A Hero Never Dies

This is absolutely one of the best HK films of the nineties. It swept me along like a rip tide from the opening scene to the bullet-ridden finale. It is a triad morality tale of loyalty, betrayal and revenge, but as is usually the case with a Milkyway production it twists around our expectations and turns them upside down.

Like corporate America or cold war enemies, the modern day triads extend no loyalty to the workers and warriors who fought their battles, who sacrificed their lives. Loyalty is a convenience - easily discarded when circumstances have changed. People are expendable when they have outlived their usefulness.

The film creates an incredible feeling of nervous tension that permeates the air. There is always a constant sense of foreboding and expectancy; of something dangerous, of something violent, of something lethal ready to burst upon the screen. The narrative of the film is dynamic and always driving forward - not a moment to relax - until bang - the bloody shoot-out - but no that is only the setup for the next half of the film when it really kicks in. There are so many wonderfully shot scenes that just felt like a perfect cinematic experience. The shoot-out in the hotel is brilliantly staged, the duel of the wine glasses is filled with underlying fatalism, the hospital assassination attempt- derived a bit from the Godfather - but with a stunning difference, the finale - almost comical and yet unbelievably heroic and powerful.

Lau Ching-wan and Leon Lai are both the right hand men for their boss in rival triads. The two gangs have been fighting over turf for nearly a year and both sides have been badly decimated. The possibility of an old friendship between Lau and Lai is never revealed, but there is clearly great respect between the two. At one point, Lau has an open clean shot to kill Lai, but declines to take it. Face to face is the only honorable way.

Though there is respect between one another  - loyalty to their gang brothers and to their boss is paramount - and as Lau's girlfriend, Fiona Leung, says to Lai's girl, Yo Yo Mung, "we can never be friends because one day one of them will be killed by the other".
Fiona and Yo Yo
Lai plays his part sleek, cool, quiet and efficient while Lau rides herd on the screen - dressed in a white 10-gallon cowboy hat and cowboy boots. His performance is charismatic and brilliant as he hits both the heroic and tragic notes perfectly.
Finally Lau gets orders to end it once and for all - kill the other boss. He tracks him down in Thailand and in the hotel shoot-out both Lai and Lau are badly wounded. Afterwards the bosses decide to work together and now view both Lai and Lau as an embarrassment of the past and a reminder of their own weakness. So they become expendable - left deserted and helpless by their brothers in Thailand. Only their girlfriends stick by their side. Both Fiona and Yo Yo give searing performances as they show themselves to be stronger and more honorable than anyone else. Other tragic events lead Lai and Lau to come back to HK for justice and revenge.
Once again, I was simply mesmerized by this film. It is terrific film making from the story to the acting, to the wonderful soundtrack, to the direction by Johnnie To. If released properly, this film could be an international hit and Lau Ching-wan should become an international star in the same way that Belmondo did with Breathless.

Why isn't the foreign film circuit picking up films like this? I can't help but believe that there is an inherent prejudice against HK films in certain film circles. HK film is still viewed as low brow chop-socky films and nothing more. It's time someone opened their eyes and their minds and started realizing that some of the most innovative and interesting film making being done in the film world today is coming out of HK.