My Father Is a Hero (1995)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-12-31
Summary: An entertaining mess
Gung Goo, the son of PRC undercover cop Gung Wai, has a really tough life. He lives in poverty, his father deserts him, his mother dies in his arms, the bullies at school try to pick on him every day, he is choked almost to death—twice—and is pronounced dead at a hospital. Two new adults come into his life; one becomes his new favorite uncle but he also dies in Gung Goo’s arms; the other is trying to track down his father who is wanted in Hong Kong as a murderer. He gets thrown through a glass table, slapped around by a number of people and hit, kicked and stomped upon by Po Kwong, the biggest guy in the movie. He has a very tough life.

“My Father is a Hero” is a bathetic, tearjerking melodrama with a number of action scenes integrated into it and a plot with no surprises. I was concerned at first that it might have been a case of art predicting life when I read a short synopsis mentioned that Jet Li’s character had a terminally ill wife and that the female star was Anita Mui. This is not the case, of course—Anita plays Inspector Fong Yat Wa, a Hong Kong cop who can shoot it out with the bad guys and get teary-eyed over the plight of Gung Goo and his family. Bonnie Fu is Li Xia, the doomed wife who wastes away beautifully and dies nobly. Jet Li plays Jet Li, the extraordinarily strong silent type who can take an inhuman amount of punishment while meting out even more to hordes of bad guys. He does a very decent job in scenes with Tze Miu, the young actor who spent a good bit of his Hong Kong film career as Jet Li’s son. Yu Rong-Guang does the best he can in a terribly written part, playing a gang leader without an ounce of glamour, style or anything else that would cause bad guys to be loyal to him. He spends as much time beating up his subordinates as he does planning and carrying out robberies. As Jet Li’s principal nemesis he has a lot of fights including one that he almost wins while hanging from the undercarriage of a speeding truck. He also has what must be surgically implanted dark glasses—he is punched in the face, kicked in the head, shot, thrown off a balcony and choked with a rope but his Ray-Bans don’t move an inch.

The themes of the movie are announced early on: the personal toll of the terrible loneliness suffered by the undercover police officer combined with the constant personal danger he is in; the longing for the approval (or even presence) of his father that Gung Goo feels and his total loyalty to his father. Everyone in the movie is touched by the relationship between Gung Wai and his son. It comforts Li Xia on her deathbed, draws Inspector Wa inexorably into the family circle and is a key part of thwarting Po Kwong at several points.

The action scenes range from excellent to not particularly good, a bit of a surprise with Corey Yeun at the helm. A scene in which Gung Wai is finally discovered to be an undercover cop begins pretty well with a showdown in an alley between Jet Li and Yu Rong-Guang plus various thugs but degenerates to the point of incomprehensibility when the two combatants are almost run over by a truck and the fight continues on, in and under the vehicle. This scene was done in a murky dark blue, either with filters or afterwards during editing—but however it was done, it made the action difficult to follow. The final fight scene was terrific, with Gung Wai taking on a literal boatload of bad guys aided only by his son and, at the very end, the (also almost literal) deus ex machina intervention of Inspector Wa, who drops from the sky with guns blazing. This scene is Jet Li at his very best, as fit, skilled, agile and, as a fighter, charismatic as anyone has ever been on the screen. It also shows just how good Corey Yuen can be.

The fight begins as the plan to steal millions falls apart. Yu Rong-Guang and two of his henchmen are on a balcony overlooking an auction floor where the panicked buyers of looted antiquities are handing over their money. Jet Li appears below to tell the hoodlums that he has thwarted their plans and is attacked from all sides. Using a right angled policeman’s baton—the same weapon wielded by his attackers—he dispatches them quickly and brutally. The first are simply clubbed to the deck while others are dealt with in more outlandish ways. One, for example, spun around and dropped to the floor using a pole that was stuck in his mouth. Yu Rong-Guang and his two assistant thugs then join the fray. The three of them together are just about a match for Jet Li and think they are closing in for the kill when his son arrives. The two of them prove almost invincible, twirling heavy ropes to trip, flay and strangle the bad guys. Unfortunately for them Yu Rong-Guang actually is invincible—even after Inspector Wa shoots him a few times, Jet Li chokes him and then shoots him and he falls 20 feet and lands with a thud he still has a bit of fight in him. It takes a huge bomb going off immediately under him to finally put paid to his criminal career.

“My Father is a Hero” is an entertaining if very messy mix of bathos, high drama, low comedy and action. It hurtles along at such a blistering pace that the abrupt shifts from one genre to another are barely noticeable and allows all of the featured actors to shine at various times. Some of the set design both derivative and ingenious—for example the scenes in which Inspector Wa and Gong Wai first confront each other are set in a sidewalk restaurant with a lot of glass, some of which forms the basis for a waterfall. It is a very odd place for the deal that is going down—an exchange of money for explosives, since such things, at least in the movies, are generally transacted on abandoned piers or dark warehouses—but as a setting for mayhem it served very well. At first it seemed too obvious—lots of glass to break—but the combination of gunfire, explosions, hurtling cars, hysterical bystanders and stupid criminals was perfectly placed. Even the pool at the foot of the obliquely angled waterfall served an important purpose in continuing the action.
Reviewer Score: 7