Hero Among Heroes

 

1993 (Lead)

Another Yuen Wo-ping period piece helmer in which Qing Dynasty corruption is represented by British opium dealers, Chinese collaborators with the foreigners, and the evil Fire Lotus Gang. The story is set in Fushan and the noble Wong Fei-hung unites with upstanding Han officer Lam Che-chu to get rid of the opium and strengthen the country. Yen plays So Chan, also known as Beggar So, here characterized as a talented but rash and proud man. In this version of the story, So Chan’s widowed father (Ng Man-tat) and shrewish Aunt Jean indulge him; he has also been raised by foster father Beggar So of the Beggar Group, who has instructed him in the martial arts. Prince Twelve (Hung Yan-yan) is secretly working in the opium trade. Like the evil Claudius in Hamlet, he’s a smiling villain, suave and smooth on the outside, black-hearted within. He manipulates So Chan’s naivete in order to rid himself of Wong Fei-hung and Lam, since both are threatening his dealings; he also uses the Fire Lotus Gang and their charismatic leader to further his ends. The prince’s niece, Yi-teh, is an independent and free-thinking woman who runs a newspaper and woman’s club, even going so far as to teach women to read and write! of course, she falls hard for Beggar So and he for her. When Prince Twelve addicts So Chan to opium, first Wong Fei-hung then Yi-teh assist in his cure. Finally, So Chan sees behind the prince’s fa?ade and unites with Wong Fei-hung and Lam to defeat the villains.

Yen’s character arc is an interesting one to follow. The movie directly quotes from others, like once Upon a Time in China (Yi-teh and Aunt Yee both dress in Western clothes, use cameras, etc.; the Fire Lotus Gang is a fanatical cult not unlike the White Lotus Cult) and King of Beggars (in which Stephen Chiau plays Yen’s role); there’s even an umbrella riff reminiscent of a scene from Iron Monkey and the instruction and performance of drunken fist style from Drunken Master. But this version brings together two heroes, and here Beggar So definitely has more depth than the one-dimensional Wong Fei-hung. The latter remains the same throughout, administering to the people at Po Chi Lam and fighting evil, while Beggar So is a developing character. Yi-teh sees So Chan’s potential from the beginning, when he rescues her from an incident with the Fire Lotus Gang. So Chan’s self-confidence fades after his opium addiction and withdrawal, and Yi-teh encourages him to sacrifice himself to help others and not hide. He’s turned selfish, timid, and fearful, and has no face to see anyone. Her belief in him restores his determination.

Unusual fights ensue—such as the Fire Lotus leader using her braided hair as a whip, or ginseng root and smoking pipe as opponent’s weapons of choice. Because of the plot development, there are several fights between Beggar So and Wong Fei-hung, always dismissed as fun or practice when the law arrives. one takes place on an elevated circular disk, with Tiger and Crane forms on display and flying, twisting bodies. So Chan interrupts a Fire Lotus ceremony to reveal the tricks they use to deceive the people. He soars, somersaults, and rolls, beating their ceremonial drum the necessary 49 times with kicks, tongs, and gang members’ bodies. Some of the fight scenes are very funny, as when his foster father spars with So Chan; others are brutal as when the Fire Lotus Gang slaughters the Beggar Group, with lots of slashings and blood. The climactic opium warehouse scene incorporates pole fighting, spears, and lots of flying bodies, So Chan telling the Prince ‘Let me send you to hell’ and expertly executing the drunken fist taught him by his foster father.

Director: Yuen Wo-ping
Cast: Donnie Yen, Wong Yuk, Ng Man-tat, Fennie Yuen, Shelia Chan Suk-lan, Hung Yan-yan, Pau Fong, Lee Ka-sing, Kwan Hoi-san, Lau Yu-ching, Chan Wing-ha, Wong
Sau-ping

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