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Category:    Home > Reviews > Martial Arts Cycle > Action > Gangster > Hong Kong > John Woo’s Last Hurrah For Chivalry + Hard Boiled (Dragon Dynasty/DVD-Video)

John Woo’s Last Hurrah For Chivalry + Hard Boiled (Dragon Dynasty/DVD-Video)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C/B-     Film: C/B-



Dragon Dynasty continues its prolific releases for 2007 of key Martial Arts and Action genre films from Hong Kong (et al) with two films by John Woo.  One is his comic period piece Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979) which shows his light-hearted side, even if it is not that strong, plus the very popular and oft released Hard Boiled (1992) finally back in print in the U.S. and Region 1 DVD.


Chivalry is not awful, but definitely early Woo as he finds himself, but is in no rush doing comedy much like the genre was used to as it retreated to humor after the amazing films of the 1970s.  Here, swords and costumes are a factor as a simple revenge plot turns out to be potentially a red herring for a larger battle for power.  I was surprised how uneven this was, but fans will enjoy it at least.


Then there is Hard Boiled finally in print again, so except for some extras and as a collectable, the high priced and long out of print Criterion is no longer so exclusive.  Some fans even held on to the 12” LaserDisc version!


This is a film where the police take on Triad-like gangsters more directly than in most Asian films and Woo adds his love of cinema from all over the world in the making of the film.  With a little money going a long way and Woo himself gone wild, the actions sequences are the best thing about what is often termed a gritty police procedural.  In reality, this film is too clean to be considered gritty and is by no means A Film Noir of any kind, nor is it totally original.  This also means outside of the action sequences, this film is also a bit overrated.


For starters, the action sequences would not have been possible without the groundbreaking work of Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde) or Sam Peckinpah (especially The Wild Bunch) for the slow-motion work in the middle of its kinetic action sequences.  Woo takes what would be shorter action sequences in Hollywood actioners and extends them much as a DJ takes a hit record and makes a 12” vinyl remix single out of it.


Then there is the look, which is deeply in debt to two Ridley Scott classics (Blade Runner and Black Rain, reviewed elsewhere on this site) as well as Michael Cimino’s Year Of the Dragon (1985, now on DVD) that so many films have tried to imitate in rip off form its thematics to look that only its boldness, politics and political incorrectness still stops it from being recognized as the classic that it is.  When you look at that film in particular, you can see the limits in Hard Boiled on a narrative level, but the success of Infernal Affairs and Scorsese’s hit remake The Departed (which brings this cycle full circle) shows that the plot of plot is part of the formula that worked for the audience.


Chow-Yun-Fat is another reason the film works because he is good in the lead and his performance often saves the film from the limits of the Barry Wong screenplay.  That Woo and company make each action sequence count so much and the choreography and on-set effects (no digital here!!!) is a plus that keeps the film popular.  Though some clothes and technology date the film, imitation also shows some of its limits.  However, it is important enough to be a minor classic of the genres it attempts for even its harshest critics, including many who dislike it outright.  Now well see if Dragon Dynasty gets the rights to Woo’s The Killer.



The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on both films may be upgrades, but they still have detail, depth and minor print issues.  Grain is one of them, but it seems as if Hard Boiled needs more work despite being the newer film.  It may look a little better than the Criterion DVD and 12” LaserDisc that used the same transfer, but not by much.  Director of Photography Wang Wing-Heng’s, H.K.S.C., work deserves better.  The audio on both DVDs include Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English and Cantonese, plus 2.0 Cantonese Mono (plus English Mono on Hard Boiled), but the 5.1 just spread around the original mono sound in a very thin way.  Hard Boiled even adds a DTS 5.1 track, but it is really no better than the Dolby and does the same mono spreading that does not work.  Woo needs to supervise a serious upgrade for the sound on Hard Boiled for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-MA as an HD version of the film needs a better soundtrack than this.


Extras on both include trailers, featurettes and audio commentaries by Martial Arts Cinema expert Bey Logan, who is particularly impressive on Hard Boiled.  Chivalry’s sole featurette is Legendary Weapons Of China, while you also get interviews with Fung Hak-On (Pray For Death) and Lee Hoi-San (Deliver Us From Evil).  Hard Boiled has Woo in its featurette A Baptism Of Fire, a location guide and interviews with Terence Chang (Partner In Crime), Philip Chan (Art Imitates Life) and Kwok Choi (Mad Dog Bites Again).



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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