Hard Boiled - new DVD of John Woo's action masterpiece
As I've written before on this board, I'm a big fan of the Weinstein Company's Dragon Dynasty series, which IMO gives some long overdue attention to quality to the Asian martial arts and Hong Kong action genres. Dragon Dynasty releases get the movie right, and then add on a generous assortment of supplementals that really put these great movies in context. So, obviously when Hard Boiled was announced for release by Dragon Dynasty, I put it at the top of my purchase list.
Hard Boiled was director John Woo's Hong Kong swan song, before he packed up for Hollywood (and aside from Face/Off made a series of generally mediocre action pics). IMO, this is one of the great action pics of all time -- jawdropping gunfights, two strong characters in the lead roles, intense action from start to finish, and 100,000 bullets (!) used during filming. It culminates a lot of the stylistic and thematic elements that Woo had weaved into his earlier gangster epics like A Better Tomorrow and The Killer. And it stars Chow Yun-Fat at the peak of his coolness. Compared to Woo's other movies, this is by far the most accessible movie for Western audiences, because it dispenses with some of the family-oriented melodrama that accompanied his earlier films. For actions fans, this is a must-see.
So, does the DVD measure up? Unfortunately, this DVD set is more of a mixed bag than a home run. The image quality is somewhat spotty. It's better than other NTSC versions that have come out, but it still has visible flaws in many spots. I would've attributed this to the original source, but I read on other DVD review sites that while the Dragon Dynasty version is probably the best-looking English-friendly edition, the image quality does not fare well compared to releases that came out in France and Germany.
Also, another disappointment is the choice of subtitles used. Apparently, Dragon Dynasty chose to recycle the dubtitles (i.e., transcription of the English dub script, rather than a more literal translation from the original Cantonese dialog) used in the earlier Criterion and Fox Lorber releases, rather than go with a revised translation from Cantonese. This is too bad because the dubtitles are awful. They're trying to use more "conversational" English, but a lot of it just doesn't make much sense and in fact makes wholesale changes to the meaning of some critical scenes. (I know this because I've seen the movie in theaters many times, and while the two Cantonese subtitle translations I saw were less than ideal, both of them are preferable to the dubtitles) Unfortunately, the only DVDs that use a more literal Cantonese translation are the Asian imports that also feature horrible picture quality.
But, the DVD does include a good assortment of newly produced supplementals, including a 40-minute interview with John Woo.
So, all in all, this edition of Hard Boiled is the best English-friendly DVD version on the market right now (and aside from the director's commentary, superior to the out-of-print Criterion version, which had been selling for upwards of $200 on eBay). While it isn't exactly a definitive version, it's worth picking up if you don't already own a copy of Hard Boiled, or heaven forbid, have yet to discover this action tour de force.
Wooch's Home Theater 2.0 (Pics)
Panasonic VIERA TH-C50FD18 50" 1080p
Paradigm Reference Studio 40, CC, and 20 v.2
Adire Audio Rava (EQ: Behringer Feedback Destroyer DSP1124)
Dual CS5000 (Ortofon OM30 Super)
Denon DVD-758 (DVD-1940ci)
Sony Playstation 3 (MediaLink OS X Server)
Sony ES SCD-C2000ES
Oppo Digital HM-31
Logitech Harmony 650