Hard-Boiled (1992)

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*. I watched quite a lot of brainless action films in the 1980s. They were the kind of movies young men rented to watch with their buddies at the time.
*. A typical example of the genre was the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando (1985). There was a basic plot involving Arnold rescuing his kidnapped daughter by taking out a criminal organization led by some general with a private army. It was all just an excuse to show off the big guy’s muscles and have endless fight scenes.
*. The way the gunfight scenes played out was always the same. The hero would blaze away, rarely if ever bothering to reload. Everything he fired at, even while shooting from the hip or jumping through the air, he hit. And whatever he hit suffered maximum damage: bullets blowing up any oil drum or vehicle they came anywhere near, and riddling every mook with squibs while knocking them flying into the air. Meanwhile, only one or two of the thousands of rounds shot at the hero would sometimes graze his arm, bringing forth a bit of blood.
*. I bring this up here only because John Woo is often credited with being a ground-breaking director of shoot-’em-up action movies. I think he does gunfights very well (and gunplay is basically all Woo does), but his movies are really not much different from what Hollywood was doing throughout the ’80s. There are signature elements, like the incongruous birds and the Mexican standoffs (which he seems never to have tired of), but otherwise he’s not doing anything distinctly new. Even the slow-motion ballet-of-death came from Peckinpah.
*. The long take in the hospital in this film is impressive, with the set having to be cleaned up and restaged while the two leads were in the elevator. The explosions are ridiculous but also impressive, as the hospital at the end just turns into one gigantic serial fireball. And finally the painting with blood in a couple of shots is clever. But to look at all this and say, as Barbara Scharres does in her Criterion essay, that “the film is unparalleled in its fiery invention and technical virtuosity” is going much too far. The endless gunfights and explosions are clichéd, repetitive, and numbing.

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*. In my notes on The Killer I mentioned how Woo had a good ten-year run as a leading action director. Ten years was a long time given his inability to innovate. Coming to America (which he did after this film) probably lengthened his career somewhat, as he could keep doing the same stuff for a new mass audience.
*. OK, so how does Tequila find that book in the library with the gun hidden in it? Simply by noticing the outline it leaves in the pool of blood on the table? He just wanders through the stacks until he finds a book that’s approximately the same size?
*. I’m one of those people who always looks at what books people have on their shelves. So I couldn’t help glancing at the titles in that library. And what an odd library it is. Arranged next to each other we find the Complete Works of Shakespeare, a volume of the Collected Writings of Thomas Hardy, Essays, Articles and Reviews by Evelyn Waugh, a biography of Beatrix Potter, Dickens and Women, Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, and Hemingway: The Critical Heritage. Aside from all being related to literature in English, what do any of these books have to do with each other?

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*. The entire final third of the movie is chaotic nonsense. I didn’t understand any part of what was going on. The bad guy actually had an entire James Bond-style lair in the basement of a hospital? That would have been absurd even in a Bond film. Weren’t Alan and Tequila being gassed? What happened to that? How was that business with telling Teresa to wait for the signal to evacuate the hospital and then slipping the signal (a white rose) in her pocket supposed to work? How did Tequila know when/if she was going to find it? Why didn’t he just tell her to wait fifteen minutes? How was he going to send her a flower anyway? Then they really went around putting cotton balls in all the babies’ ears to stop them from crying? And it worked?

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*. All of the baby stuff was just too silly for words. I have to admit, I was hoping to see one of the bassinets get hit and explode in blood but that was not to be.
*. There was a better movie waiting to be made out of the Tony Leung character, and they made it ten years later as Infernal Affairs (with Leung reprising the part). So this movie wasn’t a complete waste. But aside from that, I think this movie is almost total garbage, and I’m baffled at its reputation. Nobody takes Commando seriously today. What do they see in this?

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