Little Hero (Review)
This is why Octomom shouldn’t keep her kids!
Polly Shang Kuan beats the fuck out of every phallus in China while transcending gender herself in Little Hero. This statement of fact comes thanks not only to the subtextual and overt piles and piles of dongs and balls, but by her obviously female character entirely referred to as “him”. How much of this is dubbing and how much is present in the original Taiwanese version becomes irrelevant, as we celebrate what the film has become thanks to its transformational event. Little Hero‘s evolution to a perfected form via weird dubbing is not a unique event, but it’s one of my favorite examples of a film improved by the dubbing (this is also conjecture as I’ve not seen the Mandarin-language original, it might be just as fun, but I do not think it can surpass the dubbed version.)
Polly Shang Kuan is no stranger to gender bending cinema, she often plays characters that are disguised as men, are tomboys, and occasionally actually are men. There is even historic precedence for that, with actresses playing male roles in Chinese films and operas since near the beginning of cinema in Asia (and became an interesting parallel to the old opera troops where every role was played by men!) Polly Kuan played characters disguised as men in both serious martial arts dramas and in goofy action comedies. Little Hero leans heavy towards the latter, with increasingly ridiculous villains and gimmicks as the Devil’s Gang breaks out all the stops to try to keep Polly’s character Chu-Kwok Su-Lan from breaking their whole organization.
Chu-Kwok Su-Lan is referred to by every character as a male, despite being Polly Shang Kuan, wearing women’s clothes (and makeup and hair!), and having the male lead obviously attracted to him. It is interesting that Chu-Kwok continually calls male opponents ugly and said other things in regards to their looks, something they wouldn’t really care about unless Chu-Kwok was really a girl. This is one way in which Polly’s character moves beyond gender, he can equally lob insults that would be delivered by a male or by a female, and the villains respond appropriately. The same insults are lobbed at the female villain, who returns the same reaction as the men. The distinction between male gaze and female gaze has been knocked askew. I’m going to follow their examples and be consistent by calling Chu-Kwok Su-Lan male throughout the rest of the review and recap.
Things become a subtext labyrinth when the fighting kicks in. The battles are over two magical swords owned by a family (the magic swords being their own phallic symbols), which involves characters battling it out. At one point the heroes are ambushed by a avalanche of huge stone balls, and some of the huge stone balls have people inside who begin to fight the heroes. And the villains in the balls are crushed to death by other huge stone balls.
Another villain takes up the stylings of an elephant, including two huge tusk weapons and a giant elephant head “tattooed” onto his chest. When you see a closeup of the elephant head, it is clearly sporting a giant dong where its trunk should be. At one point Chu-Kwok Su-Lan beats the tar out of him, then becomes angry at his gyrating elephant penis drawing as it moves around when his fat belly breathes up and down, so he stomps on the Elephant Guy’s tummy, gleefully dancing and stomping on this representation of patriarchal penile power.
Speaking of representations of penii, during the final showdown portion of Little Hero, two octopi emerge from the sea to battle Chu-Kwok Su-Lan. Each octopus is obviously a guy in a rubber suit, but are presented as actual trained octopi. And you don’t have to be Freud to understand the eight tentacles the octopi each have are eight nice phallic symbols for Polly Sheng Kuan to battle. And battle she does, stabbing and slicing off several of them! There is even a repeat of imagery where Chu-Kwok stomps on the heads of both octopi simultaneously, their bodies cut off just enough that it looks like Chu-Kwok is stomping on a giant gross ball sack! The octopi exhibit further powers – squirting both water and ink at their enemies (one of Chu-Kwok’s students gets blasted right in the face with ink!) In a final rejection of the feminine way, the octopi begin launching their own children at Chu-Kwok as weapons. This renunciation of motherhood is extreme, the octopi trained to treat their own offspring as expendable, as if they were no better than sperm flying out into the void.
Chu-Kwok Su-Lan is awesome and fierce. An orphan child who gets involved in all the martial intrigue has heard of Chu-Kwok before he’s met him, and speaks of him as his big brother. Once he finds out who Chu-Kwok really is, the kid follows him throughout the film, dressing like Chu-Kwok (by wearing male-ized versions of Polly Shang Kuan’s wardrobe!) and declaring he’s going to be just like him. Chu-Kwok has a sort of love interest in Woo Ching Ping, but it is practically platonic (despite Polly Shang Kuan obviously laying on the charm) and he calls Woo Ching Ping his “best partner”.
Little Hero suffers from the plot being hard to determine, even considering that it will be wacky and full of gimmicks. Characters will declare they are about to do something, then do something else before getting around to what they were so urgently preparing to do. The intrigue is complicated, but all boils down to someone being jealous an old guy won’t die fast enough so they can become a legend.
For more fun Polly Shang Kuan films, be sure to check out The Zodiac Fighters, The Eighteen Jade Arhats,Shaolin Traitorous, and the Polly Shang Kuan-centric Infernal Brains Podcast episode!
Chu-Kwok Su-Lan is riding through the forest until he runs across two guys tied up in a tree. They are his two assistants, and as he moves to help them suddenly ropes fall from all over the tree branches and three guys attack him. One of them is a little person named Vampire (played by Ngai Chi-Wong from Lady Iron Monkey) The trio claim to be members of the Devil’s Gang, which will be our constant bad guy affiliation for our movie. Chu-Kwok insults all their looks, then beats them all up. His two assistants have trouble with the dwarf, but in the end they win and Chu-Kwok rides off, leaving his assistants behind again.
Vampire reports to the Devil’s Gang on how he failed, the boss Golden Mask yells at him. Golden Mask wears a Chinese demon mask, gold colored. There is another dude named Silver Mask, who looks the same except he has a silver Chinese demon mask. Logically. There is also an evil woman named San-Miu, who enjoys using her whip on nice people. Golden Mask claims that if Chu-Kwok gets to Dragon City, things will be bad for the gang. So San-Mui wants to kill Chu-Kwok, which I thought was the whole point of all of this discussion, but, whatever. I’m just going with the flow for this flick. Instead of going after Chu-Kwok, the Devil’s Gang attacks a group of people running in terror. They are surrounded, and the Devil’s Gang demands the Phoenix Sword, which the captive people claim they don’t have. San-Miu makes a crack about lying that is weird and then they attack.
The group they are attacking includes a brother and sister pair, the sister being choked by San-Miu’s whip while her brother is beaten by several guys. He ends up falling off a cliff that appears out of nowhere and into a stream where a bunch of naked orphan boys are bathing.
Is this Little Hero or NAMBLA Hero?
The brother grabs on one partially clothed and fat orphan boy (all the orphans boys have pigtails, by the way) and asks him to deliver the bamboo case to the Chen Mansion in Dragon City. Again with the Dragon City. There better be real dragons in Dragon City. Silver Mask then flies in on some sort of personal glider/wearable airplane apparatus, and kills the brother because he won’t give him the Phoenix Sword. Silver Mask is soon on the kid’s tail thanks to a tattletale firewood guy.
At the Chen Mansion, the people wonder why the travelers haven’t shown up. Then a thief throws a dagger with a note at the house, and Master Chen wants the thief captured. A member of his guard named Ching-chi kills him instead. Remember that name, because the guard will barely show up again until the secret reveal…darn it, I just partially spoiled the film! Ignore that sentence! The Devil’s Gang’s note state they have Master Chen’s daughter Sui-Yok hostage, and the only way to get her back is to trade the Dragon Sword for her. A second named sword? Now we are cooking! One of Master Chen’s guards has a big spiky helmet that makes him look like a sea urchin, or maybe Spikor from He-Man. He rules.
The Dragon Sword and Phoenix Sword are the Chen family’s special swords, sort of like how the Waltons own Wal-Mart and Orville Redenbacher owned the popcorn, even though he sold the rights and just was a spokesperson for cash, and is now a CGI monstrosity that was replaced by vintage commercials or a cartoon or something. I don’t know, I don’t even buy their popcorn because I buy generic microwave popcorn instead as I am cheap. Don’t you like this succinct analysis of Little Hero?
The guards at the gate are rude to Chu-Kwok, so he easily beats the frak out of them. After locating Woo Ching Ping, Chu-Kwok agrees to help fight the Devil’s Gang. So it is time to trade the sword for the daughter, and they meet on a field. Golden Mask talks some smack while Chu-Kwok is all smug, but things go bad when an underground warrior grabs the sword while the daughter Sui-Yok remains kidnapped! D’oh! Then Golden Mask tells Chu-Kwok that if Chen wants his daughter back he must burn down his mansion!
“Golden Mask, you’re really a pig, I hate you! I’m going to kill you!” – Chu-Kwok responds.
The baddies leave and a bunch of stone spheres come rolling down the hill at the heroes. Like thousands of them. Some guy worked for years to make perfect stone spheres back in the day and they all get rolled down a hill for some goofy trap. Chu-Kwok and Ching Ping jump on the top of the spheres, but Chu-Kwok’s two students eventually fall and gets rolled on like they are a bunch of bowling pins. They dust themselves off just in time for giant stone spheres to roll in.
The giant stone spheres have dudes inside who reach out with their hands and grab at Chu-Kwok’s two idiot assistants. Chu-Kwok and Ching Ping have no problem jumping on these spheres and rolling them down a cliff. Eventually all the spheres crash together and break open, we see inside were the rejects from the Devil’s Gang who tried to capture Chu-Kwok in the beginning of the film. Vampire pays the price for failure by being killed in the attack. Haw-HAW!
Golden Mask laughs as he looks at the Dragon Sword, he’s a regular Krankor with the laughter. They make plans to ambush Chu-Kwok in the morning, so they send a pack of leopard-dressed goons to attack. These guys don’t look like real leopards, they look like a leopard costume you would buy for your infant with some facepaint slapped on. There is minimal body coverage beyond a leopard-shaped bonnet, some loincloths, and shawls. They are terrible at ambushing, Woo Ching Ping sees them coming a mile off because they are hopping up and down like kangaroos while trying to stay hidden. The Leopard guys set giant mousetraps, but the traps fail as they are thrown into them instead. One becomes no more than one of those punching blow up dolls when his feet are caught, another is caught and Ching Ping and Chu-Kwok demand answers, he won’t talk and falls on an impaling branch when beaten.
The orphan kid is harassed by another big cat attired goon, and eventually San-Miu as well. Chu-Kwok fights them off, and the orphan gives her the Phoenix Sword. San-Miu’s attempt to seduce Chu-Kwok is ruined when Chu-Kwok’s two students pretend to be ghosts. By now the Orphan kid is dressed like Chu-Kwok and following the group around.
Chu-Kwok and Ching Ping are then attacked by the Tiger Guard, a whole group of guys who dress up as tigers, the costumes being just as lame as the leopard men’s costumes, with the inclusion of clawed tiger gloves. The Tiger Guard is easily beat up, complete with funny sound effects, Chu-Kwok constantly mocking them, and sped up goofy footage. All it needed was Chu-Kwok dressing up as a delivery man and giving the Tiger Guard and exploding package. Before the Tiger Guard can spill their guts, the leader is killed by Golden Mask and his custom red-eye gold skull knife. That must be an expensive knife to throw away. Golden Mask glides away on his flyer.
More animal-clad attacker mayhem as Chu-Kwok then fights an elephant guy and a bear guy. The elephant guy fights by putting his swords up like tusks and charging. That plan doesn’t quite work because he isn’t fighting two year olds, but Chu-Kwok Su-Lan, the awesome fighter guy. This is the sequence where the obscene elephant trunk drawing on the stomach is stamped and danced upon.
Best performance Stomp ever did!
But, despite all that, the two manage to grab the Phoenix Sword and run off (the sword is later determined to be a fake), and cause Chu-Kwok to be captured by a tiny Mousetrap Board Game-style falling cage. San-Miu has Chu-Kwok thrown into a lake. At this point, Chu-Kwok’s students now think he is dead, and start bawling after a day-long search turns up nothing. Their tears attract the attention of the elephant and bear guys, who attack. The fight goes from tough to goofy when they battle in an area that has large amounts of white powder set out to dry in the sun, and soon everyone has white powder all over them and the two students fall into a pen filled with geese. Which means one of the students will get bit on the but repeatedly by a goose, and more crying.
At least until Chu-Kwok shows up, alive, and reveals he had secret super-internal powers that let him blast the cage open. Thank goodness for super-internal powers. I use my super-internal powers to open cans of Campbell’s Chicken and Stars soup. It’s mmm mmm good!
Chu-Kwok taunts San-Miu with a puppet then beats her up, but before San-Miu can squeal on Golden Mask, she is killed. Even though Chu-Kwok catches the red eye gold skull dagger in his mouth, a red eye silver skull dagger kills San-Miu. Yes, both the metal mask guys threw knives! Then they get in their gliders and fly away…
The brother who gave the orphan the sword and everyone thought was dead isn’t dead and beats up the Elephant Guy in a restaurant. He tells the orphan to tell Chu-Kwok where the hideout is. The brother heads to the hideout to battle Silver Mask, but Brother’s kung fu isn’t very good and he gets smashed by a trap door.
Ching Ping arrives and now fights Silver Mask, soon joined by Chu-Kwok and his two students. But all of this is just a distraction, because Golden Mask and the rest of his men are raiding Chen Mansion.
Orphan goes to warn Chu-Kwok, and as Silver Mask activates some colored smoke and tries to escape on his wearable glider, they punch the glider off of him and Chu-Kwok wears it instead, flying off to save the day. Spikey Helmet is defending his boss at the Chen Mansion. Golden Mask declares he wants Chen’s fame in the martial world, and that is the sole reason he is still fighting him.
But then he KILLS SPIKEY HELMET GUY!!!! NOOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOooooOOOooOooooOO! I liked that guy. He had spikes.
Chu-Kwok arrives for a brief fight, but Golden Mask takes to the air, with Chu-Kwok in hot aerial pursuit. Chu-Kwok chases him to the sea, then freaking rubber octopuses comes out of the water to fight Chu-Kwok!
Holy Calamari Wrestler, Batman!
The Octopi fly around, squirt water, swing their tentacles, squirt ink, and toss their babies at Chu-Kwok and her two student. But eventually they just kill those pesky mollusks.
Golden Mask is mad that his pets are dead, and reveals he has the Sister from earlier in the film still alive as a captive. But first Chu-Kwok has to fight him. Please don’t reveal the obvious identity of Golden Mask! Nor the obvious identity of Silver Mask. Just reveal that soon everyone is fighting and several characters get killified, mostly the bad ones.
Chu-Kwok leaves, his job done once again, so it’s time to wander on. He’s joined by his two students and the orphan kid. They head to have more adventures and more wacky Polly Shang Kuan films. And the world is better for it! Just remember to stomp on any dongs you see!
Suck on this, Man of Steel!
Rated 9/10 (skull dagger, tiny surprise, skull marker, sphere handstand, flyer deco, RIP Spikor, if the glove doesn’t fit, I’m grrrrrrreat!, I am in this movie as well)
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