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: Playtime, Alphaville, Tout Va Bien, Sunset Boulevard, Desk Set, Mother 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.