In many ways Hard Boiled is technically a much better film than The Killer, but it does not have the heart, the sentiment that made that film so special. Woo seems to have been preparing himself for Hollywood by making a very westernized film. It is nevertheless still a great film. It is like a runaway train that never slows down.
The plot is as simple as can be imagined. Chow Yun Fat plays a cop. Tony Leung is an undercover cop who has infiltrated a triad. Anthony Wong is the vicious gun smuggling triad head that CYF and Tony attempt to bring down. Around this plot, Woo weaves a film with complex characters and three action set pieces that progressively get more over the top. Two of them are absolutely brilliant in their execution.
The first takes place in a tea house and Woo’s use of quick edits – from CYF to the fluttering birds to the bad guys and so forth – creates a sense of tension that explodes in total chaos and bloodshed when the action starts. A number of CYF’s trademark moves – shooting on his back, shooting while jumping, shooting while sliding down the bannister – are employed to great effect. The final moment with CYF covered in flour and blood as if he is the revengeful ghost of his dead comrade is stunning.
The second action set piece in the warehouse has always left me a bit cold. That is - the part when CYF single handedly attacks a large number of triad members. The fact that he would attempt this on his own and then actually get away unscathed is absurd. Of course the lead up to that scene with Tony Leung is very emotional and powerful.
And then there is of course the hospital killing ground. Perhaps the best and most intricate twenty minutes of choreographed action ever filmed. It is an amazing set piece. It never lags or becomes mindlessly numbing. Woo creates so many small vignettes that the experience of watching it is mesmerizing and personal. Within this set piece are a number of classic moments such as the duel between Mad Dog and Tony and the saving of the babies .
The character of Tony Leung’s is really the heart and soul of this film. He is one of the most interesting characters that Woo has ever created. His tortured, angst ridden, confused portrayal is terrific. At one point he says "I am so busy being a gangster that I don’t know which is the real me".
The Killer I would say is one of the great films ever, while with Hard Boiled I would narrow this a bit to one of the best action films ever.
My rating for this film: 9.5