A Man Called Hero Review: A great Hong Kong film for the curious
Great looking special effects and an epic scope can’t save this valiant attempt at earnest historical fantasy. A great film for the curious, but not one worthy of much praise.
Highly-anticipated comic book adaptation survives a complete belly flop, but the result is hardly Olympic caliber. Manfred Wong and Andrew Lau’s follow-up to the hugely successful Storm Riders is yet another adaptation of a Ma Wing-Sing manga classic.
The story concerns Wah Ying-Hung. A Chinese hero in the early 20th Century who wields a legendary glowing red blade dubbed The Blood Sword. Born under the Star of Death, Wah Ying-Hung (or Hero to be literal) has the unfortunate destiny of causing harm to those around him. Thus, he must remain alone and such is his tragic predicament.
Cinematically, Hero is embodied by Andrew Lau’s main actor Ekin Cheng (Trinh Y Kien). Who has the hair of a legendary hero but hardly the presence. He can do intense when he wants. But he can’t rivet you to the screen like Lau Ching-Wan or even Louis Koo Tin-Lok. Ekin Cheng is a handsome, stoic fellow who lucked into playing these heroic types. And he’s a serviceable enough hero.
What Cheng can’t do, however, is save his films and that’s exactly the case here. Despite incredible production values and an epic storyline. A Man Called Hero (Hoa Anh Hung) suffers from too much exposition and not nearly enough actual storytelling. Too much plot and too many characters are crammed into 105 minutes, and the results prove disjointed and occasionally slow. The movie doesn’t really begin or end. By the time we’re twenty minutes in, there are already flashbacks from characters sixteen years in the future. Or was the prologue also a flashback?
Construction aside, this cram-the-whole-comic-into-two-hours brand of storytelling leaves us with no real hook other than the character of Hero. We meet his primary enemy Invincible (Francis Ng) in the last half of the hong kong film (phim vo thuat hong kong). But nothing is developed to make their final duel anything more than perfunctory. Some characters come and go so quickly that they’re rendered meaningless. Case in point: Yuen Biao as Yuen Mo. It’s great to see Yuen Biao in a big film, but he does very little.
This isn’t to say that A Man Called Hero is a complete waste. It has some cool concepts and interesting side characters, and visually it’s quite engaging. With those caveats in mind, one could walk away with a semi-good time. Still, this movie is the follow-up to Storm Riders, and it pales in comparison.2