on a novel by Gu Long, Frankie Chan's A Warrior's Tragedy details the parallel stories of two warriors: one trained
to love, the other to hate, both to be superior swordsman.
On one side of this twisty tale of murder and revenge lies
the dark and brooding Fu Hung-Suet (Ti Lung). Dressed from
head to toe in basic black, Fu wanders from town to town,
dispatching his enemies with his impressive ebony sabre. On
the other end of the spectrum is the happy-go-lucky Yip Hoi
(Frankie Chan), a cheeky, mustachioed fellow who dresses in
white and happens to be a proficient martial artist. As one
would expect, the two contrasting swordsman are locked on
a proverbial collision course with destiny as both are invited
to the home of the villainous Ma Hong-Kwan, who has a sinister
connection to our heroes.
Through flashbacks, we learn
that twenty or so years prior to the events of the film, a
swordsman named Pak was murdered by several assassins under
the command of Ma Hong-Kwan. Apparently Pak was a bit of a
ladies man, and to avenge his death, one of his lovers sent
her only son to avenge his death. That son's identity? Fu
Hung-Suet. Trained with only one purposethe annihilation
of all those involved in Pak's deathFu becomes a morose
killing machine, seemingly devoid of human emotions.
Back in the "present day,"
Ma Hong-Kwan begins to worry that Pak's offspring might be
blazing a trail of vengeance, so the elderly villain invites
a group of young swordsmen to dinner in the hopes of exposing
his future attacker. That night, one of the swordsmen is killed,
and Fu Hung-Suet is framed (poorly, I might add) for the murder.
Nice guy that he is, Yip Hoi turns into a kung fu Sherlock
Holmes in order to flush out the real murderer. From that
point forward (and some time before that, too), the story
flies fast and furiously, introducing folks that are somehow
connected to the plot. But since the film moves so quickly,
there's little regard for character development. One just
has to accept things as they happen, as the film builds to
a (semi) shocking climax about the swordsman Pak and Fu's
mission of vengeance. But don't worry, evil is punished, and
everybody lives happily ever after.
A Warrior's Tragedy is
a mixed bag, to say the least. On the positive side of things,
the film does maintain a fairly compelling visual style. From
Fu's stylish battle in a snowstorm to the final duel with
a warrior wearing a cloak of invisibility, the film is, at
times, fun to watch. There's even a clever bit in which several
characters imagine how much damage Fu Hung-Suet will do to
an overzealous security guard before the warrior draws his
Perhaps the best part of the
film is Fu Hung-Suet himself. As portrayed by Ti Lung (and
a fleet-footed stunt double), Fu comes across as an almost
iconic character. His black outfit, icy demeanor, and noticeably
gimpy leg make Fu stand out in a way that most generic good
guys don't. Imbuing Fu with a sense of despair and longing
that the narrative never explicitly establishes, Ti Lung does
an excellent job in a role that was probably better suited
to a younger actor.
But even having said all that,
the film could have been a lot better. As referred to earlier,
the film contains too many characters whose agendas aren't
adequately developed. Granted, this film was originally released
as a single three-hour epic (trimmed down to 110 minutes for
this DVD release), so perhaps that accounts for the lack of
adequate character development. But even so, the truncated
running time cannot adequately explain the jarring tonal shifts
present in the film. And believe me, this movie is all over
the place: Yip Hoi engages in a "cripple fight,"
there's some anachronistic Ben-Hur-style Roman chariots
and plenty of Michael Bay-sized explosions to keep you awake
(Sure, the Chinese invented gunpowder, but this is ridiculous!).
But by far the worst part of A Warrior's Tragedy is Frankie Chan. Credited as director,
writer producer, and star, Chan clearly created this film
as a labor of love. Or perhaps, it was a chance to gratify
his own ego. Whatever the reason, Frankie Chan just doesn't
work well as a comic foil to Ti Lung. He's supposed to be
the polar opposite of the stoic Fu Hung-Suet and inject some
levity into otherwise serious proceedings, but his attempts
at humor are limited to mugging for the camera and making
lowbrow jokes. That's quite all right if the end result is
funny, but that's not the case here. In the end, we are supposed
to recognize that Yip Hoi is a greater hero than Fu Hung-Suet
because the former uses his abilities to help, not to hurt.
But really, would you trust a guy with such a sleazy mustache?
That's not to say that humor isn't
welcome in a film like this. For example, this sort of tonal
flip-flopping works well in a film like The Duel, which
has Nick Cheung (whose mustachioed sleaziness made sense for
his character) and Zhao Wei ham it up while Andy Lau and Ekin
Cheng played it absolutely straight as two heroes battling
for martial arts supremacy. But in A Warrior's Tragedy,
it just doesn't work. When a purported "epic film"
ends with an AIDS joke and Ti Lung making a vulgar gesture,
you know something's wrong.
Despite all my negative comments, A Warrior's Tragedy isn't a terrible film. I think
my frustration stems from my belief that the movie could be
a lot better. The material for an award-winning film is here,
so here's hoping a more qualified Hong Kong director will
pick up the movie rights. Based on what he did with Jin Yong's
characters in Ashes of Time, Wong Kar-Wai would likely
craft an existential drama about the futility of revenge,
the desire for parental acceptance, and the unceasing pain
of lost love. With Christopher Doyle's awesome visuals and
WKW alums Andy Lau, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in tow,
who wouldn't pay to see that? Heck, Johnnie To would turn
this story into an expertly-drawn battle between two warriors
divided by backgrounds but united by fate. And hey, with
Johnnie To, there'd be a good chance Sammi Cheng would score
a welcome cameo appearance. But for the time being, we're
stuck with Frankie Chan's A Warrior's Tragedy, a sometimes
entertaining, but for the most part disappointing film. (Calvin McMillin