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Hard Gun

BCI Eclipse // Unrated // January 6, 2009
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 10, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Take a peek at Hard Gun's slick, glossy cover art. What's your kneejerk reaction? A brutal, masterfully shot crime drama heavy on blood-spattered shoot-outs and elaborately choreographed martial arts? Before this Blu-ray disc washed up on my doorstep, its cover art was all I had to go on with Hard Gun -- a Thai import so hopelessly obscure that it's not even listed on the IMDb -- but a cringingly campy action-comedy wasn't exactly what I strolled in expecting.

Even though Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak; The Protector) score top billing and are plastered all over the cover, they don't rank much higher than supporting characters. They're the bad guys this time around, hellbent on vengeance after a police raid left one of their closest friends gunned down in a pool of blood. That's the story that bookends Hard Gun, at least. Most of the movie swirls around Lieutenant Pitak -- one of the cops from the shootout -- as he pals around with a card shark of a stepsister, his booze-swilling pop, and a gaptoothed, alcoholic older "brother".

What's lurking in between the shootouts, flurries of roundhouses, and gritted-teeth revenge? Um, meandering, obnoxious street gambling. A sped-up chase on foot that has one badnik hiding under a basket, with his feet poking out and shuffling away when the sergeant's back is turned. A dumpy, half-naked guy with no front teeth sobbing in front of a couple cases of beer. A bicycle jaunt backed by public domain hair-metal. Hard Gun strains so much to fill its lightweight 82 minute runtime that it belts out one long, long fight on a playground -- complete with "ow, my balls!" brawls on swingsets and see-saws -- is followed up by a soccer match, then shifts gears into a round of takraw (think volleyball with no fists and a smaller ball), and then goes back to
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the same playground to pretty much Xerox the same fight as before. Rittikrai and Jaa pop up for a few seconds at a time just as a reminder that something really will happen at some point down the line, but Hard Gun is pretty much spinning its wheels for the better part of an hour straight.

Jaa's acrobatic martial arts skills are highlighted in the frenzied attacks in the climax, but that final fifteen minutes aside, there's no real rhythm or intensity to what little fight choreography Hard Gun bothers with. The brawls are slow, clumsy, and awkward, and a few scattered sections even overcrank the footage to try to liven them up, leaving 'em looking like Benny Hill outtakes or something. Rittikrai doesn't even get a chance to fight himself, opting to stick with a pistol in each hand instead.

Hard Gun's more of a comedy than an action flick, although its goofy sense of humor never manages to score much of a laugh beyond the "...the hell?" surreality of it all. Even the intensity of the climax is kind of defused by its flopsweat-drenched stabs at comedy. After Ann is kidnapped by the badniks, a cartoonish Snidely Whiplash-style bomb is tied around her waist. Her family fans out to track her down, and there's a ridiculously stupid gag where her brother stumbles into a cave and a jaguar roar from some stock sound effects library kicks in. Ugh. Hard Gun flounders around as a goofball comedy, borderline-nothing happens for almost a full hour, and the only worthwhile action doesn't spill out until the last fifteen minutes. I'll admit that there's at least a little novelty value in spinning this sort of ridiculous Thai campfest, but I don't think I'm going to be subjecting myself to Hard Gun a second time, and it doesn't work well enough as a curiosity to even be worth shelling out a couple of bucks to rent. Skip It.

Hard Gun looks like a dusty print had been yanked out of a broom closet and tossed straight into some telecine bay in Bangkok. No real effort went into polishing the flick for video: the color timing can vary drastically from one shot to the next, a lot of the shadow detail is gobbled away by black crush, and the scope image is riddled with specks. This might be the single dustiest flick out of the hundreds and hundreds I've torn through on Blu-ray.

Some stretches look decent enough, though, and there's no question that it's a hefty step up over the DVD. Sure, the photography's really gritty and noisy, but the grain structure is generally tight and crisp, the image is reasonably nicely defined, and its colors can be pretty punchy when it's given half a chance. On the other hand, fist-sized chunks of the movie look more like this:

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Dimly-lit interiors have it the worst, but shots this nasty are all over Hard Gun. The weight of the grain varies wildly from shot to shot, the image pulses erratically, the once-deep black levels drift off into just looking flat and noisy, and the image can be soft to the point of almost looking out of focus. While I'm sure a good bit of that inconsistency dates back to when cameras were first rolling, at least some of this -- especially the scattershot color timing -- really should've been polished better here. Sure, I know a hopelessly obscure Thai action-comedy like this isn't exactly going to shatter sales records, so it's not as if anyone's going to fork over enough cash for a world-class restoration as if this were The Seventh Seal or something, but this is still a sub-standard effort.

A misprint on the packaging rattles off a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but nope: Hard Gun lurches onto Blu-ray with its original scope framing intact. The bitrate's so low that even with two soundtracks in tow, its AVC encode barely squeaks past the 11 gig mark, although the movie doesn't seem to be any worse off for it.
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Hard Gun warms over the exact same audio options as the DVD: one Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kbps) track in its original Thai and another dubbed into English. Optional English subtitles have also been tacked on, but the quality's pretty shoddy, belting out translations like "You made me fall. You caused this!" and "Today I have the greatest happiness in the world!" The original Thai track is passable but in pretty rough shape. The entire flick's drenched in a heavy hiss, a handful of pops and crackles are scattered throughout, and an awful lot of it just sounds flat and scratchy. The best thing Hard Gun's audio has going for it is a score that at least early on winds the clock back to 1976, dusting off banks of sqwawking synths. Otherwise...? Lousy but listenable.

Just a standard definition trailer.
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The Final Word
Once the campy charm of this goofball, no-budget Thai action-comedy wears off, there really isn't all that much for Hard Gun to fall back on, and its room temperature release on Blu-ray really isn't any better. Skip It.
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