In his last Hong Kong bulletfest before docking over to Hollywood, John Woo inaugurates the mayhem with a teahouse jaw-dropper between cops and arms smugglers, Chow Yun-Fat (as "Tequila" Yuen) sliding down a banister with both guns blazing before blood spurts onto a floured-up mug -- symphonic movement, ending on a killer still-life. Woo orchestrates fireworks in garages, sail boats, and, most spectacularly, a crowded hospital (a 40-minute climax in steel blues, scrubs whites and red all over, of course), though the surplus squib-bursting remains an extension of the characters' hot-lava emotionalism. Betrayal still is the major trauma, whether it's toothpick cop Yun-Fat accidentally shooting a fellow officer or undercover agent Tony Leung fighting back tears after blowing away an avuncular triad godfather as a way of staying close to the main boss (Anthony Wong). Woo may have intended a tribute to the boys in blue, but the relationships are as liquid as the surface motion, freeze-frames segueing into dissolves and codes of honor sprouting on both sides of the law. The bond between the guys has less repressed homoeroticism than The Killer (Yun-Fat and Leung pause long enough to swap pipe dreams), not that the film lacks subtext -- paper cranes, flowers, and musical notes (decoded by Yun-Fat's quasi-girlfriend, Teresa Mo) are all charged with masculine sweat. Or maybe it is the other way around. For all the camera's emphasis on action, Tequila signals a domesticalization (if not feminization) of the Woo outsider-hero, in between shots stuffing cotton in babies' ears to take them out of a burning maternity ward. Within an order built on aggression, only the slender thread of "law" sets good guy from bad guy, and only the characters' outdated morality ultimately counts -- a portrait of national anxiety upon incoming independence? The director was wrangling Van Damme before he could answer. With Philip Chan, Philip Kwok, Bowie Lam, and Kwan Hoi-shan.
--- Fernando F. Croce