John Woo’s 1992 magnum opus Hard Boiled is spoken of by serious action movie fans in the awed, reverent tones usually reserved for films like Citizen Kane or Seven Samurai. Like those films, Hard Boiled displays an exceptional director at the top of his game, telling an engaging story with all the technical wizardry available to him.
John Woo burst onto the international film scene in 1986 with the smash hit A Better Tomorrow. He had been working as something of a journeyman director for eighteen years, a productive span during which he directed roughly a movie a year in genres ranging from martial arts films to screwball comedies, to varying degrees of commercial success. A Better Tomorrow, his sixteenth film as a director, changed all that. This gritty, sensationalistic tale of two brothers – one a gangster and one a cop – introduced two major elements to Hong Kong cinema: frenetic, two-fisted gunfight set pieces, and Chow Yun-Fat. With his signature matchstick clenched in his teeth and a pistol in each hand, Yun-Fat was instantly iconic, even inspiring a fashion trend in Hong Kong of young men dressing like his character in the film.