A little over a week late due to the site move, but WTF ASIA is back with a bang. And a few more bangs. And a couple of booms. And several adorable little babies.
Find it on Youtube.
Tequila isâ€¦what everyone calls him. Anyways, Tequila is an inspector who likes to play the clarinet at a jazz bar on his off time. Unfortunately for him, off time is off the table. He is tasked with taking part in a sting operation against a group of gun smugglers in a restaurant. Amusingly enough, the smugglers have hidden the guns in the bird cages that they brought (bird cages are all around the restaurant), but talk openly and explicitly about guns in their conversation without resorting to codewords. Unfortunately for Tequila again, the operation goes badly. Who knew that a bunch of gun smugglers would resist arrest using guns? The gangsters try to shoot their way out of the restaurant, killing around two dozen innocent people. Tequila and his partner manage to kill off most of the gangsters, but not before his partner gets shot. Unfortunate for Tequilaâ€™s partnerâ€¦who definitely had a wife and child. So, dead cops, dead civilians, dead gangsters, no arrests. Tequila is upset over the death of his partner, but Superintendent Pang is really upset that Tequila shot all of the gangsters instead of bringing in potential witnesses. Pang takes Tequila off of the caseâ€¦which seems like somewhat light punishment given the bloody fiasco.
The movie switches over to Alan. Alan is a gangster, with an expensive car and a sailboat and all of that, in contrast to Tequilaâ€™s struggle to find an apartment. And while this little detail is not made explicit until around halfway through the movie, it is telegraphed fairly early on that he is an undercover cop. He also has an overelaborate method of doing things. First, we see him track down a criminal at a library, find a gun hidden in one of the library books, and kill the man with that gun. I am not sure whether actual undercover cops in Hong Kong were allowed to do something like that, but whatever. Additionally, his method of sending messages to his boss, Superintendent Pang, is to send flowers to Teresa (another police officer and Tequilaâ€™s girlfriendâ€¦or ex-girlfriend) along with a card with song lyrics on them. The notes of the song (do-re-mi) correspond with numbers, which Pang has to input into a computer to decode. How Alan would know the meaning of the codes and not Pang or why he went through all of this trouble is beyond me, but the actor who plays Pang used to manage undercover cops, so what do I know.
Alan is undercover working for an elderly triad boss named Mr. Hoi, but he gets himself poached by the young up-and-comer, Johnny. Johnny is a gun smuggler whose ambitions are stifled by Hoi undercutting him with low prices. Johnny also happens to be the boss of those guys from the restaurant. When Tequila comes around to harass Johnny and point a gun at him, Alan takes the opportunity to prove himself by assaulting Tequila, though he prevents Johnny from killing him in public.
Thanks to his informant in Johnnyâ€™s gang, Tequila learns that Johnny is going to attack Hoiâ€™s weapons cache at the docks. Meanwhile, Alan sends Pang another flower message, telling him to reign in Tequila. A still vengeful Tequila, however, is not happy to be reassigned, and the two of them get into a shouting match.
Johnny brings Alan along for the attack on Hoiâ€™s weapons cache. It is a massacre. All of Hoiâ€™s men working there a dead in less than three minutes. As Johnnyâ€™s men are moving the weapons out, Tequila manages to sneak in on his own. Hoi eventually shows up with several of his men, but their attack is thwarted by a grenade that leads to a multiple car pileup. Johnnyâ€™s men surround the survivors. Hoi orders his men to stand down, in the hopes that Johnny will let them live. Hoi tells Alan that, while he is disappointed in Alanâ€™s betrayal, he figured that something like this was bound to happen and wishes that Alan shoot him instead of one of Johnnyâ€™s regular thugs. So Alan kills himâ€¦and then mows down the rest of his men with a machine gun. Now, yes, they were all still armed and they would have probably gotten killed anyways, but I am not sure that that counts as proper police procedure. Not that it matters, as Tequila takes this opportunity to make his presence known by killing pretty much everyone there. Alan convinces Johnny to get away, saying that he will take care of this cop. This eventually leads to a confrontation where Alan has Tequila at his mercy, sort of. Alan decides to run off, convincing Tequila that this crazed murderer who assaulted him the other day is an undercover cop.
Tequilaâ€™s newfound knowledge enrages him further, as he sees this man as the person who has stifled his plans for revenge. He also feels as if Pang is favoring this crazy man. While Tequila is still grieving for his former partner, he outright tells Pang that he would have no problem killing the undercover cop if he gets another opportunity. While Pang denies knowing who Tequila is talking about, he kind of implies that he is an undercover cop.
Later on, Pang and Alan have a face-to-face meet. Alan stresses that Tequilaâ€™s interference could destroy the entire operation. Pang promises to control Tequila and, though he is unable to fulfill some of the more complicated requests that Alan asks for, he does give Alan a birthday present. It turns out that Alan was so busy being a gangster that he has had trouble recalling his own identity, including his birthday.
As soon as Alan returns to his boat, Tequila attacks him and puts a gun to his face. Instead of killing him, he starts to make some small chit-chat, trying to figure out who Alan is and what makes him tick. Tequila suggests that they work together to bring down Johnny, but Alan is reluctant. Suddenly, three of Hoiâ€™s men run up to the boat and try to kill Alan. Alan and Tequila manage to kill them, but not before Alan gets injured. Tequila has to hide as Johnnyâ€™s men arrive to take Alan to the hospital, but not before Alan agrees that they will team up soon enough.
This was John Wooâ€™s last movie before he left for Hollywood, and it was pretty much his last hurrah to Hong Kong. While this movie did not have the manic bloody chaos of a certain nine-minute segment from A Better Tomorrow II, it had all of Wooâ€™s previous movies beat in terms of consistent violence, and had a bodycount that he would not surpass until his first actual war movie ten years later. There are six main action scenes in this movie (along with a couple of minor ones), and only the two of them constitute what could be considered a normal-sized action scene. Three of them (including the opening one at the restaurant) could very well be considered a climactic action scene in any movie not directed by John Woo. As for the final action sceneâ€¦well, it is more like a series of action scenes, strung together by the story. And that whole thing adds up to around thirty minutes. Yep. That may seem a bit exhausting, but it is quite exhilarating all of the way through.
There are threads connecting this film with Wooâ€™s earlier works. There is organized crime, and the theme of a violent new generation trying to overthrow the old guard. There is the dark loneliness of the criminal life. There is the abusive cowboy cop. There is the brotherhood of violence between men. And lots of gunplay. It has been argued that this movie is a bit lacking in terms of character development in comparison to Wooâ€™s earlier films. I would say that character development was never really his strong suit; even his bleak epic Bullet in the Head had some characterization problems. What I want in a John Woo movie is action. And this one has it. And even if the characters are weaker here than in other movies of Woo, at least there was no one whom I really had a problem with. None of the characters were total morons. I had some questions about Alanâ€™s more outright murderous methods (apparently, his character was originally a bad guy who was planning on poisoning babies), but I could overlook that stuff. The character of Teresa was actually useful and able to both think for herself and take charge as opposed to being annoying deadweight or a constant liability as in most of Wooâ€™s earlier female characters (though who knows what the character would have been like had the movie stuck with the original choice of actress, Michelle Yeoh). The clash between the two main characters is not really about methods or who is by the book. And the bromantic aspect of their relationship is not sudden or overdone. They are pretty much still snapping at each other even when they decide to team up. It is only during a five minute sequence around two thirds of the way through when they are trying to open a door (FIVE MINUTES) that they finally find themselves on the same wavelength. Yeah there was a bit towards the end that seemed made merely to get from point A to point and shoot, but I did not mind that either.
And BABIES!!! Babies not being poisoned.
Hard Boiled was better received overseas than in Hong Kong, but maybe that was all for the best. There is a bit of an implication in the movie that emigrating is an act of survival, with, amongst other things, both Hoi and Tequilaâ€™s partner dying after stating their intentions to stay. Somewhat ironically, and maybe deliberately so, Tequilaâ€™s partner states that the food at the restaurant is better than anywhere else and a reason why he would never leave Hong Kong. In real life, restaurant was scheduled for demolition, so Woo was free to destroy as much as he felt like during the gun battle scene. Sure, Tequilaâ€™s partner probably did not literally mean the food just at that particular restaurant, but the implication is there. There may have been other reasons, such as the alleged favoring of violence over characterization and relationship-building. Maybe it was because of the somewhat more stripped down storyline or the extended climax that took up a quarter of the film. Whatever the reason was, I am one of those who absolutely loves this movie.
Next Time: Memories of Murder (South Korea: 2003, approx. 130 minutes)
Time After Next: Welcome to Sajjanpur (India: 2008, approx. 135 minutes)