Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hard Boiled: Classic Hong Kong Cinema

"Biggest movie body counts: Die, die, die... and die some more!"

From Wikipedia:

Hard Boiled (traditional Chinese: 辣手神探; pinyin: Làshǒu shéntàn; literally: Hot-Handed God of Cops) is a 1992 Hong Kong action film directed by John Woo. It is also known as God of Guns (traditional Chinese: 鎗神/槍神; simplified Chinese: 枪神; pinyin: Qiāngshén). It was the last film Woo directed in his native Hong Kong before relocating to Hollywood. The movie begins as an apparently straightforward film about the bond between a detective and an undercover cop as they fight a triad gang. However, it develops into an over two hour action extravaganza, with a body count of 307. [1] It is structured around four major action setpieces: the opening teahouse shootout, the warehouse betrayal in the middle, the dock shootout, and the climactic thirty-minute hospital shootout.

In a teahouse in Hong Kong, a squad of police officers, led by Officer "Tequila" Yuen and his partner Benny, attempt to arrest a group of gun smugglers during a deal. Ambushed by another gang member, the police and gangsters engage in a fierce gun battle. Although the gangsters are defeated, several police officers are badly wounded, and Benny is killed. Tequila, knowing there are no witnesses, chooses to summarily execute the gangster who ambushed them to avenge Benny, rather than arrest him. This earns Tequila the wrath of his superior officer Superintendent Pang, who reveals the man was a senior member of a local triad gang and could have put all of them away with his testimony. Pang orders Tequila off the case.

Elsewhere in Hong Kong, Alan, a respected hitman working under "Uncle" Hoi, a Triad boss, meets with Johnny Wong, an opposing Triad boss, whose men were involved in the teahouse deal. Wong, looking to replace the senior man he lost there, attempts to recruit Alan. Alan is reluctant to turn against Hoi, who treats him well, but finds he has no choice when Wong conducts a raid on Hoi's arsenal and takes Alan with him. At Hoi's warehouse, Wong's men kill Hoi's workers and destroy his stock, knowing this will bring Hoi to the scene. Hoi arrives, and is taken prisoner, along with his entourage. Wong demands Alan be the one to kill him. Hoi, accepting that he is going to die, asks Alan to kill only him and spare his men. Alan, after much hesitation, finally kills Hoi, but then kills his men as well. Suddenly, smoke grenades explode and Tequila appears, determined to continue with the case against orders. Alan covers Wong's escape as Tequila fights and kills most of the gangsters, leaving Wong's second-in-command, Mad Dog, severely wounded. Having defeated the others, Tequila finds himself confronting Alan face to face in the smoke, where Tequila tries to shoot Alan, but finds he is out of bullets. Alan is free to kill Tequila, but slowly lowers his gun and walks away, smiling.

Tequila is angered to think he nearly killed an undercover cop. He confronts Pang over this, who confirms Alan's identity, but states it sometimes goes with the job, as one of the 'gangsters' Tequila killed at the teahouse was also undercover. Although he does not react, Tequila is horrified by this. Later, Tequila confronts Alan at his boat on the docks, to try to make sense of the situation, but they are suddenly attacked by the remnants of Hoi's gang, seeking revenge. They manage to kill their attackers just before Wong arrives, allowing Alan to keep his cover. Wong realises one of his men, Foxy, is an informant for the police, which is how Tequila knew about Wong's raid on Hoi's arsenal. He has him beaten by Mad Dog, and tells Alan to finish the job. Alan slips a cigarette lighter into Foxy's pocket, where he shoots him, saving his life. A badly wounded Foxy finds Tequila, and is able to inform him that Wong's own arsenal is in the nearby Maple Group Hospital. Tequila takes Foxy to the hospital for treatment, unaware that Wong owns it and is informed of their arrival. Asking to make up for his mistake, Alan goes to kill Foxy at the hospital. Wong, growing suspicious, also sends Mad Dog separately and two other men to cover Alan. At the hospital, Alan and Tequila kill the two others, then Alan confronts Tequila, demanding to know the whereabouts of Wong's arsenal, which has been his mission all along. While they are distracted, Foxy is discovered and killed by Mad Dog.

In the basement, Alan and Tequila discover Johnny Wong's arsenal. Inside, they are confronted by Mad Dog, engaging him in prolonged fight. Wong arrives and, seeing the arsenal has been compromised, locks the hospital down, taking all the patients and staff hostage. Also captured are a disguised Superintendent Pang and Officer Chang, Tequila's girlfriend, along with several undercover police. Mad Dog voices his disapproval of involving innocents, saying the fight should only be between the Triads and police, but Wong dismisses this. After fighting their way to the main lobby, Alan and Tequila liberate Pang and Chang and their squad. Pang evacuates the lobby and begins directing the fight from the outside, while Chang goes to the maternity ward to organise evacuating the babies. The rest of the squad disperse throughout the hospital to assist the fight. As Alan and Tequila continue the fight, Alan accidentally kills one of Pang's squad. He is shocked and unable to fight until Tequila reveals his own feelings of guilt about the undercover cop he killed at the teahouse. Coming to his senses, Alan finds and engages Mad Dog, while Tequila goes to assist Chang with the babies. After a long chase, Alan and Mad Dog find themselves confronting each other with a group of patients caught in the middle. They simultaneously lower their weapons and both order the patients to leave, but Wong appears and begins shooting the patients. An enraged Mad Dog tries to shoot Wong but is out of bullets, and Wong finally kills him as well. Alan escapes in the confusion. Tequila finds the last baby in the maternity unit and carries it to safety while fighting off the last of the gangsters. Alan arrives and they are confronted by Johnny Wong, who has programmed bombs to blow up the building. Wong flees and Alan gives chase as the hospital begins exploding. Tequila escapes the hospital with the baby, barely getting out as the hospital is destroyed. Everyone assumes Wong and Alan are dead.

Suddenly, Wong appears, holding Alan at gunpoint. Calling Tequila out, he forces Tequila to humiliate himself in exchange for Alan's life. Enraged, Alan grabs the gun and in the struggle shoots himself through the stomach. This gives Tequila enough time to shoot Wong dead through the eye. Although the police are victorious, it is a hollow victory as it seems Alan is dead. However, Pang and Tequila are the only ones aware that Alan has survived. As Pang burns Alan's file, Alan sails away from Hong Kong to his new life.

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."