Thursday, 13 November 2014

And Two Hard-Boiled Eggs... Make That Three Hard-Boiled Eggs... Actually make that Zero Hard-Boiled Eggs

I've got a confession to make. For the first time since I started here, I have had to walk out of one of the screenings for an otherwise pretty-awesome class. I am literally sitting outside the classroom as I type this, hearing audio from the movie playing. Now I've sat through some pretty bad movies in these classes, movies that it hurt to sit through: PlaytimeAlphaville, Tout Va BienSunset Boulevard, Desk SetMother and Menilmonant just to name a few, so what movie was so bad that I couldn't handle it? Well, it's an action film from none other than the director of Paycheck, Mr. John Woo: his 1992 film Hard-Boiled.

Now, admittedly, part of the problem may have been a misunderstanding on my part. While I understood the director to be foreign, I was under the impression that Hardboiled was one of his Hollywood productions, and it was only during the lecture I found out otherwise. We were discussing trends of action cinema in Hong Kong, particularly "Gun Fu" as it is sometimes nicknamed, or rather the way martial arts films were influenced by Hollywood (which in turn influenced a lot of later Hollywood movies), which led to a merging between the use of American action movie elements with techniques associated with Asian martial arts films. Some of them seemed kind of interesting (from the clip I saw of a "Wuxia" film, those have some very peculiar stylistic elements to them), but unfortunately we had to watch one film that was not very good.

I was assured that Hard-Boiled was a far better movie than Paycheck. The thing is as bad as Paycheck was and how horrendously it butchered the dignity of Philip K. Dick's original writing, I could at least understand what was going on. Hard Boiled? It took about ten minutes for me to get completely lost. Some sort of action scene was happening and apparently a key witness to some trial got killed (which raises the question of why an important witness was in a place filled with shady crooks and not in police custody). Who I was supposed to root for and who the villains were was beyond me. To be totally honest I was more concerned about the birds whose cages were constantly being knocked over and smashed than I was about any of the characters. I couldn't even tell who I was supposed to be rooting for, and it only went downhill from there.

Now I have nothing against Hong Kong cinema. Frankly, I know virtually nothing about it and I'm going to try not to let this one film affect my judgement of any movies I might see in the future. Why should I? I had doubts after seeing Mother that I would ever find a good Russian film and was proven wrong a week later when I saw Battleship Potemkin and started to feel like I could get into the work of Sergei Eisenstein so there's no reason Hong Kong cinema can't do the same.

However, this film is bad, really bad. You know something is wrong when the first ten minutes are all it takes to leave you completely confused and unable to take it anymore. I just couldn't finish the movie. I'm not even sure how far I got. Maybe John Woo actually has done a good action film somewhere down the line, but Hard-Boiled is not it. Don't bother with this movie, it's a waste of time and not a good action film at all. 


  1. I am not into kung fu films at all as i always felt they were just an excuse for, well, kung fu. I forgot that you dislike Sunset Blvd-it is one of my favourites:)

    1. I've kinda felt the same way myself. I saw Enter the Dragon a few weeks ago for the same class and that was kinda fun, but I don't think it's something I need to actively pursue right now.

  2. I really enjoyed Hard Boiled. For me, the fun is in the action scenes, both how wonderfully they're choreographed and how silly they are. John Woo really has an amazing knack for making violence look great. At the same time, you can't help but notice that our hero fires literally thousands of rounds from his handgun and reloads the thing maybe a handful of times. To me, this perfectly epitomizes the phrase "turn your brain off movie." Then again, I grew up practically worshiping at the altars of Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (and Steven Seagal, to a lesser extent). I've grown up a lot since those days as a person and as a movie watcher, but can still appreciate the occasional overly silly, mindless action flick. Taken on those terms, Hard Boiled is practically a masterpiece. If you're looking for any sort of depth at all, you're looking in the wrong place. That said, I'm glad you have the nerve to come right out and say you don't like a particularly popular film. Good for you.

    1. I remember my professor did mention that there while this was a good example of the sort of technical accomplishments John Woo was known for, there apparently is some dispute over whether it actually is a good or bad film. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Evidently I'm on the opposing side, though perhaps one of his other early films will be more up to my speed.

      Challenging popular opinions is what I'm here for. It would be dishonest of me to just go along with the crowd instead of saying how I really feel, even if it does mean taking some big risks by voicing my dislike for a film that is otherwise almost universally loved. Of course it does occasionally go the other way too, as I have from time to time written articles defending widely disliked or heavily criticized films like Dark Tide, Conquest of Space, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

      The thing about being a film student is you get exposed to a wide variety of films of varying degrees of quality. During my experiences I've had some that got me excited and others that had me nervous. Some turn out to be pleasant surprises, others big disappointments. The one thing is that it provides lots of great blogging material, whether it's explaining a concept or idea that interests me (as I did with Film Noir and Soviet Montage) or venting my frustrations on one of the movies I didn't like so much. It's not always easy to criticize a well-loved film, but the secret is really just to know what it was about the film you didn't like and bring that problem to the forefront.

      With Solaris it was the slow pacing, with Halloween it was the uninteresting story, with Alphaville it was the incoherent narrative and the general lack of effort in actually creating a dystopian future, with Playtime it was the general lack of anything funny and the scenes that just kept going on longer than they needed to, and with this film it was just not a very coherent narrative. With some films I'm not always so sure. I never could place precisely what it was I didn't like about Sunset Boulevard, 8½, or Mother which is why I haven't written articles directly criticizing them although I have on several occasions voiced how I felt.

  3. Yeah "Hard Boiled" only has the insanely choreographed action scenes going for it. If you want interesting characters, or plot this movie doesn't work at all. I worked at a video store back when Woo first became a name in North America. I saw some of his early work and my favorite by far was "The Killer". It actually has interesting characters, a understandable (if not remarkable) story, and some great action scenes. It gets a bit melodramatic at times, but that seems to be something that all of Woo's films go for. He just goes BIG every time. Sometimes it works other times... not so much.

    But yeah, I've read plenty of folks who put him in the "bad director" category. I think he is the kind of director who always makes interesting films, but not all of them work. I'd rather watch an interesting failure than something safe and vanilla. So that is why I'll defend some of his stuff. If you want to give his early Hong Kong stuff another shot, try "The Killer".