A Man Called Hero (HK 1999)

Rating: **
Review Date: 2/27/00
Director: Andrew Lau
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Kristy Yang, cameos by Qi Shu, Ken Lo, Tsui Kam Long, Anthony Wong, Yuen Biao, Cheng Pei Pei (?)

The team that brought us "The Stormriders" (1998) reunites much of the same cast and delivers yet another effects-laden adaptation of a Japanese manga. Only this time it falls short. Taking place in the early 1900's, tragic and brooding Ekin Cheng is a man called Hero, born under the Star Of Death. After avenging his parents' murders, he makes love to his girlfriend Jade (pretty Kristy Yang) and flees to America where he goes to work in a mine. In America, he and his Chinese brothers suffer countless injustices from their slave-driving Caucasian bosses, and once again Hero kills someone and flees. Meanwhile, back in China, Jade is pregnant and comes to America to look for Hero. When they are finally reunited, everything goes to hell. A band of Japanese ninja show up to kill Hero, and Jade dies during labor, giving birth to twins. The evil and bombastic Tsui Kam Long kidnaps the daughter and we surprisingly never see her again. However, the son grows up with his gay uncle and twenty years later comes back to America to find his brooding father. The Japanese ninja conflict is still brewing after all this time, and Hero's main rival Invincible shows up to fight him to the death. This breathtaking battle takes place in, on, and around the Statue Of Liberty, much like the "flying Buddha" fight in "The Stormriders," only with more convincing results. After the battle, everyone goes home and Hero broods his way into the distance.

Like "The Stormriders" before it, the film is gorgeous and has extremely high production values. For the most part the effects are competent, and quite often spectacular and awe-inspiring. The fighting varies wildly from fair to great, with the Chinese stealing some bad habits from Hollywood concerning fight cinematography and editing. Oddly enough, we've got two great kung fu fighters (Yuen Biao and Ken Lo) in the film, and yet they have little to do. (reinforcing the notion that "what good are traditional martial arts skills compared to someone with special effects on their side?") Yuen Biao does his best Jet Li impersonation, and while it's good to see him in an "A" picture again, he's beginning to look old and tired. Also similar to "The Stormriders," the film doesn't manage to emotionally engage the viewer, although it tries really hard. And that's where the film really falls apart. It's long and boring, and tries to hook the audience with the overwrought melodrama of how hard it is to live in America as a Chinese immigrant. The film really camps on this theme, and as a result it seems to be wrapped up in its own pretentious self importance. Yes, we know life is hard and that it sucks to be born under the Star Of Death - now get on with the fighting. It's an endurance test to sit through the first hour of the film, but it does pay off in the three effects-laden sword fights that occur towards the end.