So I got around to see the Tartan DVD release of Hard Boiled and Hong Kong Classics “Special 2 Disc Collector’s Edition” of A Better Tomorrow… and Ravenous.
Hard Boiled is basically exactly like The Killer except that Chow Yun Fat plays a cop. Well, and that the whole thing just isn’t as polished in every respect. Plenty of great action scenes but a rather simple and stupid story, including baby jokes at the end. I goddamn hate baby jokes. The Tartan edition has indeed cut-off edges, non-optional English subtitles for the Cantonese dialogue, and shows the occasional film defect. It’s still quite watchable, though, and given the decent but not great quality of the film I don’t think I’ll bother looking for another version.
A Better Tomorrow was a surprise as it’s mostly a tragic drama with only a small amount of shooting (by John Woo standards). The action scenes comprise merely the core ideas of setup and choreography that Woo would later elaborate on. The DVD cover is rather misleading here, they apparently tried to ride on the success of Woo’s later films but this one is quite different. While the film probably wouldn’t live up to Tom Chick’s standards of fine drama, it’s much more character-driven than most action flicks, and actually quite touching in places – the first sight of Fat with a crippled leg scrubbing his new boss’s car is simply stunning after his buildup to a super-cool mobster (DVD cover text) who lights cigars with forged dollar bills.
Fun fact from the interviews on the special edition: Chow Yun Fat said in London in 1993 that Woo’s films could no longer be shown in Hong Kong after Britain had handed it back to China. They were too violent…
Finally, I’d like to join the ranks of those who thanked the great Cleveland Mark Blakemore (who just left the board forever, again) for recommending Ravenous. Very clever little film, not exactly a great classic but definitely worth seeing once. I had a big problem with the action scenes, though maybe it’s because I had recently seen the Woo films. The action in Ravenous looked clumsy, poorly choreographed and simply not credible. On top of that, the lead character is slow, cowardly, and stupid. Yeah, he had that Mexican experience (CLEVE!!!) but I just hate a supposedly heroic lead character fumbling about like that.