As with most under-appreciated films, The Heroic Trio (Dong fang san xia) was ahead of its time. Its obscurity in the English-speaking world is also due to the Hong Kong produced film being almost entirely in Cantonese. The director and cast were relative unknowns back in 1992.
The biggest surprise about The Heroic Trio is that being in Cantonese with a Chinese cast, you would assume the title characters were males. You would be wrong. Three women make up the trio each with unique abilities that inspired their superhero nicknames. Yes, years and years before Elektra, before Catwoman, before even Tank Girl, there was The Heroic Trio and its 1993 sequel, Executioners (Jin doi hou hap cyun).
Tung (Anita Mui)
Tung is the main protagonist of the trio. She is the first member that the film viewer sees. Her special powers are hand to hand combat, throwing knives and flight. The vigilante is married to a police detective so she knows exactly when the police are powerless against a foe. Babies are being snatched all over the city as part of a fiendish plot.
Her secret identity is revealed to her husband who makes her promise to be a good wife and mother, never again to be Wonder Woman. The city inhabitants are just as unhappy with Wonder Woman’s absence as Tung is and it coincides with a new evil plot to extort high water prices from the city. It’s a powerful plot line to show how making Tung into the stereotypical housewife allows evil to reign free and it’s only from regaining that part of herself that the city itself can know true freedom from tyranny.
Tung was played by Anita Mui who performed in 46 different films. Her most famous role to most of the world was opposite Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx. Tragically, she died from Cervical cancer in 2003.
Ching (Michelle Yeoh)
Ching is the long-lost sister of Tung. When she was very young, she grew tired of their strict upbringing by their strict martial arts master father. However, she was taken in by a villain, becoming his henchwoman. Her special powers include a skill at hand to hand fighting that probably exceeds Tung’s, a chain whip and an invisibility robe.
Ching represents the tragic consequences of not standing by your sisters; the females you’re closest to. It was her decision to leave her sister that led to her working for a villain. Later, she’s the one that pushes for three of them to work together again in the sequel. When they initially refuse, people die.
Ching was played by Michelle Yeoh. She can currently be seen in Netflix’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny: the sequel to her 2000 film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Chat (Maggie Cheung)
Chat worked for the same villain who took in Ching. However, she left and became a mercenary, only caring about herself. Her special powers include a prowess with fire arms, bomb making and riding a motorcycle better than most professionals.
Living as a mercenary was better than being a villain’s servant but can still lead to a loss of humanity. It nurtures a love of money and winning at all costs. Chat realizes this life can hurt others, even get them killed so she joins with the other two to save the city.
Chat was played by Maggie Cheung. She was the first Asian actress to win Best Actress from the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. Since then, she’s focused more on philanthropy. In 2010, she was appointed UNICEF’s ambassador in China.
Director Johnnie To is most famous for his gangster films but his 66 films cover all genres from comedies to family drama to musicals. He’s also colloborated with women on multiple occasions on both sides of the camera. Sandy Shaw created the characters and wrote the screenplay for the first film while she also came up with the story for the sequel even though Susanne Chan wrote that screenplay. It shows in the importance of the female characters and lack of gratuitous female nudity even with a communal bath scene. In a switch to just about every other film, it’s the female characters that are well-developed while the male characters resemble caricatures. The villains are extremely hard to kill which both fits to accentuate the cheesiness and to symbolize how the most insidious evil, like bigotry and misogyny, are the hardest to kill as these women give it their all to strike it down.
The first film can be appreciated at any level: either symbolically or just as a fun film veering into the cheesy side at times even though the violence is graphic, including an infant killed by impalement. The second film can still have unbelievable moments and humor but is much more serious than the first and contains some beautifully framed shots. There is also a problem with the English subtitles for Executioners. They contain misspellings, dialogue that doesn’t make sense and wrong character names. If possible, watch it in another language like Spanish which has better subtitles or break the foreign film rule to watch it dubbed. This is one film where there isn’t much of a choice.
At Christmas time, when someone asks for a favorite Christmas film and you’re tired of saying, “Die Hard“, Executioners also happens at Christmas. China has banned Christianity and many feel that Christmas is a “Western influence” but Hong Kong was under British rule at this point. Characters merrily wish Merry Christmas to each other despite the harsh circumstances. Protests turn into a riot amidst the notes of Auld Lang Syne. A climatic battle happens in the sanctuary of a Christian church.
The time is perfect to appreciate fun. R rated flicks full of violence and female heroes:
The Heroic Trio and Executioners
CBS has cast their Nancy Drew, it’s Sarah Shahi! Keeping true to their promise that the title character wouldn’t be Caucasian, Shahi’s grandparents are Iranian, Persian and Spanish. Shahi is incredibly accomplished including winning the Miss Fort Worth pageant in 1997, briefly being a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and having been a cast member on several television series previously. She also keeps a vigorous gym routine where she can bench press more than her weight.
Will Nancy Drew incorporate any of Shahi into the titular character?
Also, will the new show have anything from the interactive computer programs especially Sonny Joon?
Joon was an eccentric man of means who worked a variety of jobs like fashion designer assistant, helper at a primate research center, writer of a books on aliens and host of a reality show. He’s also of Asian descent although his grandfather claims that they’re aliens who populated the Earth with humans. At first, Joon was only mentioned so that when he finally appeared in a game, there were complaints that his skin and features are too Caucasian. It certainly looks like white-washing when you compare the box art above with the actual game play below:
Remember how Johnnie To has done musicals? One of them was released just last fall. Office was originally written for the stage by Sylvia Chang who was heavily involved in the film adaptation. Not only is she a producer with To but she wrote the screenplay and is the lead actress. It’s garnered pretty positive reviews, earning 85% on Rottentomatoes.com.
So, can you still name any of this year’s Academy Awards winners?
Not including Leo?
Next column will look at the new information about Ghostbusters!
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