After a colorful opening credits sequence that reveals the film's comic book origin, "A Man Called Hero" jumps right into the action.
The film is an amazing sight to behold. Shot in glorious 2,35:1 widescreen, this is a breathtaking experience in every way. Great action scenes, great fight scenes, stunning effects, solid performances... I could go on.
The period setting alone is quite impressive. Specially compared to an expensive American production like "Gangs of New York", which feelt like it was shot in the corner of a parking lot. Here we get vast shots of the streets, with plenty of period costumed extras and period cars and huge set pieces. In one sequence an entire building in engulfed in flames, in another - the first fight between the ninjas and Pride's students - a back alley is trashed in a great showoff of martial arts skills versus magic.
But the cream of the crop is of course the finalé, a huge fight between Hero and Invincible on and around the Statue of Liberty. An all-out battle of swords and magic, set against the bright yellow sky, where the two damn near manage to tear down this national symbol in the process. A great scene.
Granted, the story may confuse some. The sheer number of names and events one has to keep track of is mind bugging and makes it far less accessible than for example "Stormriders". Also the flashback upon flashback structure leaves the film sort of fragmented. "A Man Called Hero" works best if you simply let go and enjoy the show, regardless of whether you miss a beat or two.
Because of the structure, many of the characters are underdeveloped, most criminally Nicholas Tse's Sword. But the guy is simply so charming that he manages to make an impact anyway. Besides this really is Ekin Cheng's film.
And speaking of Eking Cheng, is he cool or what?
Sure enough he's walking around half the time with his hands folded behind his back like he owns the world and we're just visitors (I'm reminded of Morpheus in the "Matrix" movies), while the other half of the time he's sulking, but damn! nobody does it better than him. He does get to break the mold a little bit in the touching scenes with Jade, but otherwise he's his usual undeterred self.
Kristy Yeung provides solid support as Jade. She made a great impression on me in "Portland Street Blues". Not just because of her beauty, but also the sad look in her eyes.
As for Shu Qi, it takes 44 minutes before she shows up, and even then her part is only slightly more than a cameo. Still, what a cameo! Shu Qi appears as Mu, one of the five Japanese Ninjas that arrives to battle Shadow and Hero. The others (including Sam Lee - this time sporting an orange hairdo, poor guy) are reduced to mere walk-ons, but Shu Qi actually has a part to play, and makes good use of her limited screen time.
Jin, the leader of the Ninjas and disciple of Invincible, is in love with her, but she wants nothing to do with him. Later during a battle with Hero and Shadow, she is wounded and faint in Hero's arms. He takes her to a doctor and makes sure she's okay.
(SMALL SCENE SPOILER AHEAD - JUMP TO THE WRAP-UP PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO READ IT)
In one scene Hero knocks on her door late one night. She invites him in and he immediately makes a pass at her, and begins to kiss her. But something doesn't ring true. She wants this to happen, but she knows Hero would never cheat on his wife. Suddenly she realizes that this is Jin in disguise! The look on her face, when this is revealed is by far her best moment. changing from hopeful and yearning, to bitter and hurt in a heartbeat when the truth dawns on her.
Forgive the film's jumping back and forth, and forget that this is really a much larger story that probably would be better suited for a 3,5 hour epic. Instead sit back and enjoy the show, and for God's sake don't think too much about it.
Action is the focus here, but "A Man Called Hero" still manages to be both beautiful and touching. A fine example of an entertaining big budget Hong Kong movie.