Directors Joe Ma and Soi Cheang rip-off the Terminator
films for Hidden Heroes, a wildly uneven action
comedy that features a few good ideas squeezed in among
plenty of bad ones. The good ideas: another comic performance
from rising comedian Ronald Cheng; the casting of Charlene
Choi as both a dour triad chick and annoyingly happy
androids from the future; and screen appearances by
Qin Hailu and Yuen Wah. The bad ideas: practically everything
else, from a convoluted storyline to a series of unfunny
antics that one would normally expect from a guy named
Wong Jing. As with a lot of middling Hong Kong fare,
ardent fans of the two main stars probably won't complain
much. However, fans of actual good movies will probably
be less forgiving.
Cheng is Yohji Ho, a policeman
who acts annoying despite the fact that he has no real
reason for doing so. On a routine stakeout, Yohji meets
a pretty young schoolgirl (Charlene Choi) who wants
to get it on with him. However, this girl is really
an android from the future (shades of The Terminator),
who wishes to protect Yohji until a specific moment
in time...whereupon she'll kill him because that specific
time is when he needs to die. You see, Yohji is the
brother of the "Father of Chips", who will
create a series of powerful androids in the future all
cast in the likeness of his true love, a girl named
Mei Ling. According to this future lore, Yohji's brother
was inspired by the death of his own brother, meaning
in a few short days (August 15th, to be precise), Yohji
will have to die to insure that the future happens.
Cue lots of wacky comedic overacting by Ronald Cheng,
which is supposed to represent his character worrying.
Yohji has bigger problems:
he's wanted for the murder of some policemen, and Madam
Cheung (Qin Hailu) and Officer Cheng (Raymond Wong)
are in hot pursuit. To avoid the cops, Yohji decides
to get out of town. But he'll need a fake passport,
which leads him to a surprising person: Mei Ling (Charlene
Choi), a dour street girl whose humorless ways are in
direct contrast to the army of androids coming after
Yohji. Unlike the seemingly sad Mei Ling, the androids
are all spunky and happy, and sport toothy plastic smiles
not unlike the covers of your favorite Twins albums.
Realizing that this Mei Ling is the same one who will
supposedly fall in love with his brother, he concocts
a plan to off her before she ever meets his brother.
Except Yohji doesn't have a brother, which should be
the solution to his problems.
But it isn't. In a movie-like
twist, it's revealed that Yohji does have a brother.
His mother (Bonnie Wong) recently married a crackpot
inventor (Yuen Wah, making a welcome return to the screen),
and years ago they fathered a young kid (Li Ting-Fung
of Three: Going Home) who's now a genius. Clearly,
this will be the "Father of Chips." Yohji
has to stop all of this from happening, but what about
being wanted for murder? Who's the real culprit? And
what about the fact that he fools Mei Ling into following
him by pretending to be in love with her? Yohji really
has another girlfriend, a sexy Japanese dancer (Asuka
Higuchi). How will she react? And will his little brother
go for the older Mei Ling? Will Mei Ling be able to
fall for a nerdy little kid who hasn't even hit puberty?
And what's with Raymond Wong aping Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's
look from 2046? And can anyone besides the actual
screenwriters make sense of this plot? Because if they
can, they deserve a very large financial reward.
The biggest problem with Hidden Heroes is this: there is simply too much
going on. In addition to the cheapo sci-fi plot, you
have your loaded romance between Ronald Cheng and Charlene
Choi, a whodunit subplot about who killed the cops and
framed Yohji, and plenty of interminable family comedy.
The filmmakers must also make room for lots of screwy
Ronald Cheng shenanigans, which can be funny, but can
also seem way out of place.
There's almost no consistency
to the characters, who are generally A) wacky, B) straight-laced,
C) brain dead, or D) some combination of the above.
Yohji is totally unfathomable; he's a cop who's trying
to clear his name, but he still has time to act so wacky
as to be practically insane. Cheng gives him some comic
charisma, and this is technically an action comedy,
but the level of his antics don't jibe with the rest
of the film. Joe Ma and Soi Cheang don't create a workable
tone for this mixed-up genre cocktail, and the effect
is ultimately alienating.
But here comes the saving grace
AND the nail in the coffin of Hidden Heroes:
Charlene Choi in dual roles! As the always-smiling androids,
Choi is a caricature of her own Twins persona, and gamely
performs the brain-dead robot act to an annoying extreme.
As the tough-talking Mei Ling, she fares much better,
and actually seems to channel some of that "acting
talent" that she was branded with back in the days
of Funeral March. The problem: neither of her
dual roles is really all that interesting, and though
Choi cuts a sympathetic figure as Mei Ling, she really
does nothing new.
This shouldn't be a deterrent for
the legions of Twins fans who inhale everything they
touch, because Choi does the "Charlene Choi thing"
to perfection for the film's overlong 110-minute running
length. But the "Charlene Choi thing" has
also earned her the label of "insufferable",
which is something that Hidden Heroes will likely
not change. Had she been only Mei Ling and not the androids,
Choi could have gotten away with a less-trying performance,
but her appearance as the happy robots of death reaffirms
everything her naysayers say. That is: she's annoying
and insufferable, and these robots certainly are.
Even discussing the merits
or Cheng and Choi is not likely going to change the
ultimate truth: Hidden Heroes is not much of
a movie. It's simply too overstuffed and the hit-or-miss
comedy misses more times than it really should. Everybody
likes a brain-dead good time, but Hidden Heroes is neither brain-dead nor good. The plot requires too
much actual thinking, which is an odd thing to say,
but is appropriate nonetheless. As usual, fans of the
stars might find something to like, which is yet another
screen appearance by their favorite stars. If that's
your boat, then get happy.
Ultimately, this is trash
for the pop culture trash heap, though Hidden Heroes may end up as a kitsch curiosity someday, especially
if Ronald Cheng one day becomes Stephen Chow, or Charlene
Choi one day becomes Maggie Cheung. If may seem blasphemous
to even mention Charlene Choi and Maggie Cheung in the
same sentence, but once upon a time, Maggie Cheung was
as chipmunk-cheeked and annoyingly girlish as Choi is
now. It's not impossible that she could go on to something
greater...if she's not permanently typecast by then.
If that day ever occurs, we might look back at Hidden
Heroes and say, "Wow, who would have thought?"
Right now, however, the safest thing to do is not to
look at all. (Kozo 2004)