Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Spirit of Chow Yun-Fat Be With Us Now

I go back and forth on John Woo, having only sampled only a few of his movies, the most prominent being Mission Impossible II, which was crippled by Tom Cruise's typically craptastic performance.

I've been meaning to revisit his Hong Kong cinema for a while, starting with the Criterion version of The Killer, which turns out to be nearly impossible to find, and the two volumes of A Better Tomorrow. But in the meantime, I stumbled across a newly released two-disc version of Hard-Boiled, which I realized during last night's viewing that I had never actually seen.

Barring a few minor quibbles, it's great. Chow Yun-Fat is young, vibrant, just as good an actor as he is in his latter days, and kills just about everybody in his role as police detective Tequila - though he does have a sensitive, jazz-playing, romantic side that's a little less seemly than his two-gun, shoot everything that moves persona that comes out anytime the bad guys show up, which is often.

A word of warning to go into the viewing experience with the right state of mind. It's a Hong Kong action flick circa 1992, not The Bourne Supremacy. That means lots of aerobatics (read: better, more balletic versions of Cruise's rediculous rolls to cover in MI2), absurdly unrealistic firefights, and a body count that makes Westmoreland look like a pauper. I'm told the final body count - and you can believe it after watching the Triad just mow down bystanders like a blood sprinkler merely to get them out of the way - is three hundred and seven, total.

All this and you also get Tony Leung, who offers a great, cold counterpoint to the cocky Tequila. Those of you who know your cinema beyond the (admittedly very well shot and superbly performed) remake The Departed will recognize Leung as Chang Wing Yan in the superior Hong Kong original Mou Gan Dou (Infernal Affairs).

It's definitely enough to make me intrigued by Stranglehold, a new video game set in Hong Kong and Chicago that reportedly has convinced Chow Yun-Fat to revisit the role of Tequila, and perhaps will go a little ways towards encouraging a proper sequel to the film with or without Woo.

I'll say this, though: everyhing that was filmed before 1997 needs be rescored unless the original soundtrack was by James Horner or Vangelis. There is nothing more depressing than going back to dig up some cool old cop movie - let's take Black Rain, the Michael Douglas/Andy Garcia buddy-cops-take-on-the-Yakuza flick. Decent performances can get you past bad hair, but there's nothing worse than seeing some loner detective trudging along a rainy neon-lit street to somebody's bad saxaphone solo. Let it go.

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