You know how every once in a while a movie like Drunken Master, or, on the flipside, Shoot'em Up comes along and makes for a really kick-ass action comedy? The kind that entertains your socks off and makes its ninety minute running time fly by in what seems like a half an hour? Yeah, Hard Gun is not like that. Not at all. Yeah, it's got action, and yeah, it's got comedy, but they don't mix well at all and neither aspect of the production is handled well enough to make up for that.
But hey, that guy from Ong Bak, what's his name, Tony Jaa? He's in it! It must have a few decent fights or some rad stunts to make it worth a watch, right? No, not really. It's hard to imagine who Hard Gun was meant for. Is there an audience out there for lame, insipid, uninspired and unfunny action comedies out there that are just waiting with baited breath to eat this one up? No, probably not, which would explain why BCI's cover art/design team opted to make this one look like a slick crime/action/thriller. Just check out that artwork - it oozes sex appeal and mystery, two things which Hard Gun is sorely lacking.
Despite the overtly phallic name, this is a movie that would rather show you what happens when a guy gets flour thrown in his face than tell any kind of interesting story. That said, what story there is revolves around Police Lieutenant Pitak who runs around with his sister (a gambling addict) and his older brother (a toothless and incredibly obnoxious and unfunny drunk guy) after he and his fellow cops kill some bad guys in a shoot out. The results of this shoot out land Pitak on the bad side of the remaining bad guys (played by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikikrai who are listed as the stars but who really only have cameo roles) who are out to make amends for what has been done in the past.
While it's cool to see Jaa swirl around and pull off some pretty awesome fight scenes, what pads the film in between those fight scenes is some of the lamest comedy and poorest drama you're likely to see. The comedy leans toward crass and infantile and it stands in direct opposition to the more serious and intense action scenes that are scattered throughout the picture and that make it almost watchable. When the fights occur, they are well shot, well choreographed and reasonably intense but when no one is kicking the crap out of anyone else, the movie grinds to a halt - and it's only eighty-two minutes long.
The pacing is off throughout the picture. It starts off strong with the shoot out sequence that sets everything up but quickly jaunts off into 'bad comedy' land with inconsequential subplots revolving around Pitak's circle of pals, most of whom you'll find yourself having trouble relating to or even caring about. Once you've OD'd on those cats, the action will kick up again and catch your attention but by the time you've awoken, you'll want to nod off again as we return to the nonintersecting subplots. This cycle more or less repeats itself until the movie winds itself up for a finale that, while marginally entertaining, can't even begin to make amends for the seventy-five minutes that came before it. Hard Gun has impressive moments where you'll see the Tony Jaa who has become an international action movie icon strut his stuff and do it well, but those moments are few and far between and it all results in a wildly uneven film where, sadly, the bad outweighs the good.
Hard Gun arrives on DVD in a 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that makes the movie look about twenty years older than the film really is. The movie was made in 1996 and you'd swear this was a mid-seventies effort based on the grain and wear to the image and the color fading that is rampant throughout. Detail levels are mediocre, colors look flat, and there's moderate print damage throughout. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about but it's obvious that the elements that BCI had to work with weren't in the greatest of shape and that no serious restoration work was done to the source material.
You've got the option was watching the film in its original Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Thai language (with optional English subtitles) or in a newly created English dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. The audio quality fares considerably better than the video quality does. The original Mono track is the way to go as the English dubbing sounds forced, but in terms of quality, it is a pretty decent 5.1 track with nice surround use throughout and decent bass response. It's not demo material by any stretch but it gets the job done. Neither track has any problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are fine on both mixes.
Aside from some menus and a chapter selection option, BCI has included the film's original theatrical trailer. And that's it.
Hard Gun has a few cool moments but not enough to save the film from becoming a fairly tedious mess. Adding insult to injury, the transfer is lame and there aren't any real extras. Hardcore Tony Jaa completists will probably appreciate this obscurity but everyone else is advised to skip this turkey.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.