Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Hero Never Dies (Hong Kong, 1998)

Will recently mentioned 'Too Many Ways To Be Number One' on the show recently, 'A Hero Never Dies' was made following that early era of Milkyway films. That era marked the early, unpredictable course of Johnnie To's production company, giving life to a gritty Cat III film (Intruder) to the formerly mentioned off-kilter Triad fairy tale. This is my favorite time for Johnnie To material, he either directed or helped produce (ie. also direct) a good few classics.

Along with 'The Mission', 'A Hero Never Dies' marks Johnnie To's individualistic stamp onto Hong Kong action cinema, beyond the basic work he had done up to that point. To had directed movies and television since the late 170s but it's hard to discern his calling cards that would mark his work until the late 1990s. There are sparks here and there, 'The Big Heat' and the later 'Loving You' come closest but still lack that individualistic taste that marked Johnnie To's later work.

'A Hero Never Dies' concerns two triad gunslingers, namely Martin (Lau Ching-Wan) and Jack (Leon Lai) both work for two arsehole bosses who aren't worth the DNA they are encoded with. They trade shots with another, their feud even extending to a bizarre duel centered around a bar at night involving crashing their cars and smashing wine glasses.

After a shoot out in Thailand, Martin is crippled and Jack is betrayed, injured and assumed dead. Their arsehole bosses unite over their fallen men, and of course both parties feel more than slightly pissed off at being being pissed on from a great height. Bloodshed and tragedy follows.

So far, so John Woo. Yet To, for all his movie riffs on 1980s gangster movies, keeps it fresh. Martin looks like an urban cowboy, Jack carries himself like a mournful Ronin. The shootouts are compact, shot with superb tension and thrills. The gunfight in Thailand is superb. Martin and Jack blasting away at each other through a wall is a modern highlight of Hong Kong action. So is the finale, despite cheesy use of a wheelchair.

It plays out like a pastiche of John Woo but layered with the Milkyway flavour of cinema style. The only downside to the film is possibly the middle section where the girlfriends and melodrama take centre stage above action. And I mean extreme melodrama! Hong Kong fans will be used to this, anyone else is advised to start with Johnnie To's filmography elsewhere and working back.

Make Or Break: This film is made by the Thailand gunfight, with corpses falling from the roof and blazing pistols shot in elegant blue lighting.

Most Valuable Thing: Lau Ching Wan in his cowboy hat owns this mother.

Score 8/10. An acquired taste but a classic of Asian gangster films in the 90s.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Charlie, I'm working on a post for this film, I suppose I really should have covered it by now!