Thursday, September 27, 2007

BEEM, 5th place: Hard Boiled:

[Best Editing in an Exploitation Movie Award]

"There's no room for failure now. The innocent must die"

Hard Boiled, 1992, was John Woo's final Hong Kong film before his Hollywood debut with 1993's van Damme vehicle, Hard Target. In many ways it represents the epitome of the style Woo had been developing with his previous films, A Better Tomorrow (1 and 2), The Killer, and the brilliant The Deer Hunter remake, Bullet in the Head. The film's exceptional cast includes the legendary Chow Yun Fat, the incomparable Anthony Wong (HK-style note: Wong performed in 16 feature films in 1993 alone), and perhaps the greatest actor to come out of Hong Kong, the inimitable Tony Leung. The plot of Hard Boiled is relatively simple, hard-boiled cop "Tequila" (Chow) pursues a gun smuggler (Wong) so persistently he treads on the toes of undercover cop Leung. By the time the movie's hour+ (!!!) climatic action scene begins (a showdown in a hospital), Leung and Chow have teamed up, and the conclusion is inevitable (even if the death toll isn't).

The editing of the action scenes is superlative (as one reviewer noted: "school is now in session"), featuring four properties often missing in gun battles this side of the pacific: choreography, imagination, elaboration, and danger. choreography: each action sequence is meticulously choreographed down to the exact timing of each shot and explosion; more importantly, this choreography is consistently adhered to in all shots. imagination: yes, people are pretty much just shooting at each other, but they're doing it with guns hidden in vol. 2 of the complete works of Shakespeare, or while diving through a car, off a boat, through an internal hospital window, or while cartwheeling through clouds of flour in a kitchen. elaboration: Hard Boiled is absolutely exemplary in its use of multiple shots (angles, speeds, etc.) to increase the excitement of a single event / moment. We can see this technique crudely employed in such (nevertheless great) action films as Bullit, where an admittedly intense driving stunt is replayed from three different angles, but it is only in Hard Boiled that this technique is elevated to an art. A brief moment (say, our protagonist diving through the hull of a mid-manufacture car as its neighbor explodes in flames) is amplified and elaborated upon by extending it through a sequence of shots which capture every heart-pounding aspect in excruciating detail. danger: at several points in Hard Boiled we see flames from nearby (and decidedly non-CGI) explosions whip around the bodies of our protagonists (their faces easily identifiable, and thus not those of stuntmen). Reportedly, Woo detonated the explosions himself as Chow runs through the hospital holding a baby (yes, the baby was a stunt-double) in a closing scene because the SFX-techs weren't generating enough excitement. Apparently, the "safe" distance to detonate each explosion from Chow simply didn't look good enough on film so Woo took matters into his own hands. The result is palpable excitement.

the original trailer for Hard Boiled:

trailer for new Dragon Dynasty DVD here.

memorable editing moment: Although there are many instances of great editing in the action scenes of Hard Boiled, the opening "teahouse" shootout being only one of several examples, there're also plenty of instances in non-action scenes. One scene which involves the shooting of a gun, but not at a person, stands out here. Chow and Leung are trapped in a corridor between the hospital morgue and the secret weapons stash of smuggler Wong. In an attempt to open the door, Chow empties the gunpowder from several cartridges into the screwhole of some lead piping on the wall, inserts a further bullet into the hole itself, then steps to the other side of the room. In Chow's performance, he first aims slowly and carefully at the tiny target, then, apparently flustered, looks away, relaxes his arm, and exhales. Then, suddenly, in one fluid motion, he aims again and fires, hitting the screw-holed bullet and exploding the pipe. Here, Woo's editing amplifies Chow's acting. As Chow aims initially, we see several CUs on Chow, intercut with a slowish CU zoom onto the bullet, and a reverse of Chow aiming with his gun in focus (and his face out) as he aims, but begins to shake. Then a two shot (Chow and Leung) and a close up of Chow's hand as he relaxes. The moment Chow decides to fire, however, is elaborated upon with a CU of his head turn, a second angle of his head turn +raising of gun to fire, a third angle of raising of gun, a swift zoom onto the target, a fourth angle on the head turn / raising of gun / gun firing, and finally the resultant explosion. The point here is just that the shape of Chow's performance (his initial hesitance, followed by determination) is mirrored in the flow of the scene's editing, creating an overall experience which is more than the sum of the parts.

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