around Tequila Yuen (Played by Chow Yun-fat) and Undercover cop Alan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai). After a series of misunderstandings and near misses, when Tequila is unaware of Alans undercover status. The pair are tasked with taking down a criminal gang lead by Johnny Wong.
After a long action packed investigation, the final climactic confrontation occurs between the gang and police in a Hospital.
Hard Boiled is essentially a buddy cop film. Much like Woo’s other work; there is a focus on crime and the police force, there is a strong bound between the two leads that lends itself to homoerotic readings and of course there are a lot of highly choreographed and multi-layered gun based action sequences. Woo proves to the world why his the best at these ‘gun ballet’ films. The action while copious never feels exhausting, the clever direction means that there are always breaks away from the chaos. Similarly the audience always wants to go back to the action during those breaks.
What is interesting in the film however is an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty over
Hong Kong’s individual national identity. While this is certainly nothing new for Woo, having made A Better Tomorrow in 1986, or Hong Kong filmmakers in general around this period due to the impending handover of Hong Kong to Mainland China. However by saying that this is the only cause for a national existential crisis arguably leads to an overly narrow view of the film.
While it is certainly the case that Hong Kong is wary of becoming part of China. The final sequence takes place in a hospital with patient’s doctors and newly born babies taken hostage is perhaps the best piece of audience to support this argument. Indeed we see that rescuing the infants is a major part of the climax, with Tequila carrying and protecting one himself. The symbolism of this sequence is overt, with the babies representing Hong Kongs future, by rescuing them from the hospital hostage situation and by protecting them from the hail of gun fire, Woo enables Hong Kong audiences a glimmer of hope for the future. Similarly the anger that Tequila feels at not being told who is an undercover agent by his superiors could represent distrust and a disillusionment with the Hong Kong government over the lack of information surrounding handover.
However there is a point to be made that Hard Boiled is a means by which Hong Kong can try to negotiate its own identity in a more global context. The first scene of the film takes place in a bird themed tea house, one police officer says that you can’t get dim-sum anywhere except Hong Kong, Tequila retorts that you can get it anywhere. Similarly the main characters names are all westernized, Tequila even plays jazz in a jazz bar. We see then, that in this very transnational film, there is also a conflict in Hong Kong around its place as both traditionally Chinese and a global capitalist economy.
It is clear then that this masterful action film is more than its majestic bullet storms, rather it seems to tap into the anxieties of a country struggling to find itself in a global and a national context.
Credits and Stats
Directed by John Woo
Produced by Linda Kuk
Screenplay by Barry Wong
Story by John Woo
Starring Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok, Anthony Wong
Music by Michael Gibbs
Cinematography Wang Wing-heng
Edited by John Woo, David Wu, Kai Kit-wai and Jack Ah
Production Company Golden Princess Film Production and Milestone Pictures
Distributed by Golden Princess Film Production
Release Date April 16 1992
Running Time 128 Minutes
Country Hong Kong
Box Office HK$19.7 Million