The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-01-27
Any movie with Maggie Cheung, Bridgette Lin, Joey Wong, Carina Lau and Veronica Yip in featured roles has to be at least watchable, if only for the stunning beauty and screen presence wielded by that astonishing quintet. Throw in Sammo Hung as action director, Wong Kar-Wai as producer and some of the most talented male actors working in 1993 and you might have a masterpiece. Might have in some cases but definitely not in the case of “The Eagle Shooting Heroes” which manages to be both entertaining and maddening with genuinely funny comic turns followed by stupefyingly boring endless scenes of actors trying and failing to transcend the jejune script.

It is influenced by or steals from a very wide range of other works: The boulevard farces of Georges Feydeau, the comic antics of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, the Looney Tunes cartoons featuring the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote along with a bit of Bollywood and probably much more that would be apparent only on repeated viewings, something which this movie does not encourage.

The characters and the situations they are in are obviously satirical takes on some of the stock figures and settings of much Hong Kong action cinema. However the characters are not developed in the least so we don’t care what happens to them. Additionally they hop about from one scene to the next, alone or in changing combinations and with no particular reason for being where they are. There is almost no plot and very little structure—it can be best enjoyed as a group of very talented actors in some barely linked vignettes, most of which aren’t very funny.

There are a few high points. One is the first appearance of Bridgette Lin accompanied by her white-clad swordswomen. Her specialty is the “sea cannot be measured” palm kung fu which is very powerful but not particularly reliable. Occasionally it simply misfires and nothing happens. More often the force she generates goes in an unexpected direction—one of the truly funny scenes is when she is about to deploy the “sea cannot be measured”. Lin is framed in a one shot as she prepares, then the camera pulls back to show her retainers flat on the ground behind her, preparing for the worst. They obviously have some experience with backfires of this particular move.

Another is a very extended fight scene between little Tony Leung and Jacky Cheung in which Jacky is essentially the Roadrunner and Tony is the Wile E. Coyote. Tony wants to kill Jacky and Jacky seems willing to let him carry it out. Jacky convinces Tony that he will allow Tony to attack him and won’t defend himself. Of course he not only defends himself but beats Tony to a pulp, always after showing how he wouldn’t be able to hit back—tying his hands behind his back or wrapping himself in thorny bushes for example.

A shorter and hilarious set of scenes occur after big Tony Leung, playing (I think) a South Asian man who wants to reach nirvana but only can do so if he finds another male to say “I love you” to him. He almost makes it—his body reaches nirvana but his head stays here. The head encounters Leslie Cheung at one end of a corridor and Carina Lau’s three escorts at the other end—it becomes a soccer ball for Leslie and a volleyball for the other three.

There are more misses than hits, however, and the dull stuff takes up a lot of screen time. At the beginning there is a bit in which the king, the queen, (Veronica Yip) her brother, the royal guards and the Guru (Maggie Cheung) have swallowed deadly centipedes—centipedes which are activated by the sound of drumming on very small drums, with each insect reacting only if the properly tuned drum is struck. I can’t imagine how this scene could have been made funny. One that could have is when Carina Lau’s kung fu doesn’t quite work and reverses time and space. Actually it just makes a bunch of film run backwards. If it had been less obvious and cut by about 80 percent it could have been a funny scene as opposed to a “is it over yet” experience. I fast-forwarded through the three songs that popped up, not having heard enough Hong Kong pop music to know if they were decent parodies of other songs or if they were to be taken seriously in themselves.

About 40 percent of this movie is worth watching, 40 percent is barely endurable and the remaining twenty is just there. Given the stellar cast, the willingness of the two Tony Leungs to play completely ridiculous characters and the insanely opulent “Arabian Knights” set that opens and closes the movie, it is worth five points.
Reviewer Score: 5