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Ultimate Edition? Hardly...
on July 18, 2007
IMPORTANT NOTE: This review was written for the Dragon Dynasty DVD VERSION of this film, but thanks to Amazon's bizarre practise of porting reviews from one product platform to another product platform with no regard to differences between them, there's a good chance you're reading this review on the Blu-ray listing for this title. Having seen the Blu-ray version, I can say with absolute certainty that it is only a VERY MODEST improvement over the DVD in terms of picture quality. While I have neither the time nor inclination to review the Blu-ray, I would direct you to the extremely informative review at DVD Beaver (dot com), and concur 100% with the "disappointment" label given this release. What is most puzzling is the loss of the trailer gallery available on the earlier DVD set. Strange that a format that actually holds more is, in this case, used to hold less!
The remainder of this review is for the previous DVD special edition, which the new Blu-ray does little to better:
There should be no doubt that HARD BOILED is a phenomenal action picture, one of the best ever produced in Hong Kong. Much has been written all over the internet about it in the years since it was released direct-to-video in North America in the very early 90's.
Now, some 16 years later, through any number of flawed prints, alternate edits, crummy dubs and subtitles of varying quality, not to mention several PREVIOUS special editions on DVD, each with their own pros and cons, the chance to do right by this film in so many ways is, typically, blown by the Weinstein machine and their cabal of Hong Kong cinema experts.
Oh, sure, this disc is watchable, and considering there is now a generation of teenagers out there who weren't even BORN when this was released, I'm sure there will be new fans made from watching this film. But the film ain't the problem for the rest of us.
Who in their right minds, in 2007, puts DUBTITLES on a "premium" special edition of possibly one of the most important Hong Kong motion pictures of all time. DUBTITLES based on a dub that was made, what, 16 years ago now? That dubbed version was indeed responsible for bringing a great many western fans into the fold, but that doesn't mean we liked it. Or any dubbing for that matter. Just because HARD BOILED is over half action sequences doesn't automatically mean the dialogue sequences are unworthy of even a moderately more accurate translation of WHAT THE CHARACTERS ARE ACTUALLY SAYING IN CANTONESE. Instead, they appear to have paid the receptionist a few bucks to type the original dub script verbatim into the subtitle stream.
Thankfully, far superior subtitles are still available on other, BETTER DVD releases of the film. Some of which even have an image where Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Chow Yun-fat DON'T look like they've put on about 50 pounds!! I'm no expert on aspect ratios and the like, but I know enough, and I've seen enough Chow and Leung movies to know that they don't quite look like this in real life. Gotta wonder who's bright idea it was to CROP the movie, then STRETCH it back to the proper aspect ratio. I can think of a few people who probably figured no one would notice, or if they did, that they'd just be the usual internet pedants.
If that's what I am, so be it, but for god's sake, you think a label that so eagerly wants to be viewed as the top shelf for Hong Kong and Asian movies, would actually start treating those very products with some REAL respect. But then again, look what they did with their "edit" of the Protector. Laughable. And to hear the commentator on that one JUSTIFY the cuts tells me where he really stands when it comes to his paymasters' wishes. This edition of HARD BOILED is another clue.
If I were just reviewing the film, I'd give it 5 stars. But since this is a DVD review, and I managed to find one at a store that broke street date, AND I'm now out about [...] for something I now know I DIDN'T NEED TO UPGRADE, the best I can muster is (a generous) two stars, largely for the interviews on the second disc, which are not bad, and the location tour, which is not without interest.
The commentary on the other hand, while not a total write-off, obviously, offers SOME interesting tidbits that are tangentially related to the film itself, but to save a list of errors and 'best guesses' that would make your eyes glaze, just dig up a copy of the old Fox Lorber DVD from and listen to this film's CREATORS, John Woo and Terence Chang contradict Dragon Dynasty's commentator on several occasions. Or listen to the track on the Criterion edition of this title, where they do the same thing (though in fairness, the Fox Lorber track may have been a longer, uncut version of the Criterion one, only minus Roger Avery and Dave Kehr). John Woo and Terence Chang MADE the film, so who should you trust? A self-anointed expert? Sure, he means well enough, and he knows more than I do (which is why I'm a lowly peon who doesn't do commentaries ;) ), but a lot of the less film-specific stuff on this track feels awfully familiar...
Watch this disc for the movie (in Plump-o-Vision) and the interviews. Then do a little surfing to find one of the superior international versions if you really feel you need an "ultimate edition" in your collection, 'cause this ain't it.