Note: Screen captures from the Metrodome version.
When a severe drought hits Shantung, Ma Wing Jing (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah) fled for Shanghai. Upon their arrival they are forced to work as coolies. Ma - a fierce fighter - saves the life of crime boss Tam See (Yuen Biao), and in the process earns the hatred of Tam's rival, Yang Shuang. Ma takes control of a club run by Yam Yueng Tien (Valerie Chow) and soon becomes a famous underworld figure. His swift rise to power leaves him illprepared to deal with Yang's cunning and he must pay a bloody price for his success.
This version of the film is editted slightly to remove some violence.
Despite the name, this film has nothing at all to do with the Jet Li's 2002 wuxia epic. This Hero is a far grittier, bloodier, more violent and gloomier piece of film.
"Now this, this is my mean face."
In Hero, Ma Wing Jing (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and his brother Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah) leave Shantung for the potentially far more prosperous Shanghai. With thousands of other people also arriving in Shanghai, work is hard to find, and it quickly becomes clear that the city is extremely corrupt, and is run by a handfull of major gang bosses. The only job the two are able to get is working as coolies, where the pay is incredibly cheap.
It is in this job that one of the crime bosses comes to Ma Wing Jing's attention. He sees Tam See (Yuen Biao), and envies him for what he has got, and aspires to get that for himself, but quickly learns that the only way to get it in Shanghai is through crime and robbery.
"Everyone else is in white... I think I wore the wrong colour!"
With initial guidance from Tam See, Wing Jing starts to make his move in the criminal underworld, and being an expert fighter soon has his first territory. From their he starts to seize some territories of rival bosses, and his apparent ambition begins to grow too big. Having become one of the major gang bosses, he is considered a threat by all, except Tam See, and soon the other bosses unite against him, under the guidance of Yang Shuang - the most ruthless of all the bosses, and a major rival of Tam See.
Being in league with the Police, their plan to assassinate Wing Jing is just one stepping stone in Yang Shuang's ultimate goal of becoming the one leader in Shanghai, and for this to happen, all the other gang bosses must also be killed.
"Listen mate, look at me while I'm talking to you, right?!"
I'll leave it there regarding the plot. I've missed out some major bits which start early on in the film, but for the basics what I've written gives the gist of the film. Hero is a very violent action film, and with that you get all sorts of violence. Hand to hand combat, weapons and gunplay, all handled very well. Indeed the action is easily the best department of this film. It is all realistically handled, and they did not hesitate in using gallons of fake blood where they deemed it to be necessary! Nor did they feel any particular move was too brutal or gory. There are heads sliced apart in wires, bamboo poles impaled through arms, legs, shoulders and eyes, axes stuck in every part of the body practically, and a healthy dose of arm severing... all with lots of squirting red stuff. The final fight in particular is especially brutal.
Some advice for anyone going on holiday to Shanghai...
So what is the quality of these scenes like? Well I don't know what Takeshi Kaneshiro's background in martial arts is, if indeed he has any at all, but he definitely appears to handle himself very well in the action scenes. The fight scenes are all well choreogrphed, with impressive techniques, and a good fluidity to the scenes. There are possibly too many 'drone' bad guys though, all of which seem to get beaten far too easily. That quibble aside, I thought the fighting was well done.
The gunplay scenes, however, aren't quite as good to watch. Whiel still very brutal, as very large numbers of people get killed (where do the gangs manage to find all the followers?!), they don't come across as being as realistic. The special effects for the bullets firing and hitting someone aren't that great, and again too many people seem to just run into the bullets. Surely everyone, regardless if they are just a low level gang follower, would try and take cover and generally stay alive during gunfights, rather than just running towards guns pointing at them? One of the, possibly, more brutal scenes is during a gunfight where a cannon gets fired at a group of followers, quite literally blowing them into pieces... ouch!
Master See thought the axe was a bit much for chopping the char siu.
Acting wise, the film does pretty well. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Yuen Biao are convincing in their respective roles, and Valerie Chow is also worth paying special note to in her, "is she evil, is she good" kind of role. The rest all put in decent performances... except Yuen Wah. I just found him, and his character, to be bloody annoying. If I was Ma Wing Jing, I would have ditched him ages ago. He moans, butts in when not needed, and generally causes more trouble for his brother than he is worth.
The magicians amazing escape routine wasn't going to plan...
The biggest flaw in Hero, in my opinion, is the same sort of flaw which plagues a lot of serious films that come out of Hong Kong - the misplaced zany, slapstick humour. If this film was meant to be a comedy, then every scene which I am referring to would be perfectly acceptable. But it is not. It is a very heavily handled martial arts drama. The plot themes are very serious, and everything that happens on screen is gritty and very violent. Having scenes like the one where they think a western bra is a tissue, or the 'brainwashing' Ma Wing Jing scene, ruins the flow of the film. These scenes do not fit in at all with the tone of the film. While they are still funny, particularly seeing Yang Shuang as a glam singer, they are completely out of place here.
"It's dark, and I'm wearing sun-glasses... I'm so cool!"
All in all Hero is a very competent film, which handles things in a far more realistic manner than most martial arts films. Good and bad guys get beaten up, the fights are very brutal, bad guys are bad guys, women are not exempt from crime and punishment, actions have consequences, and nice happy endings don't always exist. If you don't let the poor special effects, in places, or the out of place humour ruin the flow and tone of the film, then I think you will pleasantly surprised by this film, as long as you know that it is going to be really quite gritty and brutally done.
He felt so much better after letting that fart out...
Unfortunately, the Universe Hong Kong release of Hero has some sever cuts in several of the action scenes, especially in the final fight scene. This is to remove some of the gorier and more brutal moments. It is very noticable in the final fight, and ruins that scene as from one moment the people are fighting, then next thing you know one of them has been killed, with no apparent explanation. As a result, this release of the film has lost some points compared to the Metrodome release.
"I've dropped my sword too often, I have to tie it to me now!"
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