Hero (1997) Blu-ray Review: The Heroic Return of Shaw Brothers

This classic Hong Kong action movie has two big draws for me: a star turn by Takeshi Kaneshiro and direction by Corey Yuen. Kaneshiro is still most famous in the U.S. for his work in Wong Kar-Wai’s films Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, both of which slightly predate this film, while Yuen is a highly accomplished action director with dozens of Chinese productions to his credit including multiple Jet Li films and the awesome So Close. His kinetic style also led to Hollywood gigs directing The Transporter and the bonkers video game adaptation DOA: Dead or Alive.

If you’re approaching this film with similar motivation, rest assured that it is a wholly satisfying experience. However, the story behind the film’s origin is almost more interesting than the film itself. The production bears the banner of the legendary Shaw Brothers studio, although it was produced and released in 1997, a full 13 years after the studio had ceased theatrical output in favor of TV productions. The film incorporates some hallmarks of the studio’s most fertile period in the ‘60s-’70s, and in fact the film is a remake of the studio’s 1972 movie The Boxer from Shantung, giving it a throwback feel in spite of the use of ‘90s talent. Somehow, that unusual attempt at a bridge between the studio’s legacy and late ‘90s action movies makes it feel like an ‘80s film, to the point where I was surprised it came out in the ‘90s even knowing that Kaneshiro wasn’t active in the industry until then.

Kaneshiro plays a poor hick named Wing-Jing who travels to the bustling metropolis of Shanghai in the 1920s with his comedic sidekick relative Tai-Cheung (Wah Yuen) in the hopes of finding their fortune. They quickly run afoul of the local gangs fighting for dominance in the city, ultimately aligning with a boss who also originated from their hometown, with Wing-Jing quickly rising through the ranks and finding love with two different women along the way. When a rival boss makes his play for the city, Wing-Jing and his boss work to defeat him, leading to bloody, fierce action set pieces that dominate the back half of the film.

Kaneshiro is excellent in his role and puts in some impressive stunt work as well. The principal baddie is such a caricature that it’s hard to take him seriously, a wiry man in black with a bald head, goatee, and tiny wire-rim shades who laughs with maniacal glee during the execution of his fiendish plots. The female co-stars are largely forgettable, as is Kaneshiro’s bland boss played by Biao Yuen. Thankfully, Yuen’s adept touch at action direction ensures that fight scenes are explosive and show Kaneshiro in the most favorable light as the true hero of the piece.

The new Blu-ray features an HD remaster from the original 35mm negatives in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. That aspect ratio is a nod to the times of its production, as the studio abandoned its famed Shawscope ultra-widescreen 2.35:1 ratio for their ‘90s return to theaters. The picture and sound quality are remarkably clean, while colors are slightly washed-out, as typical of the era. Fine detail definition struggles a bit in chaotic fight scenes or quick camera pans, but overall this is a beautiful representation of the film. Oddly, the Blu-ray defaults to English audio with no subs, quickly remedied in settings that deliver newly translated and thoroughly comprehensible English subtitles.

Bonus features include an audio commentary track with a couple of Asian cinema experts, Hong Kong and English trailers, alternate shots from the Taiwanese version, as well as reversible cover art that is also produced on a large double-sided poster enclosed in the case. The package is rounded out with a booklet with a lengthy and informative essay about the film’s origins interspersed amongst a generous sampling of stills from the film.

Purists may decry the heretical attempt to remake a classic film, as well as slapping the Shaw Brothers logo on a film produced way past their glory days, but the heroic talent of Kaneshiro and Yuen ensure that this action film delivers on its promise for viewers who can enjoy it on its own merits.

Posted in , ,

Steve Geise

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter