The Heroic Trio
aka 東方三俠 aka Dong Fang San Xia
Written by Sandy Shaw Lai-King
Directed by Johnnie To Kei-Fung
Next up in Tars reviews classic examples of global cinema that he should have damn well reviewed years ago is The Heroic Trio. Instead of again explaining how this was one of the first couple of Hong Kong films I saw and how it cemented me into a lifelong fan of Hong Kong Action Cinema, I’ll just remind you with this sentence that dismisses the topic while reaffirming it.
Make no mistake, The Heroic Trio is an awesome and classic piece of Hong Kong cinema from the last golden age. Johnnie To directing before he became a film festival darling. The ever-amazing Anita Mui being the most glamorous and moral super hero imaginable. Maggie Cheung as the rebel outsider hero who never looks before she leaps, and whose antics cause worse problems than the ones she tries to solve. Michelle Yeoh as the conflicted hero forced to serve evil. Anthony Wong in a surprisingly restrained performance as an unhinged psychopath.
The Heroic Trio both riffs on and celebrates the glamor of cinema. Characters can often be found posed while events are going down, an off screen fan conveniently nearby to make their hair flow in the wind. They go so far as to have Thief Catcher bring along fashion clothes for the women to wear after the job is done so they’ll look extra spectacular, and shots of the women all doing their model walk as Cantopop sings us out. The obvious Western influences are the Batman films from Burton, but there is a heavy Terminator vibe going on as well. For a more inward look, the vast amount of girls with guns films helped position female-driven action films as a good idea, and some of the set design look straight out of Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain. At one point a character uses a flying guillotine! The mixmash of films and ideas is one of the factors that makes Hong Kong film so great for the fans. Director Johnnie To lets the mood build not just with the actresses and their poses and expressions, but with a heavy use of Cantopop on the soundtrack, with Anita Mui showing why she was a legendary singing star at every note.
Johnnie To isn’t one to shy away from political metaphors, and The Heroic Trio is no exception. As 1997 and the turnover to China loomed in the minds of every Hong Kong citizen, it naturally became reflected in film. One reason why “Evil Master” seeks out male children is that one will be destined to become the new Emperor of China, under Evil Master’s control. Thus a return to Chinese rule would be a return to the olden days of Emperors, throwing out democratic rule. Mainland China is hardly a beacon of democracy, but the parallel is there. The fear is torn down by empowered women with fashion sense, who preserve the free way of life.
One of the problems with great looking HD releases of films is it makes the wires way more apparent than the second generation VHS tapes I first saw the films on. The Heroic Trio had some shots that you could see the wires on even then, but now things are far more obvious in giving away the magic. Still, someone going through and CGing out all the wires would lose some of the charm, so it’s time to learn to live with such things.