This review is part of Post-Apocalypso, a "round table" of reviews of movies set post-apocalypse. For the other reviews by critics at web sites similar to Stomp Tokyo, please see the links at the bottom of the page.
"Whattaya mean Leonardo DiCaprio
isn't the man in the iron mask
in this movie?"
Has there ever been a post-apocalyptic movie made that doesn't have some sort of pompous prologue which describes exactly what screwed the world up so bad? Unless you count The Matrix, it's hard to think of one, because those prologues are usually necessary and movie directors find them irresistable. Here's the one from Executioners, the sequel to The Heroic Trio:
"The nuclear explosion left the city in complete ruins. The lives of mankind have forever changed. All natural water resources have been contaminated by radiation. Yet this unprecedented catastrophe has given rise to an ambitious genius like him. He has invented the Water Purification System. As such, the future, the survival of mankind is thrust into his hands. He vows to rule the world."
Immediately the questions start to bubble up in our brains: What nuclear explosion? Was it a war, or an accident? Sure "the city" is messed up, but what about the rest of the world? Is there a rest of the world? Who's the mysterious "he" mentioned here, and how did he get to be such a genius? All these questions and more won't be answered as you watch Executioners!
When the nightwalkers formed
a union, Jeb the pimp
knew hard times were ahead.
We're used to confusing Hong Kong movies, but even so, the Executioners is a mess. It's not like The Heroic Trio made a lot of sense, but at least it kept moving, thanks mostly to a steady stream of astonishing action scenes. Sadly, Executioners is way too plot- (or what passes as plot-) heavy, and doesn't have any action scenes that come close to matching the best scenes from the earlier movie.
The movie opens in the city, around Christmastime. Despite being left in "total ruins," the city doesn't look that bad. As a matter of fact, most of it looks like run-down sets from the first movie, because both films were shot at the same time.
Executioners must take place about seven years after The Heroic Trio, because Tung (a.k.a. Wonder Woman, played by Anita Mui) now has a six year-old kid with her husband Lau, who has been promoted to Commissioner of the city's police. Tung has given up being Wonder Woman to raise her child, but still engages in discrete acts of super-heroism from time to time. Chat (a.k.a. Thief Catcher, played by Maggie Cheung) has become a water pirate, stealing trucks from the Clear Water Corporation. Ching (a.k.a. Invisible Woman, played by Michelle Yeoh) works for some kind of charitable organization, bringing medicine to those who need it. Number Nine (one of the villains from the last film) assists her in this. He also always wears a hood, presumably to hide the fact he isn't played by the ubiquitous Anthony Wong this time around.
Luckily for Wonder Woman, her hairstylist
survived the apocalypse.
The first portion of Executioners concentrates almost completely on Lau. The current government of the city is led by the civilian President and the military Colonel (Paul Chan). The Colonel asks for Lau's help in a matter that threatens the city's fragile peace. A quasi-religious leader named Chong Hon (Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro, who was also in Chungking Express) has been stirring up dissent by suggesting that the government's policy of looking for a clean water source is misguided, and the Colonel wants Lau to assassinate him.
Lau (who is supposed to be a good guy) actually attempts to shoot Chong Hon from a distance, but Ching catches his bullets in mid-air. This little incident of attempted murder is immediately forgotten and never mentioned again. Later, the entire cast ends up attending a peace conference between Ching Hon and the President, which ends with Ching Hon's assassination -- and Lau is framed for the crime. Lau decides to make a run for it, and tries to get out of the city via the train station. At the station, Lau is ambushed by the Colonel, who under the cover of a riot, shoots Lau dozens of times in slow-motion, while a male voice sings a romantic song with lyrics like, "My lover had once thought that all love would be the same/ Until the day he stepped into this mysterious magnetic field."
When they make the American version
of Executioners, we see Antonio Banderas
in this role.
What's really disappointing is that the train station was the scene of one of the best action sequences in The Heroic Trio -- there were ninja, motorcycles spinning in mid-air, panicked train passengers, a flying guillotine, and even a train crashing through a wall. In the sequel, the train station is the setting for mere gunplay, and even that is filmed in a monochromatic blue mist with those Asian love ballads playing in the background. A pity -- all that space on the train platforms to kick and jump and engange in wacky kung-fu hijinx, and it's totally wasted on a few gunshots and some falling bodies.
This closes the first portion of the film. The second portion finds Tung, who witnessed her husband's death, in jail. (Hey, waitaminnit -- wasn't she busting through brick walls in the last movie?) The Colonel attempts a coup d'état against the President, and Ching ends up driving around the city with the President's look-a-like decoy to keep the army from successfully finding the real President. Meanwhile, Chat heads out into the radioactive wastelands to find the clean water source, with Tung Chin in tow. Yes, she brings the kid with her, because Ching says that's the safest place for her. In the wastelands. The radioactive wastelands. The radioactive, land-mined wastelands. The radioactive, land-mined wastelands from which no one has come back from alive.
Get a good look, there's little
kung fu this good in the movie.
A little bit of excitement is injected into the film when Tung, who has been keeping her strength up in prison with the occasional rat squeezing, makes herself a mask out of a metal dish and breaks out of her cell. She then two-fists a couple of M-16s (again with the ammunition instead of the chop-socky), makes a new door, and escapes. A little later she confronts the Colonel as Wonder Woman, and the two of them have a sword battle high above the street on metal girders and power wires. Finally, something worthy of the first movie! But this happens an hour and twelve minutes into Executioners.
For no other reason than that it's time to wrap the movie up, the real villain of the film makes his move. That villain is Mr. Kim (Anthony Wong -- hey, he had to be in here somewhere), the horribly scarred genius of the opening narration. Kim wears the foppish clothes and facemask of the Phantom of the Opera, and has been manipulating the Colonel while protecting the clean water source. Because of his general disconnection from the rest of the plot, he has to show up at the abandoned church where the heroic trio is hanging out, because none of them know enough to go to him. When Mr. Kim shows up, Chat does say, "You faceless bastard, it's all your fault," but she may have just been making conversation. This leads to a predictably gonzo fight that includes the church, a truck, a chandelier, an exploding arrow, various limbs being ripped and blown off, a severed head in a box, and a grenade. Good, satisfying stuff, but it's far too little, far too late. Less dedicated (read: saner) viewers than we would have turned this flick off an hour ago.
Even after the apocalypse, they
can still film our dreams!
It's difficult to believe that TheHeroic Trio and Executioners were filmed so closely together, and that the directors responsible for the high-energy antics of the Heroic Trio would have followed it up with such a dreary sequel. But it's all here on video for us to see: the blue haze that punctuated the first film's nighttime fight sequences permeates the sequel, sucking the joy right out of the characters -- befitting a post-apocalyptic story, but terribly misplaced among these personalities. Depression sets in so badly that even Wonder Woman can't be bothered to fight back for most of her time in prison, and that depression translates to the audience. Effective filmmaking? Perhaps, but it's unwelcome in what we anticipated to be part two of a dynamic, crimefighting-chicks, female bonding, ass-kicking story.
Alas, there's little hope that the Heroic Trio will ever ride again; let's just say that even had Michelle Yeoh not become an international star, events at the end of Executioners leave her with precious little to do in any potential sequel. We suppose we can thank this movie for providing us with one particular and unforgettable sight -- all three of the heroines sharing a bubble bath -- but beyond that there's little to recommend it.
Even The Matrix has a sort of prologue, once the audience is clued in to the fact that it is a post-apocalyptic film. And if we just spoiled The Matrix for you somehow, you really need to get out more. Go back!