Hero ★★★½

In 1997 Shaw Brothers released their first movie in over a decade. Hero, directed by Corey Yuen is a Martial Arts filed gangster Drama with strong John Woo Heroic Bloodshed influences. It is also a quasi-remake of Chang Cheh’s Kung-Fu classic The Boxer from Shantung. Boxer was epic and one of the longest Shaw Brothers films I have ever seen. Maybe a bit too long. Hero on the other hand has the opposite problem. It condenses the story down to the absolute minimum focusing much more on the action and elaborate set-pieces.

The good thing here is, that the action is great all the way. Fights and shootouts are well staged, blood and exquisitely choreographed. The production values are also top-notch. Sets, costumes and the cinematography all look great. And the cast lead by Japanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro is full of genre veterans like Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Yuen Tak and director Corey Yuen himself. Wow, that a lot of Yuen’s. Not to forget two great leading ladies played by Jessica Hsuan and the beautiful Valerie Chow. Great cast!

Hero’s biggest problem is the pacing and the way it tends to rush through the story. Jumping from one action or dramatic set-piece to the next. This can work for a simple plotted Kung-fu movie. But this one tries to tell a rather complex story with a lot of characters. It goes for big drama at times but loses impact because of the borderline erratic pacing. The dramatic beats here rarely have time to resonate with the audience. At least, that’s how I felt.

It’s ironic because in my review for Boxer from Shantung I wrote that the 136 minutes runtime could have been shortened a little. But 92 minutes is not what I had in mind. I think two hours could be the sweet spot when it comes to this particular story. If anyone plans to make another remake, take note. The movie also has some strange tonal shift that didn’t quite work for me. Like a prolonged comedy sequence right after a big dramatic event. But that’s just Hong Cinema I guess…

So "Hero" definitely has some issues and seen as a whole, it fails to match the quality of Chang Cheh’s original. But because of the great production values, the strong cast and excellent action set-pieces it is still a very entertaining Hong Kong action movie. Fans of the genre in particular should check it out without much hesitation. 88 Films has just released the film on Blu-ray in the UK. The picture looks great and if you are interested this is without a doubt the edition to grab.

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