A Hero Never Dies
aka 真心英雄 aka Chan Sam Ying Hung
Written by Yau Nai-Hoi and Szeto Kam-Yuen
Directed by Johnnie To Kei-Fung
Johnnie To takes the heroic bloodshed genre and does a three card monte of deconstruction and chaos to make an entry that is a great example of all the genre’s tropes while simultaneously lampooning them and also pointing out how serious and sad they are in reality. It’s so over the top it wraps around back below and then swings back over the top again. At the time A Hero Never Dies came out, the John Woo movies that popularized it worldwide were over 20 years old, and while that turned things into overdrive, there was still plenty to mine out of the concept.
The two Triad fighters here are both introduced at the top of their game, but as they are from rival factions they know that one day they will be forced to face each other in battle. Until then, there is a mutual respect for the only other person who can approach you in quality and honor. The song Sukiyaki plays constantly, it is the theme of the heroes at the bar where they have a drinking and shooting showoff contest, and later when the heroes are in tragedy, the theme is a constant reminder of their former lives.
Lau Ching-Wan is Martin (Dealer/Healer), the larger than life killer with a cowboy hat with ridiculous gunslinger vibe. He borrows his look from so many films at once and spends many of the action films popping up to save the day for his crew. Leon Lai Ming is Jack (Three), the cool slick loner assassin character that spends much of his time being in quiet disapproval at how things are run badly by his boss. Both of them wear sunglasses constantly, often while indoors, and each is their own one man army. Martin’s girl is Fiona (Fiona Leung Ngai-Ling), who is experienced with being the girl of a Triad, while Jack’s girl Yoyo (Yoyo Mung Ka-Wai) is more naive with what the eventual end will be.
You can’t have heroic bloodshed without giant gunfights and people being betrayed, so soon there are double digit body counts and both of our heroes are in the hospital in Thailand. Despite that, one of the Golden Triangle warlords forces the two sides into a peace agreement, and both bosses abandon their wounded fighters to go party it up with all the money a business agreement brings in. Martin loses his legs and is trapped in depression, refusing to do anything. Fiona resorts to prostituting herself so they can get back to Hong Kong, where she is promptly killed by the bosses that abandoned them for making a scene at their casino. (The bosses abandon the widows of all the slain fighters, completely wiping the slate clean.) Jack was in a coma and Yoyo is burned horribly protecting him from assassins, she now longs for the sweet release of death.
Martin is the first to try to go after his bosses, but one crippled man against an empire isn’t an easy fight. His only friend is the bartender, Po (Yuen Bun in an amazing performance), who has saved the bottle that Jack and Martin were sharing earlier for when they’d return to finish together. Even when Jack finally returns home, things don’t get easier for our heroes. This is heroic bloodshed, things are going to be grim, but there is always more blood to be shed.
A Hero Never Dies takes the heroic bloodshed genre and shakes it over the toilet grabbing its lunch money before giving it a swirly and then declaring they are best friends forever. Some of the things go a bit far, and in stripping out some of the tropes it risks stripping out the heart of the genre, but in general it is well executed. I’ll forever connect the Sukiyaki song to this film. While A Hero Never Dies isn’t for everyone, Hong Kong and heroic bloodshed fans will find plenty to love.
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