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Failed Fathers in Derek Yee’s People’s Hero (1987) August 19, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films.
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Chinese Title: Yan man ying hung
Directed by Derek Yee
Cast: Ti Lung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tony Leung Kar-Fai, Elaine Kam

Coldly received on its initial release, People’s Hero has been praised rather excessively by recent fans, some even calling it one of the hidden gems of Hong Kong cinema’s golden age in the 80s. It must be true – – this claim – – for its moral and social subtexts ring a massive criticism on what Chinese society has become during that time, corrupt, violent, uncontrollable, China as the sleeping giant, China as the continent of cheap goods, China as the great wall of communism. Yee’s characters come from various backgrounds; they must be representing varied things too: the brat socialite, the self-righteous employee, the Pakistani guard, the sacrificial mother, the old couple, all have lives of their own. First-time crooks Ah Sai and Boney suffer from epilepsy, physical and moral spasms which become more apparent when professional robber Sunny Koo steps in and takes charge. The hostages playing “Ho Ma” are understandably scared – – their lives are at stake – – but it’s quite difficult to take them seriously. One time you laugh, next thing you’re dragged into a spiral of confusion. Why does it take so long? It magnifies time and controls the events; it goes down to memory lane and everyone tells their stories – – especially Sunny Koo who wants his girlfriend out of jail so she can escape with him. You know what happens? She doesn’t want to. He hates him – – at first – – and then she cries when he dies. The less popular Tony Leung acts as the wholesome police chief, marred by unfortunate deaths in his past negotiations, and the more popular Tony Leung is Ah Sai – – hyperactive, epileptic, but charming still. His early works are worth checking out – – it displays his farcical side before he turned into a lonely Stone Face, his twitches are fun, his mainstream appeal deceiving. But the film drowns with too much drama and less action, the tension too elaborate but less thrilling, it falls slowly, especially when its closure comes near. Compared to Brooklyn, the dog days of summer in Shanghai is a tame lampoon. * *

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