Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Yeoh Watch: Heroic Trio (1993)

Watched:  03/20/2023
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Johnnie To

As far as I know, I hadn't watched Heroic Trio (1993) all the way through since some point in college.  I know I saw it in the theater with JAL during a student sponsored film series where we'd all go to the old Hogg theater in the middle of campus and ignore the bats flying around overhead and throwing little batty shadows onto the screen.  I recall watching part of it with The Admiral and Steanso on broadcast TV in about 1996.  And I'm pretty sure I saw it again on VHS at some point.  Jamie tells me we watched at least part or most of it in Phoenix, which I don't remember - but apparently happened.  

The film has been very hard to find in the US for years now.  Or I would have bought it on disc - DVD or Bluray.*  But now it's on Criterion Channel as part of the "Michelle Yeoh Kicks Ass" collection that spotlights her pre-US produced films as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which took her Bond-based running start and made her a full-fledged star in the West.

Heroic Trio is more or less a fantasy comic-book movie with some post-Burton vibes in set design, but nuttier and occasionally much grimmer than Marvel or even DC fare, featuring a story that would need tweaking to be remade in the states.  It's mostly vibes, and those vibes will change at the drop of a hat throughout the film as it can't decide if this is tragedy, comedy, horror film or what.  And a movie can contain all those things, but sometimes those movies also need to find a ramping up and down into the change of tone.  This movie is slapping down moods like playing cards.

Also - I'm still not sure what was going on for chunks of the movie.  Some things seem to just happen like we lost a sequence or me blinking meant I missed a crucial beat.

how YOU doin'?

Michelle Yeoh's story is a giant tragedy burger, as indicated by the paper being blown around by industrial fans everywhere she goes, but it's not clear why her target (with whom she has fallen in love) HAS to make the Invisible Cloak when he knows it's a dangerous weapon and the process of making the cloak is killing him.  I mean, if I had the option between voluntarily slowly killing myself or choosing a life with Michelle Yeoh (he doesn't know she's a turncoat), I think I know what I'd pick.

Straight up, my fond memories of my initial viewings of the film are likely based on a few set pieces and the film starring Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui.  All are talented actors, all of them are fun to watch, all of them grab the screen when they appear.  As Jamie said "they've got so much charisma".  If we're going by Danny's criteria for superhero films of (a) how much money did the movie make and (b) how hot are the actors - we can state that (a) info on box office is non-existent, but it seems like it was popular and earned a sequel, and (b) very to extremely.

What I'd forgotten is the movie's tonal shifts and grasping for intensity mean we get plenty of anguish, spilled blood, loosened limbs, babies as targets, babies as accident victims, small young boys as cannibals, and "heroes" who make decisions like "let's kidnap babies" and "let's murder children".  This shit would not fly for US mainstream audiences.  Apparently the sequel - filmed the same year - takes place years later and a nuclear apocalypse has occurred between movies.  Which seems like it's own story, but no.  Let's just make the world even grimmer and then go back to fighting baddies.

The fights are high-wire choreography, meant to fully exploit the possibilities of wire work, editing and a supernatural storyline, and this should have/ could have made it's way into Western film but we lack any joy in our films.  Paired with the physical talents of Mui, Yeoh and Cheung kicking the crap out of things, it's a lot of fun.

At some point you just have to sit back and say "I am clearly missing cultural clues and expecting a western-style story and this isn't that" so you need to just enjoy it for what it is, or check out. Thanks to the power of Michelle Yeoh, deciding to stick around was easy-peasy.  

But, yeah, it's kind of kooky to see the 2023 Oscars went to actors who came out of genre, and see what Yeoh was up to as a fresh face, now thirty years ago.  And - before leaving - it's mind-boggling to see Maggie Cheung here and then in In the Mood for Love.  Versatility!  And pour one out for Anita Mui, who passed back in 2003.

*it was listed as a future Criterion release for 2022, but it's 2023 and hasn't yet happened, but is on the Criterion Channel, so maybe soon?

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