Monday, September 19, 2011


Directing action movies is a lot like playing with your G.I. Joes back in the day.  Now the way you played with your Joes was the right way to play G.I. Joes.  But the way your friend played with his Joes was the wrong way.  We all play G.I. Joes differently is all I am saying.  I do believe however that the way John Woo played G.I. Joes was the way I played with my G.I. Joes.  His "bullet ballet" style with slow-mo at just the right moments reminds me a lot of how I played with Joes.  I can't tell you how many times I had Snake Eyes jump over an explosion firing two guns and eliminating a bunker full of Cobra Vipers in slow-mo.  If you were to construct a list of the top ten greatest shoot'em ups five of those slots would have to be filled with John Woo films.  The number one spot has to go to HARD BOILED.  There will never be another film that reaches the pinnacle of chaos and emotion that HARD BOILED delivers.  Its not about explosions or car chases and big name A-List stars.  Its about directing style and character driven story lines.

HARD BOILED is a story about two detectives working on opposite sides of the law trying to bring down a big time arms dealer by the name of Johnny Wong.  He has a hidden base somewhere and these two are trying to find it.  Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) is a detective always at odds with his hot headed superior as the investigation into Johnny Wong's activities escalate into violence.  What Tequila doesn't realize is that his police chief is trying to prevent Tequila from interrupting his undercover agent Tony (Tony Leung) who is working his way up the gangster ladder.  Undercover cops are so deep that they end up getting shot by the police themselves.  The cops have no idea that they are undercover.  The two eventually team up and take the baddies down in glorious shoot'em up fashion.

Inspector 'Tequila' Yun is a great character.  He is a smart ass highly driven cop that will stop at nothing to get his man.  But the soul of this film comes from the drama of Tony.  Tony has to do bad things to get the job done.  The gangsters think he is legit because they can call on him to go out and actually kill someone.  With the exception of the police chief Tony has no allies.  The gangsters or the cops could get him at any time.  What is really interesting is his relationship with his Triad boss, Mr. Hoi.  Hoi is a bad guy but Tony knows him as the person and finds him to be a man of great respect.  His only real crime is trafficking illegal weapons.  That's not so bad is it?  Knowing that Mr. Hoi's end is near Tony tries to get him to retire early but to no avail.  Eventually in order to move close to Johnny Wong, Tony must betray Hoi and kill him.  There is a great scene where Johnny gives Tony a gun to kill Hoi.  At first Tony tries to save Hoi's other men but realizes that he has to go all the way to make a good impression.  So he guns them all down.  You want to see some excellent acting?  Look at Tony's face as he just murdered a bunch of his fellow friends and he must hold back his tears in front of Johnny Wong.  Its good stuff.

John Woo's action scenes are highly detailed down to the point of how actors hold their guns.  Its surprising how some actors don't even know how to carry a gun and look cool holding it.  HARD BOILED pushes the  limits.  People get shot up big time with tons of "Kool-Aid" shooting out of their bodies.  Half way through the film there is a huge gun battle in a warehouse that would usually serve as the climax in most action films but this is only the beginning.  Later on there is one long eight minute (or longer) take of Tequila and Tony shooting up a bunch of baddies in a hospital.  There are squibs and explosions and an elevator ride to a floor above all done in one shot.  They probably killed like thirty bad guys (and one good cop.  Whoops!) in that eight minute take.  Its something I had never seen before.  Who would even try something like that today?  Certainly no one in America.  The closest I have seen was in THE PROTECTOR where Tony Jaa runs up a bunch of stairs beating the crapola out of like thirty guys.  Its close but not better.

There are a lot of action directors who didn't play with their Joes the right way.  (Isaac Florentine is an exception)  A great action director makes his stars look badass.  You can't just have Jean Claude Van Damnme and some cheesy camera editing effects to make a great action movie.  (In the case of Steven Segal it would be lots of heavy shadows and heavier body doubles)  You need lots of well filmed action that pushes the story forward.  Every bad guy killed means less bad guys to deal with later.  Don't complicate the story with a bunch of conspiracy crap.  No one cares.  Characters must drive the story not plot points and twists.  John Woo is the master of effective drama and over the top action.  Its the perfect combination of the two that makes him the greatest action director of all time.  Also I just want to point out that there are no pointless car chases in HARD BOILED.


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