aka Zhui ji 8 yue 15
Directed by Joe Ma Wai-Ho and Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
Written by Joe Ma Wai-Ho and Sunny Chan Wing-Sun
After Steve Chow stopped doing 30 films a year to focus on bigger projects, Hong Kong went through a state where the genre of mo lei tau was sort of a walking dead. But before the bullets where put through the brain, several pretenders to the throne were marketed. Nick Cheung was just not very funny, but Ronald Cheng at least had some of the childlike charm mixed with perversion and quick wit that was Chow’s claim to fame. Not enough to capture the thrown and come out with 30 films of his own each year, but enough that he could do at least one. Cheng’s acting style was to hold nothing back, often screaming his lines and charging forward, no matter the ridiculous situation, and going with the flow whether situations become dangerous or completely wacky. And much of Hidden Heroes is wacky. It is a mo lei tau film, and done well enough you could see Steve Chow starring in it, but not so mo lei tau that people start dancing in the streets. The tonal shifts remind me a lot of the Fight Back to School films.
Hidden Heroes is also that rare genre of Hong Kong Science Fiction. Not with kung fu masters flying around shooting cartoon rays, but with time traveling robots. And that will bring out comparisons to The Terminator, even though the films are almost completely different. The movie itself even references The Terminator. Because of the nature of Hong Kong cinema, Hidden Heroes becomes a few other genres as it goes along, sometimes tacking serious as the framed cop/corrupt cop story plays out.
This film is also where Charlene Choi and Ronald Cheng worked together enough to fall in love and eventually get secretly married. Their marriage was finally discovered by the Hong Kong press just in time for them to divorce. Another fun fact about Ronald Cheng is that in 2000 he got so drunk and disruptive on a flight it had to make an emergency landing to kick him off, and the pilot beat him over the head with a flashlight. This became the “air rage incident”, because every story in Hong Kong press has a definitive name. The craziness stalled his singing career for years, and he was just getting back into the swing of things as Hidden Heroes was made.
Ho Yoiji is a cop who has more things on his mind that upholding the law. Like setting up a date with the cute underage schoolgirl he spies in the streets outside the target of a future police raid without his imported Japanese fiancee finding out. But when the sting goes down and a woman bolts from the theater with Ho in pursuit, what looks like a nice old lady turns out to be a master criminal MacGayfa, who also takes the cute schoolgirl hostage! Tragedy ensues as a suicidal bomb goes off, killing the schoolgirl and the criminal at the same time.
Ho returns home, despairing, with his Japanese wife practically working as his personal slave. All he has to remember the dead schoolgirl is a necklace. Things get weird when suddenly the dead schoolgirl shows up alive, with a crazy hairstyle, and injecting tracking devices into his butt. She comes with a story that she’s from the future, is a robot, the next in line after the one that was exploded, and his brother will invent her and her own line of robots. He’s called Father of Chips, and makes the robots like his wife in honor of his dead brother, Ho Yoiji. Of course, Ho has never met a real person who looks like the robots, has no brother that he knows about, and why would you make a robot of your wife to honor your brother? Mei Ling declares she must protect Ho so he doesn’t die before he’s supposed to, then must make sure he dies when he’s supposed to.
Ho knocks off her legs and escapes, just in time to be arrested for murdering cops. Of course, he’s being framed, but no one believes him. He runs and becomes a fugitive, one the run even disguised as a schoolboy with band-aids all over his face. Few people could pull that off, but Ronald Cheng makes it work.
The architect behind Ho’s downfall is corrupt cop Inspector Cheng, who is mad about the death of his lover, MacGayfa, and searching for a missing necklace that is a key to their secret money stash. He will make sure Ho goes down and get his money.
Ho must get a fake id to flee the country. Guess who is the tough maker of fake IDs? Why, Charlene Choi herself, as Mei Ling, tough girl ID maker and her third role in the film. Ho freaks out and acts wacky to try to see if she’s a robot or not. When he finds out she’s Mei Ling Chan, he then decides he will kill her so she’s never made into robots to go back in time and harass him.
Trouble at the dock during his escape force them to go on the run together, Ho playing off her emotions while neglecting to mention his own impending marriage and his attempts to kill her. Mei Ling is naive enough in the world of love that girls always are in Hong Kong film (hot girls never have boyfriends…EVER!) that she goes along with it, even as evidence mounts up that something deceptive is going on.
Hiding out with his family (step-father Dr Lau (Yuen Wah), mother (Bonnie Wong Man-Wai), and surprise new genius little brother Mini-man), things begin to fall apart, and when his coworker Officer Zhang Kitt gets arrested because she knows he’s innocent, Ho tries to go save her, but ends up arrested himself. Yoiji escapes thanks to help from Mei Ling, and robot Mei Ling 1872333.
Things end up in a final confrontation at a graveyard with Ho rocking a robotic arm invented by his stepdad. Time travel shenanigans causes history to change during the final confrontation (in an awesome montage sequence that is just crazy), but it is not enough to prevent one character’s death. At first I was like “So? You can just go back in time and fix it!” but the films continues, and then reaches that conclusion as well. Though first Ho returns to school for several scenes where he’s an adult in a class filled with little kids, who have no respect for him.
Hidden Heroes was panned a bit when it came out for bad performances from Charlene Choi (not as deserved as you would think) and various other problems, but I think it holds up pretty well. I certainly enjoyed it, though that might be aided by watching a few awful Hong Kong comedies before it. You certainly could find much worse things to watch, but Hidden Heroes for me felt like a film that was made a decade earlier, when Hong Kong cinema was exploding all over the world and gaining a legion of fans who would follow through ups and downs. Energy, spunk, the feel it wasn’t made by a committee concerned about offending the Mainland, wacky wackiness, robots, complete 180s in tone at the drop of a hat, no fear in killing off main characters, Charlene Choi demanding a small boy take off his clothes so she can have sex with him, schemes upon schemes, marble squeezing, time travel by toilet, breaking the fourth wall…we have it all.
Rated 8/10 (They had no photos at all of the police officer???, necklace key, leg battery, Uncle Longlegs, scared extra, washing the clothes, money madness, Disco daddy)
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