The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lat sau san taam aka Hard Boiled (1992)

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I don't remember exactly how it came up (I think there's a blog somewhere last year where I mentioned it), but I gave Ryan Kenner at Movies in the Attic my list of the top 10 films of the 1990s and asked him what his were. I was very surprised to see Hard Boiled on that list, not because I didn't think it was amazing, but because I'd always thought it came out in 1988. Somewhere along the line I obviously got some erroneous information, so I took a look at my list again, and right away, Hard Boiled was slotted in at number 6. It's that good.

Hard Boiled is about a cop, played by Chow Yun-Fat, who tends to drink a lot, but is still very good at what he does. When his partner dies in a too-sweet gun fight, he's on the warpath to apprehend those responsible. Things take an interesting turn, when someone he thinks is a bad guy turns out to be a fellow cop in deep cover. Both guys are used to being lone heroes, but they have to learn how to work together if they want to come out on top.

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With our Bad Lieutenant post, we now have two of my top ten films of the 90s posted on here (that film being my number 7). Hard Boiled is really that good. What makes it better than The Killer for me, is that it's something more. While The Killer was a fantastic merging of action and drama in a way that seldom works, Hard Boiled dialed down the drama, but turned the action into high art. This was Fellini, Goddard, Bergman, or Kurosawa, but it was done with guns-- and done with guns in a way I can't imagine any of those or any other great director pulling off. This was what people thought they were watching with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The question then is, how did we get from Hard Boiled, to Hard Target? Why hasn't someone whose Hong Kong films put him up there with some of the best living directors, like Scorsese, Almodóvar, and Eastwood, not been able to replicate that success here in the States. I think Almodóvar might be the best comparison, because he's stayed in his native Spain, while Woo left Hong Kong. Just like I can't see any American actors delivering on the uniquely European and Spanish takes Almodóvar has on sex and gender relations, I can't see any American actors going at an action scene with the same kind of intensity that Chow Yun-Fat or any other Hong Kong actors do. I mean, I love Tom Cruise, but he's no Chow Yun-Fat. Neither are Nicolas Cage or John Travolta. Or even Dolph Lundgren. Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood have much more creative freedom than Woo does, but they also don't make films that are as physically taxing on their actors, which means they don't have to worry about SAG reps or producers or insurance people nixing things that might put their stars in danger.

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When we think about great directors, we also think of great actors who are often associated with those directors. Max von Sydow and Ingmar Bergman. Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa. Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. With all of those directors, they moved onto other actors, and though they may not have captured that same magic, they still made classics. With Woo, though, he hasn't duplicated that form he had with Chow Yun-Fat-- and it could be said that other than Full Contact, Chow Yun-Fat hasn't really hit many home runs either. I'm not much of a video game guy (that's not true, rather I'm a literal video game addict, so I keep them away from me so I can function like a (somewhat) normal member of society), but I'm interested to see how Stranglehold is, because it's their first reunion since Hard Boiled.

Before I do another paragraph on the DVD version of the film I watched, I think I need to get back into a little DTVC bad action and leave the whole indie art house thing behind for a sec. As a huge action fan, this is pretty much as good as it gets. Hard Boiled is, as I mentioned above, action as high art. Not only did Woo not let the plot get in the way of the action, he made the plot the action. The dialog was the action, the story was told in action-- everything was action. As much as this is a great movie quality wise, action wise, it's like I won the Golden Ticket and was walking through Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. This is one of those movies that really works for both the mindless action crowd and the indie art house crowd, which is perfect for me, because I belong to both.

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Like The Killer, I went with the Criterion cover image, and like with The Killer, I watched the Dragon Dynasty version. You can get the Hard Boiled Criterion used for much cheaper than The Killer, $15-20, but again, being released in 1998, the Dragon Dynasty one might be better. It's a two-disc set (which I have only checked out the main disc of), and a pretty decent transfer, so I think getting Hard Boiled on Criterion is another case of doing it as a collector's item.

If you haven't seen this yet, even more than The Killer, it's a must. This isn't just Woo at it's finest, this is the art of cinema at its finest. Get it on Netflix, buy it at your local electronics shop, just check it out. As a side note, I won't be covering the Better Tomorrow series during this go round of Hong Kong films, so until we get back to them somewhere down the road, you can check out what Kenner thinks about them at his site (link is to the specific post).

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104684/

7 comments:

  1. Oh yes this would probably be in my list of all time favorite movies. Also I would put it as one of the best of the 1990s. If I had to pick 10, my list would include Pulp Fiction, Shawhank Redemption, Fresh, Goodfellas, Casino,Saving Private Ryan,A Bullet In The Head (Another excellent Woo movie), Reservoir Dogs,Q&A and Full Contact. (Plus Hard Boiled)

    For the 80s-The Vanishing,The Terminator, Robocop, Amadeus, A Better Tomorrow, Once Upon A Time In America,Star 80, Prince Of The City,Videodrome and Southern Comfort.

    For the 00s-Old Boy, Ichi The Killer, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Sin City, The Wrestler, Lost In Translation, Trumbo,Kill Bill Volume 2 ,Grizzly Man and No Country For Old Men.

    Anyway for Hard Boiled (I deliberately left such for conversation and encourage you to put such out.) it's an awesome movie. I just what can I say that hasn't been said.

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  2. I'm holding off on my top 10 of the 90s until I see Unforgiven again, just because I saw it when it came out, back when I didn't appreciate the Western as a genre as much as I do now. I don't have an 80s one because I feel like, being born in 1979, I didn't experience the decade as much as I'd need to to do a list like that justice, though I guess I could just list my faves. I would say, in your 80s one, Raging Bull and Ran are conspicuously absent. (I won't give you a hard time about Fanny and Alexander or Do the Right Thing, because I don't think there's as much your bag as they are mine.)

    My ten favorite films of the oughts I have here at the DTVC, reprinted from the original Tumblr post. Check it out here.

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  3. HARD BOILED is hands down my fave action film of all-time, just edging out DIE HARD. As you so rightly point out, Woo's film is action film as high art! The film just hits you with one amazing, over-the-top action set piece after another and just when you think the film can't get any better, Woo does it again with the astouding hospital siege/showdown including the now legendary three-minute take where Chow and Tony Leung take out baddies without an edit. Amazing stuff!

    As for Woo's drop-off in quality once he hit the States. The studios had no idea what they had and treated him like some kind of newbie, director for hire - case in point, saddling him with Jean-Claude Van Damme (who seems to be the gateway drug for a lot Hong Kong action maestros into the the U.S.) on HARD TARGET. Sam Raimi has said that he was even called in by the studio to take over if Woo messed things up and Raimi basically tore them a new one for even daring to do such a thing.

    And then, BROKEN ARROW he was still treated with kid gloves but at least allowed to insert his style a bit more. It wasn't really until FACE/OFF (his best U.S. film) that he was really allowed to cut loose with his trademark style. Sadly, for me, it feels like a highlight reel of his best moves from THE KILLER, HARD BOILED, etc. I still enjoy the film but still...

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  4. That makes total sense what you're saying JD, and points to why Almodovar has made the right decision to stay in Spain instead of come to Hollywood.

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  5. Exactly. And that's why, for the most part, Wong Kar-Wai has stayed away as well (MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS wasn't really a Hollywood film but it wasn't his greatest effort either).

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  6. Yes, JD hit the nail on the head about Woo's unfortunate venture into Hollywood. And he wasn't the only one, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Simon Yam, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark... I just don't think Hollywood knew what to do with HK talent outside of its element, and it wasn't until later efforts where Hollywood melded with the Hong Kong way of doing things (Transporter, the Matrix) that I think it became more successful.

    And, for the record, I will admit that I absolutely dig Hard Target; it's definitely not "action as high art" Matt, but its without a doubt one of those all-time cheese fest classics.

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  7. Hey, by all means, I love (and own) Hard Target as well. I guess I only used that one because it was his first US film, and it was so different, like almost hard to recognize Woo in it.

    Hard Boiled unfortunately doesn't put asses in the seats the way something like Face/Off or Broken Arrow does, but as you said, with the success of Transporter and The Matrix, hopefully it will.

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