People's Hero

Reviewed by YTSL

The Hong Kong entertainment industry is (in)famous for having many Cantopop - and Mandopop - stars who also work as actors or actresses (or vice-versa).  What may not be realized as much is the equal - or sometimes greater -- versatility of many of those who largely work behind the scenes of movies.  Then there are those truly multi-talented personality - among them, singer-actress-producer-director-cum-scriptwriter Sylvia Chang, director-producer-scriptwriter-cum-actor Tsui Hark, producer-actor-director-cum-game show and beauty pageant host Eric Tsang, and actor-director-producer-scriptwriter-cum-cinematographer Derek Yee - who seem equally adept at being members of a film's cast or crew.  With regards to the last mentioned individual:  While he was an okay enough leading man in such as "Magnificent Warriors", "Vengeance is Mine" and "Victory", I think that he has shown with the likes of "C'est la Vie, Mon Cheri" and "Viva Erotica!" as well as this 1987 offering -- that was only his second attempt at the helm -- that he really is a special auteur (who ought to have been awarded control of more than just the seven directorial efforts to date that he has to his credit).

Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Ronald Wong Pan
Clocking in at less than 85 minutes, PEOPLE'S HERO may superficially appear to be a not particularly substantial production.  In actuality though, this at times suspenseful, at other times absurdist, yet pretty much always thoroughly believable, crime drama is a detailed piece of work that's absolutely replete with interesting characters, fascinating stories and attention absorbing situations along with bravura acting.  That which centers on a disparate group of twelve folks -- who end up spending some time together as a result of a foiled bank robbery turned hostage crisis -- stars Ti Lung as a double cop killer who turns out to value the lives of others more than at least one of those officially on the right side of the law.  The man who, IMHO, deserved a Best Actor award for his masterful performance in this movie (but didn't even get nominated for one), is supported by an able rest of the cast that includes:  Tony Leung Chiu Wai (who was named as HKFA Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the skittish young man who got himself and others into a greater mess than he ever could have wanted to); Tony Leung Kar Fai (in an understated role as a police captain who's far less willing to play with people's lives than the blustering rival one essayed by Paul Chun Pui); and Elaine Kam (who garnered HKFA Best Supporting Actress recognition for her portrayal of the woman who wound up serving prison time for and/or because of her man).
Ti Lung and Tony Leung Ka-fai
Although it features some gun waving, pointing and exchange of bullets, PEOPLE'S HERO is a film that is shorter on outright explosive action than it is with the threat of still more violence getting unleashed when it ought not have been necessary in the first place.  Together with his co-scriptwriters Li Pak Ling and Kwan Yiu Wing, director Yee has crafted a gripping dramatic piece that is:  Full of unexpected yet convincing twists and turns triggered by inadvertent actions or individuals - law-breakers, hostages, strangers, friends and loved ones alike - not conforming to (stereo)type; and liberally laced with the sort of understandable tension that comes from a set of volatile personalities being stuck for a time in enclosed space with the kind of people whom they normally would not be likely to consort.  While the first few minutes of this offering may seem a trifle too busy and disconnected to be ideal, my sense is that starting from when a very casually attired Little Tony Leung enters into the picture (and especially after Ronald Wong Pan's character has an epileptic fit and a pistol drops out of his friend's paper bag when he was in the process of helping the stricken youth out of the building), this tightly organized John Sham production doesn't stop being enthralling for even a single moment.
Paul Chun Pui, Tony and the hostages
As the film slowly builds up to its seemingly inevitable climactic standoff, plenty of time is found to give its viewer(s) the opportunity to get to know better many of the characters who happened to be in that Po Lung Bank branch near to its closing time on that one particular, eventful day.  However trivial and petty their individual tales, concerns and wants can appear to be on one level, the fact remains that their disclosure uniformly makes those at the center of them  - among whom are a stock market playing mother, her low grades earning daughter, a soft looking rich man (Yip Wing Cho), his Mandarin speaking wife, the bank's nervous manager (Tien Ching), the bank's Pakistani guard (who worries about what will happen to people like him come 1997), and the lovelorn bank employee played by Bowie Lam -- into more sympathetic figures than would otherwise have been the case; and none more so than the wanted man who would get my vote for being the movie's titular PEOPLE'S HERO.  If anyone wanted to see how the Stockholm Syndrome could come about, this production could provide a case-study of the fascinating phenomenon.
Tony, Ronald, Ti Lung and Elaine Kam
However, this is not to say that PEOPLE'S HERO deserves to be seen only - or even primarily -- by those with an academic interest in the sort of situation and conditions whereby hostages grow to develop some empathy for, and actually like, the person(s) who they ought to have good reason to also fear (would kill, not just toy with, them).  Instead and indeed, there is a part of me that wants to tell as much of the world as I can how much I was majorly blown away by this movie, and urge as many of my fellow film fans as possible to go hunt down this not particularly heralded work.  Conversely, another part of me worries that too much hype will cause people who are not as appreciative of that which surely was not a big budget production because my enthusiastic recommendation caused them to approached it with overly sky high expectations.  With that having been said (or written) though, I can't quite believe or imagine that those who go in looking for a well made offering with a strong sense of (dark) humanity - precisely the characteristics possessed by my favorite Hong Kong crime dramas (which include Ringo Lam's "Full Alert" and Alfred Cheung's "On the Run") -- can be disappointed by this admirable Derek Yee effort.

My rating for this film:  8.5