Today's Hero (1991)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-10-17
Summary: Worth a look
There are two themes that run through “Today’s Hero”. One is announced by the English title: heroism, or anything else in life, may be fleeting and evanescent. Today’s hero may be tomorrow’s bum and yesterday’s failed triad recruit may be today’s supercop. The other theme is that nothing is the way it looks and that realizing the temporary nature of it all; we not only accept but seek out and positively embrace pretense and performance that covers up this reality. It is a chaotic, messy movie, poorly written and unimaginatively shot saved by a bravura performance by Kenny Bee, some delightful comic turns by Maggie Cheung and a bunch of over the top antics by its supporting cast.

At first “Today’s Hero” is a chore to watch but persevering through the first twenty minutes or so is worth the effort. Kenny Bee plays Brother Smartie a person you would not want to know. He enjoys doing really stupid things, like blowing up large piles of excrement on the beach and spends a lot of time trying to ingratiate himself with Brother Tung, a thug from the mainland. He lives with his sister and her husband and daughter (and a parrot that is very quick to pick up words). His brother-in-law correctly considers him a freeloader, and is not slow to express his scorn for him. The three members of his crew, who respect him and try to further his cause, are complete lamebrains. He and Maggie Cheung meet cute when she runs over him while fleeing from the subject of a story she is doing for local TV news.

Smartie is a clown but more pathetic than lovable. Mable, a girlfriend he has treated abominably, dumps him with a phone message saying that she is pregnant...but the father is someone else. He manages, in a very poorly staged scene, to literally burn up a huge pile of money that his one Triad contact, Uncle Cheung, has been counting. He is easy prey for the egregiously (and hilariously) corrupt Policeman 3662 played by Shing Fui-On in a note-perfect over the top performance. Unfortunately we don’t sympathize with Samrtie, nor do we find his predicaments very funny—he is such an unlovely and unlikely character that the he is more annoying than anything else.

This changes when during a scheme to switch medical records in order to fraudulently sell life insurance Smartie comes to believe that he is deathly ill with only a month to live and decides to live his last days in a blaze of glory. He imitates a police officer and becomes supercop, confusing command officers of the Royal HK Police, surprising his hangers-on and, after a bit of confusion, impressing Annie. In an extended and very funny scene he imitates cop at hostage stand-off then imitates someone with a huge penis when he appears stripped to his briefs with a pistol wrapped in socks stuck down the front of his underwear. Women in the crowd faint at the sight of his overly large package while men stare enviously—or in a couple of cases lustfully. The media is present and Smartie’s grandiose rescue of the hostages is broadcast live. He is officially a hero and the police brass, after realizing that he isn’t really a cop, fall all over themselves to co-opt him onto the force.

Tangentially, Denzel Washington in the movie “Ricochet”, also released in 1991, did the same thing although not played for laughs.

So Smartie must become something that he is not, a role that he gleefully jumps into, not only pretending to be a citizen turned intrepid crime fighter but actually becoming his alter ego. The movie shows how easily the line between fantasy and reality can be blurred, especially, self-referentially enough, when the media or movies are involved. The device of Maggie Cheung’s Annie being a local newshound or documentary filmmaker is exploited by having her accompany Smartie or accidentally show up when he is fighting crime. There is a terrific scene in which the two of them burst into a room where a Triad drug lord is giving a briefcase full of money to a popular senator. Maggie decides to film the exchange as a Frederick Wiseman type documentary but instead of being a fly on a wall she becomes an intrusive and demanding director, forcing the criminals at gunpoint (the gun held by Kenny Bee) into take after take of the exchange until the two principals not only get it right but embellish their performance with declarations of mutual love.

One very strange instance of characters accepting an obvious artificial representation of reality is when Smartie decides to treat his three down and out accomplices to a party with Amy Yip as the guest of honor. But Amy isn’t coming—she is impersonated by the very lovely Chik King-Man, playing a friend of Smartie’s impersonating the buxom star by wearing a low cut dress and a grotesque mask. The three clods couldn’t miss the subterfuge, of course, but willingly go along with it.

There are other instances of Smartie becoming a champion of justice and risking his life because he thinks it is about to end anyway but still winking at the audience to make sure we are in on the joke. One is when he is about to rescue Annie who makes her usual appearance carrying a film camera and trailed by her soundman while being chased by a gang of chopper wielding thugs. He says to himself that she is always being chased but never dies—a fleeting but pointedly heavy handed reference to movie heroines—but that no one is chasing him but he is going to die.

The denouement occurs, as if must, when the medical record mix-up is straightened out. By now, though, the failed thug Smartie has morphed completely into the gallant poster boy for the Hong Kong Police. Despite knowing he is healthy—or at least knowing that it is someone else with an advanced case of a fatal disease—he leads a task force that is trying to keep a murderous gang of Mainland thugs from crossing the border into the PRC. Bullets fly, cars and busses explode and justice is served, allowing the temporarily estranged Annie and Smartie to be reunited.

Kenny Bee carries “Today’s Hero”. The transition from unsuccessful gangster wannabe to hyper-brave people’s hero is ridiculous and impossible—Smartie not only goes from craven to noble but also from stupid and clumsy to brilliant and sure-footed—but he carries it off so well that we simply accept it. He is in just about every scene in the movie and when he is not he is still present since we witness the police brass talking about his character. Maggie Cheung brings her essential “Magginess” to a two-dimensional role, here being earnest and diligent in exposing wrongdoing with just enough flashes of sparkling goofiness to keep Annie interesting. Shing Fui-On goes from overbearing lout to meek sycophant with his usual effortless aplomb, showing that each extreme are but two sides of the same coin. Law Shu-Kei does his typical but still welcome confused law enforcement official—-he has played enough senior police officers, judges and prison commanders to qualify for a pension from the former Crown Colony Some very attractive actresses show up for short scenes or extended cameos. In addition to Maggie and Chik King-Man there are Meg Lam, Jacqueline Law keep the comeliness factor high. The only example of bad casting—or perhaps of a good actor who simply wasn’t able to overcome a poorly written role—was Joh Chung-Sing as Johnnie who plays a gang leader as if his gang was the Village People.

“Today’s Hero” is a seriously flawed movie with a simplistic but still unbelievable plot, rickety structure—there is a motorcycle race toward the end that might as well have been from another movie--flat characters and uninspiring direction and editing but is still recommended for the way the actors throw themselves into their roles. They seem be having such a good time that it is very difficult not to join them.
Reviewer Score: 6