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A Man Called Hero (1998)

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[Movie Reviews]


-Ekin Cheng
-Nicholas Tse
-Kristy Yang


Hero goes off to a martial arts master to test and become his student. He succeeds and returns home with good news. Unfortunately, he comes home to find that his family has been killed by a group of foreigners conducting illegal operations. He goes and kills them to avenge his parents and, therefore, must leave the country, at the same time leaving his love behind. He goes to the U.S. Years later his uncle and his son come to America to look for him. In the quest to search for him, an epic tale unfolds of the struggle of Chinese workers in America at the turn of the century, lost love, and loneliness.


As a follow-up from the crew (and much of the cast) that brought us "The Storm Riders", "A Man Called Hero" has quite a bit to live up to. Once again, it is a CG filled, comic-based, epic. Following "Storm Riders", it can't exactly be called revolutionary, but as a film itself, it is a great epic tale that even manages to surpass its predecessor in some ways. It has some glaringly obvious flaws, but the end product is still an enjoyable tale that is worthy of sitting in your DVD collection.

When I first saw this film, the first thing that immediately jumped out at me was the cinematography and scenery. The period locales and the way they are captured is quite beautiful. The architecture of early 20th century New York is awe-inspiring here. While I'm no historian to judge the accuracy of this period setting, I can say it certainly comes off quite nice and puts forth the atmosphere it needs to. This sets the tone for the film as we go through and constantly plays into the atmosphere of the story.

The story of A Man Called Hero, itself, is the stuff that epics are made of. A piece that touches on so many issues while bringing it together with the human element is a true rarity. The film portrays the harsh conditions under which early Chinese immigrants in America had to live and work (likely not totally historically accurate, but it does lend the necessary sensitivity to the situation). It also portrays love and the loss of that love. It portrays despair, when one believes all hope is lost. It is easy to appreciate these themes too. After the prophecy that Hero recieves and all the death that has touched those he has loved, one can feel for someone in his position. The use of flashbacks works well to tell a tale over so many years in a sensible manner and the film's plot flows well overall because of it.

There are a lot of characters to deal with here (undoubtedly the result of trying to put an entire comic into a film). The film does a fairly nice job developing the major characters and helping us to understand their feelings and motivations. It also juggles all the characters well enough that viewers won't likely find themselves losing track of who's who. Some of the more minor characters, though, are somewhat rushed. For example, I never got a feel for how Hsu Chi's character fell in love with Hero and why she would follow him years later. While the basic reason for this is shown, it is hard to get a feel for her descent into actual love.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of over-acting in the film. Ekin handles the blank expression of a man who has been desensitized by all the sadness around him quite well, but give him a crying scene and it is a bit of a struggle. Nic Tse is solid for most of the film, but also chokes on the emotional scene. Kristy Yang, on the other hand, did solid, though not amazing, throughout the film. And, though a short part, Hsu Chi's very mature role and performance was a breath of fresh air after many of her "bubbly little girl" roles. For that reason alone, I would have liked to have seen more of her character in this film.

The action scenes here are hit-and-miss. There is at least one particularly awesome fight, that being a fight near the middle in an alley when a group of Japanese ninjas attack Hero and Shadow. Special effects are put to good use here, from the blurrily fast movement of Shadow to the CG ropes to CG liquid morphing effects. And, it is not just the special effects. The fight itself is quite exciting, certainly not hurt any by the cool music in the background. Other fights, on the other hand, are fairly boring. A fight between Hero's master and a rival brother uses cool water CG effects, but boils down to them shooting water at each other - nothing more. The final fight, atop the Statue of Liberty, hold a lot of promise but ends up being a blurry mess.

A Man Called Hero comes off as a beautiful epic tale that is plagued by a few obvious problems. Nonetheless, it is a great viewing and definitely a necessity of HK cinema. A little tweaking in the acting and fight scenes, though, and this film would have been quite a few steps closer to true greatness. Luckily, I did see the special cut, which excises a couple scenes that were reportedly laughably bad (that were actually removed because of audience reaction in HK cinemas). It did also remove some scenes near the end involving a skirmish between the police and the KKK. Whether that cut hurt or helped the film, I don't know. But, I don't feel like I'm missing anything (and the uncut version is not available anywhere). So, take a look at this film and look past its few problems and enjoy the memorable tale it has to tell.



-Andrew Lau


-Original Cantonese language.
-HK "Special Cut"