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Cinophile – Hard Boiled

3 min read

“Give a guy a gun, he thinks he’s Superman. Give him two and he thinks he’s God.”

Does Inspector ‘Tequila’ Yuen think he is immortal? Well, he’s certainly not afraid to die. That impression might be rooted by the fact that he never seems to run out of bullets or weapons. Then again, neither do the bad guys. That is the beauty of a gun opera…

The early scene in the tea shop was actually shot when the project was still a different movie. As the tea shop was due to be demolished anyway, the team made good use of the opportunity, inadvertently setting the tone for what Hard Boiled would become. Who says property damage isn’t productive?


But Tequila is a Hong Kong cop on a mission. His partner was killed during a bust gone wrong and he is hell-bent on revenge. When John Woo made Hard Boiled, he intentionally wanted a Dirty Harry-style lead. Tequila is that in spades. Actually he might be channelling old Callahan a bit too much, breaking more rules and property than Jackie Chan in Police Story. But the bad guys also act with complete impunity and happen to be armed like a dictator’s personal militia. So it’s a good thing undercover cop Tony is there to join forces with Tequila. What results is an explosion of gunplay that could only be equalled by watching all of the Rambos at the same time.

The original film was to be about a serial killer who poisoned babies. But John Woo was not happy with this. Since they already had a warehouse to build sets and signed the actors to contracts, he started improvising on ideas. The serial killer became an undercover cop and the cop chasing him became a Dirty Harry-style loose cannon.


Thing is, you are familiar with this style – you’ve seen Woo’s english masterpieces Face/Off and Broken Arrow. Yet even together those films can’t match Hard Boiled. Nor do his preceding asian classics like The Killer and A Better Tomorrow. There is actually little that compares to Hard Boiled, a film that inspired practically anything where jumping sideways while firing two pistols looked cool. It might be pushing a bit to credit the foyer scene from The Matrix to this film, but let’s do that anyway. Hard Boiled only respects it when you take things to eleven.

According to Movie Body Counts, Hard Boiled ranks at 8th with 307 fatalities. But to put that in perspective: it is the only movie in the top 10 that isn’t about a major tragedy, involves a giant battle with armies or is actually two films combined. Remove films with matching those criteria and Hard Boiled is ranked 1st, with the new Rambo 2nd (and short by 60 bodies).


There have been many stabs at repeating Hard Boiled’s aura. Some had the right ambitions – the Clive Owen-starring Shoot ‘Em Up is a fitting homage to it (down to saving a newborn baby). But nothing has matched the original – not even Woo’s own extensive resume. Hard Boiled is so good it doesn’t even matter if you watched the dubbed or subbed version. Some of the jokes may be lost in translation, but unloading a combat shotgun while sliding across a bar counter on your back is universal.



Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: November 11, 2013


  1. Love this movie…hooked me as a kid…followed Chow Yun-fat nd John Woo for many years after…a whole era of my life still cataloged by my DVD collection…Time for a revisit I think.


    • James Francis

      November 11, 2013 at 15:58

      I was afraid it wouldn’t hold up after all these years. But it’s as good as ever. In fact, you appreciate it even more.


  2. RinceandRepeat

    November 11, 2013 at 15:33

    Such an awesome movie.


    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      November 11, 2013 at 18:55

      Shoot ’em Up – THAT’S the name we were looking for of the Clive Owen movie where he eats carrots.



      • RinceandRepeat

        November 11, 2013 at 19:34



  3. Justin Hess

    November 11, 2013 at 16:31

    I….erm… still haven’t seen it. Oh, God I’m ashamed of myself


    • Kervyn Cloete

      November 11, 2013 at 19:55

      As you very well should be.


    • James Francis

      November 12, 2013 at 07:42

      Shhh, don’t tell anyone!

      Remember to turn the captions on.


  4. Kervyn Cloete

    November 11, 2013 at 19:55

    Anybody play Strangjehold, the video game sequel to this movie? Surprisingly decent.


    • James Francis

      November 12, 2013 at 07:39

      Yes – and I loved it. But if you were a Hard Boiled fan at that stage, it would have been hard not to 🙂


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