Heroic Duo Review
For the latest in their Asia Extreme range Tartan have turned their attentions toward Benny Chan, director of Gen-X Cops and its sequel as well as co-director (with Jackie Chan) on the highly entertaining Who Am I?. Not that they’ve employed any of these previous efforts in order to promote this release, rather John Woo provides an unlikely association courtesy of the vague and misleading tagline: “Hard boiled and hard targets!”. I say unlikely and misleading as Heroic Duo - though it shares some of the absurdities of Face/Off - has a certain hokey quality more readily reminiscent of certain aspects of western cinema.
At the centre of its various intertwining plot strands is hypnotism, a device popular with Hollywood filmmakers since the forties, fuelling numerous film noirs and potboilers (The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool) plus countless numbers of Samuel Z. Arkoff pictures (The Undead, The She-Creature and the list, inevitably, goes on and on). Here it’s employed by a criminal mastermind as a means of bending once respectable family men (cops included) to his whim, specifically to steal ancient jewels. Indeed, he’s after a pair of diamond called “the pharaoh’s stars” and also owns (if criminal masterminds do such things) an underground cave-complex in which he’s able to keep an eye on those pursuing him courtesy of hidden cameras and even house the wife and children of one of those under his control. It’s all a bit Fu Manchu in fact, which means that it comes as a slight surprise to discover the decidedly ordinary Francis Ng playing the self-proclaimed “Mindhunter”.
But then, for all its absurdities, Heroic Duo remains a slick urban thriller in the mode of Chan’s Gen-X movies. And you can’t have a criminal without a cop and so the film focuses as much on Ekin Cheng’s elite detective as it does Ng and his current victim Leon Lai (there is an attempt to tease the audience as to whether he is a pawn or a player in the grand criminal scheme, yet this is rendered redundant by the title). More to the point it also adopts Cheng as its guiding factor, sharing both his photogenic qualities and no-nonsense demeanour. The action sequences are brisk and unforced, and also make fine use of Hong Kong locations, producing at least one standout set piece during one particular rooftop encounter. Admittedly Chan rarely justifies the use of the ’scope ratio and has a tendency to overdo the overhead shots, but for the most part he shows a definite step forward from his Gen-X efforts.
This isn’t to say that Heroic Duo is a great film, however, as it is sorely lacking on an emotional level. During his interview which appears amongst the extra features Chan describes it as a mature work and provides an enthusiastic discussion of its themes. Sadly the truth of the matter is that this amounts to little more than “everyone has at least one deep wound”, an idea which allows his to get increasingly mawkish as the film progresses. Indeed, the final scenes – supposedly intended to produce some great sense of catharsis – can’t help but feel anti-climactic, even laughable as they provide Ng with a ridiculously simplistic, not to mention cod-psychoanalytical, reason for his villainy. What remains beforehand is still highly enjoyable fare, though for its flaws Heroic Duo is unlikely to attain the crossover of an Infernal Affairs, say, or The Killer.
Disappointingly, Tartan have once again issued one of their titles as an NTSC to PAL transfer. As such it renders a new release – and therefore a film from which we should expert superb presentation – looking decidedly low-rent. The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is adhered to and presented anamorphically, but otherwise the overall quality is a let down and more often than not lacks the requisite clarity. It is nonetheless watchable for the less discernible viewer (the print is admittedly as clean as could be expected), though many will no doubt find it underwhelming.
Thankfully the soundtrack fares better with options of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS mixes. Given the continual utilisation of the rear channels (most notably for Tommy Wai’s insistent scoring) the stereo mix is rendered redundant, though it offers no technical problems. As such a choice of either DD5.1 or DTS is likely to be down to the viewer’s discretion; the 5.1 mix is the original soundtrack in this case, though the DTS does add a dash more clarity. As with the stereo option, both are once again technically sound and remain crisp and clear throughout.
Sadly the extras are somewhat underwhelming, however, though they do – to the best of my knowledge - match those found on other regions. We get a brief “Making of” featurette which intercuts B-roll footage of the action sequences with various cast and director interviews, plus more substantial interviews with director Chan and fight choreographer Stephen Tung elsewhere. The former is the most disappointing as it never moves beyond the EPK standard, i.e. it tries to sell us a film which we have already seen. The two interviews are more worthwhile, the first allowing Chan to discuss the film at greater length than in the featurette as such to touch on the film’s themes and his directorial career to date, and the second proving to be an engaging, to the point overview of Tung’s techniques. Indeed, he proves a likeable, no-nonsense presence meaning that his allotted three minutes simply isn’t long enough.
Both the featurette and interviews are in Cantonese with English subtitles. In the case of the featurette these are of the burnt-in variety, though the interview’s subs are optional.