| A Hero Never Dies (1998)
Director: Johnnie To
Lai, Lau Ching Wan, Yo Yo Mong
One of Johnnie To Kei Fung's greatest films with
real characters surrounding themes of loyalty and brotherhood.
This is one for the true believers. If you long
for the heroic archetypes of late 80s and early 90s Hong Kong cinema,
here they are. The makers of Expect the Unexpected (director Johnny To
and producer Wai Ka-Fai) leave gritty crime realism aside for a moment
and deliver up a glorious homage to the two-gun-blazing
big-heart-pumping Hong Kong gunplay genre.
Jack (Leon Lai) is the big brother in Mr Yam's
gang. Martin (Lau Ching Wan) is the big brother in Mr Fong's gang. Both
are men of honour, and there is a strong bond between them - but that
bond is sundered when Yam declares war on Fong. A triad killer must
stand by his boss, no matter what, so the two spend one last night
looking at each other through the bottom of a wine glass, knowing that
tomorrow they'll be looking at each other over the barrel of a gun.
Gunsmoke and cordite ensue, but in the aftermath Mr Yam and Mr Fong
become partners again, wishing only for peace, prosperity and to quietly
sweep away any reminders of their foolhardy war - reminders such as
Martin and Jack. Loyalty is the big theme of this movie: do you do the
right thing by your brothers or your boss? Each character faces that
question and each finds a different answer, even if it means following
it all the way to the graveyard - but as the title says, a hero never
Lau Ching Wan is excellent, even with a bad
moustache and a cowdy hat. He is the man to watch in Hong Kong film at
the moment, self-assured and with style to spare. Leon Lai is less
successful, mostly because about all he does is look noble and/or
puzzled - but he does both very well, so he gets by. He certainly has
the looks to carry the archetype he's playing here, and when he walks in
slow-mo into the bar with the light streaming behind him and the theme
music playing, you know that old fashioned heroes are back in movies.
The women in this film are also first rate -
strong performances and strong roles. Fiona (Fiona Leung) and Yoyo (Yoyo
Mung) are Martin and Jack's respective girlfriends, and both have
different ideas about what it takes to be the woman of a big time
gangster. They are committed and pro-active, and provide the best scenes
in the film. Their parts in the story allow A Hero Never Dies to at
times transcend the male-centric films of John Woo (Wai Ka-Fai directed
Peace Hotel for Woo, so he's knows the turf well enough).
As you'd also expect, there's action aplenty. The
stand-out is a stakeout in the rain at a cheapo Thai motel, which at
once evokes film noir and westerns, with even a bit of Aliens thrown in
as hordes of gangsters crash down through the roof.
The film does threaten to drown in its own
myth-making. The scene where Jack and his buddies stand tall and piss up
against towering trees while the theme music booms goes clear across the
border into parody without a visa, with a return trip a few scenes later
when Martin and his buddies piss up against the same trees to the same
music. That highlights another problem with the story, in that
everything has to happen twice, once for each side. Two gangsters + two
girls + two gang bosses + two gangs - it's the Noah's Ark principal of
screenwriting. It also has a streak of melodrama wider than Kowloon Bay,
so if that bugs you, stay well clear.
I loved it though, and with only a month left of
1998, it's looking like the film of the year for me. Here's an easy test
to decide whether A Hero Never Dies is going to do it for you: Do you
think the sight of a legless gangster pushing himself along on a trolley
in dogged pursuit of vengeance is (a) a stirring image of a man who will
go to any length to find redemption, (b) a dodgy treatment of disability
issues, or (c) a bit silly? If your answer is (a), grab your buddies and
walk tall into the nearest screening of this Hong Kong gangster gem.
List Price: US $19.95
Cantonese / Mandarin
English / Traditional Chinese
/ Simplified Chinese
(Can be played on any DVD player in the
- "Adult Material;
Parental Guidance Recommended" (roughly equal to an
MPPA rating of "R") Films rated Category IIB
contain large amounts of violence and/or nudity and
sexual situations in addition to possible explicit
language and adult situations.