aka 現代豪俠傳 aka Heroic Trio 2 aka Jin doi hou hap cyun aka 蓬萊之戰
Story by Sandy Shaw Lai-King
Screenplay by Susan Chan Suk-Yin
Directed by Tony Ching Siu-Tung and Johnnie To Kei-Fung
While I consider The Heroic Trio one of the essential pieces of Hong Kong cinema, the follow-up, Executioners, is unfortunately a weak entry that you might be better off not knowing it exists. Displacing the optimistic heroism of the original, Executioners takes places in a future dystopia, where nuclear war has irradiated the water supply. The only clean water is controlled by a corporation run by a madman named Mr. Kim, who has aims on controlling the world. The government is little help, having become weak and despotic, factions of which ally with Mr. Kim and his world domineering goals. The worst sin of the sequel is the addition of an annoying whiny kid, who is Wonder Woman’s daughter and spends a large portion of the film crying out for her mother.
Normally I’m all cool with sequels shaking things up a notch. But Executioners bungles the execution, making even its own name ironic. The constant sense of bleak sadness as tragic thing after tragic thing happens to our heroines who overcame evil in the last installment while still having good outlooks on life is jarring. The film creates a credible dystopian world, but the characters don’t really fit into it. It’s telling that it takes so many tragedies to happen to them before they feel like they belong. Only then can they battle the one responsible for all the problems.
The light-hearted tone of the original is tried to be replicated in a few scenes, but it comes off as artificial, especially with all the dark things going on. Strangely enough, Thief Hunter seems like the character who would do the best in this world, and she’s the strongest proponent in ending it. The friendship of the three women is strained via plot devices. Ching/Invisible Woman works for the government, and due to secret orders is unable to help or even talk about certain things. Wonder Woman is sidelined by being a mother who made a promise to her husband to not become a super heroine any more. She spends a good chunk of the film in prison, which keeps her out of most of the action, but also highlights that even with minimal makeup, the late Anita Mui was strikingly beautiful.
The political allegory of the original film is now knocked on its ear, with a terrible future society that’s no longer holding together, a weak government, strong corporate control, religious leaders with influence over the populace, and conspiracies on both sides for control. The government forces wear military uniforms that feature red armbands. Both the villains and the government gun down innocents to protect themselves. Parts are pulled from Mad Max films, more from Total Recall. The quest to find water becomes similar to Quaid’s adventure with the oxygen machine on Mars.
All the tragic events give every character plenty of time to act overwrought and desperate, trying to avoid and then dealing with whatever bad thing is happening at the moment. Chief Lau’s death is telegraphed so early, the film starts to get annoying waiting for him to actually die. We are even taunted a few times where he almost dies, Executioners taking delight in drawing his death scene out to try to get the maximum emotional impact, but instead it runs far past what is acceptable and becomes ridiculous.
Even the music works against the original. Despite having the same theme song, the version in Executioners is slower and more morose. When it kicked in on The Heroic Trio, the song was cheering on the women as they kicked major butt. Here, it doesn’t seem to have a real thing to do, being applied more at random, and it’s not powerful enough to sound like it is inspiring the women to fight for justice.
One of the funner things is Invisible Woman’s sidekick, a hunchbacked mutant with a masked face named Kau. Kau followers her commands delivered by flute, and is a loyal servant who sacrifices himself to make sure she’s safe. There is no explanation as to what he is or why he is so loyal, he just is. Thief Catcher meets her match with Lau Ching-Wan’s Tak, who is an adventurer with a dash of Indiana Jones. He’s also working for the government, giving him a better excuse to keep showing up where Thief Catcher is.
Takeshi Kaneshiro is largely wasted in his role as a religious leader who was raised by Mr. Kim. He’s just a device to move the plot along, though his head becomes the source of obsession by Mr. Kim. I was waiting for it to go somewhere, but it just ended up being a joke during the final fight. This was Kaneshiro’s first major film role.
The choreography is one of the bright parts of Executioners. When the fight scenes happen, they are well-done, and vary with both massive gunfights through corridors and flying swordfights across rooftops and power lines. Bandits attack a cargo shipment giving us a battle in a moving truck. Mr. Kim uses explosive arrows that bridge the old school weapons and modern technology. The final fight becomes a lethal endeavor, with the dark tone of the film and the knowledge there isn’t a Heroic Trio 3 pointing to a body count that will be huge and probably feature some main characters.
While the action is fun, the rest of the film suffers from the tone. The lack of fun keeps things from being fun. Funny how that works! The characters we knew from the original just don’t fit in here, it just comes off as a weird fanfic and not classic Hong Kong cinema. And that’s a shame. My advice: skip this sequel.
Rated 4/10 (skeletons, strong punch, acrobatic fight, arrows before Katniss and Hawkeye)
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