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Film / Hard Boiled

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"Give a guy a gun and he's Superman. Give him two and he's God!"
Superintendant Pang, on Tequila and his "attitude" with firearms

Hard Boiled (Lat Sau San Taam (辣手神探), or "God of Guns") is a critically-acclaimed action film by John Woo, starring Chow Yun-fat in his slightly younger years. This 1992 action classic has aged very gracefully, and boasts action very few contemporary films can match up to. Has a sequel in the form of a game called Stranglehold, also produced by Woo.

Hard Boiled is all about two cops — one undercover, another much-maligned for always, always playing the Bad Cop — working together to bring down a gunrunning ring (led by Anthony Wong). There is plenty of plot in between which establishes the characters of Tequila (the Bad Cop) and Alan (the undercover cop, played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai) nicely.

But what you're here for are the action scenes, intricately choreographed and masterfully done by John Woo. What Shoot 'Em Up played for humor, Hard Boiled plays absolutely straight - and both movies end up totally awesome (for different reasons).


This film provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: The film has a big two-part shootout in one of these things. The first part has the bad guys led by Johnny Wong shooting up the place because they're taking over the gunrunning operation being run within from Uncle Hoi. The second part has Tequila rappelling in and blowing away the bad guys as only Chow Yun-fat can.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Tequila sometimes goes to the jazz club to talk about his troubles with the owner and have a drink.
  • Action Prologue: The opening teahouse scene.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Johnny is driving Alan to the showdown with Uncle Hoi, he takes out a gun to give to Alan, and tells Alan to kill him if he's going to back out. Alan demurs, saying, "I have my own (gun)," which makes Johnny chuckle.
  • Affably Evil: Uncle Hoi behaves with a grandfatherly demeanor towards his men, but he's still the leader of a gun-smuggling ring, until Johnny Wong takes over.
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  • Ambiguous Ending: Alan's fate. Did he die after shooting himself in the gut, during the final confrontation? The last scene with Alan have him sailing away on his boat; it could be interpreted as his survival, or it could be Tequila's Imagine Spot, that with Alan's death, he is now symbolically "free". Unfortunately the movie doesn't explain beyond that point.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Some of Hoi's remaining henchmen attempt to kill Alan on his boat, but he and Tequila manage to fend them off.
  • Author Appeal: John Woo's finally gets to show his love for jazz, after Executive Meddling forced him to abort his attempts to show it in his earlier films.
  • Ax-Crazy: Johnny Wong during the finale, as he kills both cops and hospital patients indiscriminately. Ironically, his Dragon, nicknamed Mad Dog, is instead a Noble Demon.
  • Badass Adorable: When he's not shooting criminals in varying degrees of cold blood, Tequila is frankly a bit of a dork. His attempts to woo Teresa have a distinct "schoolboy and a princess" vibe to them.
  • Badass and Baby: One of the movie's most iconic moments is Tequila protecting a baby while blasting up bad guys during the finale of the hospital shootout.
  • Badass Biker: The raid on the warehouse is spearheaded by a motorcycle light cavalry squad.
  • Bannister Slide: Tequila does a bannister slide of his own with Guns Akimbo in a classic shot from the first shootout.
  • The Bartender: John Woo plays one who gives Tequila advice. He mentions at one point that he also was a cop.
  • Bash Brothers: Tequila and Alan, after spending most of the film quarreling and trying to determine which side the other is on, finally work together closely when Mad Dog takes a hospital hostage, blasting their way through bad guys like old comrades.
  • Big Bad: Johnny Wong.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: This film is your classic story of a cop who shoots first and asks questions later, and an undercover cop who kills people for the mob in order to maintain his cover, up against a ruthless gun smuggler and his gang who have absolutely no qualms about murdering everyone who stands in their way.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Mad Dog does this to Johnny Wong to stop him killing innocent patients.
  • Book Safe: A book of Shakespeare with a gun in it is hidden within a Library. Alan walks into the library, gets the book and kills his target. Then he replaces the gun and book on the library shelf and walks out. This was apparently done so the hitman would never be armed if he was caught, but the police find the book because of the blood on it.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Johnny Wong gets one of these by way of Moe Greene Special.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played straight in many scenes. During the teahouse gunfight, Tequila never reloads despite using the same two pistols for the entire sequence and fires something like 100 shots with them (though part of this is due to multiple uses of the Repeat Cut. However, this is averted on occasion, such as the warehouse gunfight and the hospital shootout where characters are seen reloading.
  • Burn Baby Burn: The police do this with the ID papers of cops who die in the line of duty (such as Tequila's partner from the opening shootout and Alan at the end of the movie).
  • The Cameo: Jun Kunimura has a "Special Guest Appearence" as the teahouse gunman.
  • Car Fu: One poor mook ends up eating bike during the first half of the big warehouse shootout. Ouch.
  • The Cavalry: The SDU team, once they're able to get inside the hospital. Downplayed as they too suffer casualties of their own.
  • Ceiling Cling: Mad Dog does this briefly, in order to get the drop on Alan and Tequila.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cigarette lighter that Inspector Wang gives Alan is used to save Foxy.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Tequila takes a long aim at a hole in a pipe stuffed with gunpowder, then drops his arm and shakes it loose...only to fire a moment later. He later does the same thing to Johnny.
  • Clifftop Caterwauling: After the warehouse shootout, Alan, who has just had to gun down his boss, join Johnny Wong and take on fellow cop Tequila, lets loose with a scream to the heavens while aboard his yacht.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Alan has to deal with this, both due to having to choose between Johnny Wong and his old triad boss, and also being an undercover cop as well.
  • Cool Guns: Pick a modern automatic weapon on the list from before 1992. It will appear in this movie.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Mad Dog lights his cigarette from a fire in Uncle Hoi's warehouse after he and the rest of Johnny's gang kill everyone there.
  • Cowboy Cop: Tequila. Full stop.
  • Creator Cameo: John Woo has a small role as Tequila's mentor, also the bartender in Tequila's favorite club.
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: Near the end of the movie, the cops surround the hospital used by Johnny Wong as a front for his gun smuggling operations. Naturally, the criminals break out their armaments and tear into the cops laying siege to the hospital.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: After Foxy's cover is blown and he is nearly beaten to death, another undercover agent Alan seemingly does Shoot the Shaggy Dog. It's actually a trick to convince the thugs that he has been killed by first slipping a metal lighter into his chest pocket while punching him in the gut and then using Improbable Aiming Skills to shoot exactly at it (breaking a few more ribs). It's cruel, but Foxy survives. but not for long.
  • Cultured Badass: When Tequila isn't gunning down hordes of bad guys, Guns Akimbo, he's playing clarinet at his local jazz bar.
  • Da Chief: Superintendent Pang.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: Displayed by some of the dozens of mooks gunned down.
  • Death by Irony: Johnny Wong mocks the police officers' .38-caliber service revolvers when telling his men to shoot them. In the end, however, he's killed with a .38 to the eye from a service revolver.
  • Destroy the Security Camera: Right before breaking out of Johnny's weapons vault, the first thing Tequila Yuen did to intimidate Johnny is to blast the security camera in the vault with his shotgun. In a later scene, the infamous long take shootout against Johnny's men, Tequila shoots another security camera after shooting a mook, this time via silenced pistol.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: The third act of the movie can be best described as "Die Hard in a Hospital."
  • The Dragon: Mad Dog, who does most of the heavily lifting for Johnny Wong.
  • Dramatic Ammo Depletion:
    • Early on, Inspector Yuen runs out of bullets just as he tries to shoot the mob hitman Alan. This proves to be very convenient later when he discovers that Alan has actually been an undercover cop all along.
    • Mad Dog shoots Johnny in the side with what turns out to be his final bullet. Johnny then kills him.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Tequila has his nickname because he prefers to drink Tequila Slammers, which are made by pouring equal parts tequila and soda into a shot glass, placing one's hand over the glass and then slamming it on top of the bar in order to mix it before drinking. It's violent and slapdash - which fits him perfectly, on top of tequila being the stereotypical order of gunslingers... also like Tequila.
  • Dubtitle: The Winstar and Dragon Dynasty home video releases. Reports vary whether the Criterion edition has real subtitles, but generally the consensus is no.
  • Establishing Character Music: Both main characters in introduced with jazz. Tequila plays a light song with a band on his clarinet, while Alan is introduced with a funkier song blaring as he drives a sports car.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mad Dog, who has a strong sense of honor. He calls out Alan on the fact he's a mole for the police and is gunning for his boss. In the end, he attempts to kill Johnny Wong when he kills a group of civilians Mad Dog spared.
    There are two kinds of men I will never befriend; Cops and garbage who murder their own bosses. You have no sense of honor!
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Tequila blows up several motorcycles with what appear to be explosive shells from his shotgun during the big warehouse shootout.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Johnny Wong's death at the end of Tequila's gun. The climax of a series of Serial Escalation.
    • Mad Dog has an eye injured during the teahouse shootout and gets an eye patch for the rest of the movie. Alan takes advantage of this injury later on by elbowing him there.
    • Tony Leung Chiu-wai's eye was injured by explosion debris during the climax, with the shot of it happening remaining in the film.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Mad Dog, again.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Uncle Hoi in the warehouse shootout. Also, Mad Dog.
  • Fatal Family Photo: We all know Tequila's partner is not gonna last long when he asks Tequila if he wants to see his son's photo.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Johnny Wong can pretend to be affable at times, like when he praises Alan for killing Hoi. It does nothing to lessen how much of a monster he is.
  • Fire Alarm Distraction: When the villains, a gunrunning syndicate, is revealed to have hidden their weapons stash in the basement of a hospital and is ready to blow up the entire building, patients and all, to throw the police off their tracks, the police team who uncovered their plans managed to force an evacuation as one of the officers, Teresa, sets off the fire alarm on purpose by smashing it with her heels.
  • Friend to All Children: Tequila holds a baby in one arm and sings a lullaby to him while gunning down incoming Mooks with his other arm.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • While at the hospital, Mad Dog uses a scalpel to kill Foxy. Just as we're treated to a close up shot of the scalpel being pressed against the informant's neck, we cut to a shot of his blood spraying across the window.
    • At the end of the teahouse shootout, when Tequila dispatches his partner's killer, we only see his face sprayed with blood.
  • Gratuitous English: Serves as an aid in decoding the cryptic messages left by Alan. Also used by several characters throughout the film, such as singing English lyrics or shouting angry words. This is Truth in Television, as Hong Kong's primary languages are Cantonese and English.
  • Gun Fu: Word of God has described the gunfights as "gun ballet."
  • Gun Porn: Wong's arsenal hidden in a hospital is loaded with more guns than the Army.
  • Guns Akimbo: See the page quote, played straight with awesomeness.
  • Hand Cannon: One of the guns that sees use in this movie is a single-shot Thompson/Center Contender, wielded by Mad Dog against Tequila and Tony.
  • Hard Boiled Detective: Tequila is John Woo's take on the character, and as such racks up a significantly higher bodycount than most of the type. He's even referred to as one by Johnny Wong during the climax.
    Johnny: So it's you, the hard-boiled cop.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Mad Dog gets pissed after Johnny guns down a group of injured patients, solely because they were in the way of Tony - patients Mad Dog refused to shoot to get to Tony. He tries shooting Johnny, but it's blocked by his shotgun, and he runs dry - and Johnny unloads on him, point-blank.
  • Heroic Bloodshed: A notable example of the genre.Name-dropped in the climax, as Tequila talks to the kid he's protecting.
  • Heroic BSoD: Averted; Tequila talks Tony out of falling into one of these after realizing he may have shot a fellow cop. It leads to a hilarious exchange.
    Alan: Was the guy I shot really a cop?
    Tequila: Yes.
    Alan: Fuck! [unloads on the mook coming at them]
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Near the end of the hospital battle, two of the SDU team officers charged with getting the newborns safely out of the building use their kevlar vests to protect the babies. Immediately after securing the infants inside of the vests, they're riddled with bullets that they might otherwise have survived.
    • Alan gives Tequila a chance to kill Johnny Wong by shooting both himself and Johnny through the gut, stunning Johnny long enough for Tequila to make a headshot.
  • Honor Before Reason: The cops, naturally. And quite surprisingly, even The Dragon of Johnny Wong.
  • Hope Spot: When Alan and Mad Dog goes into a standoff that had numerous civilians stuck between them, they decide to put down their guns and let the innocents leave before they fight themselves. Then Johnny Wong rushed in with his goons, personally gunning down all the civilians to reach Alan.
  • Houseboat Hero: Alan lives on a yacht (which ends up the site of one of the film's gunfight set pieces). The film ends with him sailing away after the "death" of his cover identity.
  • Idiot Ball: Foxy's death could have been avoided altogether if Tequilla didn't have a brainfart and take him to a hospital owned by Johnny Wong. All the more jarring because everyone seems to treat it as a tragic happenstance, and the heroes are pretty sensible otherwise.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills:
    • Near the end of the movie, Tequila places several rounds of gunpowder into a metal pipe, with a bullet covering the entrance. He fires a shot from at least seven feet away, one-handed, and hits the bullet, blowing the gunpowder in the pipe. This description in no way reflects how awesome and impossible that is. He later uses this skill to finally take out Johnny Wong with a Moe Greene Special.
    • When Alan is ordered by Johnny to shoot the informant, Foxy, he is careful to shoot the cigarette lighter in Foxy's shirt pocket, minimizing the damage.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Invoked. During the climax, Tequila has to evacuate the maternity ward. He goes to great lengths to make sure the babies get out alive. All of the babies in the hospital make it out okay.
  • Ironic Nickname: Strangely enough, Mad Dog. You'd expect someone with a name like that to be a senselessly violent Ax-Crazy maniac, but he's more of a Noble Demon with strong qualms about hurting innocent people.
  • Kid Amid the Chaos: A major plot point of the second half of the movie involves evacuating the babies of a hospital's maternity ward and getting them to safety once the patients that didn't get killed by the bad guys are evacuated. Teresa Chang, who played a major role in the evacuation of the patients, is placed in charge of getting the kids out of there with the help of the SDU team, with the bad guys trying to stop them every step of the way. Eventually, every one of the babies are evacuated, but there's just one more baby that she missed, which she charges Tequila himself with the task of saving.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Tequila and Alan. This is a very, very straight example.
  • Little Useless Gun: Johnny Wong mocks the police's .38 special revolvers for this trope. Ironically Johnny is killed by Tequila at the end of the movie with a well placed shot to the eye using the very weapon Johnny mocked.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Yeah, locking the heroes inside your arsenal is going to end well.
  • Made of Iron: Another John Woo staple. Mad Dog loses or has an eye severely injured, and at one point suffers Tequila repeatedly punching it, apparently with no adverse effects. In the final shootout the characters take damage which would render normal people paralytic, instantly dead, or at least incapable of serious action, yet they never stop.
    • Alan ends up getting a back full of buckshot after an assassin gets the drop on him with a shotgun. The worst this does for him is make him stumble twice, but he's soon running around shooting his attackers and keeping up with the uninjured Tequila. Though later in the scene it ends up catching up with him and he ends up in the hospital, but he's still upright and conscious. Not bad, considering that this sort of thing would normally kill a person in most action films, never mind real life.
  • Men of Sherwood: The SDU team during the hospital shoot-out definitely qualifies.
  • Mexican Standoff: Between Tequila and Alan at the warehouse. The latter's refusal to shoot Tequila is his first clue that he's actually an undercover cop. Also, his name is Tony.
  • Mistakenly Attacked Mole: Inspector Yuen tries to kill a high profile mob hitman, Alan, but runs out of bullets, and only later learns from his superiors that Alan is actually an undercover cop himself.
  • Moe Greene Special: Johnny Wong's death, courtesy of Tequila.
  • More Dakka: While played relatively straight with everyone else, it is allegedly averted by Tequila who we are informed "never wastes a slug."
  • Never Hurt an Innocent:
    Mad Dog: Boss, let's set the patients free.
    Johnny: Oh, why do you care about what happens to them.
    • When Mad Dog's fight with Tony takes them into an emergency ward full of innocent hospital patients, they both hold off on the fight long enough to shoo out the bystanders so they won't get hurt. Then Johnny comes in and shoots the patients anyway, triggering Mad Dog's short-lived Heel–Face Turn.
  • Noble Demon: Johnny Wong's right hand man, Mad Dog, who wants to let the hostages at the hospital go and eventually turns on Johnny when he kills some crippled patients just to get at Alan.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Mad Dog is clearly a much better man than his boss Johnny Wong; he will not tolerate the harming or killing of innocents, a sentiment not shared by Johnny when trying to shoot past them to hit the heroes.....
  • Non-Indicative Name: Zig-Zagged with Mad Dog; on one hand, he's very discerning about his targets and has a very strict set of standards. On the other hand, when he's doing his job, he's absolutely vicious.
  • The Oner: The hospital's elevator scene. It's probably the most spectacular moment in the film.
  • Out of the Inferno: In the end, Johnny Wong walks out of his self-inflicted inferno, hauling Tony in tow.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Tequila does this at the climax. Interestingly, there was a 'screw up' with the pyrotechnics that caused a bigger explosion than planned, meaning that Chow Yun Fat was really running for his life.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: At one point during the raid, Mad Dog pulls two pins in a row from a pair of grenades, before tossing both into a cubicle containing a few unfortunate mooks.
  • Pocket Protector: Alan slips a cigarette lighter into Foxy's pocket and shoots it, thus saving his life.
  • Potty Failure: The baby Tequila was carrying before escaping the hospital urinated on his pant leg. Luckily it doused the fire which ignited on Tequila's pants.
  • Rated M for Manly: Is this film ever.
  • Red Baron: Mad Dog.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Inspector Tequila and Alan, as well as Johnny Wong and Mad Dog.
  • Red Shirt Army: Played straight with the cops at the teahouse, but refreshingly averted with the SDU team at the hospital. Once our heroes are able to create enough of a disturbance inside for these guys to be able to break through, they're very effective.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Played With, Johnny Wong claims that his men are at an advantage since the police mainly use .38 caliber revolvers, though the police do put up a good fight against him and his men. In fact Johnny Wong is killed by a single shot from a .38 during the climax.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Discussed and wiggled around when Alan is in the process of selling out Uncle Hoi to Johnny Wong. He insists to Wong that he's not a traitor and will be loyal to Chiu until Chiu is dead, and then helps to make that the case. Wong is entirely okay with this and keeps Alan around, but Mad Dog, who personally hates double-crossers, is unimpressed with the treason and harbors a special hatred for Alan.
  • Rule of Cool
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Benny, Tequila's partner in the beginning, which drives Tequila's revenge plot. Later, the nameless cop Tony accidentally shoots.
  • Serial Escalation: If The Killer took John Woo's trademark action tropes up to 11, then Hard Boiled took them Over 9000.
  • Shoot the Hostage: A rare instance where it was invoked by the hostage. Alan pulled Johnny's gun to his stomach, which made Johnny shoot him. This gave Tequila the opportunity the gun down Johnny.
  • Shout-Out:
    • See Infernal Affairs after watching Hard Boiled or vice versa. Notice something upon viewing? Hear that shouting?
    • Tequila carrying a baby during the climax is a reference to the famous story of the ancient Chinese general Zhao Yun saving the infant son of his lord Liu Bei during the Battle of Chang-Ban. Woo later got to tell the original story in Red Cliff.
    • Using the shotgun in the rose box was an original idea in both this film and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Both were homages to The Killing and Dog Day Afternoon.
    • The hit in the library was likely a tribute to the restaurant hit in The Godfather — the killer uses a gun hidden on the premises to shoot someone in the head.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Tequila's shotgun obliterates entire hallways worth of mooks and rarely seems to need reloading.
  • Shout-Out: The Wild Bunch served as an inspiration in various ways, including the beat where Pike Bishop drinks an entire bottle of tequila — hence the lead character here named Tequila.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Foxy's death is similar, only he is not unconscious but rather, in a plaster cast from tip to toe, which only makes the murder (with a scalpel) crueller.
  • Siding with the Suffering: Mad Dog tries to persuade Johnny to let the patients go, as his fight is with the police, but Johnny refuses. Mad Dog turns on his boss when he needlessly murders a group of patients while trying to kill Alan and gets killed for his trouble.
  • Skyward Scream: Alan, when on his sailboat sometime after the warehouse shootout.
  • Smoke and Fire Factory: The warehouse is a blatant example.
  • The Sociopath: Johnny Wong has no regard for anyone but himself.
  • Spoony Bard: Definitely averted. When he's not mowing down countless bad guys, Tequila relaxes by playing jazz clarinet, with Benny on the drums. It turns out Tequila wanted to be in a band, not be a cop.
  • Straw Nihilist: Johnny Wong makes no secret of how he views human life to be completely meaningless he has no problem killing a group of innocent doctors, something Mad Dog finds disgusting.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: IN SPADES.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Tequila and Alan.
  • The Syndicate: Johnny Wong and his goons are part of this.
  • Throw Down the Bomblet: Mad Dog. With Pin-Pulling Teeth, too. Tequila also makes use of a smoke grenade during his solo raid on the warehouse.
  • Title Drop: "So it's you. The hard-boiled cop."
  • Tone Shift: While The Killer had a darker and more serious tone, Hard Boiled has a more fun and over the top tone.
  • Too Dumb to Live: A nameless Triad thug shoots two SDU officers in the climactic hospital battle, killing one of them. As he goes to finish off the other, Teresa Chang snatches up a pistol and holds it on him. Possibly believing that she was merely a trapped civilian (she was wearing plainclothes) and wouldn't have the nerve to shoot him, the thug slapped her and called her a "fucking bitch!" She promptly shot him about five times in the torso.
  • Tragic Bromance: Tequila and Alan. Subverted as Alan survives, he just leaves Hong Kong for good.
  • Trash the Set: The teahouse that served as the setpiece for the first big shootout of the film had been slated for demolition, and John Woo got permission to use the teahouse for the shootout in question.
  • Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Mad Dog said that he hates creeps who betray their bosses as much as cops. He said this to Alan, who's been revealed as an undercover cop during the climax.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The Triads are the villains.
  • Unfriendly Fire: At the end of the first teahouse shootout, Tequila guns down his friend's killer, who unbeknownst to him, was an undercover cop. Alan also unintentionally kills a cop in the hospital shootout, causing a brief Heroic BSoD.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: Tony is fond of these.
  • Villainous Valor: Mad Dog, again. He's absolutely disgusted with Tony's betrayal — and even more disgusted with the fact his boss and his goons gun down innocent civilians.
  • Walking Armory: The bad guys in the teahouse shoot-out.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Tony sends coded messages to the police by sending flowers to Teresa (Teresa Mo), a police secretary and Tequila's on-again, off-again girlfriend, with the message on the card. Before it's decoded, the message on the first card reads, "Are you somewhere feeling lonely/Or is someone loving you?", which is a lyric from Lionel Richie's "Hello". They're all from well-known love songs.
  • Wrongfully Attacked Mole: Inspector Yuen nearly kills Alan before learning he was actually an undercover spy himself. Good thing his gun ran out of bullets.


Video Example(s):


Johnny Wong

Johnny Wong guns down a group of innocent people and then kills one of his men when he points out it's not needed.

How well does it match the trope?

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