Produced by Takashi Miike's production company Excellent Film and starring his frequent cohort Riki Takeuchi, Hard Boiled is a solid and effectively trashy yakuza yarn. It's one of the dozens (hundreds is a more appropriate approximation) of these films that the growling, bulky and charismatic star has turned out for the Japanese straight-to-video market over the last decade and a half. Though most of these films suffer from the low budgets and low talents involved, Hard Boiled delivers the goods with foul-mouthed efficiency.
For a departure, Takeuchi plays a regular guy this time around, a high school bus driver, a man with a wife and child and a nice suburban home. But the dull routine of his working man's life is getting to him and the frustrations are building up inside. When he is beaten up by a trio of yakuza after rear-ending their car with his bus and a female colleague runs into trouble with the same bunch, Riki decides he's had enough. The next afternoon while on his route, he stops the bus in the middle of the road and walks away, leaving the class of noisy schoolgirls dumbstruck for once in their lives.
What starts as a walk gradually becomes a crusade as mild-mannered family man changes into lawless, yakuza-hunting vigilante. He is soon joined by two fellow misfits and underworld rejects: a down-on-his luck boxer (who initially beats him up and steals his money) and a hooker whose boyfriend was killed by the same gang. From then on, it's guns, fists, swords and tits all the way as the troubled threesome take on the organisation of loud-suited Minegishi. Here for once is a direct-to-video action movie that delivers exactly what it promises.
Though thematically reminiscent of Joel Schumacher's regular-guy-over-the-edge film Falling Down (1993), Hard Boiled is in effect a vicarious male fantasy; made for the average salaryman whose only break from his job and his family is a drunken night out with his colleagues, but who wishes that, like Riki, he had the ability to break free from his life, stand up and fight those who annoy him, make them look like fools while he himself looks cool and get the girl in the process.
Hard Boiled presents its viewers with their ultimate superman dream (or cave man dream, depending on your point of view), appealing straight to the basic male instincts that civilisation has filtered, suppressed and legislated out of existence. A gun in one hand and a girl in the other. Appropriately, womanhood comes in two prototypes only: as a sexless wife / mother or as Mihono Nomono's high-heeled prostitute, who spends the entire film wearing either skimpy, figure-hugging dresses or nothing at all. To no-one's surprise it's the latter who wins the favours, serving as the object on which the men can vent their desires and taking it without complaining. Clearly it's not a film for female audiences. But then, this is a Riki Takeuchi movie, not a Richard Chamberlain mini-series.
With reliable, no-frills direction from Kanazawa, Hard Boiled is a you-want-it-you-got-it movie. Nothing more, nothing less. For once, you can tell a book by its cover.