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Jack and Martin are members of rival Chinese triads in the middle of a gang war. Both of their gang leaders like to get advice from a fortune teller living in Thailand. On one such trip, Martin's gang ambushes Jack's at a Thai hotel. There is a spectacular shootout, in which both Martin and Jack are severely wounded. The leader of Jack's gang was at the hotel, unlike Martin's, and escapes. Afterwards, both gang leaders, Mr. Fong of Martin's and Mr. Yam of Jack's, go to a general and make peace. Meanwhile, both Jack and Martin are hospitalized. Martin's legs are amputated, and his girlfriend whores herself in order to get them back into Hong Kong... Written by
Milkyway darkness continues but not as effectively as in The Longest Nite and Expect the Unexpected
A Hero Never Dies (1998) is a film by veteran HK film maker Johnnie To and his Milky Way Image filming company that has produced some of the darkest and grittiest of the recent HK action dramas like The Longest Nite and Expect the Unexpected, both 1998. A Hero Never Dies (1998) is another of these films and stars again the Milky Way face Lau Ching-Wan and Leon Lai Ming. They are both very great and make the little too shallow characters as interesting as possible.
A ruthless gangster boss kills and abuses his friends and never thanks anyone who has helped him. Lau's character is among the ones who helped him become what he is now. Lai is Lau's friend and they both have sweet girlfriends (Fiona Leung and Yo Yo Mung) that start to take care of the two when violence erupts and their history looks dark. But no one dies, only the hope for a peaceful life and forgetting and forgiving the wrongs of the past. Lau decides to avenge his fate to the boss but all this kind of thing results is more violence, and since this is an honest and un-commercial gangster drama, violence is never shown in a glorifying, positive or entertaining light.
A Hero Never Dies is written by Yau Nai-Hoi (The Longest Nite, Expect the Unexpected, Barefooted Kid (1993)) and Szeto Kam-Yuen (Nite and Unexpected, too). Unfortunately the film's problems lie in the screenplay and the characters, too. None of the male characters gets to develop too interestingly or realistically and their acts seem not to be too greatly motivated. Silence is a good thing in cinema, but what there is in the characters' minds must be expressed some way, with the tools of the art, no matter how silent the film is. Lau's and Lai's relationship is a little weird and the very long "wine glass" sequence at the beginning works surprisingly fine and kind of depicts how they respect each other but also have some disagreements, too. Mostly I find it irritating that their love for their girls seems not too warm or real and only the females are the ones that get things moving in this film. They care for their loved ones and cure them while they're almost dead but also sadly end up dead themselves very easily. But it is great to see females depicted as this strong in a HK film, but still Hero would have been much stronger a film if the emotions of the characters (for example the great idea of the damaged face of the loved one after an accident) were better written and thought about.
The theme of ruthless violence living inside To's films' characters is always very strong especially in this and the great Expect the Unexpected which has one of the most depressing, unexpected and cold endings for very long time on any film, HK or other. Hero's characters kill and slaughter each other mindlessly but always pay the price, whether you're "good" or "bad". No one wins anything by using violence in these dark and honest thrillers and so the violence is depicted as a brutal and harrowing act commited by man towards another man for some selfish and weak reason. The violence at the ending of Unexpected is pretty close to Japanese Takeshi Kitano in its intensity and wordless impact.
The visual look of Hero is again pretty stunning but not quite as in The Longest Nite which has completely awesome blue photography and menacingly dark settings in the middle of the bloody triad gangster war. Cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung does great job in Hero and especially the ending in its bright red colors is again something very unique to HK cinema. The grittiness of the cities and places is very strong in these films. Also the music by Raymond Wong Ying-Wah is pretty effective and never gets too underlining or exaggeratedly "dramatic" but just makes the images more powerful and almost nearly hypnotic at places.
A Hero Never Dies is a good example of what HK is capable of, but still it is not as great as they have done. The mentioned Milky Way films are more noteworthy in my opinion as well as Alfred Cheung's On the Run (1988) starring Yuen Biao and Pat Ha to name just a very few of these films. A Hero would have needed better and deeper characters as well as some gaps and incredibilities of the plot filled and changed to something more noteworthy. Still A Hero is 7/10 class and, like the others, requires much more than just one viewing.
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