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  Heroic Trio II: Executioners Dystopia or dat-topia?
Year: 1994
Director: Johnnie To, Ching Siu Tung
Stars: Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, Anthony Wong, Damian Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Lau Ching-Wan, Paul Chun Pui, Eddie Ko, Sze Ning, Guan Shan
Genre: Drama, Action, Martial Arts, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Hong Kong cinema’s finest example of dystopian science fiction arrived in the unlikely form of Heroic Trio II: Executioners, which continues the adventures of superheroines Wonder Woman (Anita Mui), Chat the Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung) and San the Invisible Woman (Michelle Yeoh). The tone is far removed from the carefree fun of its predecessor, with a darker, more complex storyline.

Ten years into the future, a nuclear explosion causes environmental pollution that leaves Hong Kong in chaos and under thrall to disfigured genius Mr. Kim (Anthony Wong), head of the Clear Water Company. While San and her whistle-controlled, masked monster sidekick Kau fight off biker bandits to bring the struggling poor decontaminated water, the ever-mercenary Chat steals her H20 from the company and sells bottles to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman has long since settled into domestic bliss, but performs an occasional fantastic feat to dazzle her cute little daughter Cindy (Sze Ning).

Controlling the water supply is just the first step for Mr. Kim. Handsome messiah and human rights activist Chong Hong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is really Kim’s political puppet, doomed for assassination as part of a plan to destabilize the government and seize absolute power. Wonder Woman’s police commissioner husband Lau (Damian Lau) is framed for the murder and killed, which spurs the Heroic Trio into action. San sets off on a mission to protect a look-alike of the President, so that the real head of state can recuperate from an assassination attempt. Chat teams up with Cindy and freedom fighter Tak (Lau Ching-Wan) to seek out a source of fresh water. And Wonder Woman endures hell in a political prison before busting out as a one-woman army. But Mr. Kim won’t die easily and one of the trio is destined for a tragic end.

Whilst science fiction is a rare beast in Hong Kong cinema, dystopian sci-fi proved too downbeat for Asian audiences and never really caught on. Prior to Executioners, the sole other example of this grim subgenre was Health Warning (1983), a cyberpunk actioner from director Kirk Wong, also known as Flash Future Kung Fu. Although its smoky, neon-lit visuals, rampant drug use and ultra-violence recalled Blade Runner (1982), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and the early films of Sogo Ishii, its plot was pure, hackneyed, old school kung fu.

Instead of grafting sci-fi elements onto a wu xia plot, Executioners is that rare Hong Kong movie founded on a genuine science fiction concept. Its plot develops by exploring ideas spun off from that concept. Without the melodramatic excess that marred Health Warning, Executioners conjures truly frightening visions: mass riots, widespread poverty, political skulduggery, police corruption, bootleggers and senseless violence reminiscent of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. The allegory that each heroine embodies Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China is more convincing this time. Yet although San sports the grey garb and red armband of a socialist heroine, the film spares neither communists, capitalists, socio-religious leaders, public officials or self-serving mercenaries from attack. Even noble characters like Lau and Chong Hon emerge as pawns in a nightmarish game, plus there comes a shocking moment when the president’s men murder the surgical team who saved his life. Just to keep it a secret from Mr. Kim.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Mui, Cheung and Yeoh share a memorable bubble bath and make gutsy, go-getting heroines, all looking very chic (especially Cheung). Co-directors Johnnie To and Ching Siu Tung stage exciting shootouts and fantastical, gravity-defying wire fu action. But what impresses most are the plot twists, compelling characterizations and political undertones of a film from a genre often dismissed as juvenilia.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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