12. Hard Boiled


This was one of the first foreign films I’d ever seen, alongside The Host, and those two movies opened up so much, the gates to both John Woo and the Korean New Wave. Both of which have been plenty represented on this list (one more Korean flick to go). John Woo is the greatest action director, someone whose style is so evident and so grandiose, so goddamn artistic it’s a wonder to look at. And none of his movies are as big as this.

Chow Yun Fat plays the cop who may not hard-boiled in the Marlowe or otherwise noir sense, but might be more ‘nothing to lose.’ And if there’s one thing he doesn’t like, it’s Triad gangsters. Meanwhile, Tony Leung plays one of those Triads, but he’s undercover.

That’s basically the story. Like all the best experience or presentation movies, the conventional elements of film aren’t at the fore. It’s the motion, the image, the bloodshed, more ephemeral things that we don’t typically think of. But this is a movie that challenges traditional approaches to discussing film. It’s a movie of incredible technical and artistic skill, and these are rarely applied to this genre.

Recently? The Raid and The Raid 2. But this was the original, the Wooiest of all Woo. The most often cited sequence is the nearly seven minute unbroken tracking shot of shotgun mayhem through the halls and elevators of a hospital, an uncut sequence that stands above even Oldboy, Children of Men, and The Protector’s long shots.

I might be biased. Again, nostalgia is a factor. But this movie had a profound impact on me. It redefined how I looked at movies. For James Cameron, that was Solaris — suddenly all things were possible, and his big project “Mother” could one day be made. For most people it’s King Kong or Star Wars. But for me (and the reason I’m not a filmmaker), it’s Hard Boiled.

This is like live-action anime, or what I see when I envision comic books in motion in my head. It’s fantastical movement and rhythm, something so weird as byproduct, that is product. John Woo may have retired ever since his return to Hong Kong, but he left a body of work that I love so much, and this is his best film.

And I almost forgot: awesome score.

2 thoughts on “12. Hard Boiled

  1. Most people prefer The Killer or A Better Tomorrow, which I think have aged. This one is my fav JW movie. I cannot think of another action movie, where the each of the later action scene tops the previous one.

    1. The escalation is pretty impressive, given that we begin in the tea-house. But we can never underestimate the Woo’s penchant for grand finales, another favorite being A Better Tomorrow 2, which makes up for the rest of its certifiable self

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