Hero - Beyond the Boundary of Time

Crawling ashore like a poor tired refugee from a stack of throwaway Stephen Chow scripts, this film tries to make it on its own but barely struggles to reach land where it soon collapses in a heap. It tries so hard to capture that chaotic free form Chow humor, that you almost take pity on it for falling so short. This was a film that I had been trying to track down with subtitles for a long time and when I saw that it finally came out on DVD I quickly snagged it like a Shaq rebound. Starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Veronica Yip, Jacqueline Ng Suet Man (of Raped by an Angel fame) and having something to do with time travel (one of my favorite subjects) it held out its promise to me like a dreamy Georgia O’Keeffe flower portrait.
It has the faint shadows of some of Chow’s period pieces – but little of the pathos and none of the humor. It is fast moving, fast-talking and irreverent - but rarely approaches anything that might be mistaken for being even mildly funny. One such tiny example that hits with a thud is as follows – Jacqueline runs out of house in anger and turns the corner and stands there. Tony quickly chases after her and runs by her and shouts her name – he then runs left – then right – shouting out for her - and so on but doesn’t see her though she is a foot away – then backs into her and looks startled to see her. On another occasion he goes into a sushi restaurant and keeps asking for the food to be cooked - not once, not twice but three times. Much of it is as obvious and lame as this was and it made me wince at times.
Tony has certainly done his share of broad humor – Days of Being Dumb and The Eagle Shooting Heroes come to mind – but it still is painful watching an actor that can be so restrained and subtle in fare like In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express flopping around like a dying fish on the dock. Also not used to their best advantage are Veronica and Jacqueline – admittedly partly because these two Cat. III actresses stay fairly modestly attired throughout (only a quick unrevealing birds eye shower scene of Ng) - but even more so because Veronica doesn’t get a lot of screen time and Jacqueline doesn’t have much to do but look lovely.
Wai Siu-bo (Tony Leung) is of royal pedigree during the Ching dynasty – loaded down with seven wives (Veronica being the number one wife) and a constant roving eye (he introduces himself at one point as “I am the perverted but handsome lady killer“) that keeps him quite busy. The Emperor (Ken Tong) is feeling ill and is advised that he needs a virgin from 300 years in the future to cure what’s wrong with him (don’t we all). Wai gets handed the mission and has to leave his wives behind to go zipping into the future in a giant teapot that is called the The Time Adventure Wheel. Landing in a small village just outside of Hong Kong in our times, he soon takes up with the inhabitants in his quest for a virgin. He is helped by Dicky Cheung in this near impossible search to find a virgin in Hong Kong and when not bedding the girlfriend (another Cat. III actress Lee Yuet Sin who displays her Mickey Mouse underwear ala Sharon Stone) of a nasty triad (Jaime Luk) or various hostess bargirls, he is smitten by the innocent village girl played by Jacqueline. There seems to be some potential ideas in there, but it plays out in near sleep inducing fashion for most of the first hour.
Some fun finally arrives when two of his wives decide to visit – Veronica and Li Fai – and soon thereafter two assassins (Sophia Crawford being one) from the past come to kill Wai. At this point the film takes off into a wonderful flight of fantasy wire fu battle that begins in a house, goes crashing through the roof and ends up taking over most of an amusement park. It is well executed – in particular the lengthy ongoing fight between the two action actresses – Sophie and Li Fai (one of HK’s top stuntwomen) that is very acrobatic and as fast as a whipsaw. This is a sweet reward that was much needed after slogging through much of the early going. Directed by Blacky Ko who is best known for his stuntwork but also the director of Curry and Pepper and Days of Being Dumb – and scripted by Joe Ma and Matt Chow who both were to have many better scripts ahead of them – this was a real disappointment.

My rating for this film: 5.0