REVIEW: Hard Boiled (1992)

The bullets fly as a cop and undercover detective work together to take down the biggest crime lord of Hong Kong.

By Raymond Arcega
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Hard Boiled

Original Title: 辣手神探
Year: 1992
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Genres: Action, Crime
Director: John Woo

Inspector Tequila (Chow Yun-fat) is a police officer sent to arrest a group of gun smugglers at a tea house. A shootout ensues, resulting in his partner getting killed. Tequila shoots down the gunman responsible, angering his boss Superintendent Pang (Philip Chan), who reprimands him for his shoot-first-think-later attitude.


Elsewhere, Tony (Tony Leung) is a gangster working for triad boss Uncle Hoi (Kwan Hoi-Shan). He assassinates a member of the same gang in a library, who was actually a mole working for a rival syndicate under boss Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong). Impressed, Wong persuades the reluctant Tony, loyal to Hoi, to switch sides and work for him.

The deal is set in stone when Wong and his gang raid one of Hoi’s warehouses. To get Tony to prove his loyalty to him, Wong pursuades Tony to kill Hoi and his men. Swinging down from the ceiling to crash the party is Tequila, who received information on the raid from an informant. After killing off most of the gangsters, he stands face to face, gun to gun with Tony. What Tequlia doesn’t realize is that Tony is an undercover detective, also working for Superintendent Pang.


Hard Boiled is one of the benchmark setters in action movies not only in Hong Kong, nor in Asia, but the genre on the worldwide scope. Saying John Woo doesn’t know how to direct an action film is like saying Michael Bay won’t ever use explosions in his work. The words “John Woo” and “action movies” go hand in hand with each other, similar to the pistols in each of Inspector Tequila’s hands.

Hard Boiled acted as the transition from Woo’s previous action successes (A Better Tomorrow, Bullet in the Head, The Killer, to name a few) to his stint in Hollywood that started with Hard Target. And he definitely went out with a “bang”.


The film has it all that any action fan could ever want in a genre film: charismatic heroes, nail biting predicaments, over-the-top action sequences, physics-defying stunts, and bullets. Lots and lots of bullets. It’s similar to having an infinite ammo code set in one of your favorite video games.

There is even a near three minute action sequence done in one take, where the two heroes make their way through a hospital to save hostages, shooting every bad guy that tries to get in their way. The shootout sequences in general are done with glorious choreography that can rival most martial arts films.


The one thing that attracts many to John Woo’s films, aside from the ridiculous action sequences, is the recurring theme of brotherhood. In this film, we have Inspector Tequila and Tony, both amazing to watch in their own right. They both start off as enemies, but because of their common cause, they become the strongest of allies. Each of the lead protagonists have multi-layered personalities, with enough heroic characteristics and dialogue between them to make one grow chest hair just by watching them.

The film doesn’t stop with the heroes and the action; the drama is there too. The struggles that heroes must undergo as they risk and sacrifice everything for the sake of justice…it’s enough to make one shed tears. Manly tears.


There’s enough heroic bloodshed to make Hard Boiled one of the front runners in its genre, with enough drama, and depth to satisfy seekers of genuine films. John Woo’s known and often-used techniques, from freeze frames to doves, are all present and used with precision. Combined with some of the biggest names in Hong Kong cinema, Hard Boiled is a film of which one must stop calling themselves an action movie fan if they have yet to seen it.

Watch this film…

…if you are a true action film fan.

About the Author

Raymond Arcega


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