aka 真心英雄 aka Chan Sam Ying Hung 1998 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.
aka 毒。誡 2017 Written by Chan Man-Keung and Sana Lam Wai-Kuk
Directed by Lawrence Lau Kwok-Cheong
The true story of redemption, Dealer/Healer spans the life of a gangster addict who turns his life around and begins helping others break their addition. The story is inspiring and jumps around the years between the 60s and the 90s (thus giving some nice costumes), but even with some great performances, the film just doesn’t gel together correctly, seemingly disjointed with the different time periods. It is a good story, too bad parts are rushed to get to the rest of it.
Hua (Sean Lau Ching-Wan) leads a gang in the late 60s (the 13 Warlocks, which is a neat name) with compatriots Bullhorn (Gordon Lam Ka-Tung) and Cat (Zhang Jin), the trio are confident and powerful, and definitely look like they are going places. Except as we see from the time jumps, by the 70s they are a bunch of addicts low-lifing in Kowloon Walled City while secretly dealing behind the local triads’ backs. But we also know from the jumps further ahead that Cheater Hua (a nickname he brashly takes for himself as a youth) is clean and works at a rehab center helping other young people get clean. Despite the three timelines, there is really only two tracks followed, the youth gang activities are just added as background flavor. Continue reading →
aka 現代豪俠傳 aka Heroic Trio 2 aka Jin doi hou hap cyun aka 蓬萊之戰 1993 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 Trioone 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.
Wonder woman/Tung/Dong Dong (Anita Mui Yim-Fong) – Former hero Wonder Woman is now retired and raising her young daughter Cindy. Despite hanging up her mask, the problems in the city demand a hero, and it’s hard for her to stay out of costume.
Invisible Girl/Sandy Ching (Michelle Yeoh) – Sandy Chine now drive medical supplies and battle bandits who try to steal thos supplies. She has a loyal flute-controlled hunchbacked masked mutant buddy named Kau as a sidekick.
Thief Catcher/Chat (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk ) – The mercenary Thief Catcher spends her days robbing Clear Water Corporation trucks, though mostly for herself even if the water eventually ends up in the hands of the needy.
Chief Ken Lau (Damian Lau Chung-Yan) – The now very busy Chief Lau tries to hold Hong Kong together in the midst of the apocalypse, water shortages, religious cults, government coups, and vast conspiracies. He fails.
Mr. Kim (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) – A masked villain who dresses like a member of 18th century aristocracy. Is head of the Clear Water Corporation and has his sights set on controlling the world, or at least what’s left of it. Or at least Hong Kong. Basically, he’s evil and that’s all we need to know. EVIL!
aka 消失的子彈 aka Xiao shi de zi dan aka Ghost Bullets 2012 Written by Yeung Sin-Ling and Law Chi-Leung
Action Directed by Nicky Li Chung-Chi
Directed by Law Chi-Leung
Bodies begin appearing at an ammunitions factory that have been shot but with no apparent bullet. The mystery crimes draw the investigators into a web of corruption, murder, and betrayal. Thus, The Bullet Vanishes sets the tone, as a mystery/police procedural that has all the layers of government and business corruption that you’d find in an episode of The Wire.
Part of the fun of The Bullet Vanishes is just watching Inspector Song (Lau Ching-Wan, Black Mask) do his thing. Song is methodical and deductive, not afraid to put himself in danger in order to get to the truth. Song values the truth above all else, this integrity is why he’s appointed as an officer to weed out corruption.
Song immediately attaches himself to Captain Guo Zhui (Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Treasure Inn), who is Song’s new department’s best detective, in that he doesn’t let the rich and powerful get away with anything, either. Captain Guo is more brash, more likely to threaten and fight, but he’s also the fastest draw in town, so his threats are backed up with deeds. Guo’s also showing the ropes to his partner, the junior detective Xiaowu (Boran Jing Bo-Ran, The Guillotines), including advising Xiaowu to take some bribes so he doesn’t become a target.
Guo’s instincts and Song’s scientific approaches mesh well, helped by both of their obsessions with finding the answers. Much of their time is dealt with impatient factory owners, rude foremen, panicked workers, and their annoyed corrupt Chief, who is just trying to get to retirement with all his bribe money before these murders muck everything up. Continue reading →