Thursday, January 12, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... HARD BOILED

Only now does it occur to me... that John Woo is not merely a master of action, but a master of "character exposition." Within the first twenty-eight seconds of HARD BOILED, we learn everything we need to know about Chow Yun-Fat's "Inspector Tequila."

First, we learn that his favorite beverage is the "Tequila Slam," which is apparently a real thing. That would be "well tequila" (the kind that only occasionally comes in a glass bottle),

and seltzer water

covered with a paper napkin and slammed against the bar––a maneuver that is perhaps intended to showcase the performative "badass fizz" aspect but as a result spills nearly half the drink; it is satisfying perhaps to Inspector Tequila in the moment, but something of an inconvenience for a neat-freak bartender.

Amazingly, this is a fitting analogy for Inspector Tequila's fearlessly stylish-yet-sloppy methods of policework. (Though it is less elegant than the "Travis Bickle calmly stares at his own alka-seltzer while quietly boiling on the inside" scene in TAXI DRIVER, this is from the director who first brought us JCVD punching a snake, so let's cut him some slack.)

Anyway, Inspector Tequila knocks back the drink,
sets it down, and slides––in one fluid movement––back to a stool on a stage,

where he proceeds to play a mean jazz clarinet. John Woo seems to say, "Inspector Tequila is a rough-and-tumble individual, but he has a soft side––as velvety smooth as a clarinet playing 'Sweet Georgia Brown' at an Elks Lodge in Missoula, Montana for a crowd of slow-dancing geriatrics."
But this ain't no Elks Lodge in Missoula––these are the mean streets of Hong Kong, circa 1992, as could only imagined by John Woo's slo-mo bullet-ballet-addled brain!

Let's move ahead three minutes in time. See those two guys, Inspector Tequila?

The ones with the bird cages?

If you, as an audience member, at first glance, don't make the assessment that yes, those bird cages are probably filled with guns, then you, my friend, are watching the wrong movie.
Inspector Tequila is an astute observer of the human animal, unlike yourself.

All of this is essentially a set-up for over two hours of two-fisted acrobatic gunplay and incredible non-union stuntwork,
all in Woo's distinctive "Peckinpah-meets-Shaw-Brothers-meets-screwy-Jean-Pierre-Melville" style, which went on to birth THE MATRIX, Robert Rodriguez, and any number of contemporary action films and directors.

I love HARD BOILED. I love typing the words "Inspector Tequila." And perhaps most of all, I love this nearly three minute long shot that involves so many moving parts, actors, stuntmen, and explosions, that it defies reason:

2 comments:

J.D. Lafrance said...

Hands down, a masterpiece and maybe the greatest action movie ever made... well, maybe after DIE HARD.

I just LOVE this film for all the reasons you stated. Plus, you've got Wong Kar-Wai regular Tony Leung as Chow Yun-Fat's conflicted cop/brother-in-mayhem. What's not to love?

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

In terms of pure, unadulterated action, this is definitely up there with DIE HARD, RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, and COMMANDO for me. Glad to hear you're a fan, and indeed Tony Leung is great in this, too (and in WKW's output).