Review: A HERO NEVER DIES 真心英雄 (1998) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Review: A HERO NEVER DIES 真心英雄 (1998)

Review: A HERO NEVER DIES 真心英雄 (1998)

In the midst of a gang war in Thailand between rival triads Yam (Yam Sai-Koon) and Fong (Fong Ping), their respective hitmen, Jack (Leon Lai) and Martin (Lau Ching-Wan) are in charge to protect their bosses while eliminating each other. During a rainy night in a cheap hotel, they end up badly wounded in the latest shootout. With Jack and Martin become disposable, the two triads finally make a truce and want to start a new life as business partners. For Martin, his badly wounded legs are forced to be amputated and his girlfriend (Fiona Leung) have to whore herself in order to take care of him. His girlfriend feels sad about his condition and wants to go back to Hong Kong to settle some old score with his former boss. In the meantime, Jack is now working as a hard labour in a Thai icehouse to support his badly scarred girlfriend (Yoyo Mung) after the burning incident inside the hospital. As their bosses celebrate their glory of making money together, Jack and Martin are vow for revenge to take them down at all cost.

REVIEW: After a much-publicized fallout with his protege/director Patrick Yau, director Johnnie To finally helms his first feature for his Milkyway production. The result is A HERO NEVER DIES, a stylised neo-noir version of John Woo's A BETTER TOMORROW (1986). It's certainly good to see old-school gangster drama that explores the everlasting theme of brotherhood and heroic bloodshed, but distinguishes with To's quirky visual style of his own -- a bit of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah mixes together with a European sensibility. As unique as it sounds which might please most genre fans, the movie is more of an elaborate exercise in visual display than a cohesive whole.

There's hardly any depth beyond the surface the story has laid out here. Everything is as brief as possible, while Johnnie To favours for silent treatment over expository dialogue-laden scenarios during the major course of the film. On the surface, it does sounds artistically interesting but hardly captivating. There also comes the time where To tends to go overboard with his theme of brotherhood and loyalty to the point of near parody.

Still, the movie remains a treat for the undemanding viewers: Leon Lai and especially Lau Ching-Wan are fairly engaging screen presences, while it's rare to see the female counterparts (Fiona Leung and Yoyo Mung) in this kind of genre are as equally subtle. The action is the highlights here, notably the night stakeout scene in the cheap hotel and the all-hell-breaks-loose finale in the nightclub.

It's hardly a genre classic one might expect for but remains a crucial entry point for To who later perfect his unique filmmaking style in subsequent movies.

Johnnie To's first directorial feature for Milkyway production is a stylish but somewhat underwhelming neo-noir tribute to the "heroic bloodshed" genre.

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