Just Heroes (1989)
Oft-described by die-hard John Woo fans as the action auteur’s lost feature (at least so the Internet suggests), it’s been said to be a Hong Kong shoot’em up, update of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, which incidentally/ironically in itself, a Japanese/samurai update on Shakespeare’s King Lear, only here, it’s one aging Triad boss (Ng Ma) trying to pass the mantle of ‘corporate leadership’ to one of his 3 adopted sons, (Danny Lee Hsiao-Yin), Wai (60’s/70’s wuxia staple veteran, David Chiang).
And oh yeah; did I fail to mention an early, pre-comedic role by future comedy superstar, Stephen Chow Sing-Tse? Yup, it’s a far cry from Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle… More on Stephen later…
Made back in the heydays when Hong Kong cinema seemed to have the best job security an actor can ever dream of (the average, pre-1997 handover output for such thespians and stunt crew tends to be like 5-10 movies yearly!), it bears all the hallmarks of the sort of standard HK film production values; the usage of the same voice-over actor for some leads (it was considered more cost-efficient to film the action without a sound crew before they add the voice-overs during post-production), the schmaltzy OST, bordering towards campy soap opera level, and oh yeah… the constant recycling of the same sound effects on various scenes (read: the rapid gunfire, punch/kick can be heard a few shots/clips later—pardon the action film pun), etc… But to anyone raised on a consistent diet of ready-made Asian cinema, albeit Hong Kong, or more recently, Japanese V-cinema, these sorts of things tended to be glossed over as little quirks you tend to forgive and get used to, sort of like getting used to a significant other’s ‘idiosyncrasies.’
But in going back to the quality dept., the acting can be overly dramatic, to sort of match the stylized bullet ballet, which probably does more to burlesque the whole movie-viewing experience of the time; ‘can’t say that we Chinese of the time, are synonymous with high-brow tastes, pre-1997… The pacing of the film’s plot development and action sequences (clocking in around 97 minutes or so), seems to be in synched, leaving the audience’s attention span relatively intact, to not necessarily have the need to fast-forward towards the more ‘exciting parts,’ read: 9mm action.
So in a way, the story editing seems pretty high up there, with only Scorcese’s Casino and Goodfellas as the platinum standard.
The only major complaints of Tsui Hark’s Triad adaptation of King Lear is that, while Shakespeare (and for that matter, Kurosawa) maintained the central theme of having good judgment of character, i.e., knowing whom your real friends/family are when everybody else is too eager to throw you under the bus , Tsui seems too eager to cater towards Hong Kong Chinese proclivities by having the audience almost figuring out whom the real friends and (Triad) family are, as in who’s the most handsomest of the all, something thematically antithesis to the original Shakespearean text.
The other is that regional, self-referential ‘joke,’ of having one deluded/naïve side character quoting John Woo movies a la A Better Tomorrow’s Mark Gor.
…and oh yeah; I haven’t mentioned the fate of Stephen Chow’s character! You’ll know exactly what I meant when I say it’s a far cry from his more well-known, comedic forays a la Shaolin Soccer—or for that matter, his subsequently star-making role in All For The Winner (a.k.a, Saint of Gamblers)…