Jump to content

I would like to thank everyone who was able to make a donation for the purpose of obtaining new features for the forum. The donation goal was met rather quickly and we here at Kung Fu Fandom can not thank you enough for the support. The plan is once the new site is up and running, the focus will then turn to the forum on updating and adding these new features and we will continue to strive to make your time spent here on the forum as enjoyable as possible. _/|\_

Sign in to follow this  
DrNgor

A Man Called Hero (1999)

Recommended Posts

A Man Called Hero (1999)

Original Title: 中華英雄
Translation: Chinese Hero

Starring: Ekin Cheng, Nicolas Tse, Kristy Yang, Shu Qi, Jerry Lamb, Yuen Biao, Francis Ng, Ken Low, Dion Lam, Grace Yip, Sam Lee, Mark Cheng, Anthony Wong, Cheng Pei Pei
Director: Andrew Lau
Producer: Manfred Wong, Barbie Tung
Writer: Manfred Wong, Chau Ting
Action Director: Dion Lam


A Man Called Hero is the stylistic sequel to the 1998 hit The Storm Riders and is the second film in Andrew Lau’s “CGI Tetralogy,” a series of four films[1] that really pushed the envelope on the use of digital effects in Hong Kong cinema. Like its predecessor, the source material for A Man Called Hero is a comic book by Hong Kong native Ma Wing-Shing, although the journey from paper to celluloid ended up a lot bumpier for this particular film. And, as is the case for lots of movies that exist mainly to show off the talents of the special effects technicians, the flaws in the more artistic aspects of the production bring the effects to the foreground, and ultimately date them, leaving the film as little more than a time capsule today.

The story is ultimately pretty simple, but convoluted by the fact that it’s told primarily in flashback. We open in the early days of the 20th century, in which our protagonist, Hero Hua (Ekin Cheng, of the Young and Dangerous films and The Storm Riders), is going to marry his girlfriend Jade and is poised to become a great martial artist under the tutelage of his sifu, Master Pride (The Untold Story’s Anthony Wong, in an extended cameo). All that changes when Hero’s parents are murdered by opium dealers in retaliation for his father’s inflammatory articles about them. Hero responds by slicing off the head of the main opium dealer, which necessitates his fleeing China for the United States, but not before knocking up Jade.

Sixteen years later, Hero’s son, Sword (Nicolas Tse, of Dragon Tiger Gate and 2002), arrives in the USA with Hero’s best friend Sheng (Jerry Lamb), in search of dad. At New York’s Chinatown, Sword befriends the de facto head of the neighborhood and hotel owner, played by Yuen Biao (of Knockabout and Kick Boxer). Yuen introduces Sword to a monk named Luohan (Drunken Master II’s Ken Low, in a non-fighting role). In our first flashback, Luohan reveals that he had met Hero during the voyage to the States, where the two of them ended up working at a mine under slave-like conditions. Hero quickly made enemies with the Chinese foreman, Bigot (Tsui Kam-Kong, of Prison on Fire 2 and The Eternal Evil of Asia), and even killed one of the mine employees for mistreating the Chinese. Hero is saved from execution by the intervention of both Luohan and Shadow (Dion Lam, the film’s fight choreographer), Hero’s elder kung fu brother.

At this point, the narrative switches over to a flashback from Sheng, who tells of his arrival in the United States together with Jade, who is now several months pregnant. They eventually find Hero Hua, who is working as a rickshaw puller in Chinatown. Husband and wife are reunited, and they set up shop in Chinatown while awaiting the arrival of their new child(ren).

That’s where the narrative becomes a flashback told from Shadow’s point of view. Things get hairy when a quintet of Japanese ninja working for Master Invincible (Francis Ng, of The Mission and The White Dragon) show up looking to pick a fight. The ninja are led by Jin (Mark Cheng, of Tai Chi II and War), and among their number is Mu (Shu Qi, another Storm Riders alumni). Hero Hua and Shadow are able to defeat the ninja in combat. Hero Hua saves Mu’s life and nurses her back to health, causing her to fall in love with him, much to Jin’s dismay. Jin gets back at Hero Hua—how dare he treat Mu like a human being and not a sex object!—by teaming up with Bigot and setting the hotel where Jade is giving birth on fire.

Jade dies of asphyxiation during their escape, and Hero Hua’s daughter ends up in Bigot’s clutches. Sword, the twin brother, is given to Sheng, who takes him back to China to raise him. Meanwhile, Hero Hua and Shadow go to Japan to witness a duel between Master Pride and Master Invincible. Pride wins but is mortally wounded. Before expiring, he passes on a special technique to Hero Hua, who stays in Japan training for the next 16 years. Cut back to the present day…

There is a lot going on in this film, and one wonders if it wasn’t unwise to include so many subplots from the comic book in a single film. There are a lot of threads left unresolved at the end, the most glaring one being the lack of resolution to the subplot involving Hero Hua’s lost daughter. Jin, the evil ninja, gets away too, setting up a sequel that would revolve around the love triangle between him, Mu and Hero Hua, but that never came to light. There’s sort of a hinted romance between Sword and Shadow’s daughter, Kate (Grace Yip), but nothing comes of that, either. In fact, I can’t help but wonder why Kate is in the movie in the first place, since she does nothing that is important to the story.

Much like origin-story films in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, the villain is pushed into the background until the third act, when the hero needs someone to fight for the climax. There are two sets of bad guys, those being Master Invincible and his ninja, and the owners of the mine, who team up with the KKK for the climatic showdown in Chinatown[2]. The movie would’ve done better to focus mainly on the mine owners, which might’ve turned the film into a profound statement about the plight of Chinese immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries. But since the film is trying to say a lot of things at the same time, it ends up saying absolutely nothing at all. Moreover, by the time we reach the end, Hero Hua has become so powerful that you can’t possibly imagine them being a match for him.

Speaking of powers, A Man Called Hero has some glaring holes in its internal logic on account of its characters being super-powered kung fu masters. In The Storm Riders, there’s a consistency in that those in power are the ones whose martial arts superpowers are the strongest, or at least most well-honed. A Man Called Hero features characters that can transform into water or fireballs, or cause people to explode with qi blasts, etc., but simultaneously suffer at the hands of otherwise ordinary people and mundane dangers. If Hero Hua can jump roof to roof at dizzying speeds a lá Spider-Man, why would it take him so long to flee the hotel when it’s on fire? Or why did he suffer at all at the hands of the mine employees when he could have killed every single one of them in three seconds flat? Why are Master Invincible and his ninja cohorts wasting their time on trying to kill Hero Hua, when they have enough superpowers to conquer their homeland?

In an American comic book film, people with superpowers either accept the responsibility of making the world a better place or embark upon a quest for power because those around them are inferior beings. In A Man Called Hero, superpowers are treated as the natural consequence of excelling at kung fu and yet nobody thinks of the real-world implications of possessing those powers. If I’m strong enough slice the Statue of Liberty to pieces with my super sword skills, I’ll either start robbing safes, or stop those who do. In this movie, these powers are treated with the same sense of awe you might attribute to a well-executed jumping spin kick.

I’m sure that audiences in 1999 who flocked to this were impressed with the CGI battles on display. Today, those scenes are not only unimpressive, but it’s hard to imagine what audiences enjoyed back then. There are three main digital battles, the first being the duel with the ninja in an alleyway. One ninja can transform into drops of water and another into fireballs. Yawn. Shu Qi’s Mu can fire a bunch of CGI chains at her opponent like Doctor Octopus, but still…yawn. The big duel between Anthony Wong and Francis Ng consists of them standing in a big puddle and sending blasts of CGI water at each other until Wong declares himself the victor…okay, whatever. The climax on the Statue of Liberty is the most sustained fight scene and probably the best in the film. There’s some decent swordplay between Ekin Cheng and Francis Ng, and the film predates the X-Men duel between Wolverine and Sabretooth by a year and features even more carnage. I’m not sure if this is the prime contribution of Dion Lam to action cinema, but it’s not bad.

Those looking for actual martial arts will have to content themselves with a few brief dustups from Yuen Biao. His character is introduced when some employees from the mine show up in Chinatown looking for Luohan, whom Yuen has hidden. Yuen then beats them up and sends them packing. Later on, Yuen tussles with the head of the mine, who has brought the KKK to Chinatown. The two exchange some kicks—where did the white guy learn to kick like that—before Yuen does a wire-fu flip kick and knocks him out. Being generous, these fights represent about two minutes of a two-hour running time. It’s always a nice sight to see Yuen Biao fighting, although his kicks are surprisingly low in this film—was he recovering from an injury at this point?

A Man Called Hero continued the trend that The Storm Riders, and, to a lesser extent, Dr. Wei and the Scripture with No Words, started in brining “state-of-the-art” digital effects to traditional Chinese fight choreography. However, as we’re talking about 90s CGI here, the effects haven’t aged well at all, and the most memorable action sequences involve a 41-year-old Yuen Biao fighting below his physical potential. Later movies to do the same thing, like Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, would benefit from stronger direction, a more comedic setting, and a general improvement in the artistic aspects of the film, which end up strengthening the action sequences themselves. That’s why people still remember those two films fondly today, while this movie is little more than a footnote in the history of Hong Kong cinema.

 

 

[1] - The other two films in the tetralogy are The Duel (2000) and Avenging Fist (2001), the latter of which started life as an unofficial adaptation of the Tekken video game.

[2] - Sadly, that scene has been excised from both the American and Brazilian DVD versions of the movie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nice review there @DrNgor

I use to have the disc with the alternate/extra scenes. Not sure what I did with it as I have looked for it multiple times but can't locate it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Ditto what @thekfc said, like the Stormrider's film's, I gave this one a wide birth. I realy had a dislike of Wu-Xia at the time these came out, and wasnt that keen on the use of CGI in Hong Kong movies. That said, I'd givethese films a chance now. My bias never really made sense looking back, I was big on Jet Li and Chiu Man-Chuk at the time. With there movies being very wire heavy anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×