A Man Called Hero (1999) Movie Review

A Man Called Hero’s biggest problem is its lack of focus. The movie meanders from one plot to another, returns to a previous plot to tie up loose ends, then meanders to tie up another loose plot, while leaving a half dozen other plots unresolved. At slightly over 90 minutes, a movie with too much on its mind and not enough concentration to focus its energies, a short running time is the kiss of death.

Hero stars Ekin Cheng as the titular Hero Hua (an improbable name, but let’s go with it), who must flee China after he kills a foreigner who murdered his parents. The movie itself is set in the early 20th century, with title cards telling us it’s somewhere around 1916, and almost 30 years had passed since the last Opium War in 1882. The movie shifts into something of a social movie once Hero arrives in America. Hero, along with other Chinese immigrants, is sent to steel mining camps which looks more like prisons than actual work camps.

There really is nothing too complex or even exciting going on in Hero, and the final fight on the Statue of Liberty, where Lady Liberty herself is royally trashed, reeks of unnecessary destruction. As an American, I find the wanton destruction of the Statue of Liberty as some kind of “cool” action stunt to be somewhat insulting. There really was no reason to destroy Lady Liberty unless the director/writer/filmmakers were trying to make some anti-Lady Liberty statement. Perhaps as a revenge fantasy for the treatment of early Chinese immigrants to this country?

Hero, as previously mentioned, lacks focus. The movie has no idea what it wants to be. A socially aware movie about the plight of early Chinese? Could be, because we spend plenty of time with Hero in the work camps and there is a “liberation” of the work camp later in the movie. Like many Hong Kong movies that I’ve seen, the screenwriters seem to be writing two movies — one about a movie that takes place in Acts One and Two, and then a second movie that takes up Act Three.

A Man Called Hero also employs the same special effects as recent movies such as The Storm Riders and Tsui Hark’s Legend of Zu. But unlike those two movies, Hero seems to be on a budget, almost as if after having spent so much money re-constructing New York’s Chinatown, the filmmakers ran out of money for the special effects. There are only two real special effects heavy scenes, one when Hero and a character name Shadow fights a group of Japanese ninjas in an alley, and then later when Hero fights Invincible, the movie’s chief villain who pops up halfway through, at the aforementioned trashing of the Statue of Liberty.

Here is an example of the movie’s unfocused and meandering plots: Hero’s wife, Jade, gives birth to twins, but throughout the movie, we only see Sword Hua, Hero’s son, as he attempts to locate his father, who has been missing for the last 16 years. The other twin is a girl who was kidnapped at birth by a character name Bigot. Supposedly the girl is still out there, and everyone seems to be looking for her, but by the movie’s end, nothing is ever mentioned of her, as if everyone simply forgot that she ever existed. Even Bigot is killed off without being given the chance to confess the location of the twin girl. Actually, Bigot is exploded by Hero. The twin girl plot is simply forgotten after that point.

Incidentally enough, I find the Hero Hua character to be somewhat of a bore, and wish more was shown of the Shadow character, who actually had some “cool” factor. Except for his lightsaber (er, I mean, his red sword that glows), Hero Hua really has no personality to speak off. With his hair draped over half of his face, he looks like a manga character trapped in a movie, but still believing he’s in a 2-dimensional manga book. How else do you explain his total lack of charisma?

Wai Keung Lau (director) / Manfred Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Ekin Cheng …. Hero Hua
Qi Shu …. Mu
Kristy Yang …. Jade
Nicholas Tse …. Sword Hua

Buy A Man Called Hero on DVD