J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Maggie Cheung at Metrograph: The Heroic Trio

Granted, Anita Mui was playing a completely different Wonder Woman, but Gal Gadot still has a tough act to follow. The Cantonese superheroine also had her own super-team, but they will not realize it until come together at the eleventh hour. Frankly, Warner Brothers might as well scrap their upcoming reboot, because who is going to care after the Metrograph reminds us of the spectacle that is Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio (trailer here), which screens as part of their retrospective series Maggie Cheung: Center Stage.

Wonder Woman fights crime, as well she should, as the alter ego of Tung, the wife of incorruptible Inspector Lau. Ching Ching, a.k.a. Sam, a.k.a., a.k.a. Third Chan, a.k.a. Invisible Girl is a reluctant criminal, bound to serve a supernatural eunuch determined to revive China’s imperial governance through infernal means. That leaves Chat or Thief Catcher or Mercy, a bounty hunter somewhere in between. She is played by Maggie Cheung, who rocks the wardrobe and flashes plenty of action chops.

There is a crime wave sweeping Hong Kong and not even the police chief’s family is safe. At the behest of Evil Master (the name tells you all you need to know), Sam (let’s use her shortest name) has abducted eighteen newborn infants, with one more to go. One of those so-called “princes” will become the new emperor, while the rest will be mutated into ogre-like killing machines, like the finger-eating Ninth Chan.

Wonder Woman is out to stop the abductions, using inside information gleaned from her husband. Upon learning his infant son is the next target, the chief hires Thief Catcher to capture Sam, but this turns out to be a costly decision when the mercenary makes a small tactical mistake. It very nearly costs her life as well, but both Wonder Woman and Sam intercede to save her. Eventually, Sam is going to join them in the fight for justice, once Ninth Chan gives her that extra bit of heart-breaking motivation.

As a film, Heroic Trio is pretty darned nuts. To basically calls and raises John Woo, cranking the fog machine up to eleven and including at least one scene with birds. If you are the pedantic sort, this film just might make your head explode, but it has massive guts. Kids die in this movie—like, a lot of them. Yet, it is still great fun, in large measure thanks to Cheung. She plays the prima donna bounty hunter to the hilt, preening for the press and laying down ultra-stylish beat-downs.

All three heroines definitely got the memo and they came to play. Michelle Yeoh gets to be the most tragic, whereas Mui develops some pleasing chemistry with Damian Lau as the clueless Inspector husband, but they all kick butt and exude a dangerous Irma Vep-like allure. Lau is indeed solid in support while Anthony Wong radiates evil as Ninth Chan. It is always strange to see him in these early thuggish roles, knowing he would evolve into an actor of tremendous gravitas and an outspoken activist.

The term “over the top” does not do justice to the lunacy of The Heroic Trio, but it is tough to beat the combination of Cheung, Yeoh, and Mui. They just don’t make superhero movies like this anymore. Highly recommended for fans of any and all involved, The Heroic Trio screens this Thursday (12/15) at Metrograph, as part of Maggie Cheung: Center Stage, along with other unforgettable Cheung films, including Ashes of Time Redux, Irma Vep, and fittingly Center Stage.

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