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Original Title:
Zhong hua ying xiong

Hong Kong 1999

Fantasy, Action

Andrew Lau

Ekin Cheng
Kristy Yeung
Jerry Lamb
Ken Lo
Shu Qi
Yuen Biao
Nicholas Tse
Francis Ng
Anthony Wong
Dion Lam
Sam Lee
Cheng Pei-pei
Grace Yip
Tsui Kam-Kong
Mark Cheng
Ronald Wong

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A Man called Hero

Story: Wah Ying-Hung (Ekin Cheng) is a martial artist and finally manages to get accepted by a famous master. But fate plays an ugly game with him. His parents are murdered, and after he has taken revenge on the killers, he emigrates to America. When he gets there he makes the acquaintance of monk Luohan (Ken Lo), who remains at his side on his stony road ahead of him. Ying-hung's pregnant wife (Kristy Yeung) and his friend (Jerry Lamb) also go to America a few months later since they want to find Ying-Hung. However, the search remains more or less without success, so that 16 years later his son (Nicholas Tse) has to look for him again. He gets unexpected help from the owner of a Chinese hotel (Yuen Biao), and so Ying-hung's son gets to know the true story of his father, and that his life is sought-after by a Japanese group of ninjas. Furthermore, his father has been born under the star of death, which means that everyone near to him dies sooner or later. But when Ying-Hung's old arch enemy Invincible (Francis Ng) reappears, Ying-hung has to enter the stage again and take his sword into hands to fight his final battle.

Review: It's not easy to decide where to start criticizing "A Man called Hero". Because there is in fact a lot to criticize. First of all, you need to know that this movie is an unofficial sequel to "Stormriders", which isn't just so because a lot of the original cast reunites in this one, but mainly because director Andrew Lau ("Infernal Affairs") again adapts a comic by Ma Wing-Shing for the big screen. Therefore, you'll find Fantasy-Kung-Fu aplenty. Sadly, this doesn't look as good as it may have been in "Stormriders". The reason for that are not the special effects, which nowadays may seem a bit ridiculous at times, but instead still have their own charm to it, but because of a script, that is cram-full with material, which most likely could have served for 10 movies. The end product is very episode-like and incoherent, which is made even worse by shallow characters. In the end, the fantasy story, even though approached somewhat ambitionally every now and then, simply lacks a lot and seems quite ridiculous.

Already at the beginning one of the film's main flaws sticks out like a sore thumb. The opening is presented very hastily and almost gives us no time to breathe. Very often we get the feeling, as if the filmmakers wanted to give us a summary of Ying-Hung's life in fast-forward mode. Furthermore, the cutter really deserves to be fired. The way the different pictures are wildly hammered after one another without any structure apparent becomes unbearable with time. This is the main reason why the viewer can never find access to the movie or relate to the characters. The cuts are incredibly jumpy, and sometimes we even believe that we might have missed out something. On the other hand, what important could there be to be missed out? "A Man called Hero" is supposed to be a fun ride and entertaining. But even here it fails. The hero of the story is played by Ekin Cheng, who delivers a rather wooden performance, and therefore can never arouse any sympathies in the audience. That's fatal, because how much can the audience dive into a story, if it doesn't care for the hero to be alive or dead?

Nonetheless, it wouldn't be fair to put all the blame for the shallow characters on Ekin Cheng's shoulders alone. The script just doesn't manage to bring at least rudimentarily three-dimensional characters on screen. And to be honest, the film's running time also wouldn't have been enough to do so, because we are almost bombarded with with different characters. Yet, they always remain very sketchy, which is even the more a shame, as there are quite some big names to be found in this fantasy flick. Apart from Anthony Wong as Ying-Hung's master (to see Wong with long grey hair and a beard is maybe the only real good reason to watch this film), there are also Cheng Pei-pei, Yuen Biao, Shu Qi, Nicholas Tse and Sam Lee to be spotted. The list goes on, so that you can turn this movie into a nice who-spots-the-HK-actor-first game. Some of the individuals turn up as fast as they disappear. That's especially sad since some of them looked like they actually had some potential.

The only glimmer of hope is Francis Ng as the villian, who, however, isn't introduced until the second half and then takes a backseat again until the final showdown. Which brings us right to the fights. They are very special-effects-loaden and stand out with a lot of boom and bam. What we really miss here are some old-school fights, which are completely replaced by videogame-style special attacks including the obligatory light effects. This in itself wouldn't be that bad, if it would fit into the movie. But "A Man called Hero" more or less takes place in the contemporary age, resp. during the 20th century, and so the filmmakers seem to lack the ability to find the right way to implement their fantasy elements. One thing for sure is, that it's not alone the special effects that make the action sometimes seem ridiculously wacky. It's the ideas which are just half-baked and presented on a bumpy fashion. Especially during the showdown it becomes apparent how laughable everything looks, and this even though we are quite aware of the fact that this is a comic adaption.

Ultimately, what's the most difficult thing after viewing is to tell if you havejust watched one film or several ones. "A Man called Hero" stands as everything but a whole. The many awful cuts, that throw the viewer out of the action over and over again, as well as characters, which are at best only introduced, make this film a frustrating experience. A few good ideas, differently colored picures or some nice sets can't make up for these flaws. At the end we are simply glad, that this "mess called a movie" is over. Why the filmmakers couldn't compress the story in favor of character elaboration remains a mystery to me. As things are, the movie can't touch us in any way and even creates quite some question marks above our heads. That is because naturally many things remain unanswered in the frame of the movie's scope and the limited running time given. But at this point this is also something we don't care about anymore, anyway. "A Man called Hero" feels like an unelaborated and half-baked work, that should be avoided by anyone except maybe fantasy-enthusiasts.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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