This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Andrew Buckley’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I admit, when I first watched Hard Boiled over a decade ago, I didn't really like it; of course, I thought the action was absolutely EXCELLENT, but nothing besides that really made an impression, and there was just SO much action that, in the end, it become rather mindless, repetitive, and numbing after a while. However, while I still can't say I'm in love with it or anything (I've never been a "great action automatically = great action movie" type), I can say that I better appreciate some of its non-action moments, its extremely skilled, graceful stuntwork, and John Woo's versatile, stylish direction of it all, leaving me, if not outright enamored with the film, still definitely entertained by it in the end.
First off, the story and characters in HB certainly don't shy away from certain gangster/cop cliches, complete with a disposable partner who exists to die in the first 5 minutes, a tormented undercover officer who doesn't know if his work has turned him into a crook himself, and our resident Irate Police Captain screaming "THIS IS AN ORDER!" at Tequila, our resident Cop Who Doesn't Play By The Rules. All that being said, I now find Tony Leung's Alan more compelling than I used to, mostly due to Leung's memorably raw, tortured performance, but also because Woo slips in some good little character moments for him in and around the shootouts, just enough to make for a pretty good arc, in addition to some of the other characters getting good individual moments as well, even in the midst of all the carnage. The tension in the central pairing between Leung & Chow Yun-Fat, and the way they work against each other as much as together, really does add something here, and without it, the film just wouldn't be the same.
And, while the execution of some of Hard Boiled's other cliches still remains pretty mediocre in my eyes, it ultimately doesn't matter, as this really isn't a film that lives or dies based on its storytelling, and its still unique in the "heightened reality" it contains, where people pointlessly hide guns in birdcages and hollowed-out books for dramatic reveals, one lone cop can clear out an entire warehouse of baddies with a zipline and a few smoke grenades, and arms dealers hide their wares in secret storage rooms in hospital basements just so the film can have an excuse to blow up the place for a climax. It's one of the ultimate "rule of cool" films, and boy oh boy, is it ever cool.
But of course, any review of Hard Boiled would be remiss without discussing its action, which I've always felt is, pound-for-pound, probably the best of any movie out there; from the chaotic opening in the teahouse until the apocalyptic climax in the hospital, firearms and their destructive power are fetishized to the max here, with machine guns, shotguns, and (of course) dual-wielded pistols sending squibs, sparks, and debris exploding everywhere with round after round after glorious round, with Tequila gracefully diving around the endless waves of lead with brilliant stuntwork that makes even the most ludicrous moments look amazing, and Woo's camera alternating between kinetic cinematography and lovingly detailed slow-motion, never overdosing on one or the other, but keeping them in near-perfect balance in service of the almighty ACTION. Flaws aside, I don't think anyone could've filmed Hard Boiled as well as he did, and if you're a fan of action movies, then this is the perfect fit for you. Now, please allow me to exit this review in a slow-motion dive with two pistols in hand, if you will.