Hong Kong Reviews Projects Reviews The Johnnie To Project (35/71)

Film Review: The Heroic Trio (1993) by Johnnie To

"The Heroic Trio" has many faults, but there are also many elements to be enjoyed here, particularly for fans of cult action movies

Considering the people involved in the movie, with directing, , and starring as the titular trio, and as one of the key villains, and with a script that is filled with martial arts action plus a plethora of CATIII elements, one would expect that “” would be the quintessential HK action film. However, a number of faults in the script and a couple of other issues prevent it from becoming so, although the entertainment it offers, at least for the most part, is undeniable.

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The aforementioned trio comprises of Tung (aka Wonder Woman), who is married to a policeman, Chat (Thief Catcher) a mercenary and head hunter, and Ching (Invisible Woman). As the story begins, an enigmatic persona mentioned only as Evil Master is blackmailing the Invisible Woman into kidnapping newborn babies who are destined to be emperors, and delivering them to him and his main henchman, Kau. Wonder Woman tries to solve the mystery of the kidnappings better than her husband does, while Thief Catcher, who was also once employed by the Evil Master, is trying to sell her inside knowledge to the police. At first, each of them works individually, but Thief Catcher and Wonder Woman soon join forces, while Invisible Woman proves to be misguided than an actual evil individual. Eventually, the three of them join forces against the Evil Master, in a showdown that is the most memorable sequence in the film.

Johnnie To, before his Milkyway Image movies, did not have, or was not “allowed” to have, the directorial abilities he exhibited after he instituted his own company, and “The Heroic Trio” is a testament to the fact. To begin with, the film suffers significantly from Sandy Shaw's script, who, in an effort to include as many crowd-pleasing elements in the movie as possible ended up with an almost total mess, even if, individually, those elements are not that bad. The infants that are often endangered and the baby that is killed, the ones that grow early to adolescence and are fed human flesh, and the fact that most of them are annihilated by the trio, are quite original, if shocking elements, that also serve into making the villains truly despicable. The different abilities of the three heroines, with Invisible Woman excelling in martial arts, Thief Catcher with guns, and Wonder Woman with a sword and knives, also work quite well, both in the battles among them and when they are facing their enemies. That their personas are quite different moves in the same direction, with them being a wife, a delinquent, and a lost one respectively, thus creating a rather interesting chemistry.

In terms of narrative, however, this is where the pros end and the cons begin. The story of the two lost sisters and, in general, Ching's moves somewhere between the soap opera and the melodrama, essentially in elements that seem completely disconnected with the rest of the narrative. Furthermore, the way the story progresses is nonsensical, although this was actually a “trait” of Hong Kong action cinema, as the majority of films focused on key scenes rather than a compact story. The comic-like approach to the film gets a bit overboard near the finale, with the sequences with the skeleton bordering on the ridiculous. Lastly, and more importantly, the aforementioned elements are too many for a single, 88-minute movie, with To failing (justifiably though) to present them all or even connect them adequately.

On another issue with the film, Michelle Yeoh, who is probably the protagonist as Invisible Woman, seems quite bored with her role, a concept that is obvious a number of times, marring the narrative even more, along with the chemistry of the three, and despite the fact that Johnnie To tried to focus on her evident beauty, frequently having dressed in the tightest of attires. On the other hand, both Maggie Cheung as Thief Catcher and Anita Mui as Wonder Woman give quite entertaining performances, with the first being feisty and funny, and the second serious and occasionally dramatic. To's effort to sensualize his protagonists is evident in them also, although Cheung is the one who seems to benefit the most from this approach.

Technically on the other hand, the movie is impressive. Ching Siu Tung's action choreography is dark and violent, taking full advantage of the individual characteristics of the three women, and the sinister, supernatural powers of the villains, with the action scenes also allowing Anthony Wong to thrive as Kau. Particularly the one in the train station and the lengthy final one, which takes place both underneath the ground and the surface, are excellent, highlighting the choreography and the imagination of Ching Siu Tung, the cinematography of Poon Han Sang and Tom Lay, and the frantic editing of Kam Wah. These scenes, and in general the action ones, compensate largely for the faults in the narrative, and are the ones that deem the movie worth watching, along with the (looks) of the three protagonists.

“The Heroic Trio” has many faults, but there are also many elements to be enjoyed here, particularly for fans of cult action movies.  

About the author

Panos Kotzathanasis

My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia.

Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute.

In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres.

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