Hong Kong Cinema

Hero (1997)

(Ma Wing Jing)

  • Made: 1997
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: 2 PAL
  • Release Date: 24 April, 2000
  • Company: Digital Video Distribution
  • Length: 90 mins
  • Picture: Widescreen (cropped) 1.85:1
  • Language: Subtitled / Cantonese language
  • Extras: Chapters, Cast/Crew Information
  • Classification: 18


Corey Yuen


Takeshi Kaneshiro, Yuen Biao, Jessica Hester Hsuan, Yuen Wah, Yuen Tak, Valerie Chow, Corey Yuen

Hero was produced within two years of the Shaw Brothers venturing once again into the world of film production. Takeshi Kaneshiro plays the 'Hero' (Ma Wing Jing) after having established himself as a box office draw and heart-throb in the likes of Heroic Trio and Chungking Express. Yuen Biao (Prodigal Son, Knockabout) plays a major role as the triad leader Tam See and one of several members of the Seven Fortunes opera troupe involved in the production, others include Yuen Tak, Yuen Wah and the direction by Corey Yuen. The leading femmes were given to Jessica Hester Hsuan and Valerie Chow. Hero performed disappointingly at the box office managing to draw a meagre HK $3,015,000 during its cinematic run. To put this into perspective, Jackie and Sammo (two other members of the Seven Fortunes) topped the box office with Mr Nice Guy in 1997, hugely out-grossing Hero, which was the 58th highest grossing film at the box office in 1997.


Hero is loosely based on the classic Boxer from Shantung (1972), starring Chen Kuan Tai and directed by Chang Cheh. Takeshi Kaneshiro (Ma Wing Jing) is one of thousands of refugees moving from Shantung to Shanghai, with his elder brother Ma Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah). Shanghai is governed by two triad bosses, Tam See (Yuen Biao) and Yang Shuang (Yuen Tak). Ma Wing Jing decides he wants to be to someone big, someone powerful, and tries to make a name for himself. After befriending Tam See he manages to take some of Yang's provinces which obviously starts a bitter and bloody turf war.


I have never really classed Corey Yuen as a legendary action director, he has contributed to many superb films, but in my eyes has always struggled on his own. However, the cast includes a wealth of action choreography experience which is slightly bemusing as the action in Hero is largely disappointing. The opening encounter between Takeshi Kaneshiro and Yuen Biao is very chessy as they fight on a fast moving carriage. Even to the untrained eye it looks over-enhanced by wires and camera tricks. The film is also guilty of being over-indulgent in its filming and editing, some action sequences have a deluge of slow motion and quickly-edited exchanges. This has become accepted in most modern action films, but considering the talents on show it is clearly unnecessary.

Remembering that this is a Shaw Brothers production, I did watch this movie hoping for traditional action and a tale of epic proportions. The film moves along at a congenial pace, but this cannot mask the prosaic storytelling and irritating score. Both Yuen Biao and Kaneshiro are being continuously betrayed and ambushed by Yang's henchmen, but by the time these encounters occur any emotion or concern for the leads has already been extinguished. The film also harks back to The Boxer from Shantung by arming all the henchmen with axes and ensuring the encounters are especially bloody. It is perhaps ironic that a film named 'Hero' lacks that very thing, neither Kaneshiro nor Biao manage spur any thoughts of gallantry of bravery in their rather shallow roles.

The final fight sees Yuen Tak take on Biao and Kaneshiro after a 10-minute sequence of uninspired gunplay. The observant viewer will note several ideas that have been borrowed from the end encounter between Donnie Yen and Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China 2. Again this is a bloody and gruesome sequence that is not overly technical. This is a shame as both Yuen Biao and Yuen Tak are clearly capable of a great deal more. Possibly the biggest disappointment of the film lies in Yuen Wah playing a helpless and pathetic brother to Kaneshiro. Yuen Wah is a superb fighter and the thought of Yuen Biao, Yuen Tak and Yuen Wah being choreographed by Corey Yuen is mouth-watering, but remains another unfulfilled opportunity.


The disc is a medicore offering. The subtitles are some of the worst I have seen on a Region 2 Disc and the extras are sparse, including a very brief and incomplete biography / filmography section. The picture and sound are acceptable, but by no means exceptional. The film is a cropped and occasionally speckled widescreen (1.85:1) and the high point of this version is that it has 10 seconds of action that was cut from the Hong Kong version.


On paper, the potential for this film is enormous. The Seven Fortunes to once again contrive to put the Shaw Brothers back on the martial arts map. This film could have been the perfect antidote for the CGI inspired works such as Stormriders which were starting to emerge in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, this work is more influenced by the Jet Li's performances of the late 90's that harking back to the golden age of Shaw Brothers. It is a shame that they could not have got Jet Li on board for this production as Kaneshiro makes an inadequate understudy. Yuen Biao also fails to convince as a triad boss, and once again struggles without either Jackie or Sammo at the helm. This is a confused film, that is not sure whether it wants to be a heroic epic, a wire fu action movie, or a gritty and bloody drama. It seems to strike an uncertain balance between all three and leaves the viewing feeling short-changed rather than wholly satisfied.