Hard Boiled comes to Region Free US Blu-ray with quite a disappointing 1080p High Definition rendition, presented in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 1.85:1. I have to say that this is one of the poorest film presentations that I have come across for some time and it honestly looks as if the releasing Studio, Dragon Dynasty, have done nothing significant to upgrade their release from their prior Standard Definition DVD edition. Detail is pretty bad throughout, although, oddly, DNR wavers across the runtime. Some scenes exhibit decent original film grain retention, but also, consequently, look quite dated and poor; whilst, conversely, other scenes are DNR’d to oblivion, making the skin texture smooth as plastic, and making the scenes look terribly smooth. There are a litany of print defects and digital artefacting issues which simply have not been resolved – you’ll see everything you don’t want to see on a decent remaster: lines running down the image, scratches and pops, and other damage which just shouldn’t be there. If Criterion can make a fifty-year-old Seven Samurai look damn good (for its age) on Blu-ray, I’m not sure whether Dragon Dynasty have any excuses not to have done a better job with a film that’s less than 20 years old. Of course a few of the shots look better than ever before, you can sometimes see the beads of sweat on Chow Yun-Fat’s face, or the individual hairs on his head, but these are glimmers of High Definition glory in a generally awful presentation. For every decent moment – the Hong Kong driving sequence which first introduces Tony Leung’s characters probably looks the best, and even that has far too much distance-softness – there are some terrible shots, the night sequences (like the Jazz Club scenes) looking abysmal, with low-level lighting ruining the moments on the yacht as well. I know Hard Boiled has always suffered, visually, on its digital releases – all of the SD-DVDs have had problems in one shape or another, and the Dragon Dynasty HD copy attached to the US version of the Stranglehold videogame was massively soft, DNR'd into oblivion and had terrible contrast – but I still expected far better from a Blu-ray release. As a final insult, the optional English subtitles are actually taken from the English dub, rather than being decent translations themselves.
The original language Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remaster is much better, a marked improvement on the original mono track (which is also included for completeness), and easily the best audio presentation that the movie has ever received. With dialogue presented clearly and coherently from across the frontal array, we get keen presentation of both the effects and the pacey score, which even showcase some dynamics and directionality across the surround channels. The rears may not get as much action as you would have hoped for, but the track goes some way to creating a decent surround atmosphere for the movie, which does spark to life during the more exciting, explosive moments. Bullets whizz around your room, explosions attempt to rock your seat, and a little more bass and rear action could have made this a seriously good audio offering. Still, as noted, it’s far better than we’ve ever had before, and – considering the awful video presentation – a refreshingly solid aural accompaniment.
Hard Boiled comes to Region Free US Blu-ray courtesy of Dragon Dynasty, so it is unsurprising that it boasts (almost) all of the extras found on the 2-disc Dragon Dynasty SD-DVD release from a few years back. Unfortunately they have dropped one of their own Interviews, and, worse still, they have not bothered to include any of the other Extras that adorned other releases. Woo recorded a joint-Commentary originally which is now Criterion-exclusive, and then he recorded a further solo Commentary for the subsequent US SD-DVD release, and yet the rights to neither have been bought up for this new Blu-ray. Furthermore there was even a Taiwanese test cut, a ‘draft version’ which was submitted prior to Woo’s preferred final cut, which was released on DVD, and yet we have access to none of this juicy material. Still, what’s on offer, for those who don’t already own the Dragon Dynasty SD-DVD release, is undeniably good, and far better than a simple bare-bones offering.
First up we get a full length Audio Commentary from Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan. Recorded about 5 years ago anybody familiar with Logan’s commentaries will know exactly what to expect here – lots and lots of information, rattled out at lightning speed. He discusses everything from the opening tea house being scheduled for demolition, to the abhorrence for violence that both Woo and Chow Yun-Fat had, to intricate examination of almost every single face that appears on screen. Some of it is very interesting – how the original love interest was supposed to be played by Michelle Yeoh, and what that might have been like; and how the Police Captain was played by a real veteran policeman of 15 years – but some of it is a little too much. The parallels he draws between the breathtaking work Woo did for the “heroic bloodshed” era of filmmaking are quite interesting as well, linking the fact that Woo was a protégé of the Shaw Brothers, who themselves had pioneered a new style for swordplay movies in much the same way as Woo did for shooters. All in all, Logan has a hell of a lot to offer in this Commentary, but his incessant speech is quite painful after a while and you will definitely need to sit through this one in smaller stints. Still, apart from Woo or one of the leads, I could not think of anybody who could have provided a more informative, engaging commentary than Logan.
Baptism of Fire is a 38 Minute extended Interview with Director John Woo, who reflects upon this movie, arguably the pinnacle of his career. He talks about wanting to make a movie tribute to Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, and how this movie reflected two of the coolest characters that they brought to the Big Screen, in Bullitt and Dirty Harry, reflectively. He talks about the story, the original idea of poisoning babies (which was based on a real Japanese news article), and the original ending that he had planned (and shot), also looking at the main characters, discussing Tony Leung’s on-set accident during a massive shootout (which nearly left him blind) and also how he nearly incinerated Chow Yun-Fat during one of the more explosive sequences. He explains how his partnership with Chow Yun-Fat worked so well over the years, and how he used the great actor to be “his voice” on the Big Screen, as well as noting the warm heart that the actor has in real life. It’s a very interesting, informative offering, arguably even more so than the Commentary, and it comes with the minimum of final film clips, almost all used cleverly just to illustrate his words. In English with optional subtitles.
Art Imitates Life is a 15 minute Interview with Co-Star Philip Chan, the 15-year police veteran who plays the Captain in the movie. He talks about his real experiences running undercover officers back in the 70s, how difficult it was – the undercover men often could not stand the pressure, and were even beaten by their own (who assumed they were criminals); and how women were not allowed to go undercover after a few near-rape experiences – and why he was so interested in working on this production. Another great offering, although it’s quite irritating that the film clips utilised are from the badly dubbed English version of the film! In English with optional subtitles.
Mad Dog Bites Again is a 24 minute Interview with leading villain Kwok Choi who discusses his work on choreographing the action, and how his character was written into the movie in order to give the story a more interesting lead henchman. He talks about the elaborate stunts done, and what it was like to work with Woo and this is another solid Interview offering. In Cantonese with optional English subtitles.
The 8-minute Location Guide is hosted by the enthusiastic young Kea Wong, and has her take you through some of the Hong Kong locations used in Hard Boiled – the Jazz Club, the Tea Shop, the funeral etc. She has a few interesting titbits (the original title translates to “spicy hand, smart detective”) but there’s nothing here that you couldn’t learn from Logan’s Commentary, even if Wong is easier on the ear (and eye).
John Woo’s massively influential, seminal action movie, Hard Boiled, is surely one of the best in the genre. Between his expertly choreographed slo-mo action and his hyperkinetic, explosive shoot-outs, Woo does balletic, ballistic gunplay like no other, and Hard Boiled represents the pinnacle of his action film career, and also arguably the best of his collaborations with charismatic leading man Chow Yun-Fat. For action fans this is one of those movies that set the mould in the first place, a non-stop rollercoaster ride of tremendous, increasingly audacious set-pieces, and breathtaking real-life effects and stunts. Undeniably exhilarating from start to finish, it simply must seen to be believed.
On Region Free US Blu-ray we unfortunately get a release which does not necessarily justify the upgrade. Dragon Dynasty, the studios who produced one of the most recent SD-DVD editions, have come up with a Blu-ray version which is superior in some ways to their previous DVD release, but inferior in others. We do get significantly better audio, and most of the previously-found extras as well, but there’s nothing new in the extra department, which is a shame when you consider the wealth of material on offer from the other DVD incarnations (including no less than two John Woo Audio Commentaries) which are nowhere to be seen here. Furthermore the video presentation is terrible. Clearly they have done something for this High Definition release, but it looks like they have left some scenes untouched (complete with heavy grain and print damage) and other scenes DNR’d into oblivion (in true Predator style), so it hardly comes as an upgrade, and in fact some might argue that it is inferior to the previous DVD incarnations. As such, if you already own Hard Boiled on DVD, you may want to consider waiting for a better version to come along. If you don’t yet have this title in your collection, however, then you could consider picking up this competitively-priced release. It’s a shame, because the film itself is an absolute must-have action classic, and it deserves far, far better.
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