Hong Kong Cinema

Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled
  • Made: 1992
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: 2 PAL
  • Release Date: 7 Feb 2005
  • Company: Prism
  • Length: 123 minutes
  • Picture: Letterbox Widescreen
  • Language: Cantonese with Subtitles / English Dubbed
  • Extras: Interactive menus, scene selections, traliers
  • Classification: 18
  • (see below for Special Edition disc specs)


John Woo


Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Kuo Chi, Lo Meng, John Woo, Philip Chan, Teresa Mo Sun Kwan, Anthony Wong

Hard Boiled, is arguably John Woo's best-known pre-Hollywood work and the same can be said for the film's lead, Chow Yun Fat. Most discerning film critics have seen Hard Boiled and predictably quote it almost instinctively whenever Hong Kong action cinema is mentioned. Few other vehicles have had comparably sustained international success and recognition, even though the domestic performance was decidedly mediocre, taking HK $19,7111,048 during a seven week run in April 1992. It also takes credit for one of the highest death totals in a non-military film in the history of cinema, with over 230 kills!

This work is one of the later collaborations between Chow Yun Fat an John Woo, a partnership that produced many of the landmark films on the Hong Kong movie scene after 1986's A Better Tomorrow. Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays as Tony, the undercover cop opposite Chow Yun Fat's hard-boiled cop ('Tequila' Yuen).In Hard Boiled, both are up against the crime lord Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong), who apparently struggled with the stunts and gunplay in the film. This helped increase the role given to ex-Venom Kuo Chui (aka Philip Kwok), who plays Mad Dog. Kuo Chi (the Lizard in Five Venoms) is also responsible for the action and stunt work for this movie. This is largely due to John Woo deciding to retain his talents after his work on Once a Thief in 1991 (which incidentally took HK $14,000,000 more than Hard Boiled, but does not enjoy anywhere near the same recognition).

Kuo Chi also went onto work alongside Liu Chia Hui (Lau Kar Fai) and Chow Yun Fat in Treasure Hunt (1994), which was only a modest success and will always walk in the shadow of Drunken Master II. Few people know that there are actually two Venoms in Hard Boiled, Lo Meng (the Toad), gets a cameo with a shotgun scene on Tony's boat. This feature was after seven years in the cinematic wilderness for Lo Meng after Pursuit of a Killer, 1985. Whereas Kuo Chi was (and still is) heavily involved in the movie industry. Philip Chan (Twinkle, Twinkle, Winners and Sinners) gets an outing as Superintendent Pang, and Teresa Mo Sun Kwan gets to play Teresa Chang, probably the pinnacle of her short career.


Chow Yun Fat (Tequila) is conducting a war against a smuggling ring, but unfortunately his partner gets killed in the famous opening sequence in the teahouse. Unlike most U.S offerings, where the lead would get given a 'light comedy' sidekick, Tequila gets to wallow and brood alone. He finds solace with his buddy at the Jazz Club (John Woo, who like Hitchcock, is very keen on cameos in his movies). Meanwhile, Tony has been 'ensnared' by Johnny Wong to kill his own boss and join Johnny's 'crew'. In the following gunfight at the arms warehouse Tony kills his boss and all his old comrades, but Tequila gets in on the action and wastes many of Johnny Wong's men.

This leads to a trademark John Woo stand-off between Tony and Tequila and Tony spares Tequila his life. Tequila realises this is no ordinary criminal and after pressing his Superintendent, he finds out that he is undercover. They begin to develop a relationship and Tequila repays the debt by saving Tony's life when a bunch of triads (including Lo Meng as Lonny) attempt to shoot Tony on his boat. When Tequila finds out that Johnny Wong's arms dump is in the hospital basement, he immediately gets backup to arrive. Along with Tony they finish off all the bad guys, save many patients (although countless are massacred) and the end piece involves Johnny Wong exiting the blazing hospital with a gun to Tony's head. But what happens? That would be telling…


This film has two defining characteristics; John Woo makes great use of slow motion during hectic gunfights and every single gun being capable of shooting about eight times its magazine capacity before it needs reloading. Upon watching this film again, it can seem slightly dated, and this can be attributed to the very cheesy 'sax and keyboard' score and because the action style has been regularly imitated (but never surpassed) by Hollywood. This film is more than just about superb action, which has been creditably handled by Kuo Chi.

This film is about interplay between the significant characters. Johnny Wong is essentially a cardboard cut-out bad guy, but depth for the criminals is provided by Mad Dog (Kuo Chi) who is a loyal but ruthless assassin. When the hospital scene kicks off (which incidentally was filmed at a disused Coca-Cola factory) Mad Dog tries to persuade Johnny Wong against killing innocents (or 'crossing the line'). He is a man of honour, and his code of conduct means he loathes innocent deaths. During the climactic stand-off between Tony and Mad Dog, both put down their guns and allow the patients to leave. Mad Dog even looks down on Tony because he hates cops and people who kill their own bosses.

Tony's character is particularly complex, as the headstrong cop who is so deeply implicated to the point of obsession. He evens kills so as not to blow his cover (several times in cold blood). His only contact normality is with Superintendent Pang (the only person who knows his birthday), and Teresa (to whom he sends white roses with secret messages concealed). This makes Tequila jealous of her secret admirer! Perhaps Tequila deserves the utmost mention. Chow Yun Fat is excellent as the hard-boiled cop; he plays the quintessential loose cop, the maverick. However, Tequila has a more complex side, rather than facing crime with resignation and some one-liners, he has optimism and self-belief that carries him through. Obviously Chow Yun Fat was not put off explosions by Better Tomorrow II, when his hair was set on fire. In Hard Boiled we see Tequila running through an exploding hospital with fireballs all around him. The baby he is carrying famously extinguishes the flames on his leg by pissing down his trousers!


This review refers to the Prism single disc edition on release in 2005. This budget release features a stripped down disc with virtually no extras. The film is grainy and incorrectly stated as a 4:3 (Fullscreen release). The captured pictures clearly show the letterboxed widescreen. Thankfully, there are new removable subtitles as opposed to the burnt on subtitles on the original Tartan release, plus the English dubbed track will help broaden the films appeal. Both audio tracks are 1.0 Mono tracks. At this budget price with new audio options, Hard Boiled will be opened up to the wider market and I suspect prove a very successful purchase for Prism.

(This version includes the 5 sec throat slash scene initially cut from the UK release - but no John Woo interview which was original Tartan release?)

The Collector's Edition DVD includes 5 audio tracks: Cantonese DTS, DD5.1 and 1.0 Mono and English Dub DD5.1 and 1.0 Mono. The print is much improved to the original 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen.This disc has merely the original theatrical trailer and also lacks the John Woo interview? At nearly three times the price of the Prism release, I struggle to see the point. No real extras, but at a premium price!


The hospital scene owes to a great deal to Die Hard, but likewise this film has been repeatedly borrowed from (e.g. see the shotgun in the flowers in Terminator II). Its influence has been far reaching, and it has deservedly received a broad international circulation. However:

Is this the best action movie in Asian cinema? In my opinion, No
Is this the best Heroic Bloodshed movie ever? No
Is this the best collaboration between Woo and Chow Yun Fat? No

But if the question is:

Which movie best sums up the violent extremities of Asian action cinema?

The answer is Hard Boiled.

It may lack the depth of character of similar films, seem excessively violent, and show John Woo and Chow Yun Fat 'slightly' below their best. But who cares....It is a cracking film