A Man Called Hero

Even coming into this film with lowered expectations due to the many mixed comments I have read I was still greatly disappointed. As was once said about Oakland, there is simply no there there. The film is as emotionally hollow as a dead fossilized tree. There is really not a true heartfelt moment in this entire film and it left me aghast.

This film is the stylistic sequel to last year's Storm Riders. Once again director Andrew Lau (Young and Dangerous series) brings a comic book to the big screen and indulges in this new world of HK fantasy in which supposedly Hollywood type special effects will allow HK films to compete in the global market. But not only are the special effects computer generated, but it feels as if the script and acting was as well. If this is the future of HK film, let me off the bus.

Seemingly so intent on creating a film with an epic legendary feel to it and utilizing lots of special effects, they forgot to include a few small matters such as characters that you care about and a plot that pulls the viewer in. Part of the problem is the structure of the film. Nearly two thirds of it is told through various flashbacks from different characters and this just creates an artificial distance to be put up between the characters and the viewer. No one comes across as a real person - just as cardboard characters and when a few of them die during the film it has no emotional impact whatsoever. This film is based on the Chinese cartoon – Chinese Hero – but I would have to imagine that the cartoon figures had more flesh and blood  than did these film characters.

The worst offender has to be the main character – Hero – played by Ekin Cheng. His comrade Shadow shows more acting range – and he wears a mask the entire film! Ekin nearly goes through the entire film with his face set in some sort of heroic grimace – as if ready to be sculpted. He and the rest of the characters are complete ciphers from beginning to end.

A quick summary for those who may be interested. It begins in the early part of the 20th century in China. Hero and Shadow are martial arts students of Pride (Anthony Wong). Hero's parents are killed by some gweilo opium traders – and Hero immediately gets his revenge. This forces him to leave his love Kristy Yeung behind and flee China to America – but not before he impregnates Kristy.

Sixteen years later his son Sword (Nicholas Tse) comes looking for him and he finds people who knew his father and in flashbacks they tell him what happened after Hero came to New York City.

The son becomes a friend with Yuen Biao who runs a hotel in Chinatown. Yuen is one of the few bright spots in this film – as he has a fight with a group of bigoted white guys. Regretfully, Yuen only has limited time in the film.
Pride has an ongoing feud with another Master – Francis Ng – and Ng sends five Ninjas to America to kill Hero. Among these are Mark Cheng, Sam Lee and Hsu Chi. In a fight Hero wounds Hsu Chi, but instead of delivering the death blow – he saves her and she falls in love with him. Later in one of the more idiotic turns in the film the KKK comes to NY and tries to burn down Chinatown while Hero fights Ng on top of the Statue of Liberty.
Though the film has a great cast on the surface – don’t let that fool you – Sam Lee, Francis Ng, Hsu Chi, Anthony Wong, Mark Cheng, Grace Yip and Yuen Biao are all terribly underutilized while Ekin and Tse are just terrible. Only Kristy shows a bit of range and heart in this film.
So this leaves us with the action and special effects. There is actually very little action and the few fights seem to end much too suddenly such as Yuen’s against the bigots or Hero’s against the killers of his parents. Many of the fights are almost totally fx oriented, but the fx are close to laughable. People are flying around so quickly that I thought I was watching a Mighty Mouse cartoon. There is a minimal amount of real martial arts. One particular fight between Anthony Wong and Francis Ng reflects this. They face each other down with swords drawn – and . . . splash water on one another – all with fx of course. Finally Wong says the fight is over – he has won – huh? – what did Ng get his underwear wet. It was just ridiculous.
Of course the worst thing about this film – besides that it was a big box office success – is that it left enough open ends for a sequel to be almost a sure thing. What a dreadful thought.

My rating for this film: 4.0