What a Hero! (1992)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-08-19
“What a Hero” has plenty of star power which is almost (but not quite) defeated by a seemingly thrown together script and slapdash direction. Maggie Cheung has only a few scenes and not even many lines. Maggie played Nan, the girl left behind by CID officer Yeun Ta Hwa (Andy Lau) when he is promoted from the backwater of Lantau to a not quite elite squad in Hong Kong. One of the squad members in Saucer played by Anthony Wong who runs away with the movie from the time he first hits the screen. Saucer is supposed to be the buddy, the second male lead, but Wong’s edgy goofiness makes us concentrate on him much more than the other characters. Paul Chun and Meg Lam shine in supporting roles, especially Lam who is perfect as Hwa’s mother. Saucer falls in love with her at first sight and pursues her with a single-minded passion. He is much more diligent in trying to become his partner’s stepfather than he is in pursuing the bad guys.

Which is one of the themes of “What a Hero”—arresting criminals or even just getting in their way is never the most important issue for the CID. Internal squabbling, empire building and jockeying for position in the police hierarchy comes first, romantic entanglements are second, controlling crime is third—if it is thought of at all. The real bad guys are the over officious rival cops who always have their suit jackets buttoned and ties tied and whose boss wants to take over both squads. He is played by Nick Cheung who doesn’t really convince us he is as bad a guy as the role calls for. On the other hand, Nan’s zoot-suited fiancé, to whom she was promised when she was a child, is so slimy and disgusting that you know right away that he will leave empty handed.

There are a few jokes about Lantau and its unsophisticated people—probably many more than I was able to pick up. Shing Fui-On is the local postman who is essentially the town crier—he reads all the important mail before he delivers it and lets everyone on the street know whatever big news he is delivering. At one point Hwa says that Nan can’t accompany him to Hong Kong because she doesn’t speak English or Chinese, meaning, it seems, that the dialect spoken on Lantau can’t be understood anywhere else. The entire neighborhood turns out to wave goodbye to Hwa when he leaves for Hong Kong as if he is going to the other side of the world. Lantau is Staten Island to Hong Kong’s Manhattan, like the suburbs of Paris to the City of Lights. Once again, though, the rubes from the sticks triumph over the sophisticates from the big city. Hwa is as brash and naive as he can be and looks as if he barely had time to comb the hayseeds out of his hair and kick the cow dung from his boots but he defeats Officer Cheung in the big Tae Kwon Do tournament, catches the criminal ringleader and gets the girl.

The action scenes are deliberately overdone. No kick is landed before the kicker spins through the air a few times, occasionally calling out his move—720 degree Typhoon kick, for example. Kicks to the face leave the imprints of tiny feet in red and everything is impossibly acrobatic with time (and everything else) standing still while the combatants tumble and twist on their way to making contact. This conceit is OK at first but soon becomes just another joke that is told too often.

The movie ends with the police department Tae Kwon Do tournament which ties up all the loose ends. The criminals have been apprehended, the right boys are with the right girls and all that remains is for CID Squad 1 to defeat CID Squad 4. There is one last set of countryside vs. city references—when it looks as if Hwa is going down to defeat his neighbors from Lantau begin leaving the stands and telling him not to bother coming back. And when he needs a trick to beat Officer Cheung, who is a much better fighter, his mentor from the old neighborhood comes up with the crafty solution, a set of metal shin pads.

Not a horrible movie but certainly far from a good one.
Reviewer Score: 4