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Film review: Hard

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If you saw the Hong Kong romantic-action epic "The Killer" when it played here a few years ago, you know that nobody makes movies like John Woo.

In fact, when Belgian muscle-man Jean-Claude Van Damme wanted to give his own action pictures a quality boost, he turned to the veteran Chinese filmmaker, offering Woo "Hard Target" to mark his American film-making debut.

Unfortunately, that film was barely a blip on last year's summer movie charts, and it did not showcase Woo at his best. (Why? Rumor has it that Van Damme's ego was bigger than the film's budget, as he tried to rule the set instead of allowing Woo that privilege.)

So, if you're hungry for vintage Woo, which is to say eye-popping Hong Kong thrills and stylistic, balletic violence, you can't do better than "Hard-Boiled."

It's over the top, it's wild and crazy, it makes no sense whatsoever — and it's much more entertaining than anything Arnold Schwarzenegger makes without James Cameron.

Call "Hard-Boiled" a guilty pleasure, if you will.

Woo regular Chow Yun-Fat — the Clint Eastwood of Hong Kong — stars as Tequila, a maverick cop who insists on doing things his own way, which, of course, causes his commanding officer to tear out his hair. In the film's first big action sequence, a zany confrontation set in a tea room, Tequila upsets an ongoing investigation into illegal arms dealing and gets his partner killed in the process.

So, with revenge on his mind, Tequila strikes out against the arms dealers, putting the life of Tony (Tony Leung), an undercover cop, in jeopardy. Ultimately, however, they will team up to take on an army of bad guys in a corrupt hospital, whose basement has been converted into a hidden arsenal.

The climactic battle between triad killers and police, which takes up nearly half the movie's running time — and turns the hospital into a war zone — is wildly ridiculous and hilarious, even by Woo's standards. While doctors, nurses and patients run for cover, good guys and bad guys shoot it out in the halls, recovery rooms and surgical units. Gunplay causes people to fly through windows and crash through walls and blows away everything that isn't nailed down.

At one point, Tequila tries to rescue the last baby left in the nursery, and he's shown cradling the infant in one arm as he alternately sings a rap song and blows away the onslaught of villains who are coming for him. When Tequila's pants catch fire, the baby urinates and puts out the flames. Tequila thanks him, of course.

During these scenes, Woo indulges in several long, intricately choreographed takes, while the camera follows Tequila and Tony down hallways and into various rooms, as they blow bad guys away right and left, running, leaping and diving into action.

If that description sounds too weird for you, forget it. But if you're up for some artistic violence — of that kind that makes Peckinpah look like Disney — this is the picture for you.

"Hard-Boiled" is not rated but would obviously get an R for considerable violence, gore and mayhem, along with profanity.