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.


True Legend Review

August 1, 2011

Watching True Legend can be a frustrating experience. It is Yuen Woo-ping’s long-waited return to the director’s chair since 1996 and after making a huge name for himself in Hollywood. 14 years is a long time to wait for a new film from him and I’m afraid that it still has the problems I associate with the director…not to mention he has picked up a few new problems along the way.

True Legend‘s plot involves Su Can (Man Cheuk Chiu) who leads a military troop to save a prince from a large fortress of enemies in the mountains. In return, the prince promises that the Emperor will make him governor of Hu Bei. Su’s step brother Yuan (Andy On) is jealous but Su shows love and respect to Yuan and asks the prince to make Yuan governor instead. Five years later, Su has left the military life and is attempting to perfect Wu Shu while living with his wife Ying (Xun Zhou) and their child, Feng. Yuan returns from to the family to seek revenge as he has learned that Su’s father killed Yuan’s father. Yuan has mastered an evil martial arts technique called the Five Venom Fists. Unaware of Yuan’s revenge, Su has a welcome party for him but Yuan gets his revenge by decapitating Su’s father. He expresses his desire to be with his sister and her son as a family. Su finds his father murdered and is ambushed by a pair of ninjas. After fighting them off, Yuan manages to take Ying and Feng and escape. Wuan catches up with him near a raging river, where Ying is hit with the Five Venom fist and tossed into the rapids. Ying jumps in after him and recovers next to an unconcious Wuan in forested mountain area. Wuan is revived by Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh).

Plot break! So far so good right? This first part of True Legend is pretty enjoyable and I was surprised how much I was enjoying it. Some scenes are really beautifully shot, specifically the wide mountain ranges and a great fight scene at the Hukou Waterfall.

This video below showcases the waterfall:

The Hukou waterfall. You have to imagine in Andy On fighting over it yourself.

The plot so far is no great shakes, but it’s enjoyable in a Shaw Brothers style and has solid looking production values. The CG work so far is kept to a minimum with CG daggers being tossed and avoided and it isn’t terribly distracting. The only completely intolerable effect so far is seeing Su Can being tossed into the raging river which. This would have been so much more effective with some clever editing instead of the lame special effect which resembles them vanishing before they hit the water. Yuan’s Five Venom Fist has given his skin a purple tinged veiny look which is cornball, but Andy On is totally scenery chewing in this role so it suits his over the top character. Speaking of the actors, Man Cheuk Chiu is not as strong as one would hope as the lead. This is his first feature film performance in a few years and I wish it was a bit more charismatic.

As we return to the plot in True Legend, the film really begins to fall apart. As soon as we get to the mountain, we have run into an old problem from the past that has always plagued Yuen-woo Ping films: the drama. The story begins to lose itself as Su Can begins to encounter the Wu Shu Gods (played by Gordon Liu and Jay Chou)…or does he? There’s a story involving that he may have gone crazy while training but it’s poorly developed and doesn’t really relate as the story progresses. Did I mention that Man Cheuk Chiu is fighting Jay Chou on an ugly CG mountain range? The mountain looks particularly fake especially in contrast with the gorgeous shots of the real mountains and rivers seen earlier in the film. Jay Chou as the God of Wu Shu is appointment’s: He uses some fancy weaponry, but the more talented players (namely Liu and Yeoh) are wasted by just making brief appearances here and do not get a chance to flex their action abilities. This is particularly unfortunate considering how much Yeoh is promoted as being in the film on the Chinese posters. You know who gets much more screen time?

This…kid…bah. Prepare for him crying, shouting, screaming and whining if you sit down for True Legend. He’s used to very excessive melodramatic effect to try and squeeze some emotion from the audience. I don’t have any sympathy for him at all and was sighing with relief when the scenes with him end.

Continuing with the plot, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that Man Cheuk Chiu goes to rescue the little brat from Yuan where the two have a decent battle which includes a fight within a well and him ripping off Andy On’s armor to a gory effect. This fight scene also confusing includes several pots being broken. I mean a lot! True Legend was shown partially in 3D in China, and I must assume that this is one of the 3D scenes as it get increasingly funny watching pot after pot being smashed. A final fight with Yuan sounds like a good end to an already overlong film, but there is a very unnecessary second act tacked on involving Yuan and the horrible child. This scene is not terribly related to the previous scenes and involves Yuan going up against a group of Russian wrestlers. Sounds cool on paper but once you find out that wrestlers who are mostly able to just grapple and choke their way through a fight, it’s not exactly a visually entertaining choreography. This scene also has David Carridine in it as the anti-Chinese head of the wrestlers. I’ll assume he’s anti-Russian as well as he seems to keep his wrestlers in cages before the match. In the print I saw, the film is dedicated to Carradine which feels very strange to me.

That’s True Legend in a nutshell. Strong first bit, and then totally crumbling after. I wonder if other powers at be had their hand in True Legend. Yuen stated in an interview with Variety that he preferred to shoot on real locations as others would look fake. Then why shoot God of Wu Shu battle scene on this horrible CG mountain? I suppose it doesn’t matter too much as with or without special effects, True Legend completely loses itself as they hit the mountain range. Perhaps get a good script Yuen and a better cast and you’ll be back on track.


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!


More Poster crap with True Legend

June 12, 2011

Despite almost never updating due to school applications, I assume I have the most read blog in the world that has the film industry shaking in their boots with my every post. Therefore, the company that is releasing True Legend in the United States is only listening to me and hanging on every post. Besides, whenever I complain about their posters, I get a new one. Here’s their third go at the True Legend poster:

True Legend Poster

This is what one calls, “eau de Photoshop“. So much grain, I can barely make it out. At least they got the tip to mention why the average-joe might want to see it due to Yuen-woo Ping’s American work.

But seriously, if they keep it up, this is what the next one will look like.

Horrible film poster lens flare

Mark my words…I’m fully expecting this to be the DVD cover.


True Legend Trailer and Poster

April 3, 2011

Remember a few weeks back I blogged about three hong kong films having a North American release this year? I was a bit disappointed about how little there was promoting True Legend‘s release. It seems my internet whining has payed off as we now have a poster and a trailer for this film. Rejoice! Let’s have a comparison between how China and America handles the poster.

American Poster Chinese Poster True Legend

It’s fun just to compare these posters for the tone they seem to be going for. The hot orange in the background on the American poster gives me cartoonish vibes while the Chinese poster seems like this could be a dead-serious costume drama. One recent new rule I’ve found is when American companies try to sell an Asian action film in a poster, they must include a dragon stamped somewhere. Not that I’m complaining as it’s better than when they include the song “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas in the film somehow. *shudder*

The focus on individual characters is different too as my first glance at the bald-headed central figure (Andy On) gave me zombie vibes. Then again, the last time he worked with Yuen-Woo Ping was on Black Mask 2 and had a goofy get up then. The two apparently did not get along on the set so I suppose this is their hatred for each other visualized. Pretty gruesome.

We must be long past the days of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as there’s no predominant mention of Michelle Yeoh’s role (image or large text) wise. Remember ages ago when it was difficult not to find some blurb about her being a Bond girl? Sometimes those quotes were bigger than the film’s title. Times have changed! I guess Michelle being around 48 years old also doesn’t help your case. But i’m still excited about seeing her.

On a final poster note, True Legend was shown in China in 3D…sort of anyways as parts of the film were shot in 3D. I’d love to see “Put Your 3D Glasses On Now” printed in Mandarin on the screen but I can’t find any information about it being shown in 3D on the poster or anywhere else online for it’s American release. I’d say it’s safe to assume we are getting it how most film fans would want to see it, in traditional 2D.

The trailer can be viewed here. We get one lovely line spoken by the late David Carradine explaining how I suppose we really feels about Chinese people “Break their necks!”. Typical nonsense and kind of awkward but it’s not like this is the only film that has been marketed this way. The trailer is a bit too empty for me as it doesn’t really suggest how it will stand out from other martial art epics we’ve seen. The inclusion of a scene involving a vein growing on some muscular skin looks a bit more video gamey than probably intended. On a positive note, it does include this final goofy clip of Gordon Liu.

Gordon Liu in True Legend
I’m sold on this film now

For our UK friends, it seems that True Legend has already has it’s premiere in September. Has anyone there seen it? Thoughts?