Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Heroic Trio

Ah, how do i love this film, let me count the ways. It was in in heavy rotation on late-night mid-90s cable. Because what do people want to watch at 2:00 a.m.? Fabulous superhero women in nonsensical action flicks, that's what! Hence, The Heroic Trio.
Seriously, this is one of the three top ass-kicking female trios in film history (the other two being the chicks from Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill and the Powerpuff Girls.)
 So, let us roll call our heroines and the actresses who portray them....

First up, Invisible Girl, as played by Michelle Yeoh. You may recognize her from her role as a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies or as the tormented heroine of the epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
This is not the Invisible Girl from the Fantastic Four. That one is a blonde in blue, this one is a brunette in red; that one was pretty lame, this one kicks hella ass. Michelle Yeoh has the rare gift of being a skilled martial artist and an excellent actress -- and her ability to convey unearthly physicality with genuine vulnerability is invaluable to giving The Heroic Trio more emotional depth than other films of its genre. Invisible Girl is initially part of the bad guy's brainwashed army, but will the power of sisterhood be greater than the influence of sewer-dwelling demons?

Next, Thief Catcher, played by Maggie Cheung. Maggie Cheung is known for a mess of Hong Kong action films, as well as starring in the self-referential French indie Irma Vep and the poetic retro romance In the Mood for Love. Thief Catcher (also known as Chelsea and Mercy -- inconsistency of nomenclature is an issue that seems to have arisen in editing/translation) is known for showing up at impossible police standoffs and resolving problems -- for a price. She is unweighted by tedious romantic subplots and, as such, is the most fun character. You will note a certain proto-steampunk style in Thief Catcher's fondness for wearing goggles and bustiers, as well as her frequent deployment of sticks of dynamite and a motorcycle. Seriously, all she's missing is an octopus.

Finally, Wonder Woman, played by Anita Mui. Mui was a pop star in Hong Kong and co-starred in some Jackie Chan movies. This is not the Wonder Woman from the comic books and the totally awesome (at least the first season, when it was still period and fighting the Nazis) 70s television series. Also called Shadow Fox, depending on what version of the movie you have, she is married to the chief of police. He thinks she's just a housewife, rather than the local superhero who does all the shit he can't. We not only get the obvious comedy of his obliviousness, but also the sadness when she has failed to save a life and still must act all contented hausfrau when he comes home.

So, back to The Heroic Trio. Like many Hong Kong films, there are several alternate version out there and, between the variations, for-television/for-delicate sensibilities editing and some nonsensical dubbing/subtitles. This means that the plot can be hard to follow and, well, it doesn't seem like it was the clearest plot to begin with. Anyway, it goes a little something like this... some creepy guy in a white pancake makeup and a hat with horns but not cool viking horns lives under Hong Kong with some kind of undead zombie ogre eunuch army that he's going to use to kidnap a bunch of baby boys because one is going to become the Emperor. why does he need a baby emperor when he only intends to rule himself and already has an army? I dunno...

Wonder Woman is trying to prevent the kidnappings -- with the help of abundant wire-fu --  while Invisible Girl is the one carrying them out. She's invisible, thanks to the cloak of invisibility her scientist boyfriend is working on -- i believe she "borrows" it while he's passed out from exhaustion and toxic chemicals. Yes, another career-obsessed man who knows nothing of his lady's ultra-powerful secret life. Men running around doing "important" things while the women TCB is a recurring motif in this film. However, both couples do come to a point where they recognize each others' abilities and sacrifices... which truly makes The Heroic Trio a strange hybrid of women's film and action film. But note that the emotional niceties are dispatched and then the females go back to saving and killing, killing and saving.

So, baby kidnapping continues, police continue to be useless, Wonder Woman tries to stop things as best she can. Thief Catcher sees a payday, so she gets involved too...
Then one of the Giant Ogre Undead Eunuch Zombies shows up to take a a bunch of people in a train station hostage and casually decapitate them with the dreaded flying guillotine while waiting for a train to crash into the station (rather like Master of the Flying Guillotine and Silver Streak happening at the same time), figuring that this will draw Wonder Woman. Oh, and he's surrounded the building with land mines. However, Wonder Woman and Thief Catcher have joined forces, so they manage to minimize the loss of life. But they will need to turn Invisible Girl to their side....

 I'd take the motorcycle and the shotgun over the horses and the swords too, but that's just me.

So, more noble sacrifice, more broken hearts, more changing of sides. Also, there's some subplot about childhood flashbacks but, really, who cares? Not when we end with multiple fights, numerous explosions and a blood-spitting, bone-cracking, rotting-corpse battle like something out of Evil Dead.

The Heroic Trio is a bit silly and/or mawkish in spots, but it's also got its share of over-the-top craziness and should satisfy anyone's desire for endless high-energy action scenes with a side of battling the undead. Yet, at the same time, it has been read as a metaphor for the three Chinas and as a feminist critique. It will always hold a special place in my heart for introducing me to a whole host of brilliant Hong Kong action chick movies, from Sex and Fury to Wing Chun to Naked Killer to Holy Weapon.

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