Heroes Among Heroes Review

August 27, 2011

Why did I take so long to write about Heroes Among Heroes? I should have whipped out this review a month ago! It could be that I left the screening a bit frustrated. Quick story: When I was rushing to get to the theater, I was parked less than a block away. What I didn’t take into account was that we would be getting the worst downpour of rain that night. I can suffer running through a storm but what I didn’t realize was that my iPhone would be caught in the rain and all of a sudden, have no audio when I tried to make a call! Quick Google searching later let me find out that if water gets near an iPhone’s headphone socket, it makes your phone think it is constantly connected in headphone mode. The Solution: Place your phone in a pack of rice overnight. Worked for me as it absorbed all the water out of that thing!

Regardless of being phoneless for a day, I had quite an enjoyable time watching a nice print of Heroes Among Heroes. It’s not the best Yuen-Woo Ping film, but it was good to see my faith in Yuen still last after a disappointing screening of True Legend. The story cribs a bit from other popular Hong Kong films of the era such as the Once Upon a Time in China series, but 1993 was a year of excess when it came to those kinds of films film. How much excess? There were over five Hong Kong films revolving around the Wong Fei Hong character! Not only that, but at least three of them were worked on by Yuen-Woo Ping. Talk about milking it! Imagine if next year there were five Robin Hood films and they were all directed or produced by Ridley Scott. Madness!

How did Yuen-Woo Ping not die of exhaustion? The Hong Kong Film Archive and Hong Kong Cinemagic websites state he was not alone in directing these, as Chan Chin-Chung is also credited as a director. Who the hell is he though? This seems to Chan’s only film credit. Joining him in a one-time only role is Yuk Wong who co-starring alongside Donnie Yen as the role of Wong Fei Hong himself. Then much like Chan: nothing ever again! It doesn’t really matter as it’s Donnie Yen as Beggar So who is the real star of the film. In fact, I think even Ng Man Tat (lots of “wasn’t that the coach from Shaolin Soccer?” after the screening) and Sheila Chan take up a large amount of the screentime. Sheila has some embarrassing prosthetic teeth in this film…people gasped in the audience when they first saw her pearly whites.

Sheila Chan's teeth
Prepare to see these chompers quite a bit when sitting down to Heroes Among Heroes

Both Sheila and Ng Man Tat both have a good amount of screen time for their comedy scenes. If you aren’t a fan of the comedy relief in Yuen Woo-Ping’s other films, this won’t change your mind. Personally, I found it forgettable outside the visual memory of her teeth.

Regardless of how you feel about the comedy, you have to appreciate a film that has a subtitle that attempts to explain the play-on-words as shown below

Ng Man Tat subtitle Heroes Among Heroes
Ng-Man Tat says this during the film…apparently!

Despite a confusing production history and joke-explaining subtitles, Heroes Among Heroes is an entertaining if lesser picture from Yuen Woo-Ping. The anti-drug PSA themed opium tale is not nearly as memorable as the more popular Iron Monkey also from 1993. On the other hand, we get the bonus of not having any child actors which is a definite downside to Iron Monkey for me. Kids ruin everything.

Many of the action scenes during the first half of Heroes Among Heroes are far too short. By the time you’ve asked yourself “was that it?” the characters are already on to their location. The later action scenes, are more extended and extravagant. These scenes include Donnie Yen fighting a member of the Red Lotus group which involves Donnie dodging the rivals long hair used as a fighting extension. Another strong action scene involves Chan Chin-Chung who sits at a dinner table and has a seated kung-fu battle…with his fist on fire! Perhaps he burnt his bad so badly that he didn’t want to do another film again?

What any man would do when they light their hand on fire.

If the above sounded interesting, I’m unhappy to report that Heroes Among Heroes has not been treated kindly on home video. Two Region 1 DVDs of the film have been released with one under the title Fist of the Red Dragon which is only available in an English dub. I’m feeling especially lucky now to have caught an actual film print. In comparison to much of Hong Kong’s modern day output, this film feels a lot stronger than it probably ever did in 1993. If you need something that has the Iron Monkey and Fong Sai Yuk kind of flavor, you might just find it in Heroes Among Heroes…that is if you aren’t bored about another tale of Wong Fei Hong.


Ottawa Cinema – July

July 9, 2011

Want to know why there was no post about Ottawa Cinema for June?There simply was not that much good stuff coming out, so yeah, hope you stayed at home. I am happy to report that there are at least two films that I’m excited to see this month. Before revealing what they are, you must prepare to answer the question “What’s better than one Yuen-Woo Ping film?” The answer of course, is two of his films and one isn’t the cut-up Iron Monkey print! Rejoice!

Fist of the Red Dragon Poster True Legend poster

Note: Both films are not covered in thick mist as posters suggest.

After months of discussing and possibly dreading it, True Legend finally debuts in Ottawa. I’ve heard so much mixed reviews on this one but the trailers have me hooked, especially after seeing it on the big screen. As a nice bonus, on July 29th, I’m blessed enough to witness Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1993 film Heroes Among Heroes aka Beggar So aka Fist of the Red Dragon. This is Donnie Yen in his prime and how often do you get the chance to see classic early 90s martial arts films on the big screen? I’m there!

Before I go on, a big thanks to the The Heroic Sisterhood on Facebook for digging up the Heroes Among Heroes poster. In return, I’ve included some more Yuen-Woo Ping posters here for your viewing pleasure. Use tables, plants, and fans as your weapons and feast your eyes on some classic and not-so-classic Yuen-Woo Ping joints.

Drunken Master (1978)
Directed by Yuen-Woo Ping and starring a very young Jackie Chan: Drunken Master is one of the most popular films of either stars. This poster is one of my favourites as the pictured dragons diet is something you should really see close-up. Despite my impression that the dragon appears to have a giant worm lodged between his eyes, this is great poster art.

As for the film, some prefer the 1990s follow-up, Drunken Master II as this seventies film is not as fast paced, but i’d still recommend as the first stop in investigating both Jackie’s and Yuen-Woo Ping’s output from the 1970s.

Magnificent Butcher (1979?)
The history of this film confuses me. Sammo Hung and Yuen-Woo Ping are credited as the directors on the IMDb, but the Hong Kong Film Archives (HKFA) refer to only Yuen as the director. The release date is also troubling as IMDb says 1980, but the Hong Kong Film Archives say it was released on December 12, 1979.

Regardless of production history, Magnificent Butcher is a blast despite it’s low budget. I’ll let the trailer speak for itself. The film’s so tight that I assume Slayer are purposely making direct reference to it in their thrash classic “Angel of Death”.

Eastern Condors (1987)
Directed by Sammo Hung and starring fricking everyone. Even people who aren’t actors. Sammo’s Vietnam war film doesn’t really get as heavy as Woo’s Bullet in the Head, but this is a completely different kind of film boasting a star-studded cast. How star-studded? Even action directors Corey Yuen and Yuen-Woo Ping are popping in to say hello in smaller roles.

To mix it up, I’ve included the bizarre French poster for Eastern Condors. Sammo is actually as thin as he is represented here, but the choice of colors and drawing style make this poster resemble an old Atari game package to me. WEIRD.

Black Mask 2 (2002)
Eugh. Do I have to tell you this is bad? Black Mask 2 is a career low for…everyone involved. Well maybe not everyone, Traci Lords is in this, and I guess she can flip a coin to figure out what her career low can really be. This film had people nearly writing off director Tsui Hark and even Yuen Woo Ping’s action choreography can’t save it here. Some of the WORST CGI you’ll ever see on film.

I’m struggling for words here, but I mean…did you see this poster? What on earth would make you want to sit through this?

That’s enough posters. Yuen-Woo Ping’s career was thankfully not in a slump after Black Mask 2 as he was busy making every other filmmaker in both Hollywood and Hong Kong look like masters of action choreography. With some of his better films mentioned above, I suggest you investigate both of Yuen’s whether or not you can make it to these screenings as Yuen Woo-Ping’s name needs to be spread!


Three Theatrical Hong Kong Films in 2011

March 18, 2011

Three Hong Kong action films are receiving a theatrical distribution in North America this year. I’m surprised they are pushing these titles over some others (cough cough Reign of Assassins) but I suppose someone thinks these have some potential to make a buck. The films in question are The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsmen, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, and Yuen Woo-Ping’s True Legend. First let’s look at Legend of the Fist.

I’m sold! I hope it attracts some attention outside the already converted Hong Kong fan base. I’m giving brownie points to oddly named distributor (Well Go USA) for promoting the film as uncut and undubbed as well. They aren’t pulling a Weinstein or Miramax on us.

This lack of cuts could hurt the film’s reception however as if it’s anything like the other Chen Zhen films, then it will come off as insanely nationalistic. The xenophobic nature towards the Japanese in these films can only leave a bad taste in my mouth considering. These goes double considering the tsunami and power plant disasters in Japan. I’ll see how much I can stomach in this one. The trailer promotes itself as being from the director of Infernal Affairs but I think it should also mention the Andrew Lau’s other credentials.

Legend of the Fist Trailer Andrew Lau

Way more accurate. Politics aside, I’m still a sucker for how the whole thing looks. Having Donnie Yen and Anthony Wong doing their thing doesn’t hurt either. I’ll be paying top dollar for it when/if it swings into my town. Next is The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsmen which is coming out tomorrow! It hasn’t even been released in Hong Kong yet!

There’s not a lot of hype about this movie. It’s an anthology film partially funded by Fox making it a Chinese-Hong-Kong-US production. If three production countries aren’t enough for you, it has five screenwriters! Multiple-writers syndrome usually ruins a film for me, as it often becomes a pretzel-based plot that’s unsure of it’s own direction and tone. The only multi-writer exceptions I can think of are Children of Men and 48 Hrs. which make it through several writers without a scratch of confusion.

I’m baffled by the poster’s statement on Doug Liman presenting this film. I had to look him up as I was drawing blanks on why his name would mean anything on the poster would mean anything to anyone. Turns out he made Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jumper and that Bourne film that wasn’t made by Paul Greengrass.


I guess he had his hand in the release of this? Liman has little to no following and it’s almost as jarring as reading critical acclaim from Brett Rhatner on my Jackie Chan DVDs. Let’s hope the gamble pays to release this pays off. Film Business Asia gave the film a good review, but also seemed to praise something described as “a whorehouse rap number”. Hmm. Unless this comes to a theater near me, I’ll pass.

Lastly, we have True Legend. It does not have an American trailer yet, but it’s got Yuen Woo-Ping directing and features Michelle Yeoh. Woo-Ping hasn’t directed a film since 1996 as he’s been busy making everyone else look good in The Matrix, Kill Bill, and Kung Fu Hustle. Why the huge break? I guess doing action scenes for top directors pays more than doing you own films but you’d think he’d get the directing bug again sooner. Speaking of AWOL directors, what’s been keeping Ringo Lam busy these days? Did Ringo give up everything after overdosing on Van Damme or was working on Triangle with Johnnie To and Tsui Hark the only work he could get?

Either way, it’ll be great to see something that says “Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping” on the screen again, so I’m ready for it. Let’s see how it’s being promoted. There’s tons of angles to approach this at, so what have you got for me poster?

True Legend American Poster Yuen Woo Ping

Aw, c’mon. What a weak teaser. This is typical “no faith in the film” poster making where the production company even hides the fact that it’s an Asian film. They could at least boast something about his American work but here there is nothing! Instead, we have a fist which is…leaking on a wall? I’m lost. That’s clearly black ink splashed around it but the fist is cracking the wall. Lamest graffiti inspired poster ever! Let’s hope that when it’s get closer to it’s premiere we’ll have something nicer to look at.