Blu-ray
Skip It
2 stars
Overall Grade
2 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
1.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
2 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Skip It

Hard Boiled: Stranglehold PS3 Collector's Edition

Street Date:
October 30th, 2007
Reviewed by:
High-Def Digest staff
Review Date: 1
November 12th, 2007
Movie Release Year:
1992
Studio:
Midway
Length:
0 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

This edition of 'Hard Boiled' is only available as a bonus on the Collector's Edition Playstation 3 release of "Stranglehold" -- an arcade shooter from Midway. The film can only be accessed on a PS3 and will not play on standalone Blu-ray players.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

To say I was sheltered as a child would be a gross understatement -- my parents believed R-rated movies were possibly damaging an entire generation. As a budding film fan, I had to sneak all of my movies at other people's houses. Luckily for me, a good friend regularly held all-night cinemathons to plow through piles of VHS tapes. I still remember one fateful night in high school when he introduced me to Hong Kong action director John Woo. We watched a trifecta of testosterone-fueled gun ballets that included 'A Better Tomorrow,' 'The Killer,' and 'Hard Boiled.' To say I instantly fell in love with the director's work would be another gross understatement.

'Hard Boiled' tells the bloody tale of Inspector Yuen Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat), a rogue cop who deals out justice in spite of overwhelming odds. When his partner is murdered during a botched raid, Tequila teams up with an undercover agent (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) to bring down the Triad gang that was responsible. In typical Woo fashion, the bullet-dodging lawmen seem to be able to slow time, make every bullet count, and pause mid-fight for dramatic reloads. They even have enough breathing room to save a few babies, kill more than three hundred gunmen, and bring the blazing battle to the doorstep of a crime lord named Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang).

Like many early John Woo films, 'Hard Boiled' delivers an unrelenting avalanche of entertainment in the brief confines of a two hour film. There's action aplenty, surprisingly deep character development, and quite a few unique glimpses into the teetering relationship between law enforcement, political bureaucracy, and organized crime. The film initially seems like a depiction of endless and senseless slaughter, but a complex string of themes begins to emerge that helps make the plot feel far more significant than most modern day actioners. The film is certainly over-the-top, however, the director handles his orchestrated violence with artistry and grace.

Look no further than the infamous scene in which Tequila has to escape a burning hospital while fighting off dozens of gun totting baddies. Captured in one take with a single handheld camera, the scene showcases the sharp choreography and rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that exemplifies everything I find appealing about 'Hard Boiled.' Just when the shot can't get any better, a quick mid-chaos trip in an elevator seals the deal and allows the director to demonstrate his full potential as a filmmaker.

More importantly, the performers in 'Hard Boiled' weave an authentic sense of conviction into their characters -- even the gangsters have an unspoken code that creates believeable behavior within the realm of Woo's reality. Chow Yun-Fat is amazing and delivers a stoic portrayal of a man surrounded by tragedy. Even with a shotgun in one hand and a rescued baby in the other, his performance doesn't allow the film to cross the line into unintentional self-parody. Like every legendary action classic, 'Hard Boiled' makes it a cinch to suspend disbelief, settle in, and enjoy the ride.

Newcomers may feel that 'Hard Boiled' runs straight through a laundry list of action clich├ęs, but these viewers should keep in mind that the film has been a massive influence for the modern action genre. John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat have created a visceral opera of violence that should be seen by every action fan out there.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Unfortunately, despite Midway's earlier claims to the contrary, this MPEG-2 rendition of 'Hard Boiled' is certainly not presented in 1080p, nor is it a high definition transfer worthy of serious consideration. The film included on the game disc is accessible only through the game menus -- rather than defaulting to its own display (that utilizes the usual features of the PS3 Blu-ray player), it plays from within the environment of the game. As such, the only controls are a crude pause and an option to skip through the chapters. I'm annoyed to see that the setup is more akin to accessing a "special feature" in the game rather than accessing a full fledged Blu-ray movie.

The resulting picture is sharper than other upscaled standard copies of the film I own on DVD, but not by much. On screen text receives a boost and fine details like hair look slightly better on this Blu-ray disc. That being said, the film certainly hasn't been remastered for high definition and the PS3 merely scales a lower-res transfer to 720p. The results are soft and underwhelming. Colors are washed out, drab, and lack the oomph of even average titles available on Blu-ray. Compared to DVD copies of the film, the palette vibrancy doesn't seem to be improved at all. Skintones are depressing and waxy when the actors sweat -- in fact, the transfer doesn't handle natural textures very well at all. Black levels are faulty, contrast is artificially boosted, and shadow delineation is all over the place. I was pleased with the condition of the print, but it's still nothing to write home about.

To top it all off, the aspect ration of the film is noticeably stretched -- the effect is similar to when a 4:3 film is viewed on a widescreen display, but it's a more subtle variance in this case. The actors aren't as lean as they should be. I've caught this discrepancy on import DVDs of 'Hard Boiled' before, so it seems to be a carryover issue from its DVD source rather than one limited to this PS3 edition. In the end, this isn't the high definition remaster Midway promised earlier this year. They've gone suspiciously quiet on the issue and have not replied to any of my inquiries about the transfer used on the disc. Ignore the marketing buzz and approach this one with extreme caution!

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The presentation defaults to a cringe-worthy English dub of the film, but an original Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track (384kbps) is easily accessible through the on screen menu. Just be warned -- the subtitle text reflects the words of the heavily altered English dub rather than the exact meaning of the original Cantonese dialogue. Maybe I'm the only one this annoys, but I can't stand it -- if I'm taking the time to read the film, I want to read what the actors are actually saying.

From a technical standpoint, the DD mixes are average at best. Dynamics linger in the mid range and the soundscape doesn't have the low end impact I hope to find in a real high definition release of the film some day. Bass booms are muddy, treble tones are plagued with peaking problems, and gunshots fail to resonate. Dialogue is sometimes lost under the chaos and the soundfield prioritization is unreliable. To make matters worse, pans are a bit choppy and directionality suffers from inaccuracies and seemingly random source assignment. Again, I doubt this has much to do with the PS3 rendition of this transfer -- this can likely be attributed to whichever DVD transfer Midway tossed on the game disc.

In the end, there isn't anything special about the audio package and it doesn't compare favorably to the Criterion DVD (which bests this track sound for sound). I'm admittedly still shaking my head in disbelief that this was billed as a Blu-ray version of the film.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Other than the videogame itself, there aren't any supplements for the film. I dropped in to sample the game and had to pull myself off the PS3 after three hours after growing increasingly addicted. It's by no means a great videogame, but it is a ton of fun. Just watching watermelons 'splode and doves scatter as Tequila slid from table to table was a blast. The slow-mo showdowns topped off the experience and made for a quick hit of old-school goodness.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Nothing.

Final Thoughts

As a video game extra, this edition of 'Hard Boiled' would be mildly exciting if the publisher hadn't misled fans into believing they were about to experience a high definition overhaul. As much as I would like to recommend the film itself, this PS3 exclusive dashed my hopes by tacking a subpar DVD transfer and audio package onto a videogame. I can't even access the movie with proper controls because it's accessed like an in-game extra. If you're primarily buying "Stranglehold," spend the extra $10 on this Collector's Edition and enjoy the bonus film. But if you have any interest in a high definition version of 'Hard Boiled,' then avoid this wolf in sheep's clothing at all costs.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray PS3 Game Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p/MPEG-2

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (384kbps)
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (384kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English Subtitles

Supplements

  • None

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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