A Man Called Hero: ” I was born under the Star of Death. No soulmate at the end. Lonely forever and ever. ”

Year: 1999
Directed by Andrew Lau
Produced by Manfred Wong Man-Chun and Barbie Tung
Written by Manfred Wong Man-Chun and Chau Ting
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Shu Qi, Kristy Yang,Nicholas Tse, Jerry Lamb, Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Dion Lam, Elvis Tsui, Yuen Biao, Grace Yip, and Sam Lee

A young man and his father’s close friend journeys to America to regain contact with his father. After reaching America, the young man comes to learn of his father’s history and his inability to escape constant tragedy.

Based on a hit manhua, A Man Called Hero is a work of starling ambition. Martial art productions don’t tend to enjoy large budgets values but A Man Called Hero is clearly the exception to the rule. It has the clear ambiance and the trappings of a historical epic. From a sweeping narrative to a readiness to be thematically profound, A Man Called Hero is bold with its ambition. Unfortunately, it is crushed by the weight of its own ambition. The plot becomes a mess of too many dangling subplots and fights that are laced with too much CGI to be entertaining. Cameos from martial art legends like Yuen Biao or mega stars like Francis Ng are put largely to waste. Although issues are plentiful, A Man Called Hero still enjoyable on some regards.

A Man Called Hero borders on the utterly chauvinistic, and it was obviously written to be a Chinese nationalist tract. Even under the guise of this corny hyper nationalism, the sentiments it stirs up about the Chinese immigrant experience is genuinely poignant . The simple remark of Jade mistaking the Statue of Liberty for the Goddess of Mercy kind of underscores the underlying universality of what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes.

The dreaded mines seem like a stand-in for the brutality that the Chinese were forced to endure during the building of the transcontinental railways. It is anachronistic but works well as a set piece of prevailing racism of the times. The overly cartoonish portrayal of the racists is annoying not because racists should be humanized since it minimizes racism itself to a cartoonish parody. A Man Called Hero’s historicity shouldn’t be taken too seriously since it is more of a vehicle for the narrative to indulge in some nationalistic pandering but that is grounded in a genuine effort to expose the hardships of Chinese immigrants rather than any pure vain anti-Americanism.

The cross generation overtones that is a direct product of the back and forth between dramatic flashbacks and the present is striking and emotionally impactful. It connects back to Hero’s destiny and gives the slightly unconventional narrative structure some righteous justification.However, it leaves the film without a clear-cut protagonist. The final showdown has hardly aged gracefully. The utterly poor CGI renders the entire final showdown like a childish recreation of a more worthier spectacle. Not to mention, a final villain that has no effect on most of the plot.

A Man Called Hero is an awkward mix of a historical epic and a superhero film gone awry. This odd fusion spoils the greater ambitions of the work and leaves the work in a profound state of mediocrity.

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