A Man Called Hero- -
Episodic saga from the first half of the 20th century follows Hero Hua from an ill-omened June day in his youth to a showdown 17 years later with a disaffected member of his martial-arts school, a Japanese named Invincible. Tensions between Chinese and Japanese, plus U.S. racism, mark the tale. Hero marries Jade, leaves her in China when he goes to America as an indentured servant, rebels against cruel labor conditions, and is joined by her in New York City where she has twins. Jump ahead 16 years: their son Sword comes to New York looking for his father. There, Sword hears many stories of his father, which we see in flashbacks, and the stage is set for the battle with Invincible.
Big-bucks follow-up to the 1998 Hong Kong smash hit The Storm Riders sees a largely unchanged tech crew and some of the same cast solving many of the first movie’s problems but coming up short in other ways.
A period actioner largely set in early 20th century New York, A Man Called Hero has a distinctive flavour and overall is a much more satisfying dramatic ride than The Storm Riders. Released last July, pic under-performed in Hong Kong compared with Riders, taking some HK$24 million ($3 million), about the same as Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Like Riders, the new film is adapted from a popular manga by Ma Wing-shing, but it’s a much more grounded piece of filmmaking, set in a recognizable era, rather than in a martial arts fantasy land, and shot through with elements of national pride in the way it addresses the discriminatory treatment of overseas Chinese in the early 20th century. Though not noted onscreen, opening reel is set in 1913, somewhere in southern China, where bad omens are signaled by the fact that it is snowing. Hero Wah (Ekin Cheng, from Riders) is sent by his parents, with the family’s magic Red Sword, to train under Master Pride (Anthony Wong) and returns to find Mom and Dad murdered by nasty Westerners. After impregnating his wife, Jade (Kristy Yang), he sets sail in a funk for the U.S. Sixteen years later his son, Sword Wah (Nicholas Tse) arrives at Ellis Island with Dad’s best friend, Sang (Jerry Lamb), and takes up residence in Chinatown (an impressively spacious standing set outside Shanghai). Though the plot, as always in manga-derived pics, is overflowing with characters and subplots, Hero is far easier to follow than Riders, thanks not least to much more fluid lensing by returning helmer and d.p. Andrew Lau and a remarkably fine score by Chan Kwong-wing, which knits together the story’s sprawling emotional fabric. At its best, the movie attains fleeting echoes of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.
Thanks to Far East Film Festival