There are two types of John Woo fan. There’s the John Woo fan who prefers The Killer, and there’s the John Woo fan who likes Hard-Boiled the best. Now, this is not to say that, in expressing a particular love for one film, the fan is immediately and necessarily prohibited from taking any pleasure from the Other Option – far from it! A fan of The Killer may still groove on Hard-Boiled and vice versa. But as much as they still enjoy that Other Option, no fan can hold both films in equal regard.
Both are great films. Both are directed by Woo, obviously. Both star Chow Yun Fat. Both deal with similar thematic material, and both feature some brilliant action set-pieces. However, despite these similarities, The Killer and Hard-Boiled are very different films, and the difference between them is not due to something that one film has that the other doesn’t, or something that one film does better than the other, but instead comes from a rather startling disparity in tone between the two. It is in this disparity that the reason for most fans’ preference for one film over the other lies. “The Killer is too dark!” the Hard-Boiled supporters cry. “Too morally messed-up!” “But still!” reply fans of The Killer. “Hard-Boiled is too lite-on!”
I prefer The Killer. There, I’ve said it. But even if I do think that Hard-Boiled is a bit lite-on I still think it’s super-cool. I’ve yet to watch it in a cinema, but it’s apparent even from my puny TV screen at home that Hard-Boiled is much more about spectacle than The Killer (which is by no means a bad thing). Things explode. A lot. Cars, motorcycles, gangsters – even a hospital gets the complete pyrotechnic treatment. The performances are just as, haha, incendiary; Chow Yun Fat totally burns it up as cop Tequila, but he doesn’t get nearly as much angsting to do as Tony Leung, who angsts just fine, by the way.
Sadly, Hard-Boiled was John Woo’s last Hong Kong film, but there’s some incredible stuff here, including a two-and-a-half-minute action sequence filmed in a single take that boasts a higher body-count and more stunts than your average Hollywood flick has in its entire running time! So then, action-lovers, what are you waiting for? Get lovin’!